This is the first installment of what may turn out to be an irregularly presented, informal series of posts dealing with high dynamic range (HDR) imaging.  I don’t really have a firm plan for the series, so it will probably present itself in fits and starts.  I have no intention of creating a comprehensive treatise on the subject but I have a series of thoughts that are generally related to HDR that I’d like to express.

I’m starting with the working assumption that everyone reading this has a decent grasp of a working HDR definition; (very) briefly, we’re talking about the assembly of multiple exposures of the same subject via some sort of “tonemapping” software, with the rough goal of obtaining a better, richer tonal frame than can be obtained from a single image that isn’t subjected to a tonemapping process.  Obviously, there’s subjectivity to the evaluation; what constitutes “better,” for instance, is a matter of opinion.

Newfound Gap at Sunrise, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Newfound Gap at Sunrise, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Having dispensed with the preliminaries, it’s time to jump into today’s installment–in-field technique, i.e. how to best go about the process of securing the frames that will make up an HDR set, followed by a recent set of experiences in my seemingly endless quest to establish an effective seamless in-field workflow.

I’ve been fiddling around with HDR, in one form or another, for nearly 10 years now and during that period of time the best (there’s that word again) set of options for establishing a baseline of exposures to assemble the HDR set has been something of a moving target.  The goal, however, has remained unchanged.  When obtaining the images for the set of exposures the minimal considerations involve accomplishing the following:

1) acquiring a set of exposures to completely cover the entire tonal range in a given scene–to ensure that detail has been retained everywhere in the image, from the brightest highlights to the darkest shadows;

2) accomplishing step #1 with as little camera movement as possible (to minimize any issues aligning the multiple exposures in the tonemapping process);

3) doing the above as quickly as possible.

Why is it important to proceed as quickly as possible?  Unless you’re working with an entirely static scene (i.e. none of the elements are subject to movement and the light is controlled/unchanging), the more quickly you complete the process the less likely you are to have any problems with alignment or (forgive me for getting technical) “funky lighting.” :)

Lake Logan Sunset, Lake Logan State Park, Ohio

Lake Logan Sunset, Lake Logan State Park, Ohio

Some technique specifics that have always been optimal:

1) Use a tripod.  The rationale here is obvious–since aligning multiple frames is an inherent part of the HDR process, keeping the camera static is important, if not imperative.  Besides, for the kind of subject matter that generally lends itself to HDR, using a tripod is always a good idea.

2) Use a remote release and autobracketing.  This addresses point #2 in the the previous list.  Using a remote–or the self-timer means that you don’t have to manually press the camera’s shutter release.  (Similarly, using an exposure delay means that even if you do press the shutter release on the camera, any movement so introduced will be dampened by the time the shutter itself opens.)  Using autobracketing means that you don’t have to touch the camera to adjust the shutter speed.  Autobracketing also speeds up the process of producing the set of exposures.

Freeland Farm Morning, Tucker County, West Virginia

Freeland Farm Morning, Tucker County, West Virginia

For some inexplicable reason, autobracketing with Nikon camera bodies has always been limited to increments no larger than 1 EV.  Most of the time I use a bracketing sequence with the D800E, given the excellent dynamic range of its sensor at base ISO, of four stops.  (Sometimes I’ll fire off exposures covering six or even eight stops, but it’s usually five (and essentially never any less than that.)  Because of the 1 EV increment limit, that means five exposures (at meter, -2 EV, -1 EV, +1 EV, +2 EV).  There are times when being able to simply take three shots (at meter, -2 EV, +2 EV) would be preferable.  I actually prefer the processed look of the one-stop increment sequences (I’ve done a lot of comparisons), but firing off three shots takes less time than five and there are occasions when a three-shot sequence could be shot without elements moving whereas a five-shot sequence cannot.  It would certainly be nice, in any event, to have the option; it would take no more than a firmware tweak to enable this capability and I have absolutely no idea why Nikon has never seen fit to do so.

