Thursday, 23 October 2014


I shot this self-portrait in the exquisite palace where Bella Kotak and I lived for three blissful, sun-soaked days in Nusa Lembongan. This was taken the evening before we departed. I had been meaning to photograph there ever since we arrived, but kept putting it off and off until finally, I stopped procrastinating, borrowed Bella's tripod, and started creating. I was inspired by the symmetry of the palm fronds that extended skywards like the jewel of some Earthly crown and, of course, the rich emerald hues. Because I photographed just before dusk, the light was soft and the sky was still bright.

Here's how I used Photoshop to create my vision.

The tripod didn't have a rotating head, so I could only take horizontal images. Because of this, I had to shoot my body in two different shots and then merge them in Photoshop.

I knew that I would have to expand the image in Photoshop if I wanted to include the entire palm fronds and surrounding bushes. This required taking a lot of plates! I actually used more than shown here.

I opened the images in Photoshop and began to merge them using mostly layer masks and the clone tool.

I colour-graded the picture using Selective Colour (to dim the yellow tones), Curves (for contrast and colour), and Hue/Saturation (to increase the saturation).

At this stage, I used dodge/burn to help direct the viewer's eyes to the subject and removed distracting elements such as the hut in the background, brown bits on the leaves, gaps in the foliage, etc. This "tidying up" is the last thing I do to an image.

And it's done!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

nusa lembongan

The tropical air hit us as soon as we left the secure area of Ngurah-Rai Airport and we turned to each other giggling, "It smells like Bali!" The scent of lighted incense and heat and humidity. The hint of ocean water for the sea is never far in an island as tiny as this. Bella and I had arrived late at night and even our excitement could not delay our exhaustion for long. We were asleep the moment we slid into our taxi. We spent an interesting night in Sanur where we had our first of many cockroach encounters and I rediscovered my love of papaya at breakfast. Mornings start early in Bali and it wasn't long before we were dragging our suitcases down the dusty street to catch a boat to Nusa Lembongan.

I don't know if I have ever seen water quite that blue. It glimmered like jewels and was transparent in the shallows. The sand that stretched along the beach was pale and soft on our bare feet. The low jungle hills with pointed red-roofed dwellings hugged the seaside and again, we were confronted with the Asian heat. The Balinese were there to help us step down from the boat and into the pulse of the waves where we could then wade towards shore. I was too stubborn to let anyone help me.

We walked across scorching pavement, leaped into the back of a truck that was to take us to our villa, and clutched the rails as we sped along bumpy roads and wound up steep hillsides. Our home for the next three nights was to be Villa Nusa and we truly felt like Queens. There was a crystal-hued infinity pool, a gazebo on the cliff edge laden with pillows, stone showers that were open to the sunlight, two large fluffy beds, a magnificent loft that overlooked the jungle and coastline, and more windows than walls. The space was illuminated by daylight from the instant the sun appeared. We were always touched by that light.

Bella bravely took the reigns of our scooter even though it had been a year since she had driven one. I naively relaxed on the back and tried to keep her dress from flying up as we explored our side of the little island and found delicious spots to fill our bellies. After Scotland, I wanted to welcome the heat with open arms but found myself faltering in the temperatures. We had little choice but to hide for portions of the afternoons in our air conditioned rooms.

The most remarkable thing that happened in Lembongan was that I went snorkeling for the first time. I am not a swimmer (I can't swim) and I am not comfortable in the water. But snorkeling is something that I have always wanted to do and when the opportunity came to swim with Manta Rays, I couldn't say no. Now as I said, I can't swim and don't really like being in the water, so when it came time to disembark from the boat, I absolutely refused to jump into the ocean. I do this a lot. When it comes to anything that make me nervous, I become very particular and stubborn and NEED TO BE IN CONTROL. There was no way that I was going to leap from the safety of the boat into some strange man's arms. No way. I lowered myself into the waves while clinging to the rails. And then I clung to the strange man who was our guide because I can't swim and that life vest was not making me feel any safer.

