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Days in Pictures

I guess I’m a birder now maybe? days 1241 — 1270

Birds, amirite? They are an awesome subject to get into because they’re gorgeous and funny and weird and diverse and there’s always so much to learn and uncover in your neighbourhood. Recognising songs, plumage, behaviour, territories, and how all of that changes according to age or time of day or season or, I don’t know, the phases of the moon?

I’ve mainly relied on the excellent Merlin ID app, though I’ve used Google and some better-informed human folks to fill in the gaps. And at some point in the last few weeks I started wondering if I should call myself a “birder” now. It’s weird that I should question that, but part of me thinks it means “expert” or at least “super obsessed about feathery critters” which probably says more about my perceptions than reality.

I mean, I know a few things? Some of those things I got from Google and some were guesses that turned out to be wrong, but I’ve at least got enough correct things in my head to confidently answer a few bird-related trivia questions at work, and briefly chat about weird heron behaviour the other day. Two guys came up to me as I was shooting a heron on Lost Lagoon to ask if it was actually a heron, because it was hanging its wings in a weird way, down by its legs to look almost like a cape, and from far away it didn’t look much like a heron. I said yep, that’s what it was, and no, I’d never seen any heron do that before, so I was as confused as them.

But they thanked me about filling them in, and that felt nice. Maybe it’s not about being a quote-unquote expert, but keeping your eyes and ears open, learning as much as you can, and sharing the things you know.

So here are some of the things I’ve seen and learned in the last month, split by species:

Anna’s hummingbirds

Yeah, we’ve got hummingbirds in these parts. Here’s what has to be a very immature Anna’s hummingbird. It’s got a bit of green on the back, but that’s it, and otherwise looks really unfinished.

I wonder if it’s the same guy as this male, who looks to just be getting his adult colours. I don’t know if two weeks is enough time for a hummingbird to mature that much, but apparently these guys leave the nest after three weeks, so who knows?

Spotted towhees

I don’t actually know anything about this species, and I think I only got the name from my app. My first encounter with them was around Burnaby Lake way back in March. Then, by Lost Lagoon a few weeks ago.

And then just a week ago: an adult near Burnaby Lake, and apparently a juvenile in Sapperton. So that’s interesting, and I should have trusted Merlin ID when it labeled that juvenile as a towhee. We live and learn.

Starlings

Starlings are super common, sure, but super pretty in the right light. Also, females and males look very similar. What I shot on the seawall, hanging around with an adult, was a juvenile.

Rule of thumb: if I’ve never seen them before this summer, it’s probably a juvenile.

House finches

We’ve got a few downtown, and here’s one putting his thick beak to good use. They’ve got lovely voices, too. One morning I was taking a walk and stopped by a tree that had such gorgeous music coming out of it. After some careful listening I finally found the source. It doesn’t always pay off since a lot of singing birds rudely hide in foliage, but if you stop and listen for just a minute, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Northern flickers

I’ve seen one of these critters before, three years ago. That looks like a female (or juvenile), since it didn’t have those stripes on the sides of its throat. But here’s a beautiful male digging into the soil by the seawall. And here’s… the same one for all I know, in the same spot.

And I learned that northern flickers come in two subspecies! This is a red-shafted northern flicker, which you’ll find mainly west of the Rockies. Red or dark underwing, red throat stripes and grey head with brown cap are the main markers. Hybrids exist, and will mix and match traits of both subspecies. Neat stuff!

Actually, I’m wondering if this individual is a bit of a hybrid, because he has a very faint darker crescent on the back of his head, which I understand is typical of yellow-shafted flickers.

Robins

Apparently they eat worms. Who knew?

Wood ducks

The bebbies, so adorbs. I also realised mallard ducklings have similar light/dark patterns on their faces, but mallards are yellow-golden, while wood ducklings are plain brown and off-white.

A male teen giving me the eye. The head colours are mostly there, though the green still needs some work, and the body is still scruffy and brown. Here’s a still younger male just starting on his white neck & head patterns. It looks like they get their red eyes pretty early too.

Just to switch things up here’s an adult female calmly swimming along. I love the white domino mask effect around her eyes, the only concession to her brothers’ loud colours.