Au Sable Point at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Au Sable Point at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

For me, the biggest problem with regard to completing a satisfactory exposure set has been implementing mirror lock up.  In case you’re unfamiliar with the way an SLR camera operates, the optical viewfinder allows the photographer to see “what the lens sees” via the use of a mirror.  When the shutter release is tripped, the mirror is flipped up, the shutter opens for the appointed amount of time, then closes, and the mirror flips back down.  When the mirror is raised, the entire camera vibrates to a certain extent (exactly how much depends upon the camera and lens in use).  Typically, the impact of this vibration on very short exposures and very long exposures can’t be detected, but in a mid-range of exposures (often in the rough range of about 1/30 second to 1 second or thereabouts) mirror-induced shake can be detected.  A careful examination of the resulting image will elicit decreased sharpness due to mirror-induced vibration.

Sparks Lane Morning, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Sparks Lane Morning, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

The way around this problem is to lock up the mirror; all Nikon camera bodies have an easily implemented mirror lock up feature.  In this instance, using a remote release, one click of the release and the mirror is locked up; wait a couple of seconds for the vibration to be dampened and then click the release again, which will open the shutter.  This is fine for single shots but for a set of exposures the problem is obvious–initiating this process for, say, five exposures is going to take a lot of time–probably something on the order of 20 seconds, depending on the specific shutter speeds chosen as part of the sequence:  click the release to raise the mirror, wait two seconds for the vibrations to disperse, click again, exposure is taken, click the shutter to raise the mirror, wait two seconds, etc .  This is a rather evident violation of the “quickly as possible” rule above.  Unless there’s literally no movement in any of the elements of the scene, this won’t work.

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

When I first came upon Live View–when I bought the D700 back in late 2008–I thought that I might finally have the mirror lockup problem licked.  With Live View, the mirror is, by definition locked up.  I figured that, using a combination of a continuous shooting setting, autobracketing, a remote release and Live View, that I could initiate the sequence and match all of the three criteria in the first list above.  Given the use of a remote release, continuous shooting and autobracketing there would be no need to touch the camera and the sequence of exposures would be taken as quickly as possible.  With Live View, there would be no issue with mirror slap either.

Or would there?

Morning Light, Point Imperial, Grand Canyon National Park - North Rim, Arizona

Morning Light, Point Imperial, Grand Canyon National Park – North Rim, Arizona

With the D700, yes there would.  For some reason, which I simply do not and never will understand, the D700 Live View feature worked like this.  The mirror was raised, and the image would appear on the camera’s rear LCD.  The optical viewfinder was blacked out (because the mirror was raised).  The shutter release was pressed…and the mirror was lowered, then raised again, then the shutter opened, then closed.  Yes, you read that correctly…the already raised mirror (remember, for Live View to function at all, the mirror must be raised), was lowered, then re-raised.  There is no mechanical reason why this should be the case; goodness knows there’s no logical reason why this should be the case either.  I have never heard a good (or bad, for that matter) explanation as to why the D700’s Live View worked this way, but it did…and it meant that my would-be solution to the mirror lockup problem for bracketed exposures was no solution at all.

Morning Glory, Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona

Morning Glory, Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona

When the D800 series of cameras was released, I looked into the details and determined that this Live View eccentricity, present in the D700, had been corrected.  With the
D800/E, the mirror operated in Live View in the manner you’d expect:  the mirror was raised, and the image would appear on the camera’s rear LCD.  The shutter release was pressed…the mirror remained up, the shutter opened and closed.  With this method in place, I figured, the problem was solved.  In Live View, using continuous shooting, autobracketing and a shutter release, everything would operate quickly and smoothly.  I was experimenting with it just the other day, under controlled circumstances.  I preset everything the way I wanted, pressed the shutter release on the remote in locked setting, the five-exposure sequence fired off quickly and…I waited…and waited…and waited.  I didn’t regain control of the camera for 31 seconds.  It took that long, apparently, in Live View mode to write all of the images to the SD card I was using.  When I tried the sequence without using Live View, there was no blackout period at all.  Shooting single exposures in Live View there was no blackout.  Evidently the camera’s buffer is non-functional in Live View mode.  It was a combination of Live View and the five exposures, I reasoned, that caused the 31-second blackout.  The images were produced exactly according to expectations, but a 31-second blackout afterward?  Every time?  That was no good.