I didn't expect the Manta Rays to be that big, that graceful, or have mouths that large. They were the width of our boat and would glide toward us with gaping smiles. One of the other women would rise to the surface screaming and clutching at me (why me? I can't save you! I can't swim!) every time one would come too close. Our guide laughed, told us that the giant creatures were just curious.

I didn't let go of our guide's hand... even when a jellyfish stung me on my butt and I started cursing profusely at the pain.

We went to two more locations after the Manta Rays and in both spots, I swam (or bobbed in the water with my life vest) on my own. The ocean was perfectly clear and fish were abundant, darting in the open water and hiding in their coral castles. I had wanted desperately to see an eel and finally spotted one in the final location. She was large and incredible and hiding under one of the outcroppings of coral.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

on the road

I think I have always found peace on the road. I remember my mother telling me that when I was a little baby, she and my father and I were camping on the Canadian prairies when a huge storm started. I was fussy and refused to sleep in the tent, so they moved me into the car and started to drive as the mighty winds threatened to push our tiny vehicle across the highway. Once the car began to move, I calmed and finally, I slept.

I don't know if it's the movement, the sensation of going somewhere, or the safe distance from which you can watch the world go by, but I feel so at home in the moments between being anywhere. I become a happy observer, jittery with excitement and yet completely relaxed (so much so that I usually fall asleep). I feel bitter when the journey begins to end because I don't want to have to leave my window seat. Often when I'm surrounded by people, I feel as if I am standing behind a fourth wall, seeing and aware but separate from the hum of society. I become a watcher, content to feed off the energy around me without spending any of my own. I'm not a full introvert, but I have my moments. When on the road, I again become that watcher, again absorb the energy of the world passing, again become a piece of something greater.

I took these pictures on the way from Glasgow to Oxford where I met up with Bella Kotak.

Thursday, 16 October 2014


Shortly before leaving Canada, I found out that I have some very distant family in Glasgow (my mother's sister's husband's cousins). We got in touch and I went to stay with them for three nights upon leaving Edinburgh. It was strange to think that I would be staying with people whom I had never met before (only spoken to through three emails) and didn't even know existed two weeks prior. That being said, I wasn't nervous; I think I have become so used to meeting and staying with strangers that this felt like just another day. My cousin, William had been a little anxious though.

That being said, my time in Glasgow with William and his brother, Ross was absolutely brilliant. They are both amazing individuals who are intelligent, passionate, and act with purpose. So many people go through life in auto-pilot, merely existing and going with the flow without thinking about why. I was so impressed by how aware William and Ross were. They understood what was important to them, what they needed, and what they were struggling with. I learned a lot by speaking to them and admire them both immensely.

I have been called "brave" more times during this trip than in my entire life. Every person that I have met has commented on how brave I am to have left home to travel the world, largely on my own. It's weird because I don't feel brave. I am terrified most of the time. I am just a girl and I am doing my best to be happy and live a good life. I don't feel like someone who should be admired or who has done anything remarkable. I merely hopped on a plane and left. Seeing my cousins marvel on my actions was bizarre and something I am still processing.

Most of these images were taken when William took a day off work and took me to see some of his favourite sights in his corner of Scotland. I took so many pictures and saw so many incredible things that day, including downtown Glasgow, Stirling Castle, the William Wallace Monument, and Stirling University (where I saw swans for the first time!). The place that impacted me the most was called "Rest and Be Thankful." It's an area at the beginning on the highlands and quite possibly the most beautiful place that I have ever been. I can't even imagine what they must be like when you're surrounded by miles and miles of hills and mountains and glens.

I love that it is called, "Rest and Be Thankful." I need to do that more. Rest. Be thankful. It was a glorious reminder to breathe and have gratitude. Be here, in this moment. The present in the most precious thing we have.