Live, Laugh, Adventure

……and take lots of photos along the way!

Ammonite Falls

I often wonder how many people live their lives in the Nanaimo area not ever realizing they have a spectacular 60 foot waterfall in their back yard?

I know I had lived here for quite a few years before I heard of it.  When I did first hear of it I found it somewhat difficult to find information on how to get there.  Since then I’ve visited dozens of times, photographed it from numerous angles and explored at least 7 different ways to get there.  I hope that sharing this information and a few photos with you will encourage you to visit.

I’ve heard some people say that Ammonite Falls are 60 feet tall.  I’m not really sure of how accurate that is but based on the photo below I think it might be pretty close.  If you look carefully about 1/4 of the way up the waterfall you will see my son standing behind the waterfall so that will give you a sense of how tall they are.

Ammonite Falls is named for the fossils that can be found in the sedimentary layers of rock in the area.  An ‘ammonite’ was a snail-like creature similar to the modern Nautilus and was common in the Paleozoic and Mesozoic oceans.  A rock impression 1 meter across made by an ammonite fossil was recently found by hikers in the area (see news article).

One of the easiest and fastest ways to get to Ammonite Falls is from Jameson Road off of Jingle Pot Road.  See here for directions.

If you want a longer and slightly more difficult but more interesting hike you can try coming in from Dumont Road.  Drive past the Black Bear Pub on Dumont Road to the intersection with Biggs Road.  Turn right and look for an open parking area to your left after several hundred meters. Park here and take the right most trail (the ‘jail trail’).  Follow this trail until it intersects another major trail.  Turn left and within 20 meters look for a trail heading off to the right.  This trail heads down very steep switchbacks to Benson Creek. Cross the creek and go up the other side and continue down the trail.  This trail will end at a gravel pit.  Keep to the right side of the pit for 200m and look for where the trail reenters the forest (very hard to see).  Follow the trail through the forest to where it ends at the fire pit near the falls.  See here for a GPS track.  If you want a side trip walk upstream around the corner after crossing Benson Creek to visit Flynn Falls.  It’s not as impressive as Ammonite Falls but still fun to see.  This route in gives you a great hike through some nice west coast forest.

No matter how to get to the falls you will need to climb down a steep muddy section to get to the base where the best views are.  There are ropes to help you go down and up again.  If it’s been wet I bring work gloves because the ropes will be muddy.  It’s not so steep that you have to fully rely on the rope but it’s a nice aid down.

Photographing the falls can be a bit challenging since there are often obstructions in the way.  There are some nice shots possible from about half way down the rope but you have to be prepared to hang on the side of the steep hill to get them (see the first photo above).  You can shoot wide from across the stream.

However, if you try and shoot close from that angle the trees tend to get in the way.

I think some of the nicest shots are possible from the other side of the pond at the base of the falls or from downstream of the falls.

Farther downstream there are some other compositions possible involving moss covered trees and the creek.

If you are a photographer this is a target-rich environment.  By visiting in freezing weather the whole scene changes as the spray from the falls coats everything in ice.

For even more variety take some time to visit the area above the falls.

The safest way to get above the falls involves either coming in from the top of Dumont Road or taking a side trail quite early on the trail in from Jameson Road.  I don’t think you can safely get up there once you are at the falls.

Its a bit of work to get into Ammonite Falls but to have such a spectacular natural wonder so close is a rare treat.  I’ll leave you with this 360 degree full panorama of the falls: click here to see it.  Once it loads just click and drag your mouse to look all around.  You can even look up and down.  Enjoy!

 

What’s in my photo bag?

What’s in my photo bag?  Here’s a list:

 

  • Canon 7D: I agonized for months between the 7D and 5DMII but in the end chose the 7D as fitting more of my needs overall.  It’s been a good body for me especially shooting sports.  Now that the 5DMIII is out I’d sure like to try that for its IQ and low light performance. (update: I now have a 5DIII and am loving it)
  • Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS Lens: this is the lens that’s on my camera most of the time.  It’s a good combination of ‘walk around’ zoom range and image quality.
  • Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens: this is my favorite lens.  It’s close to being Canon’s sharpest lens and a real delight to use.
  • Canon 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM Lens: Under the right circumstances I really enjoy shooting wide.  For a crop camera this is one of the few choices to get you really wide.  Even though it’s not an L lens, many photographers feel it comes very close in image quality.  You have to be careful using it at 10mm though since it does come with significant distortion.
  • Canon 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Lens:  When I bought this lens I wasn’t sure how much I would get into macro photography.  While its not the main kind of shooting I do its fun to take out occasionally.  While this isn’t an L lens many photographers feel that it comes close in IQ if not in build quality.
  • Canon 50mm f/1.8 II Lens:  While the ‘nifty fifty’ has the build quality of a something you’re likely to get out of a cereal box, it’s a dirt cheap way to get a very fast lens for low light shooting.  I don’t use it a lot but for certain low light events (think fire dancers) it will perform where my other f/4 lens fear to tread.
  • Canon 1.4x EF Extender II:  This is a recent addition to my bag.  I use it mostly for shooting sports (rugby) combined with my 70-200.  It does cost you a stop and you take a small hit on IQ but it will get you in closer.
  • Canon Speedlite 580EX II: I don’t shoot flash a lot but when I do this speedlite works nicely.
  • Feisol Tournament Carbon Fiber 4 Section Tripod:  My first tripod was a heavy metal Manfrotto.  After suffering the weight, freezing my hands off on the metal legs and not being able to fit it in my backpack I found that I just stopped carrying a tripod.    To get back into it, I spent considerable time researching a better tripod.  I ended up choosing a Feisol Carbon Fiber tripod.  It weighs considerably less than my old one, is easier on the hands (no metal) and the legs are cleverly engineered to fold back over the ball head to reduce the length to the point where it will even fit in my 22L day pack.  As an added bonus it has no center column which I find to be a tremendous source of vibration.  I love this tripod and would buy another in a second.
  • Markins Ballhead: If you do any shooting off level ground do yourself a favor and get a ballhead. It makes lining up your camera so much easier and less frustrating than a pan/tilt head.
  • B+W 77mm Circular Polarizing Filter
  • Kirk L-Bracket for Canon 7D: An L-bracket allows you to switch your camera between landscape and portrait orientations very easily.  It keeps the camera centered on the tripod and up high where it’s easy to use (important feature for photographers with back problems).  Kirk makes very good quality equipment.