Fire Wave at Dusk, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Fire Wave at Dusk, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

The D800 series of cameras takes two types of flash memory–Secure Digital (SD) and Compact Flash (CF).  My experiment above was using an admittedly sluggish 32 GB Sandisk Ultra card (rated at 30 MB/s).  When I tried running the exact same Live View autobracketing experiment when writing to a rather old 16 GB Sandisk Ultra CF card (also rated at 30 MB/s) the end of sequence blackout period was 7-8 seconds.  That’s quite a difference–and something I could live with.  I presently have a 32 GB Sandisk Extreme Pro SD card (rated at up to 95 MB/s) on order; when it arrives, I’ll put that card through the test and see if this allegedly much faster SD card will give me performance with multiple Live View exposures similar to (or, even better than) that experienced with the old CF card.  But however it plays out, it appears that I’ve finally settled upon a technique that, with the proper media available, will produce HDR exposure sets in something at least approaching a usable method.

Posted by: kerryl29 | February 16, 2015

The Canadian Rockies: A Retrospective

I’d wanted to visit the Canadian Rockies for quite some time, but for some reason it never seemed feasible.  I’ve been taking photo trips, with regularity, since 2002, but–until this past fall–I’d only flown as part of the travel to my photo destination four times.  And I’d never crossed an international border to do it.  But for a variety of reasons (the details of which I won’t bore you with) it seemed different in May of last year when I pondering when I was pondering what to do for the autumn.  One thing led to another and I went through the crank turning process of making plans to spend two weeks in the Canadian Rockies during what I hoped would be the fall color season.

Aspen Forest, Muleshoe Picnic Area, Banff National Park, Alberta

Aspen Forest, Muleshoe Picnic Area, Banff National Park, Alberta

If you’ve been following this series, which I began to post back in October, you know things turned out pretty well.  My timing was good as far as color was concerned; I received good weather (mostly–we won’t talk about Lake O’Hara); I had excellent sources upon which to draw and covered a lot of ground without feeling too rushed.

Mostly, I had the opportunity to experience what quietsolopursuits, a regular reader of and commenter upon this blog, has referred to several times as “one of the most beautiful places on earth.”  (I must add that, while I haven’t had the opportunity to see all that many spots on the planet, it’s hard for me to imagine that this characterization is wrong, because it’s difficult to fathom that there are many, if any, more beautiful areas than the Canadian Rockies.)

Moraine Lake from the Rock Pile, Banff National Park, Alberta

Moraine Lake from the Rock Pile, Banff National Park, Alberta

Prior to this trip, I had spent almost no time photographing in an alpine environment.  I really didn’t know what I’d been missing, though I suppose I had an inkling.  It didn’t take long before I was deeply immersed in the unique aesthetic facets of the this mountainous setting.  And there are some pretty significant differences photographing in comparatively tall mountain chains like the Rockies and much older, shorter ones such as the Appalachians.  The Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina are part of the southern Appalachians and I’ve photographed there–and further north in West Virginia–numerous times, but the comparative experience with the Rockies is distinct, and in some less than subtle ways–ways that are informed by specific photographic choices.

Sunrise, Waterfowl Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Sunrise, Waterfowl Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

I purchased the Nikkor 14-24 ultrawide angle lens when I moved to “full frame” capture at the tail end of 2008, so it’s been in my gear bag for more than six years now.  I can say, with little fear of contradiction, that I used the 14-24 more frequently during my two weeks in the Canadian Rockies than I had in the previous five years and nine months combined.  There’s something about the setting that fairly begs for sweeping, wide angle expression.  That may make sense when comparing shooting opportunities in the Canadian Rockies to my normal haunts in the American Midwest–where broad vistas are few and far between.  But I found the urge to go very wide much stronger in the Rockies than I did in other fairly “wide open” locales, such as southern Utah, Nevada and Arizona.  I used the 14-24 in all of these places, but not nearly as often as I did in Canada.

