Exploration

Hiking the Wild Side Trail on Flores Island

It's been a crazy summer with more adventures than ever and I have quite the backlog of photos to share but to start, here are some pics from a recent hiking trip along the Wild Side Trail on Flores Island - one of the most beautiful places on Earth! If you have 3 days, it's hard to think of a more rewarding place to visit. Located just north of Tofino in Clayoquot Sound, the trail's 11km length winds you along stunning coastlines, through amazing ancient forests, and ends at the long, sandy beaches of Cow Bay. Wildlife such as wolves, cougars, and bears are found here along with the rich cultural history of the Ahousaht First Nation, who still call the island home. You can catch a boat to Flores from Tofino for $20 through this water taxi and support the Ahousaht Nation - who's Land Use Plan Vision declares for more than 80% of their traditional territory to be protected from industrial activity - by paying the small trail and camping fee. Happy hiking!

17 Favourite Photos From 2017

2017 - a year that certainly seems to have had its fair share of ups and downs for many folks, myself included. Throughout it all though we learn valuable lessons, grow stronger, and remember to remain grateful for the simple gift of life itself. I was fortunate enough to be a part of some really amazing projects again this year, such as working with Ed Burtynsky, one of my earliest idols and inspirations in photography; having my photo published in Reader's Digest Magazine; guest judging the British Columbia Magazine Photo Contest; and embarking on a number of trips to explore and document incredible wilderness areas across Vancouver Island and BC. Below is a collection featuring some of my personal favourite photos from 2017. As always, I'm looking forward to what new places and faces this next year has in store. I hope you'll join me on the adventure! TJ. *Prints available here.

Nestled in a stunning stretch of old-growth forest along the Juan de Fuca Trail near Port Renfrew, a series of beautiful waterfalls flow through the sculpted sandstone walls of Payzant Creek. I amazed to see how the bubbles twirling in an eddy were captured in the photo as well. It's a truly magical place to visit and well worth the 6km round trip hike from the Parkinson Creek trailhead.

The little bonsai tree at Fairy Lake near Port Renfrew is one of the most photographed trees around, so it can be hard to capture it in a new or unique way. On this particular day though, the water level was really high and a layer of mist hung over the lake's surface, making the tree (which grows on a log) appear as though it was growing straight out of the water. It was pretty surreal looking and resulted in one of my favourite photos yet.

During a hike through the 'FernGully Grove' near Port Renfrew this winter, the sun was casting heavenly rays through the mist, illuminating the cool blue water and lush green ferns of the forest. It really is all about being in the right place at the right time, but that being said, much is still left up to luck. You can only be outside so much of the time and it always leaves me wondering what stunning sights must appear on a daily basis that only the mountains, trees, and wildlife will ever bear witness to.

I've wished and waited my whole life to see the northern lights and this year, during a summer trip to Prince George, it finally happened. Along the drive into town, we were treated to a dazzling display of dancing green beams that made the whole sky appear to be alive and flowing with energy. By the time we arrived, the show had mellowed out a bit but I still managed to capture a few of the purple and green bands brushed like neon paint across the night sky.

Early in 2017 I got hooked on photographing the beautiful Anna's hummingbirds living in our backyard. It was still winter and their colours stood out in shimmering contrast to the white snow. Since they move at incredible speeds, it was quite a challenge to capture a clear shot of one. But after spending many hours watching them, I began to notice some patterns as to where they would hover or perch on a branch. I set my camera up on a tripod underneath a make-shift blind and pre-focused the lens to the location I thought the birds would be. Then, using a remote live-view shooting feature on my new Canon 5D MKIV, I would trigger the camera from my phone at a distance. The plane of focus on the macro lens was razor thin so I was thrilled when I saw the bird's eyes and bright feathers were in focus. The little snowflakes falling around him topped it all off.

This image was taken one icy morning this winter in an old-growth clearcut near Port Renfrew. The fog floating through felt as though the ghosts of the former forest were hanging around the land they had been taken from. Part of the challenge in conservation photography, I feel, is to find beauty and form amidst the chaos and destruction. Compelling art and imagery works like a bridge, carrying difficult, yet important messages into the sphere of public consciousness. Especially in our digital age, visual communication plays an evermore important role in raising awareness of the many issues facing our planet - and hopefully compelling people to take action and help make a difference.

