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Alexis Birkill
Techie and Photographer
Techie and Photographer


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My 2016 calendar is now available to purchase! I've not managed to do as much photography as I'd hoped for this year, but I've had several inquiries for a new calendar, so this contains some of my most popular landscapes, seascapes and cityscapes from this year and previous years, none of which have been in previous calendars. Order yours here:

Lulu also have a discount code to bring the price down by 20%! Use coupon code READERS20 after adding it to your cart, but hurry, as the code only works until midnight tonight (December 2nd)!  The calendars are printed locally in a number of countries, so you can order from Canada, the US or the UK, and get reasonable shipping and no nasty duty charges.

This has been an exciting year for me with lots of changes. I've helped my parents emigrate over here from the UK, the culmination of several years of planning and which frequently looked like it might never happen, so I'm really thrilled to have them living over here at last.  I've also moved from downtown Vancouver to Squamish, an amazing and beautiful community, and I love being close enough to Vancouver to be able to go in and take a quick photo, but also to be able to see the Milky Way from my doorstep!

Unfortunately these changes have left me little time for photography over the last few months, and I've not been able to spend the time to capture the best light from the best locations.  I'd like to apologise for my limited posting, and thank everyone for their continued support, well-wishes, print purchases, and of course the likes, comments and shares on the photos I have taken!  Things are finally settling down and I have big plans for 2016, exploring new places and trying new techniques, and I'm looking forward to sharing the results with you!

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I'm back in British Columbia after spending a couple of months in the UK, and I can't get over how incredibly beautiful it is here! Although I'd never forgotten, it really does re-emphasise how incredible it is here after being away for a while. The mountains, the water, the city, wow!
Here's a shot I took looking west from St Mark's Summit in September, which is the first major viewpoint along the Howe Sound Crest Trail which runs all the way from Cypress Provincial Park to Porteau Cove. Although St Mark's Summit only takes a few hours to do as a round trip, it's still a bit of a climb with a bag full of camera equipment and a heavy tripod, with lots of tree roots waiting to trip you up. However, when you get to the top, the view is spectacular!
The north tip of Bowen Island can be seen on the left, with Bowyer Island in front of it and Keats Island behind it. Roughly in the middle is Gambier Island, with Anvil Island on the right. In the background is the Sunshine Coast, and just visible on the horizon is part of Vancouver Island.
As this was my first trip to this viewpoint, I didn't want to risk making the hike back in the dark, so I wasn't able to wait for sunset. I tend to avoid HDR where possible, but in this situation it was essential to be able to capture the wide range of brightness due to shooting into the sun. To get the width of this vista I took four sequences of bracketed images and stitched them together. While I'd love to have been able to shoot this at sunset, I really wanted to share this shot as it sums up my feelings on returning to this amazing part of the world!

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Friday night's snowfall on the mountains near Vancouver has been melting for most of the weekend, so when I was passing Larson Creek in West Vancouver, the water was bubbling along down the hill at quite a rate!
I was heading to the coast to photograph the sunset, but I had to stop and take a quick shot of the creek, as the golden rays of the setting sun were lighting up the trees with a wonderful warm light.
Fortunately the creek was shallow enough that the water didn't come over my shoes, as it was extremely cold! I used a combination of a circular polariser, bringing out more reflection in the wet rocks, and a 3-stop neutral density filter, allowing me to take a 30 second exposure and show the motion of the water.

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The Granville Island Public Market in Vancouver. Granville Island, actually a peninsula, was originally an industrial area, but is now a popular tourist and shopping destination on False Creek in Vancouver, just across the Granville Street Bridge from downtown. The market building contains many permanent and temporary retailers selling a wide variety of food and craft items.

For this photo I set up on the Granville Street Bridge, which crosses over the centre of the island, giving me a vantage point looking down on the market building, looking north-west. The large sign on the top of the public market building is visible in the centre of the shot, with the Burrard Bridge in the background. False Creek runs under the bridge and separates the island from the buildings of downtown Vancouver, visible on the right. One of several marinas on False Creek can be seen on the far left. The last glow of orange from the sunset still lights up the western horizon, although the city lights have long since come on.

A windy day combined with a lot of bus traffic on the bridge made for tricky shooting conditions, with me having to wait for both a gap in the traffic and a lull in the wind to avoid vibrations being transmitted to the camera. To keep the shutter speed low, I used an aperture of f/5.6 and set the ISO to 1600.

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2014 has been a pretty bad year for those wishing to see the northern lights from more southern latitudes, particularly on the west coast. There have been a number of promising storms forecast, but they have mostly either been weaker than forecast, or peaked when it is still light.

Accordingly, while I had a number of sightings (and took a number of photographs) of the aurora last year, this year the best I've managed to capture has been a faint green glow on the horizon. However, on Saturday things took a promising turn, when a storm that was forecast to be quite minor was appearing to be unexpectedly strong.

I kept an eye on the forecast throughout the evening, and saw that the east coast was getting a good display. To my surprise, as it got later and the aurora started to appear in the west, the forecast was still strong, so I grabbed my gear and headed out along the Sea to Sky highway, which links Vancouver and Whistler, to a spot about half an hour's drive from Vancouver.

Even when all the signs are pointing to a good display, it's very rare that the northern lights are constantly dancing this far south. It's much more common to have a faint green glow most of the time, and for occasional spikes of activity that last for a minute or two that light up the sky, so although I couldn't see anything when I got there, I knew that I'd have to give it a reasonable amount of time.

A perfectly clear night made for good viewing conditions but cold weather, with a temperature of -4, which starts off not being too bad, but after you've been standing in one spot for three hours starts to get rather chilly! I set up my camera to start taking exposures and waited to see if anything would happen!