Sunrise, Mt. Edith Cavell from Cavell Lake Outlet, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Sunrise, Mt. Edith Cavell from Cavell Lake Outlet, Jasper National Park, Alberta

The fearful consequence of going very, very wide when shooting is including too much in the scene–something I’m always well-aware of–but to my eye, that was seldom a problem when I looked through the viewfinder with the 14-24 mounted on the camera while in the Rockies.  Unlike anywhere else I’ve ever shot, 24mm simply wasn’t wide enough in a large number of places.

Meeting of the Waters, Athabasca River, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Meeting of the Waters, Athabasca River, Jasper National Park, Alberta

And yet, despite the pull of the ultrawide angle, I found that I was still able to see the landscape in a more detailed, intimate manner as well.  It’s a view I’ve become accustomed to over the years–a function of my copious experience shooting landscapes in tight, cluttered settings, I’ve opined.

Water Reeds, Beaver Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Water Reeds, Beaver Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Part of the reason I found this trip to be so memorable–and, quite literally, not a day has gone by in the nearly 4 1/2 months that have gone by since I returned when I haven’t reflected at some length on the experience–is that, through my photographic choices in the field, I was able to let the palpable grandeur of the landscape speak for itself without compromising my ability to portray it through my own eyes.  At least I think I was able to do that.  (I certainly hope so, in any event.)

Aspen Leaves and Grasses, Preacher's Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspen Leaves and Grasses, Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

This is part of the reason why every shooting day was so full; I was steadily occupied with the attempt to reflect a kind of organic feel that I was developing for the place.  At the risk of getting all ephemeral, it was as if I spent time at each location working to let the Rockies be the Rockies, and reflecting that sentiment through the lens.  Then, when I was satisfied that I’d at least begun to accomplish that task, I’d let my eyes do the kind of seeing that they’ve sort of been trained to do in settings where there was no real alternative.

Mistaya River, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya River, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon Intimate Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon Intimate Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Whatever fuzzy line that might divide these two approaches disappeared in the many meadows that I visited on the trip, something I discussed at length in a “meta” post a few weeks ago.  It was in these marvelous places that all of the elements of wonder seemed to come together so effortlessly.

Mt. Peskett and Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Peskett and Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

 

Above all, there was the peace and quiet.  With few exceptions (the area around the Lake Louise Chateau, for instance), things were peaceful and relatively empty.  On one of the days that I was at Jasper, I took a hike from the Beaver Creek Picnic Area, past Beaver Lake to the First and Second Summit Lakes.  It was an almost entirely clear afternoon, with temperatures in the 60s (F).  The trail was nearly flat and, though it climbed over a number of rock slide areas, was easy going.  The round trip was about eight miles all told, and though it was mostly a bust in terms of photography (despite some decent shots at Beaver Lake on the return trip; the two Summit Lakes had extremely low water levels, the light was poor and the aspen stands around both lakes were fairly picked over) it was still a delightful experience.  After I passed Beaver Lake, I never saw another soul and, outside of the occasional bird call and the sounds associated with a light breeze and the tread of my own feet, all I experienced was quietude.  This was the rule rather than the exception.

Wildland Trail,  Jasper National Park, Alberta

Wildland Trail, Jasper National Park, Alberta

What do you do after visiting the Canadian Rockies?  Two things.

1) You spend time, daily, remembering, seeing through your mind’s eye what those two weeks were like.

2) You count the days until you can return–something I hope to do in September of this year. (I have a great deal of unfinished business at Lake O’Hara.)

If that comes to fruition, and I’m increasingly hopeful that it will, I’ll document the wonders of that experience here and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Pyramid Mountain from Patricia Lake at Sunrise, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Pyramid Mountain from Patricia Lake at Sunrise, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Thanks for reading about my time in the Canadian Rockies.  In my next post, I’ll return to more topical subject matter.

The 13th and final day of my trip to the Canadian Rockies began with promise.  There was one more morning’s shoot with the tour and I planned to stop at Bow Summit on the drive back to Calgary that afternoon.  I’d checked in at Bow Summit on Day 4, during my trip north to Jasper on the Icefields Parkway, but it was crowded and rainy, so while I got a look at the famous Peyto Lake, I didn’t even bring my gear with me to the overlook area.  I planned to reconcile this omission.  But that was later.