Bushtits

So tiny! So cute. I’ve seen them before around the seawall but they are just so damn hard to photograph since they hardly ever sit still. I was lucky to capture this one!

Tree swallows

They’re who those bird boxes in Lost Lagoon are for. Sometimes they sit and pose, but most of the time they’re zipping around near the surface of the water picking out little bugs. I tried getting action shots, but they’re too fast and too far away and I don’t have the gear or the skill for them yet.

Miscellaneous sparrows

Here’s a song sparrow by Lost Lagoon. Here’s maybe another one on the other side, looking all derpy and lost even though it had a parent on the other side of the trail responding to its calls.

This scraggly little thing might be a white-crowned sparrow (judging by the darker stripes on its head) but I can’t be sure. I spent a while standing around and listening, and it paid off! Feeling thankful for my telephoto lens, plus the fact that my camera screen can swivel up and down so I could line up my shot.

Speaking of, last but not least:

White-crowned sparrows

These birbs are so incredibly photogenic, and I swear I’ll never get over how I didn’t know they were a thing before this very spring. Still, it’s never too late, right? Here’s one serenading me near Second Beach. And here’s another posing all pretty in that little bit of David Lam Park near the ferry dock.

That spot looks to be home to a bunch of them and their families. I’ve been seeing some juveniles there lately; at first I thought they were pregnant females because they looked really round, didn’t move around much, and tore down little plants so I assumed they were building nests. Plus I’d only caught quick glimpses of females before and figured I was due. But I hear they really are juveniles, which would make more sense because it’s late in the season and every other bird out there is making babies. I’m a bit frustrated at how much I don’t know even this one species of bird, but then I’ve only been at it for a couple months so maybe I could be easier on myself? That’s what an expert does too.

In conclusion: they’re perfect and I love them.

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Days in Pictures

24 x 24: days 1239 — 1240

Two weeks ago on May 24 UTC (ie: May 23 5:00PM — May 24 5:00PM in my time zone) I took part in the 24×24 Photo Marathon. It was my very first photo marathon, and in fact the very first time I’d tried themes in my photography. Overall I enjoyed the new challenge! Frustrating in parts, but that’s what challenges do, I guess. It taught me to look a little more deeply into what’s in front of me and imagine how I could capture it, something which I’ll definitely carry forward.

Let’s go over each of my 24 photos: themes, outcome, and behind-the-scenes dirt.

Theme 01, “A very good idea” : Sign of the times, right? Plan B would have been a screenshot of the marathon itself.

Theme 02, “Black mirror” : thought about shooting myself reflected in a black car, but that would be weird. Fortunately the lighting at my desk was just right!

Theme 03, “Connection” : the only thing I don’t like about this view is that goddamn eyesore chandelier under Granville Bridge. Didn’t even notice that was there until after I posted the photo. Sigh. Maybe I should have gone with my first idea of shooting Burrard Bridge, whether from the ground or from Granville Bridge.

Theme 04, “Cat and mouse” : here we move indoors, since night has fallen. Good thing I remembered those cheesy socks I got one Xmas!

Theme 05, “Inside out” : easy-peasy silly.

Theme 06, “Solidarity” : I religiously (heh) follow Chris Steadman on the socials, and I really need to finish his book.

Theme 07, “To the left” : probably the leftiest thing I own, a copy of Out of the Closets: Voices of Gay Liberation (© 1972 by Karla Jay and Allen Young), a collection of revolutionary articles and essays from the very early days of the gay liberation movement. Bought second-hand at Little Sister’s many years ago.

Theme 08, “Dinner club” : good thing that Ace of Wands looks like a club, because I didn’t have any other ideas.

Theme 09, “Burst” : morning again! I went hunting for flowers, since I figured there wouldn’t be many fireworks available.

Theme 10, “Towards the light” : solar power FTW! My other idea was sunflowers, but we don’t have any around here. I also thought about shooting from a shaded location towards the light, but none of those photos looked good and it was too on the nose anyway.

Theme 11, “Key ingredient” : I think I kind of lost the plot here. The “key ingredient” was supposed to be light, but in hindsight I don’t think that came through.

Theme 12, “LOUD!” : HONKHONKHONK

Theme 13, “Transit(ion)” : The most interesting transit place was the (not yet reopened) ferry dock down the way. I decided to shoot its new, longer, ramp and the way it descends back and forth to the dock itself.