As with most other photographers, I have yet to find the one perfect bag for all situations (does it even exist?).  As a result I have ended up with a number of photo bags that I use depending on the situation:

  • Lowepro Fastpack 350 Backpack:  This is my most recent addition to the bag collection.  I was looking for a larger bag to hold all my gear plus laptop and headphones, documents etc for air trips on holidays.  Overall I like it.  Its suspension is comfortable, its well designed and well made.  My only grip is the silly little compartment in the camera section.  If this was just a little bigger it would fit my 70-200 nicely.
  • Lowepro Slingshot 200 AW Sling Bag: This was the first camera bag I bought and I still use it often.  Its a little small with the 7D but still works.  I can carry my 7D with max 70-200 mounted (but won’t fit with the 1.4 extender on), 24-105, 10-22, 100 macro and filter pack.  Its quick to use as a sling and very convenient.  Don’t plan on long hikes though.  It gets uncomfortable after an hour or so.
  • Kata 3N1-33:  This was the first bag I bought for airline travel.  While the storage is well laid out and it holds a lot, the suspension system is absolutely terrible.  Sorry Kata, but you’re going on Ebay.
  • Osprey Talon 22L and 38L: I love Osprey packs.  After trying many bags to hold photo gear while hiking and snowshoeing I eventually settled on carrying all my photo gear in individual padded pouches and have found this works very well.  I have pouches for each lens and only bring the lenses I think I will be using.  I have a neoprene fitted cover for my camera which protects it from bangs.  The Osprey packs are extremely well made and very comfortable.  They have very well designed suspension, hydration sections and are laid out nicely.  They come in a variety of sizes.  For summer day hiking I use the 22L.  For winter day hiking I use the 38L.  We like these packs so much that every member of my family has at least one.

 

Best Places to Buy Photo Gear

Most local camera or big box stores will stock entry level DSLR bodies and lenses but if you want to move up in quality to semi-pro or pro equipment the list of good places to buy thins out considerable.  If you want to buy in Canada, the list gets even shorter.  Here is a list of places that I have found to be good.

  • My favorite 2 places to buy are The Camera Store in Calgary and B&H Photo Video in New York.  I have found these 2 stores offer the best prices and selection.  Which store I’ll buy from for any particular purchase depends on the currency exchange rate and specific prices.  If the Canadian dollar is strong then often the prices at The Camera Store will meet or beat the B&H price and you don’t have to worry about shipping across the border.  When buying gear in the US you have to be very careful about brokerage fees.  Some of the courier companies charge exorbitant rates which can give you nasty surprise when your equipment is delivered.  Luckily, B&H changed their order process so that the fees (which are very reasonable) are included in the price and shown up front before you buy.  No more nasty surprises!
  • Occasionally I’ll buy something from Blacks Photo.  Their prices tend to be higher and they don’t carry much advanced gear but they will price match if you print something out that lists the competition’s price on exactly the same item but only if the other store is Canadian.
  • I used to check London Drugs but I don’t any longer.  They generally only carry lower end gear, their prices were always substantially higher and I find the search engine on their web site to be very irritating.
  • Vistek.ca is another Canadian camera store that’s big online and in some major cities.   I’ve never bought anything there since I have always found a better price elsewhere.  Other photographers I know speak highly of it though.
  • I used to check Henry’s Photo but I don’t any longer.  I found their prices were usually the same or higher and since their stores are all in Eastern Canada shipping was slower to BC.
  • Ebay.com: I have occasionally bought something off of Ebay.  I’m not sure I would buy a body or lens off the site but I’ve had good luck saving money on things like L-brackets and grips.

One site which I have found very useful in finding the best price on camera gear is Photoprice.ca.  You choose what gear you are looking for and it compiles a list of prices from all sorts of camera stores in Canada and the US.  A particularly nice feature is that it includes all taxes, duties and shipping in the price so its easy to compare.