Our sunrise stop was White Goat Lakes, just a short distance to the southwest of the lodge on Highway 11.  It was still dark when we arrived, of course, and the light was just beginning to come up as we made a short hike on a somewhat overgrown trail to the lakes themselves.  It wasn’t the most spectacular sunrise–we’d had a few already, as you know if you’ve been following the earlier installments in this series–but the location was very nice and there was minimal wind at dawn.

The prominent mountain you’ll see in most of the images from this location is the now familiar Elliot Peak.

Elliott Peak from White Goat Lakes at Dawn, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Elliott Peak from White Goat Lakes at Dawn, David Thompson Country, Alberta

The water features at White Goat Lakes are well-apportioned with reeds and tall grasses and the lakes themselves are ringed by conifers.  The lack of wind made for excellent reflections on this morning and the sky became increasingly interesting as the light came up.  The scene took on a beauty of the subtle pastel type.

Elliott Peak from White Goat Lakes at Dawn, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Elliott Peak from White Goat Lakes at Dawn, David Thompson Country, Alberta

It wasn’t long before the first rays of the sun began to illuminate Elliot Peak.

Elliott Peak from White Goat Lakes at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Elliott Peak from White Goat Lakes at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

As had become my custom at this point, as the sun inched higher I made certain to pull out the telephoto lens to capture a more compressed view of the scene.

Elliot Peak from White Goat Lakes, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Elliot Peak from White Goat Lakes, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Elliot Peak at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Elliot Peak at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

With these images firmly in tow, I began to take a closer look at some other elements and different perspectives from which to capture them.

Elliot Peak Reflections, White Goat Lakes, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Elliot Peak Reflections, White Goat Lakes, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Stelfox loomed to my right and I moved to a different spot to capture part of its long sloping facade.

Mt. Stelfox from White Goat Lakes, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Stelfox from White Goat Lakes, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Stelfox from White Goat Lakes Black & White, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Stelfox from White Goat Lakes Black & White, David Thompson Country, Alberta

In my quest for a slightly different foreground element, I switched from the 24-70 to the 14-24 ultra-wide.  It was necessary to do so to incorporate all of a small tree to help balance the composition and still allow for the inclusion of Elliot Peak.

Mt. Stelfox from White Goat Lakes, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Stelfox from White Goat Lakes, David Thompson Country, Alberta

I also played with the grasses themselves, melding them in with the peak reflections using a telephoto lens.

Reeds and Reflections, White Goat Lakes, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Reeds and Reflections, White Goat Lakes, David Thompson Country, Alberta

When we wrapped up at this location, we moved on to nearby Preacher’s Point to work the flooded meadow area located there.  I found this spot highly intriguing, with numerous compositional and subject possibilities.  The image immediately below will give you a fairly broad view of the elements we had at our disposal.

Flooded Plain, Preacher's Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Flooded Plain, Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

As you can see, it was a kind of marshy meadow area–and you already know how I feel about meadows–with the requisite stands of aspen, with pools of water filled with fallen leaves and prairie grass.  Although the wind had picked up by this time, it was gusty; with patience, it would settle down to nothing, producing good reflections in the shallow water.

I played around with tight compositions and wider ones, focusing on details in the former and broader “sense of place” images in the latter.

Aspen Leaves and Grasses, Preacher's Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspen Leaves and Grasses, Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

While some of the aspens were essentially bare of leaves, others–even in the same stands–were still in remarkably good shape.  I found the contrast between the two of interest.

Aspens and Reflections, Preacher's Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspens and Reflections, Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

I also found the patterned symmetry of the subject matter, when including the reflections, quite photogenic and pulled out the telephoto lens to isolate these elements.

Aspens and Reflections, Preacher's Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspens and Reflections, Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

I was mesmerized by how difficult it was in many spots to distinguish the reflections from the objects creating them.

Aspens and Reflections, Preacher's Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspens and Reflections, Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspen Trunks and Reflections, Preacher's Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspen Trunks and Reflections, Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspen Trunks and Reflections Black & White, Preacher's Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspen Trunks and Reflections Black & White, Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

And then I backed off a bit, altering composition to allow for an easier comprehension of forms and objects.  The distant mountainside, bathed in shadow under what was a mostly clear sky at this point, took on a bluish hue, which I thought made for a nice complement to the predominant gold of the aspens.