Theme 14, “Roomy” : as roomy as it gets around here!

Theme 15, “Thin red line” : turns out there aren’t many red things in the city, let alone thin red lines. I thought about the line of cones on Beach, but that’s orange. I did take a couple pictures, just to see what it felt like, and good thing this is not a traditional photo marathon!

Theme 16, “Pretty ugly” : formerly pretty pretty, now wilting-pretty. Kinda works? Maybe I could have zoomed in more, I dunno.

Theme 17, “Secret garden” : I don’t have a garden of my own, so I did the best I could.

Theme 18, “Comfort” : yes come through with the comfort food!

Theme 19, “Normal people” : to be fair I don’t know if these people are normal, but they were doing a normal thing so here we go.

Theme 20, “The favo(u)rite“: ugh I’m not happy with how this photo turned out.

Theme 21, “Rough” : Simple, straightforward. Done and done.

Theme 22, “Self portrait” : I’d already done a selfie for theme 6, so I had to kick it up a notch.

Theme 23, “Order” : I don’t remember what prompted this exactly. Maybe it’s just that the pencil case was sitting on my desk and I was all “why not?”

Theme 24, “Give meaning” : ehh, I lost it again, and then wasted time, and then panicked because it was almost 5:00. So here you go I guess?

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Days in Pictures

That’s how the light gets in: days 1211–1238

I have up days and down days. I get anxious, lonely, antsy or unproductive. But: I’m always grateful for living in this place, grateful I get the chance to go for a walk, breathe the air, and capture what I can of this beautiful place through my little lenses. This is what gets me going, even when I kind of don’t feel like going.

Part of it is the self-improvement and skill development: working out lighting, composition, my camera’s many settings, and switching lenses as efficiently as possible. Part of it is the validation, the Likes and the comments I get on the socials, and coworkers telling me my photos really brighten up the social Slack channel. Part of it is the walking. I really like walking! Part of it is the learning. We’ll get to that.

But mostly, it’s the joy of seeing what’s there. Big moments and little moments that pull me out of my own head and remind me why I do this. From the beginning of this photo challenge I was afraid I’d run out of cool stuff to capture. Occasionally I still am. I don’t feel those sparkling moments every day. But, enough days. This city I’ve already seen a million times can still enchant me, and that is a real gift.

Sunsets and mornings, skylines and even more skylines, herons both regal and scraggly, bumblebees with bursting pollen sacs and otters and the occasional bald eagle, and when the weather just isn’t cooperating? Flowers is where it’s at. But the real stars of this show are the birbs. I’ve seen chickadees a few times in leafy West End streets, a couple hummingbirds around Stanley Park, as well as finches.

Best of all, though? All the sparrows. Did you know there are dozens of sparrow species in the Americas, and over 100 in the Old World? I’ve personally seen and photographed four: house sparrows; song sparrows (one of the first photos I took with my telephoto lens); white-crowned sparrows (which I first shot just on April 1st, and is turning out to be pretty common around downtown, at least in the spring / summer); and finally, a magnificent white-throated sparrow, which I’ve only seen once near Burnaby Lake.

I know there’s at least a fifth in these parts: the golden-crowned sparrow, which looks like a white-crowned sparrow except its white stripes are yellow. I haven’t seen it around downtown, but an Instagrammer I follow shot one around Richmond.

What else have I been overlooking? What treasures will I discover? We will see, all I need is to keep my eyes open.

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Days in Pictures

Like water off a duck’s back: days 1135 — 1210

I’ll just say it: the COVID-19 pandemic is treating me pretty well. It’s a scary, uncertain and challenging time, definitely, but also a time for new opportunities. I’ve been working from home for the last few weeks, and I’m grateful to still have a job, but comes with its own challenges—the need for focus, separating personal and work spaces, that sort of thing, plus no more daily commutes along the seawall and no more gym. No more volleyball, either. The Queen Vicki tournament was the first casualty, but then the rest of the indoor season got canceled, and who can even say if we’ll have a summer season?

And I won’t get to travel to Paris with my parents next month. We’ve been looking forward to it for most of a year, had a whole itinerary planned, and now it’s up in the air. Talking about October and crossing our fingers. Talking about Berlin, too, since it seems Germany may get its act together faster than France. But again: everything up in the air.

