Fairy Lake


Tenable. Fairy Lake, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.
Nikon Z8 with Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S at 240mm, 1/60 sec, f/5, ISO 64.

If you search online for “Fairy Tree Canada,” you will find a lot of images of this tree. Given how many images there are, it is remarkable their variety due to the variation in light and weather. But even if it is popular, it is such a neat tree that it is irresistible. As is evident from the above image (at least in April) the morning sun lights the far side of the lake but not the tree itself. On this morning I went down to the lake’s edge (trudging through a serious quagmire—only possible with rubber boots!) to position the Fairy Tree itself against a brighter patch of trees on the far shore for some contrast and a near-silhouette look. I think it is striking.

Morning Moss. Fairy Lake, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.
Nikon Z8 with Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S at 400mm, 1/15 sec, f/5.6, ISO 64.

One challenge of this location was that the foliage all along the lakeshore was very tall, so even though the road (which curved along the edge) was a little elevated, there were only a few areas with an unobstructed view of the Fairy Tree itself. There were other options down along the shore, but, as mentioned, it was very muddy. Given the restricted views, I needed to shoot through gaps and only used my telephoto zoom for pictures of the famous tree. Down on the lakeshore, a wider lens would have worked, but I didn’t actually try one, probably because it was an awkward place to swap lenses. Just for variety’s sake, I should have, but I didn’t.

Although the Fairy Tree is clearly the main event here, I did try a long-range shot of an interesting moss-festooned tree on the far side of the lake. This is one of those images that is neat, but very busy. I worked hard to generate some contrast between the lighter moss and the darker tree itself in post-processing. I also went for a tall narrow crop to only include the mossy tree I was interested in. This all helps, but the overall pattern is so chaotic that it might not be enough to make this image succeed.

Fairy Rivulet. Fairy Lake, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.
Nikon Z8 with PC-E Micro Nikkor 85mm f/2.8D at 4.0 sec, f/8, ISO 64.

Eventually I felt that I had exhausted the possibilities of the Fairy Tree on that first visit, so I turned my back to the lake and worked on this little creek with its tiny cascades down the hillside. Since the scene receded up the slope, I decided that this was a good time to break out the 85mm tilt-shift lens to try to get the whole thing in focus. I always enjoy slowing down and fiddling with a tilt-shift lens to get everything just right. In the end, I also thought this would benefit from the tall, narrow crop. I don’t usually do that, but I have been in the mood to experiment with them a bit lately. Interestingly, although most people usually look at their phones in a vertical orientation, the fact that computer screens are typically in a horizontal orientation does not encourage playing with this format, but there are images that are suited to it. Your eyes, of course, are more adept at taking in a horizontal scene than a vertical one, but that does force you to slow down when you explore the image. I am planning to upgrade my computer next year and I’ll have to consider getting a second monitor for it that I can orient vertically.

Two days after the session above, we swung by the lake again on the way somewhere else and stopped in the hopes of having some fog. In the end the fog came, but about ten minutes earlier I was using a 6-stop neutral density filter for some long exposures and captured this next image. I think this is my favorite of the long exposures because of the horizontal streaks on the water just behind the tree. For some reason the conditions that made these streaks only lasted about two minutes, and with 30 second exposures I only got a couple images at all similar to this. It would have been nice if the streaks had extended a little further into the lake so they would have been behind the crown of the tree and not just the trunk, but I still like it. I also think the bright streaks are enough to offset the bright reflection of the sky in the foreground.

Serenity. Fairy Lake, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.
Nikon Z8 with Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S at 100mm, 30 sec, f/8, ISO 64.

If you compare the image at the top of this post with the previous one, you can see the difference between being down by the lake (the first image) versus up on the road (the preceding one). The lower perspective situates the tree against the trees on the far bank and the higher perspective puts it against the water, but if you want the reflection of the tree in the frame you get the reflection of the sky, too. There was, unfortunately, no way to get a view anywhere between those two basic elevations because the slope down to the lake was so overgrown.

The only way perspective I found that gave me the middle perspective I was looking for was from well off to the right along the road. From here, the longer telephoto shot had a shallower angle that avoided having the sky’s reflection in the bottom of the frame but still kept the tree itself below the dark trees on the far side. In the end, when the fog came, it gave some much-needed background contrast relative to the tree:

Fairy Fog. Fairy Lake, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.
Nikon Z8 with Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S at 180mm, 2 sec, f/8, ISO 64.

If you’d like to see some video of these photo sessions at Fairy Lake—including a cameo appearance by yours truly—you can watch Alister Benn‘s YouTube video.

Next week will be the first of several posts about photographing in the actual forests of Vancouver Island. Forests are always a challenge. Come back next week and see how I did!

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7 responses to “Fairy Lake”

  1. Excellent mate, love the long exposure with the streaks in particular. It seems so long ago already since we were there. Looking forward to reading every week now I have subscribed.

    • Thank you, Alister! I am very glad to have you! The one with the streaks is my favorite, too, but I am going to post a different one on Instagram shortly that is a challenger.

  2. That first image is quite extraordinary. Just wonderful. Love the way the treetop is all against the same part of the background. WowW

    The fog is great in the final image, too.

    • Thank you, Rob! I probably should have braved the slog into the bog for the fog on the second visit, too!

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