While hiking along the edge of a recent old-growth clearcut near Port Renfrew, I was struck by the split view created by the trunk of a giant cedar tree. On the left, a window into a timeless grove of rare, valley bottom ancient forest. On the right, a scarred landscape, stripped of its once-grand flora and fauna. In the middle, an ancient tree - half its roots planted in a peaceful world it has known for centuries, the other on the edge of the ever-encroaching industrial world. With less than 10% of our valley bottom old-growth forests left on Vancouver Island, which world will prevail?

While walking along Botanical Beach in Port Renfrew, this beautiful amber-coloured kelp (Costaria costata) caught my eye. The patterns were mesmerizing and, when held up to the sun, it lit up like a work of stained glass art. I love the color amber and it was nice to create something a bit more abstract than my usual work.

Photographing little critters is a tricky endeavor. They tend to run, jump, or hide away before you even get your camera out. So when this red-legged frog hopped up on a log and sat perfectly still in a sunbeam, it seemed like a miracle! Maybe it always wanted to be a model in the frog world. Well, it finally got its chance ;)

The estuary of San Juan River is one of my very favourite places to visit and to photograph. Whether it's the changing tides, seasons, or just time of day, there always seems to be a new and beautiful angle with which to view it. On this particular winter day, the sun broke out and caused the meadow to steam. The small trees adorned with white lichens only added to the mystical feel.

Smoke from the wildfires that raged through BC's interior made its way over to Vancouver Island as well this summer. Seen here is the view of sunset from one of my favourite lookouts in Metchosin, Mt Helmcken, at the top of Neild Rd. The pastel haze created a painterly (albeit ominous) feel across the sky and the rolling landscape of the Sooke Hills.

During this year's solar eclipse, a kind fellow let me connect my camera to his telescope during the peak moment of transit (about 90% when viewed from Victoria). It was a fairly surreal experience seeing the daylight dim down but truthfully, I'm still pretty jealous of those who got to experience totality. Next time!

The style and character of old, weathered Douglas-fir trees is a wonder to behold. There is something so zen-like about the shapes and patterns they take on - like the trees you see in Japanese paintings, shrouded in mist. I came upon this particular Doug-fir during a snowy walk up Mill Hill near Shawnigan Lake. It's amazing what magical moments can be found right in your own backyard.

The start of 2017 delivered the first real winter we've had on Vancouver Island in a long time. Temperatures stayed below zero and heavy snow stuck around for weeks at a time. I went to visit the waterfall at Goldstream Park and arrived to find an icy world formed by the billowing mist. Shooting this photo was like working in a deep freeze. My hands felt like they were being crushed in a vice grip and it took few hours for them to fully warm back up, but I'm happy to have this photo to look back on now from the comforts of my cozy home :)

Slowly evolving over the course of millennia, our ancient forests form a beautiful organic tapestry, woven from the many cycles of life and death. Mother nature truly is the world's greatest artist and this nurse log seen here at the Avatar Grove is one my favourite's of her work.

The true magnificence BC's coastal old-growth forest is something that needs to be experienced in person - that humbling feeling of being dwarfed by monumental trees, while the fog floats through the forest and quiet solitude surrounds you. I feel this image though, from the slopes of Edinburgh Mt near Port Renfrew, conveys some sense of the timeless beauty that can be found here.

The Ancient Forest Alliance embarked on a trip this summer to visit part of BC's Inland Temperate Rainforest near the towns of Prince George and McBride. An area in particular, the Parthenon Grove, was one of the most stunning forests any of us had ever seen. The grove was filled with dense stands of old-growth redcedar trees adorned with golden lichens, giving the forest a fairy tale-like feel. Incredible places like these continually inspire me do everything I can do to help protect our amazing ancient forests...forever.

New Documentary: Giant Tree Hunters

I'm excited to share the new documentary Giant Tree Hunters about the efforts to find and protect Canada's largest trees and grandest old-growth temperate rainforests on Vancouver Island! The film features the activities of Ancient Forest Alliance campaigners Ken Wu and myself; forest ecologists Dr. Andy MacKinnon and Dr. Sally Aitken of the BC Big Tree Registry; and tree climbers Matthew Beatty and Damien Carre of Expedition Old Growth. It was produced by Nootka St. Film Company for Telus Optik TV. Huge thanks to everyone who brought this project to life!