Still, I’m lucky. The silver lining about these many changes in my routine is that it’s giving me the chance to reconsider some stuff. How I can make friendships work virtually—harder in some ways, easier in others. How my workout regimen didn’t seem to be working much and I can explore different approaches. My relationship with my own living space. I’m a creature of habit, I know this, and I think it’s time to ask if some of those habits need breaking.

One habit I’m sticking with, though, is my photography. I’ve been pretty much limiting myself to around downtown, except for one trek to Burnaby Lake; it doesn’t actually feel limiting, though, especially with the new telephoto zoom lens I bought in early March before all this went down. It was originally intended for Paris, and that will happen someday, but in the meantime I’m getting really close and personal with wildlife, cityscapes and whatnot. The wildlife, especially, I get to see in ways I never have before. I feel incredibly fortunate to live in a place like Vancouver. Let’s look at some highlights of the last two months!

There’s this cormorant and this song sparrow. Taken on the same morning commute, and I was still experimenting with the zoom.

(That reminds me, I need swing by Brush With Illumination one of these days, and see how these guys are doing.)

And then: the moon! I am seriously agog at how well this turned out. The colour is perfect, the details are exquisite, just this one photo makes the zoom lens absolutely worth it.

This Vancouver duck eating breakfast. And these Burnaby ducks just swimming around.

This morning canyon and this evening skyline.

This white-crowned sparrow. I didn’t know white-crowned sparrows were a thing until I looked it up. That makes three sparrow species in this neck of the woods that I have personally photographed, and I wonder how many more I can find? Wikipedia tells me there are almost 200 species of Old World and American sparrows worldwide.

This heron watching the sunset, and this crow which I thought for a minute was a raven because it looked so majestic.

This shot of Lost Lagoon and this other sunset.

So things are weird and uncertain and I don’t know when things will go back to “normal” but in the meantime I’m learning about sparrow diversity and marveling at how I just have to travel 10 or so kilometers to find whole new species of ducks with oddly-coloured heads, and maybe this is me trying to make lemonade out of a buttload of lemons or practising mindful gratitude but… right now this doesn’t suck so much for me.

I know this too shall pass, and I hope we don’t get back to normal, because “normal” wasn’t working for a lot of people. Hopefully something better will come in this pandemic’s wake.

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Days in Pictures

RTFM: days 1096 — 1134

Twenty twenty started out much like previous years, in Montreal; and I kicked off the fourth year of my photo challenge with a squinty selfie because why not.

The following day, back in Ottawa, I went out to buy a new, real camera: specifically, a Sony α-7iii, which reviews tell me is the best all-around camera for my budget. And also to reminisce… It’s true, time does move on, and I guess some memories will never get a permanent monument. And, realistically, I’m sure Ottawa’s LGBTQ community is better served a quarter-century later. But still…

More reminiscing, more touristing: Parliament Hill, wandering into the Market, then a bit north, then hey why not walk to Hull? Didn’t walk the whole way but I did get a nice view of both sides of the bridge.

And look: my first picture with the new camera. Not too bad, right? Softer contrast (which is one thing that annoys me about my OnePlus’s camera) + a proper optical zoom (70mm, baby) + highest possible resolution = a great shot of a squirrel in our backyard.

Mind you, that’s when I started running into problems. Problem #1 being how to get photos from the camera to my phone so I can post to IG. It is possible to do it through the magic of wireless—that was one of my requirements—but the connection is… finicky. I’ve got the hang of it now, though, you just have to know the trick.

More generally, I haven’t used a real camera in over ten years, and I’d forgotten how many settings the damn things have—this model more than most, apparently. The reviews all said there would be a learning curve, but also that it would be worth it. They were right, but it took me a while! My first real foray with the new toy was disappointing in some ways. Some pics were kind of overexposed, some with slightly wrong focus (and a bit too dark). I was able to put the zoom to good use, though! And at least the blue / golden hours were white-balanced correctly.

