Photography in Victoria BC

I just got back from my second weekend in Victoria BC is as many months.  This is definitely my current getaway town as it is so close and provides plenty of photographic satisfaction, even when there for just a couple days.  Over at the PhotoCamel, I was asked about things to shoot in Victoria, so I thought I’d put together this summary.

There are a few different ways to get to this southern tip of Vancouver Island, off of Canada’s Pacific coast.  Since I come up from Seattle, the Black Ball ferry line out of Port Angeles Washington works for me.  In fact, if you can work it into your schedule, the town of Port Angeles can be your first place to start shooting.  It is a quaint (in a good way) sea town that is a bit lost in time (again, in a good way).  This is an international boat ride, so bring your passport and come early.

While you’re in Port Angeles, make sure to stop at Cock-a-Doodle Doughnuts for a treat.

Once you’re on the boat, it’s not time to rest yet.  Head back to the stern to get some shots of Port Angeles from the water and, more importantly, the Olympic Mountains.

You might want to wait back there for maybe 20 minutes as the scene changes the further you get from land.  After that, you can go back inside and rest comfortably on this peaceful ride across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  Keep an eye out, though, for cruise and container ships you might pass along the way.

It’s a 90 minute crossing that ends with a lazy drift into James Bay in Victoria.  You definitely want to be on-deck toward the bow at this time.  The view of the hotels, apartments and city from the harbor is great.

The Empress Hotel

Entering the harbor, this will be your first view of The Empress, and, for my money, this is one of the jewels of Victoria.  I already wrote a little bit about it here, so I won’t belabor point now.  Even if you don’t stay at The Empress, you’ll want to spend some time walking around it and checking out the details.

The Butchart Gardens

Personally I think you must make time to visit the Butchart Gardens on every trip to Victoria.  Since it changes with the seasons, there will always be something new to see.  Bring along your macro/micro lens (I like my 60 mm focal length) and maybe a wide-angle lens.  If you go during the day, you don’t need to worry about a tripod.  Plan to spend at least 3-4 hours there so you have plenty of time to take everything in.  Once you get past the front gate, I suggest you head to the left and work the property in a clockwise fashion.  This will afford you most dramatic first look at the sunken garden.  Make sure to read the history plaques along the way to find out how this old limestone quarry became one of the largest and best gardens in the world.

After a full day at Butchart Gardens, you might want to have dinner at The Spice Jammer.  I’m not sure I’d eaten East African Indian cuisine before this, so I have nothing to compare, but the food here is incredible.  5-stars.  10/10.  I can’t say enough good things about the food and service here.  It’s on my growing list of must-dos in Victoria.  Make reservations.

Oak Bay

I’m undecided on whether or not it makes sense to rent a car for a weekend trip to Victoria.  I suppose if you stay at a hotel downtown (like The Empress), you don’t need one, but if you stay further out (like at the fabulous Oak Bay Beach Hotel), it could come in handy.  Either way, you’ll want to make some time to head over to the east side of the southern tip of the island to check out the Oak Bay area.

It’s actually the drive out there that is meaningful.  Take the scenic route from downtown there and back.  If you can arrange it, having a knowledgeable driver willing to make frequent stops along the way would be the best way to go.  This is where a car is really nice because I wouldn’t want to do this in one of those huge tour buses that are everywhere.  Make sure to look back from the road to see how the other half live and note that the stone walls around the most posh properties came from the quarry that would become Butchart Gardens.  It seems like there’s a scenic stop around every turn, so go slow.

Miniature World

You’ve got to do this at least once.  If you’re into fine details and history (and who isn’t?), you need to check out this museum for the sheer magnitude of the effort that went into making it.  There’s something for everyone, and you should expect to spend at least 2 hours here.  Bring your macro/micro lens.  When shooting, try to get as close to the glass displays (without breaking the glass) as possible.  Not all of the displays are behind glass, and you can really get creative with your depth of field.

If you’re already downtown, now’s as good a time as any to head over to Dog Gone-It for a gourmet hot dog.  No matter how hungry you are, one Big Chihuahua is almost certainly enough.

Whale Watching

So far, I’ve only done this once, so you’ll have to take my advice with a grain of salt.  Actually if you ride one of the Zodiac-style boats out there, you’ll have to take a LOT of grains of salt, and that leads me to the first suggestion – bring protection!  For your person, you’ll want to dress warm, but not too bulky.  On the small inflatable Zodiacs they put you in these huge red suits that keep you relatively dry.  It’s no fun putting the suit on over a coat, so just where, maybe, a t-shirt and sweater underneath.  You and your camera will get wet, so you must bring a rain sleeve of some sort that will fit over your entire camera and lens.  This is ocean salt water, remember, so even if your gear is water resistant, the salt might still be a problem.  You might also consider putting on a UV filter because that would be easier to clean than the front element of the lens.  And please cover your gear the moment you get into the boat.  During the slow exit from the harbor was when we got the wettest.

What kind of camera gear do you want?  I suppose that depends on your goal.  There was a woman with us with a weatherproof GoPro, and several people had point-n-shoots.  There were even some camera phones in use.  Of course, I had a full-size DSLR and a pretty beefy lens.  This did not, however, turn out to be the gear I needed most.  Since we’re supposed to stay at least 200 meters away from the whales, you’ll want a pretty long telephoto lens.  I’d recommend something that can reach to 400 mm.  Even on the overcast day, light wasn’t a problem, so I didn’t need a huge aperture.  A telephototo that only opens to f/5.6 is probably the way to go:  It’s smaller and lighter than the ones with large maximum apertures, more things will be in focus with the smaller aperture, and if something bad happens, you won’t be out a couple thousand dollars.  You want a fast shutter speed, but I was in the thousandths of seconds the whole time.  Like I said, there was tons of light.

Let’s wrap things up here.  Of course there are many other photo opportunities in Victoria BC.  That’s why I plan to return regularly.  You’ll want to simply wander around downtown on a sunny day and check out the architecture, waterfront and China Town.  You should probably make time to visit Craigdarroch Castle.  And you’ll want to check out the area near The Empress at night.  I haven’t even mentioned the Parliament building, but it is just around the corner.  They light it up every single night, so that is definitely something to check out (bring a tripod for that one).

Cheers until next time,

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