Photographer John Sylvester's love of P.E.I. shines in new book

Prince Edward Island: Landscape and Light to be launched Friday in New Glasgow

Mary MacKay
Published on August 14, 2014

John Sylvester will be launching Prince Edward Island Landscape and Light at the Prince Edward Island Preserve Company, 2841 New Glasgow Rd., New Glasgow, on Friday, Aug. 15 at 7 p.m. All are welcome.

John Sylvester never tires of his favourite photo subject.

There are no wedding planners to consult with, no child toys to jangle and no “say cheese” smiles to coax.

All he has to do is head to the great outdoors of his adopted province and shoot till his photographer’s mind’s eye is content.

And, with 32 years of Prince Edward Island living and three decades of photography in the camera bag, so to speak, Sylvester has trekked to and shot countless spaces and scenic places, resulting in images that have become some of the Island’s most iconic and well-known.

Now his latest and greatest, and a few unpublished gems from the image vault, are being showcased in his latest book Prince Edward Island: Landscape and Light, which is published by Acorn Press.

“Although the book is mostly new photography I did slip in a few older images including some that go back pretty close to 30 years,” he says.

While his subject matter has remained the same, other things are dramatically different from when Sylvester started on his career path in the mid-1980s, namely technology.

The switch to digital a decade ago really changed things up.

“Traditionally the landscape photographer always photographs the magic hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset. For most of my photography that is still true, but you can really expand the day now and capture things that you couldn’t capture before (like the night sky).”

One unexpected skill that developed in Sylvester’s 30 years as a landscape photographer is that he became an avid weather watcher and dedicated storm chaser, but one typically that shows up before or just after the big blow.

“I’m always watching the weather. I am very aware of it and I love especially to photograph before and after weather systems come in. There’s a picture (in the book) of waves and dramatic sky in Cavendish; that was taken as a storm was blowing out. The aftermath of the storm was that there was a large surf coming onto the shore.”

Sylvester also focuses on winter, in addition to the more common seasonal shooting.

“(It’s often neglected) because it’s so much more work. You have to get up early, put all those clothes on; maybe scrape the car off to get going. And maybe when you get out into the field it’s cold and your fingers get numb or you accidently breathe into your viewfinder and steam up. It’s just more difficult,” he says.

“But the light is gentler, for sure. The sun doesn’t go up as high and it sets at a stronger angle so you often get some beautiful afterglow in the sky as you see in that image there,” he says of a shot of Rustico Harbour taken around 4:30 in the afternoon in early winter when the bay has not yet frozen.

“I always look for those types of conditions because that’s rare to have snow on the north shore at that time of year that it actually stays put, it doesn’t blow two miles inland. And then it would be calm and get a reflection in water, because it can often be pretty rough in December,” he adds.

By osmosis Sylvester has also become a nature watcher as well.

“You’re so aware of the seasons here because of agriculture. The crops changing in the spring and of course there’s all those neat rows of red soil when they plant potatoes. We’ve had farmers growing canola in the last few years and that’s just absolutely stunning in early July,” he says.

“Of course there’s lupin season along the roadsides and right now we have all the grain crops that are going to turn golden and the potato blossoms are out. So it’s just a different landscape, even though you could go to the same spot. I often go back to locations again and again in different seasons to see what’s planted.”

Despite having focused on P.E.I. as one of his favourite landscape subjects for three decades, Sylvester is still finding the new around every corner.

“It seems that every year I discover another location or some event that I was completely unaware of before. This spring I was photographing the colourful lobster buoys up in Tignish/Sea Cow Pond area. Already I’ve got shots that I wish I had in the book. But that’s what happens,” he smiles.

“I just got an email (from a person) in western P.E.I. who sent me a photograph of this really amazing rock formation in Kildaire Capes. It just developed. That’s another thing, our coast is always changing, so I will go back and have a look and find something new.”