Fleeting Moments: Tofino Photographer Kyler Vos on Shooting Wildlife, Nature and Surfing

Words by Chris Zimmerman
Photos by Kyler Vos

If “right place, right time” are two of the main ingredients for a great photo, then Kyler Vos has a leg up. After growing up in the small Vancouver Island town of Port Alberni, Kyler made the move down the highway to the even smaller coastal community of Tofino to pursue his passion for shooting nature, wildlife and surf photos. The wild Pacific coast of Vancouver Island provided the perfect proving ground for Kyler’s photos, as he proceeded to capture the unique beauty of this area from the shore, the sea and the air. As his skills, and Tofino itself, grew, Kyler eventually partnered with two friends to open The Factory, a gallery and shared storefront in town.

We had a chance to catch up with Kyler to learn how he got his start in photography, some what makes Vancouver Island a special place, and how shooting wildlife and surfing go hand in hand. Next time you head to Tofino, be sure to stop in and say hi, check out the gallery and maybe book a whale watching trip to catch firsthand glimpse of this magical area.


Who are you, where are you from and what do you do?

My Name is Kyler Vos. I grew up in Port Alberni, which is located in the middle of Vancouver Island, BC. I now reside in Tofino with my wife and dog, a place I have called home for the past ten years. As for what I do, I am a Photographer, Editor, Business owner, and a Fishing/Nature guide. Focusing my career around my photography, I shoot lots of freelance, commercial, and editorial work that consists mostly of surf, fishing, wildlife, and the outdoors.

I am currently in my fourth year of running my Fine Art Photo gallery and Print shop located in Tofino, where I have spent the majority of my spare time as of late. I also shoot and edit for SBC Surf Magazine for the past three years, trying to keep Canadian surf print alive. In between all of that I guide fishing, whale, and bear tours around Clayoquot Sound.


How and when did you get started with photography?

I grew up on the outskirts of Port Alberni with a tight knit crew of friends on Sproat Lake. We were always wakeskating, skateboarding, snowboarding, mountain biking, etc. As any kid at that age does, we studied magazines and videos to a T, which pushed us to film and shoot everything. After high school I stuck with it and decided to pursue photography as a career.

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What makes Tofino/Vancouver Island such a special place for nature and surf photography?

The raw diversity of mountains, wildlife, and the Pacific Ocean make for some of the best imagery a photographer could ask for. On any given day guiding tours or shooting surf around the West Coast, you can come across a pods of Orcas, humpbacks and gray whales, or even wolves and bears feeding at the low tide line.

Just last month, after shooting a point break down the coast, I photographed a black bear at last light feeding on a dead humpback that had washed up right in front of where we surf. It’s not a pretty sight but I was so excited to document such an image that represents the raw west coast. To even add to that, three years prior at that very surf break, the entire line up was clear out of the water when a pod of orcas chased a pack of sea lions right passed the point. Those strange but iconic moments are why Vancouver Island is such an amazing place to be a photographer.


How did your surf photography lead to nature photography? (Or vice versa) Was it sort of a natural transition, just being based in Tofino?

As I mentioned above, they really go hand in hand on the West Coast. But to properly answer your question, when I moved to the coast, year round photography work was hard to come by for me. So during the summer lulls, I spent the fishing seasons from June to September shooting for a lodge on the western tip of Haida Gwaii. That is where I fell in love with shooting nature and wildlife. At times I wish I could go back and truly enjoy how special that job was, as I had my own boat to adventure the surrounding area for 10 hours a day all season. Although my main focus was trophy fishing shots and wildlife, I always had surfing on my mind and found some of the most amazing waves that, to this day, I doubt have ever been surfed.

“The raw diversity of mountains, wildlife, and the Pacific Ocean make for some of the best imagery a photographer could ask for.”

With both surfing and wildlife, it’s hard to recreate a specific moment or shot. How does shooting wildlife compare to shooting surfing?

Depending on what kind of wildlife is in front of the lens, it’s very similar. When offshore shooting, a breaching whale is one of the most difficult images to capture. With so much going on you have no clue where, or if, you will see it breach again.

On the surf side of things, no two waves are the same. Especially in fickle areas of Canada where the tides switch so quickly, you have to put in a lot of time for everything to line up. But with all that being said, that is why it’s so special when you are able to capture that A+ shot you were searching for.


From the sea to the shore, Vancouver Island is home to many different wild animals like orcas, bears and wolves. Do you have a memorable wildlife experience you can share with us?

Where do I start…..

Bubble feeding humpbacks are by far the most powerful and amazing sight to witness in person. While working off Hippa Island, Haida Gwaii, I encountered twelve humpbacks doing so. For those who have no clue I am talking about, bubble feeding is when a pod of humpback whales condense a bait ball of fish by blowing bubbles in a circle around the fish. Once the bait condenses into a thick ball, the whales will all lunge out of the water, mouths wide open, with thousands of herring or any type of baitfish spilling out of their baleens. It is truly one of the most amazing spectacles I have seen on earth.

