SOME of my best vacation photos were taken on a camera with manual settings.
These days, holiday picture-taking consists of a quick aim of the iPhone and a hurried post to Instagram.
But every now and then, I do feel the urge to stretch my photography skills and capture that perfect Kodak moment.
So, I was intrigued when an invitation to step out with Whistler photographer Darby Magill crossed my desk.
Magill is a professional photographer who is working with Pan Pacific Whistler Hotels to offer a unique experience to groups of three or more guests staying at the Pan's Whistler Village or Mountainside properties.
The hotels introduced the photo hikes this summer to offer groups of guests a personal and authentic experience from a local's point of view. Private Baptiste power vinyasa classes with Whistler yoga practitioner Erin Anderson are another option.
Magill's three-hour guided tours take photo enthusiasts to local spots not found in Whistler travel guides. Her two most popular tours are Train Wreck, a jumble of graffiti-adorned freight cars near the Cheakamus River, and Ghost Town, an abandoned mill site on Green Lake.
Magill, who graduated from Victoria's Western Academy of Photography, takes me on the Train Wreck tour. We meet at Pure Bread bakery in Function Junction, where she tells me "Train Wreck has a lot to offer. You've got nature. You've got industrial. And you've got art."
We walk out along the rail line and a few minutes in, reach our first photo op: a view of a massive log jam across the roaring Cheakamus River. I fire off a couple of shots to get a feel for my borrowed G11, Canon's top-of-the-line compact digital camera. We leave the train tracks and venture down a nature path to our second river vantage point: a rocky promontory above the canyon's swift rapids. I click away at tree-fringed shots of the churning white water as Magill chats about depth of field, shutter speed and ISO ratings.
As we climb steadily up the trail, we stop to fire off a few close-up shots of plants and flowers on the forest floor. I play with my camera's macro settings, attempting an artsy image of an exposed tree root snaking up a boulder. And that's when my camera battery dies.
Magill graciously shares her camera with me for the rest of the hike, letting me look through the lens of her hefty Nikon D700 as she chats knowledgeably about the basics of manual photography.
Before long, we reach the train wreck, site of a decades-old derailment that was deemed too costly to clean up. The seven train cars are works of art, their twisted and rusted hulls the canvas for layer upon layer of graffiti art. I wander around the site, capturing the scene in close-up and wide angle shots. As we peek inside one rail car, we see the word "LOVE" spelled out in pinecones and it inspires Magill to pick up her lens. "That's what I love about this place," she says of this newest guerrilla art installation. "It's always changing."
Out into a clearing we snap a couple of shots of the last of the rail cars and then we're back on the path and out onto the tracks for the short trek back to Function Junction.
It's these little surprises that keep Magill coming back and leading groups on photo tours when she's not busy with commercial and wedding photography assignments.
Magill plans to offer the guided tours to hotel guests through the fall. The cost is $50 per person.
To book group guest rooms and outings, guests should contact TaraLyn Batson in the sales department at the Pan Pacific Whistler Village Centre at taralyn.batson@panpacific. com or by phone at 604-905-2999.