New Documentary: "No Degree of Scarcity"

In his new 8 minute documentary titled No Degree of Scarcity, renowned US filmmaker Joe Callander highlights Big Lonely Doug and old-growth logging on Vancouver Island. Joe came to the island for a brief stint and followed myself and Ken Wu of the Ancient Forest Alliance through the clearcut around Big Lonely Doug by Edinburgh Mountain and to the Walbran Valley. He also spoke with Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce president Dan Hager about old-growth forests and the local economy. The video includes some of my photography and drone footage as well. Thanks to Joe for taking this time to cover this story. You can see more of his films here.

16 Favourite Photos From 2016

Well, it has been another incredible year, jam-packed with new adventures, discoveries, and photos! It's hard to pick favourites from it all but here are my personal top 16 from 2016. Do you have a favourite image? Let me know in the comments below! A huge thanks goes out to the amazing groups and individuals that I've worked with this past year and to all those who have supported my work. It wouldn't be the same with out you! For those who might be interested, prints of most these images are available in my online store as well. Here's to a happy, healthy, and wild 2017! TJ.

A tree climber makes his way up Big Lonely Doug, Canada's second largest Douglas-fir tree near Port Renfrew. Climbing this tree for a second time was something I never thought we'd get the chance to do but it was just as amazing an experience as the first time. It's hard to convey just how small you feel in comparison to this gentle giant but hopefully this photo does it some justice. You can see a drone video of the climb here. Canon 5D MK2 | 17-40 f/4L lens | 1/200sec | f/9.0 | ISO 400.

A giant rainbow arcs across the ancient forests of Edinburgh Mountain near Port Renfrew. I've never seen a rainbow so intense or that hugged the land so tightly. As new roads and clearcuts continue to threaten the largest remaining intact old-growth forest here on southern Vancouver Island, I couldn't help but think that the mountain was happy to see us there, working to protect its forest friends. Canon 5D MK2 | 70-200 f/4L lens | 1/200sec | f/8.0 | ISO 200.

The little bonsai tree growing out of sunken log at Fairy Lake must be one of the most recognizable and photographed trees on Vancouver Island. That only makes for a fun challenge though, to see how you might capture it in new and unique ways. Since the lake is connected to the nearby San Juan River, water levels can rise dramatically during periods of heavy rain. When they did just this fall, it left only part of the tree poking through the lake's surface. At times, the entire tree can become submerged. How it lives through all of this I am not quite sure, but I'm sure happy that it does. Canon 5D MK2 | 70-200 f/4L IS lens | 1/4 sec | f/6.3 | ISO 200.

I love to watch the sunrise. It's a great excuse to get out of bed early and it's wonderful to have the world to yourself, if only for a little while. Of course, it's often beautiful too, like this fiery morning sky reflected in the San Juan River estuary near Port Renfrew. Canon 5D MK2 | 17-40 f/4L lens | 1/100 sec | f/5.6 | ISO 1600.

My heart normally pulls me deep into the woods but over a weekend this past summer, some friends and I headed for the hills instead. It was refreshing (minus the mosquitoes) to get up high and explore an open landscape with sweeping panoramic vistas. The mountain we climbed was 50-40 Peak, located about 45 minutes outside of Port Alberni, and this was the view from near the summit looking towards Cobalt Lake (where we camped) and Triple Peak in the far background. Canon 5D MK2 | 24-70 f/4L IS lens | 1/800 sec | f/10 | ISO 400.

The evergreen forests of coastal BC are dominated by a million shades of green and brown, so the autumn yellows of this vine maple (Acer circinatum) in the old-growth forests around Echo Lake appeared as though someone had splashed brightly coloured paint across the canvass of the woods. I love the way the tree's branches flow and curve so gracefully as well. Nature is the world's greatest artist! Canon 5D MK2 | 24-70 f/4L IS lens | 1/125 sec | f/5.0 | ISO 1600.