The learning process is letting me do cool things, though. Like this shot of geese on the water, that I didn’t mean to expose and saturate like that; like the m-fing Moon (a few more times, actually); like this closeup of a pretty seagull; and other shots that I’ve always wanted to be able to do, like the lights of downtown from Granville Bridge or the foot of Davie Street from Cambie Bridge. The 70mm lens lets me get much closer to the local wildlife than ever before, too: sparrows, robins, crows, cormorants, ducks. Maybe that’s going to be my thing?

Or at least a thing. I haven’t forgotten architecture! After a PuSh Festival show and before stumbling on the moon rising above the cranes I wandered around for a bit and found these words on this old hotel. Awesome. It is super cool to uncover a bit of Vancouver’s architecture history.

Haven’t forgotten my phone, either. My camera doesn’t do macros nearly as well, and it’s more awkward to handle, so you get little experimental photos like this one or this one.

I’m still exploring, still sort of tooling around with it, going through the online manual. It’s pretty frustrating sometimes, because I feel like I’m doing the same stuff I’ve done over the last three years when I should be taking advantage of this new hardware and doing completely new things. I just don’t know what they could be. That’s okay, though! Everything is a learning process. Now that I’ve got a feel for this thing I’ll probably want to get some more versatile lenses to supplement by basic one before my Paris trip. That’ll get my creative juices going

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Thoughts about Things

Hop, skip and a jump: looking back at 2019

I know it’s a whole new decade and everything, but I don’t really want to look back ten whole years… because, sad to say, I don’t feel I’ve done all that much for most of it. I’d been working at the same company since 2009; in 2013 I quit and tried my hand at freelancing, which didn’t work out, but I was lucky enough to be able to go back to my old job. Which, fair’s fair, I should feel grateful for, but looking back it really feels more like (a) failure and (b) settling at a job I didn’t especially care for. So… that didn’t do much for my self-esteem. On the other hand, just like Shangela, I was working my way and paying my dues, and all of this (even the less fun parts) was preparing me for what came next.

So no, we won’t go back that long. After last New Year I posted this on FB:

In 2017 I broke out of my holding pattern.
In 2018 I gained momentum.
In 2019 I’ll fly.

Because it’s true, 2017 is when things started happening, on a bunch of fronts:

  • I started my daily photo challenge on New Year’s Day; a few months later I started blogging regularly again
  • I travelled outside the country for the first time in decades
  • I started a new job, challenging and rewarding and with great people and a great work environment

I’m still at that job, still being challenged; the blogging comes and goes somewhat, but I’ve published 95 posts (not counting this one) in the last three years, plus taking and posting photos every single day since January 1, 2017; Brussels / Amsterdam in 2017 was followed up with Iceland in 2019, and Paris is coming up next May.

So I had to ask myself, what does it mean to fly? Does it mean to forge on ahead, do the thing and look back in surprise at how ready and unafraid you were? Does it mean consistency, little everyday flaps of your wings, that taken all together take you places? Does it mean putting down burdens, wrapping up long-unfinished business so as to face the future with a clean slate, clear eye and light heart?

All of the above, yeah? Yeah. And flight did happen in 2019.

I started the year out by taking my photography in a somewhat different direction, with all those morning shots of Sunset Beach from Burrard Bridge. It was just a fun little experiment at first, an exercise in Changing Things Up, but it turned into a nifty productivity tool as I pushed my wake-up and get-out-of-the-apartment times earlier, then held them there for months. My discipline lapsed after July when work moved, and I’ve been struggling to recapture it. I don’t want to do it exactly the same way, though, with a fixed time and viewpoint. I’d probably get tired of it after a while, and I want to keep both my motivation and my feed fresh.

Still, the experiment served its purpose. I’ve learned what I can do, and that includes the One Weird Trick™ of using one aspect of my life to help another. Good to know going forward!

More big events: presenting at WordCamp Vancouver, something I’d gradually been building up to in the last couple years. As awkward and nervous as I felt inside, the audience was receptive and engaged, laughed when I wanted them to laugh, asked plenty of questions and sent me lots of LinkedIn invites afterwards. So hey, thumbs up? Equally thumbs up was getting my AWS Solutions Architect – Associate certification which will certainly be a big boost for my career. For a while, I was juggling studying for that and preparing for WordCamp… but it’s all good.