After I'd been there for about an hour and a half, at around 12:30am, suddenly the sky started to dance with light. It was fainter than many of the displays I've seen around Vancouver, but more colourful as well, with some beautiful red pillars that nicely contrasted the green glow, which also grew significantly stronger. For about half an hour from 12:30am to 1:00am, I got to see my first good display of the aurora this year, before it once again faded back to a level that even the camera could barely pick up.

This is a composite shot of about 8 frames taken between 12:30am and 1:00am, capturing the best of the pillars of light and the colour. Each of these shots was taken at ISO 3200, 24mm, f/4, for 30 seconds. To get more detail in the foreground on this dark and moonless night, I took a longer exposure of 5 minutes.

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My 2015 calendar is now available to purchase! With landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes from Vancouver and the Pacific Northwest, this calendar includes many of my most popular shots taken in the last year! Order yours here:

Lulu also have a discount code to bring the price down by 25%! Use coupon code 25CAL after adding it to your cart, but hurry, as the code only works until midnight tonight (November 13th)!

By popular demand, each page also contains a short description giving more information about the photos.

I've changed the company I use to print these from last year as Lulu print locally in a number of countries, so if you order from Canada, the US or the UK the shipping costs are much more reasonable.

Thanks to you all for your amazing support over the last year, all your comments, likes and shares, and to everyone who has bought prints for their home or office!

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Following on from the lunar eclipse earlier in October, much of North America was treated to a partial solar eclipse this afternoon, where the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth.

Vancouver has been having some pretty bad weather for a couple of weeks now, and it looked very likely that the solar eclipse wasn't going to be visible with all the cloud around. However, I really wanted to get this, so I studied the weather maps and found a chance of clear skies near the US border at around the peak of the eclipse (roughly 3pm in Vancouver). It was a bit of a long shot, but I figured I'd give it a go.

I was open-minded as to where to go as I drove down, and followed the gaps in the clouds until I got to Boundary Bay. On arriving there, the sun was behind clouds, but it looked likely that the situation would improve in a few minutes, so I set the camera up and waited.

I hadn't got a proper solar filter, so instead relied on my 10-stop ND filter, which I had to tape to the front of my lens as I don't have a holder big enough for the telephoto! This wasn't enough filtration to safely look through the viewfinder, so I relied on the Live View functionality to protect my eyes, and also directed the camera away from the Sun whenever I wasn't shooting.

Although there were only a few complete gaps in the clouds, the clouds thinned enough to allow the sun to be visible for a good amount of time around the peak of the Eclipse, and the cloud I was shooting through added some additional filtration of the light. I took the first three photos as the eclipse progressed, with the second photo being taken at roughly the time when the eclipse was greatest.

I was also able to capture some sunspots. These were mostly obscured a little by the clouds, but the bottom right photo, taken in a brief gap with no clouds at all, shows a number of sunspots very clearly, with one very large one visible just where the moon intersects the sun, in a region known as AR2192. This sunspot has the chance of also providing some incredible aurora displays, if it happens to flare while pointed at the Earth.

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My first attempt at getting used to the timelapse settings on the Sony A5000.  I left this running on the ground by the end of the pier, with the kit lens at 50mm, while I took some stills with the Canon, and it happily clicked away to itself for over an hour, adjusting the exposure as it went.

For a first attempt, I'm pretty happy with the results, although there are some things I can tweak for next time!  I did some minor white balance and contrast tweaks to the individual shots and then ran them through LRTimelapse to remove the flicker from the ramped exposure.
Animated Photo

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After watching the sun set from the pier in North Vancouver, dusk falls, and across the water the downtown city lights shimmer and sparkle. Sit down and admire the view with me for a few minutes.

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The west coast had a disappointment last weekend when a strong aurora forecast gave those on the east coast a great display, but faded away to nothing just as darkness arrived over here.

However, there have been other opportunities for night sky photography. This is a shot that I've been meaning to try out for a while, to see how strongly I can pick up star trails in a city location with the right techniques and conditions, and I finally got around to a couple of weeks ago.

While there's lots of possible places to try this out, this location, on the far side of Stanley Park looking north towards the Lions Gate Bridge, has always struck me as being one that could work well. With a northerly view, it's possible to capture Polaris in the photograph, which is almost perfectly aligned with the north celestial pole. This means that this star appears to stay stationary, while the others appear to rotate around it.

I knew I needed two things to make this shot work, exceptionally clear skies, and a rising moon. Any cloud or even haze in the sky would pick up the bright city lights (downtown Vancouver is only about 3km behind me from here), making it very difficult to capture all but the brightest stars. The rising moon, which would be behind me, would help light up the trees in Stanley Park and prevent them from being completely in silhouette. Finally I got the right conditions and went out to give it a go.

The one thing I hadn't considered was the tide, as I wanted to shoot this from very low down to get the reflections of the bridge in the water. The location was also trickier than I'd hoped, as I also wanted to get both of the bridge towers in, preventing me from going further to the left as the trees would start to block one. The tide was low, but not as low as I would have liked, leaving me a very thin piece of dry(ish) land to set up on. As the tide was coming in, I knew I'd only have about an hour and a half of shooting before the water level got too high again, so I didn't hang around!

For this photo, I used stacking to capture many shot exposures of the stars which can be combined in software, rather than one long exposure of the stars. I took 146 consecutive photos, each at 16mm, ISO 1000, f/4, for 20 seconds. This captured as many stars as possible without starting to overexpose the sky. These were then stacked in StarStax to form the trails. A couple of shots at a lower exposure captured the detail in the bridge towers, which were a little overexposed, and these were blending in using luminosity masking to create this final shot.
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