Continuing with humpbacks, this past summer I was tuna fishing around 40 nm off Tofino; on the way back to land we stopped to check out some spouts on the horizon. While doing so, a curious humpback checked us out and circled closely to the boat. I have this underwater close-up picture of a gray whale’s eye, and have always dreamed of capturing a humpback or an orca underwater. With that in mind I quickly suited up and was fortunate enough to swim side by side with the humpback as it fluked and descended into the depths of the blue water. That was one of my most intimate and memorable experiences I have had with nature.

Late August, my wife and I went on a canoe trip for a week through the Broughton Island group, with hopes of photographing the Northern residence pods of orcas. Within an hour from departing Telegraph Cove, we were surrounded by a pod of 25-30 resident orcas and had a show of a lifetime. While most were spread out, we had ten or so swim right under our canoe and one breached just off our bow. Throughout the week we passed countless number of orcas, humpbacks, and even spotted a grizzly, something rare for this area.

Earlier this last September, I was up at Langara, off the northwest tip of Haida Gwaii, shooting biologists John Forde and Graham Elise document and ID whales on their yearly surveying trip. We estimated over 150-200 Humpbacks concentrated in a 3-5 km span (which made it very hard to properly ID the Whales). At day’s end we got the show of a lifetime. As we followed a humpback around the island, the juvenile breached countless times for a half an hour right beside the boat.

Alongside those, I have had very close encounters with wolves, pet a bear, and swam with sea lions. This list could go on and on, but I am saving those stories for an upcoming project.


You spend a lot of time around Tofino, but also travel quite a bit for surf photography. What are some of your other favorite places in the world to shoot and why?

As I mentioned above, Haida Gwaii is my favourite place by far. I have spent so much time up there and still have so much to see. The coastline is so rugged and, with limited access, there is so much potential up there. On my last shoot in September, I was fortunate enough to fly down the entire west coast via helicopter and plane. It was one of the most memorable flights of my life. The best part was landing in Rose Harbour and receiving a tour by Haida watchmen through the village of Ninstints of Sgang Gwaay. I have now done five surf trips and four steelhead trips to the Gwaii, and that excludes all the lodge and commercial work.

I have never found friendlier group of locals in my life. They are so welcoming and even when we show up with a crowd they are happy just to watch. My wife and I spent a month camping and surfing in our Westy for our honeymoon two years ago and we scored so many empty perfect days. I hope to live there someday.

Outside of Canada, Scotland, New Zealand, and Ireland are at the top of my list. All were experienced through editorial surf trips but they are a little less crowded, and for the most part have empty line-ups, hollow breaks, and good beer.


How did The Factory in Tofino get started and what is it like having a storefront for your photography and being able to talk to visitors directly?

I started my gallery back in 2015 in a small live/work unit just outside town. Tofino was becoming a bustling tourist location and with no other photo galleries in the area, and I was inspired to fill a niche to support my lifestyle and career. Skip ahead two years, two good friends Lisa Fletcher and Julie Boocock, who shared an exact space a couple doors down, approached me to join The Factory in a new beautiful building closer to town. Although I loved my little small gallery space, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to move into a larger space closer to town. It’s been night and day in comparison to our old spaces. We love it!

Having a storefront is amazing! Through the magazine work and photography, I do a ton of editing, and having a space to leave the house to get work done is a must. To be excited to go to work in the morning is something special. Even on days that I am not on the schedule, I enjoy going to the shop to edit. I can help clients directly, whether telling stories about my photographs or helping them with formats, frames, and print sizes to match their needs is definitely rewarding finding them exactly what they want. That is one of the best parts about owning my own gallery space. I have recently added a large format printer to the roster, which has been a game changer! Offering on the spot prints for clients, creative individuals, and myself has been so enjoyable.

Tofino seems to be growing like crazy right now, how much have you seen the town change and did this growth help influence your decision to open The Factory?

Tofino has definitely been on the rise since I moved in 2008, but hasn’t changed a ton. I feel the growth has abled small businesses and artists to make their crafts into careers. With the amount of tourists in summer, the town has definitely grown to adapt with the masses but it’s still a small coastal town. The growth definitely had a huge influence on my decision to start a photo gallery.


Aside from surfing, what are a few activities you’d recommend someone visiting Tofino to check out?

Get out of town. Go fishing, whale watching, or if you have the means, get in the air. Seeing the coast from the sky is something special. I have been very fortunate over the past couple years through guiding, commercial work and my friend Jay who runs Atleo Air. I have logged some amazing time in the air.


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