A Pygmy Owl sits perched on the branch of a maple tree next to the San Juan Spruce in Port Renfrew. Despite its cute looks and being about as small as a mini football, you can still see the feathers and flesh from a bird it must have been feeding on. The Vancouver Island Pygmy Owl subspecies is distinct and associated with older forests, and sadly, is on the decline. There may only be 500 breeding pairs left and old-growth logging is considered to be a major threat. I managed to get a single shot this little guy before he decided to fly off into the woods to carry on with his day. Canon 5D MK2 | 70-200 f/4L IS lens | 1/400 sec | f/4 | ISO 3200.

I feel most alive when alone in the woods. Your senses awaken and your intuition becomes your guiding voice. While wandering through a remote patch of old-growth forest in the Klanawa Valley between Bamfield and Nitinat Lake, I heard the sounds of twigs snapping up ahead. Eyes wide and hairs on end, awaiting to determine nature the sound, a large bull elk appeared along with a group of 4 or 5 females. Relieved (slightly), it was beautiful to see them up close as a guest in their home. As quietly as they appeared they slipped away back into the woods. As I fruitlessly tried to follow their path, I stumbled upon this incredible trio of Sitka spruce trees. You just never know what amazing experience may await around the next corner out there in the woods. Canon 5D MK2 | 24-70 f/4L IS | 0.6 sec | f/10 | ISO 400.

The old-growth coastal temperate rainforests of British Columbia are some of the most dense and impenetrable, yet beautiful, landscapes on Earth. Life sprouts from every available surface while debris from fallen trees litters the forest floor like a giant game of pick-up-sticks. Capturing this complex environment in a single image often presents a challenge as it ends up looking too busy or confused. On a cool winter day this year though in the Walbran Valley, the fog and light came together to illuminate this ancient world in just the right way. Canon 5D MK2 | 24-70 f/4L IS | 1/320 sec | F/5.0 | ISO 800.

The San Juan River estuary is one of my very favourite places on Vancouver Island. It's home to an amazing array of wildlife including elk, deer, cougars, bears, wolves, countless birds, and much, much more. It's in a constant flux as well, ever changing with the rise and fall of the tides. Here, mist washes over the meadow during a chilly autumn sunrise. Canon 5D MK2 | 70-200 f/4L IS lens | 1/20 sec | f/8 | ISO 200.

UBC researcher Vincent Hanlon provides scale from the forest floor to the towering trunks of two giant Sitka spruce trees in the Randy Stoltmann Grove in the Carmanah Valley. The group of researchers secured the help of expert tree climbers to assist them with a study on tree genetics in the valley which involved collecting samples of young needles from the tops of over 20 trees. I joined them to help document the project and at the end of the last day was given the opportunity climb the tallest tree in the grove - a 275ft (84m) tall Sitka spruce. The feeling of hanging in mid-air amongst giants like these is one of humbling awe. Canon 5D MK2 | 24-70 f/4L IS lens | 1/100 sec | f/6.3 | ISO 1600.

Waves wash across the ocean and the sky along the west coast of Vancouver Island. The patterns found in nature, from big to small, are something to marvel at. Canon 5D MK2 | 70-200 f/4L IS | 1/2000 sec | f/8 | ISO 400.

During a stormy weekend in Port Renfrew this fall, thousands of gulls gathered along the shoreline to avoid the windy weather. Every now and then, something would startle one of them and they would all take off in unison. I loved the way it looked against the green cedars so I hid behind a large piece of driftwood and waited for the moment to happen again. It was hypnotizing to watch but the spell was quickly broken by the sound of a million bird droppings landing all around me. Thankfully, I escaped unscathed. Canon 5D MK2 | 70-200 f/4L IS | 1/800 sec | f/8 | ISO 640.

I've waited and dreamt my whole life o a cougar and this year, it finally happened. While heading out of the Walbran Valley innot one but two cougars walked in front of our vehicle. After being passed my gear, which was packed away in the back of the van after a long weekend of shooting, I franticly worked to assemble my camera and lens in time to get a shot. In the end, I only had time to get this one image, which was taken through the front window of my van while the cougar stared directly at us. From a photographer's perspective, it would have been nice to get a clearer image, but on a personal level, I'm just extremely grateful to have seen them with my own eyes - a moving experience that I will never forget. Canon 5D MK2 | 70-200 f/4L IS | 1/1000 sec | f/4 | ISO 1600.