More fun: volunteering for my NDP candidate Breen Ouellette during last fall’s federal election. I got quite a bit more involved than in the 2015 campaign, doing door-to-door canvassing and taking Election Day (or “E-Day”, as we say in the biz) off do help out more, which meant more canvassing in the pouring rain BY MYSELF, followed by inside scrutineering which is always a nerdy trip. Though Breen lost, the team is staying in touch to keep the momentum going for next time, whether that’s in six months or four years. Which is nice! It’s good to be part of something bigger, something I believe in.

So all in all, this has been a pretty interesting year. To be honest, a lot of it didn’t feel like flying. I get lazy or distracted, I still suffer from Imposter Syndrome every once in a while, along with assorted self-doubts (amplified by, and amplifying, the aforementioned laziness). That’s okay, though. I had moments. Enough to keep me moving forward. More moments than 2018. And less than 2020.

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Days in Pictures

Selfie of the artist: days 1029 — 1095

So a funny thing happened on October 30 (day 1033): I snapped a couple of excellent photos in and then… figured I had enough and I could stop for the day. I was tired, and I could save any more potential shots for later, because they’d still be there.

And sure, they would. But was that enough reason to wait? No it was not. So I gave that grumpy ‘tude the elbow and set out to grab a few more shots—a nice one of downtown across the water and, for the first time, a video! I like it, though I’m not sure where to go from here. I tried to take another video a couple days later, of the SkyTrain from the Georgia Viaduct, as it swoops and banks out of Main Street Station, but I messed up and only recorded a couple seconds. Did better the next day, though.

At the time, I asked myself if this was something I wanted to keep doing. Was this “the next level” I’ve been going on about since hitting day 1,000, and which some of my friends even suggested? It was definitely new, but the fact that I haven’t done any more videos kind of answers that question.

It’s okay, though, because I think I learned my lesson: seize the day. There is an infinite number of photos for the taking, and I don’t need to ration them. And also, I don’t need to listen to the little voice (yes, I have one) inside wondering if people get turned off when I post too many photos. Whatever “too many” means. I do what I want and it’s stupid and it can’t tell me what to do. Of course, it’s okay to get tired and uninspired, but that negative self-talk doesn’t need reinforcing.

Speaking of voices: while on the Culture Crawl I got to chatting with one of the artists at 1000 Parker Street, and mentioned my IG. It felt like bragging, and like something I shouldn’t do with a real artist, and I had to fight the urge to use self-deprecating language like “Oh, I just do photography”.

Also—and probably related—I felt all awkward and babbly. Mind you, she probably appreciated the human interaction, babbly or not. But you know what she told me, that I think was the thing I needed to hear?

That she considered me an artist too.

So many times I’ve gone to the Crawl, honestly enjoying the art and creativity around me, but underneath it there were undercurrents of hunger for both inspiration and direction, and feelings of inadequacy. I wanted to create something like what I was seeing, yet didn’t know how or if that was possible. But 1,000 straight days of photography will change you; maybe what I really wanted now is validation. That the things I create, have worth. That they are special and interesting. And that they have a future.

Still haven’t figured out what that future is, though. But… I know it’s there.

Took a couple selfies too, in the month of December, which is still a semi-big deal for me. One while taking a sunset walk on Sunset Beach, and one volunteering for the VMC, as is my wont. Both were kind of planned. I’ve arlready done the selfie-in-church-in-nice-clothes thing last year, but this is the only time I ever wear a bowtie, so I should make the most of it. And for Sunset Beach, I just had a hankering, y’know? Can’t explain it, but I went with it. It’s nice to put my face out there… after like a dozen tries to get the angle and the smile just right, of course.

And as we close off the decade, I got a new phone after 2 years with my old Pixel! Night shots are sublime, macro zooms are excellent, I can do still lives and full moon shots better than ever. Colour balance on the OnePlus 7T sometimes needs manual correction, especially in twilight hours (morning or evening), which is annoying, but overall it really does take excellent photos. Like this lost bunny on Cambie Bridge, Sunset Beach with the half-finished new dock, Yaletown towers in the rising sun, False Creek at night and tiny wet berries.

BUT: partly because of these aforementioned flaws, and partly because I feel I’m growing as a photographer and smartphones aren’t cutting it anymore, I’m planning to get a real camera again. Got the make and model already figured out. I’ll be heading into 2020 with brand new tools to share my visions!