Spawning Sockeye Salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka)

Spawning Sockeye Salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) swimming upstream at Weaver Creek Spawning Channel.

spawning sockeye salmon - oncorhhynchus nerka - in weaver creek

Spawning Sockeye Salmon(Oncorhynchus nerka) at Weaver Creek (Purchase)

-click to enlarge-

   Last year I attempted to photograph spawning salmon in Weaver Creek in very late October. Most of the run had already finished, so there were a few salmon around but not many. This year I managed to get the timing a bit better, the run was late, and while I was there in late October again, there were plenty of salmon to photograph. This photograph is of two male Sockeye Salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) “treading water” on their way upstream in Weaver Creek.

   One of the things I quickly realized when photographing salmon like this is that its just not that easy to make a good photo. Last year I tried photographing salmon in this location and was somewhat disappointed with the results. It was immediately obvious to me when processing those images that my expectations of what would be possible were way too high. The water distorts so much of the salmon shapes that some of my original ideas were not possible. This year returning I had thought about it a bit more and came up with this composition that I had planned. Salmon in the water like this are relatively easy to come by so I was left looking for a nice color reflection to give the scene something interesting. I think it works nicely.

Focus on the Details

The Chilliwack River swirls around rocks during winter at Chilliwack Provincial Park in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada.

chilliwack river rocks in winter

Chilliwack River Abstract (Purchase)

When I first started getting serious with a “real” film camera I had a 28-90mm kit lens. Eventually I wished to move on from just taking random snapshots and actually gain more skills and take better photos. I read a bit on the internet about lenses and bought a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4. The “nifty fifty”. It was at this point that I realized the difference lens quality can make. I couldn’t believe how sharp and clear the shots with the 50mm were.

   A few years after buying the 50mm I upgraded to a DSLR – A Canon 30D. Wow not only could I take 100’s of shots at one time, I was not paying for film and developing so I could actually afford to experiment and try new things. The 28-90mm kit lens was a bit better on the DSLR (cropped out some of the edge anomalies) but still had nothing on the 50mm. On the APS-C sensor of the 30D (1.6x) the 50mm was more like an 80mm lens. I really wanted to go wider so that I could get more into a shot. I saved up and bought a Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5. Good quality and really wide compared to the 50mm. I shot with the 10-22mm and the 50mm (the kit lens now relegated to a drawer for bad behaviour) for quite a while. I wanted to determine what I was missing the most before I went in that direction with a new lens.

nodoubt peak - part of Mount Redoubt - alpenglow
Alpenglow on Nodoubt Peak in North Cascades National Park

A year or so after I bought the 10-22mm I filled in the gap between my lenses with the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM. At that point I had opted for crop sensors over full frame (largely due to price of both long lenses and the FF cameras) so the 17-40mm was not on my list. From there I went to a Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM to get a bit more reach for wildlife. What I had not really anticipated is that I would be using this lens so often for landscapes.

the chilliwack river in winter
Abstract Chilliwack River

   Often as a beginning photographer I read about wide angle lenses as the be all and end all of landscape photography. Walking in to a camera shop and being asked what I like to shoot – the answer of landscapes would push wide angle lenses in my direction. I was rather surprised to learn what I had been missing in a longer telephoto lens for landscapes. In some scenes I have found it difficult to use the wider focal lengths in that they actually get too much into the frame. Ironic considering this is why I earlier had thought I needed a wide lens. The details of the scene are there, but are drowned out by distracting elements that take the viewer’s eye away from what is important. So my initial impression that I would always want to be at a wide angle all the time has actually changed to looking at the details and what is more essential.

eureka falls in spring
Eureka Falls

I never would have predicted this sort of outcome when I started. I see many posts and articles devoted to gear and purchasing wide lenses for landscapes. I wonder how many of the beginners reading these thing will eventually start to favour longer lenses for their landscape photography? Would they be better off getting a telephoto lens before a really wide angle one? Maybe this is just a normal evolution for a photographer. Regardless, I am happy I have moved away from all wide angle all the time – the variety of shots possible at longer focal lengths is liberating.

Chilliwack River Up Close

water flows over rocks in the chilliwack river

   Not my usual sort of shot I realize – but I think I like it.

   I recently revisited some logging roads in the Chilliwack River Valley I had explored for the first time in in february. The Fraser Valley had seen some fresh snow, and I had several spots along the Chilliwack River that I had marked with the GPS as good potential photo spots for the future. While I was waiting for a snowfall with decent post-storm weather, I had not really thought this all the way through. There was a LOT of snow on the logging road, and thankfully some trucks had flattened a lot of it down so I could drive my Nissan Sentra up the road a ways. I stopped short of hitting a lot of the marked spots as the road was still fairly dicey in such a small car – even with my snow tires. I am starting to think there might be a better off-roading vehicle than a Nissan Sentra. When I came to the river I parked myself there for about an hour. It was about -10°C (14°F) with a windchill estimated at about -20°C (-4°F) – much colder conditions that I usually shoot in.

   After I had exhausted the possibilities at that location – I headed back to Chilliwack lake to see what the conditions might be there. My previous post shows the great alpenglow on the mountains that evening.