A male Anna's hummingbird sits perched on the branch of a cedar tree. After closely watching this little guy's patterns early each morning, I noticed he tended to land in a few particular places. So, with the hopes of capturing an image of him in his natural setting, I carefully set up my camera with remote shooting and began to watch the branch for the next 4 hours. Getting the timing and focus just right was extremely tough but after some narrowly missed attempts, it finally worked out! It took a lot of patience and planning to create this image but I'm super happy with it and have a newfound love for this beautiful bird. Canon 5D MK4 | 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro lens | 1/400 sec | f/3.5 | ISO 1600.

Fog drifts across the clearcut surrounding Big Lonely Doug in winter time. This might be my favourite photo of BLD. I love the way the passing fog acted as backdrop for the tree and set the solemn mood. Doug has become quite the star over the past few years, with people coming from around the world to pay their respects. Although he's lost some of his closest relatives, I hope he senses that we humans do indeed care about him and the fate of our remaining ancient forests as well. Canon 5D MK2 | 24-70 f/4L IS lens | 1/125 sec | f/5.6 | ISO 1000

Exploration: Eden Grove - Big Tree Climb

This past October, the Ancient Forest Alliance teamed up with expert tree climbers Matthew Beatty of the Arboreal Collective and Damien Carré of Expedition Old-Growth to ascend a giant Douglas-fir tree in the endangered Eden Grove near Port Renfrew. The days before the climb saw intense rains and hurricane force winds the brought dozens of trees and power lines down across the roads. Despite the many challenges we faced, we were thankfully still able to access the area and complete the climb in one day. After setting the first lines with the Bigshot slingshot (this took an extra 2 hours after the first well placed line slipped away from us when going to tie it off...), Damien made the first ascent. After reaching the top, he dropped a tape measure down to acquire an accurate height measurement, which turned out to be 210ft (64m). The width measured 9ft (2.75m). That's a BIG tree!! Seeing it in the forest setting gives you some sense as to what its even larger neighbour Big Lonely Doug may have looked like before the forest around him was clearcut by Teal-Jones in 2012. The Eden Grove, or 'Lower Edinburgh Grove', is found on Edinburgh Mt. within the traditional territory of the Pacheedaht First Nation. The tree climb was also documented by the Nootka St film crew, who were there filming for their up-and-coming documentary titled 'Hunting Giants', which will feature my explorations for new record-sized trees and the AFA's efforts to save them! Watch for that in Spring of 2017. For now, here are some photos I captured of the climb. It's always a profound and humbling experience entering this suspended world high above the ground. Much like exploring the worlds oceans and caves - or even outer space - the tree-top canopies of temperate forests are a world full of things yet to be discovered and staggering natural beauty. Sadly, fewer and fewer of these ancient giants remain each year that passes. My hope is that these images will inspire action that results in our old-growth forests being protected once and for all.

Exposed: New Old-Growth Logging on Edinburgh Mt. Near Port Renfrew

Below are images featuring recent old-growth logging on Edinburgh Mt. near Port Renfrew. It took a 17km round-trip hike up the steepest roads I've encountered on the island to access the area, which is on the mountainside above Big Lonely Doug. What we found were two old-growth clearcuts, totaling 34 hectares (almost 40 football fields) in size. Dozens of old-growth western redcedars - some of them 8 feet in diameter -, yellow cedar, western and mountain hemlocks, and very rare, old Douglas-firs (between 500 to 1000 years in age) have been logged. How much further will the BC government allow this industry to go? Plans for four new old-growth clearcuts, one approved and three pending approval, and an expanded road network are also underway. It would seem that no place is currently deemed too rare or important in the destructive race to log the island's last endangered old-growth forests before we have a chance to see them saved. Ecosystems that have taken millennia to form, erased in a blink of an eye, never to be seen again.

A giant old-growth western redcedar log in a Teal-Jones clearcut on Edinburgh Mt. near Port Renfrew - TFL 46.

Standing among three ancient cedar trees on the edge of new logging operations by Teal-Jones. Edinburgh Mountain is one of the largest contiguous tracts of largely unprotected old-growth forest left on southern Vancouver Island, along with the nearby contentious Central Walbran Valley. It is within the traditional territory of the Pacheedaht First Nation band.