Aspens and Reflections, Preacher's Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspens and Reflections, Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Finally, I moved a few hundred feet to a slightly different location for one final parting meadow photo.

Marshy Meadow, Preacher's Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Marshy Meadow, Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

This was the very last image I produced on the tour.  Shortly after this we returned to the lodge and, after saying our good-byes, I was on my own again.

It was a 45-60 minute drive to Bow Summit from the lodge and when I arrived there the conditions were far different than the chilly drizzle I had experienced on my prior visit.  This time it was partly cloudy and pleasant.

I pulled into the parking lot, gathered my gear together and made my way up the steep paved path toward the Peyto Lake overlook.  The overlook platform was crowded and I walked right past it, continuing on the trail further up the slope.  Royce had mentioned that there were far better vantage points, not far beyond the official overlook, that would be deserted, or nearly so, and recommended them to me.  Not long after I passed the overlook I began to see unofficial looking dirt paths heading into the undergrowth in the direction of the lake and, after going another 1/4 mile or so further on the main trail, I took one.  Before long I found myself on an unoccupied rocky outcropping with a terrific, essentially unobstructed view of Peyto Lake, which lay far below me.  This is where I set up and where all of the following images were made.

Peyto Lake from Bow Summit, Banff National Park, Alberta

Peyto Lake from Bow Summit, Banff National Park, Alberta

After obtaining the requisite “postcard” shot, I started to play around a bit.  First, I switched to a telephoto lens to obtain some details of the inlet plain and lakeshore that you can just barely glimpse on the left side of the above image.

Peyto Lake Inlet Stream Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Peyto Lake Inlet Stream Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

I liked the abstract pattern of the above image and the yin-yang color contrast of the photo below.

Peyto Lake Shoreline, Banff National Park, Alberta

Peyto Lake Shoreline, Banff National Park, Alberta

I then went back to a wide angle to make use of some of the outcropping itself as foreground shots of the lake–or most of it, at any rate.

Peyto Lake from Bow Summit, Banff National Park, Alberta

Peyto Lake from Bow Summit, Banff National Park, Alberta

Peyto Lake from Bow Summit, Banff National Park, Alberta

Peyto Lake from Bow Summit, Banff National Park, Alberta

In all, I spent about 90 minutes at the location.  It was mid-afternoon by the time I returned to my vehicle.  I would have loved to hang around for a few more hours somewhere in the area and shoot sunset, but I had to be at the airport in Calgary at 5 o’clock the following morning, and with a solid three-plus hour drive ahead of me, I knew, much to my chagrin, that I had to head straight back.

Thus, my time in the Canadian Rockies was at an end.  While this is the final daily entry, I will post one more installment before calling the series complete.  I hope you’ll stick around for the epilogue.

Next:  The Canadian Rockies:  A Retrospective

Based on the latest weather information, we’d gone to sleep on the night of Day 11 expecting there to be no sunrise on Day 12; a little bit of extra rest was anticipated.  But the ever-variable weather conditions had changed by early morning and we received an early wake-up notification.  A sunrise, it appeared, would happen that morning and, rather than scrambling around while the light was changing, we’d shoot it from the lodge property.

It was dark, windy and chilly when we stepped outside that morning and made the short hike down a path in the direction of Abraham Lake.  We stopped on a promontory from which views to the east and south were possible.  Royce said that we could shoot from this spot or investigate a lakeside location further down the embankment where there was a large, rocky ledge that jutted into the lake.  Everyone else on the tour was already setting up at the promontory, but I wasn’t particularly enamored with what I could see from that spot.  I told Royce I’d like to check out the shore.  So, he and I went down there alone.

When we reached the area, I was immediately glad we’d approached the water.  I liked the compositional possibilities , which included some true foreground options–something that had been absent up on the overlook–better here.  There were two principal potential downsides to this spot:  1) the wind which, if anything, was even stronger at this more heavily exposed location right along the water; and 2) the physical nature of the spot itself, which was uneven, rocky terrain, making it considerably more difficult to move around, change positions and set up than had been the case back up the hill.  Nevertheless, I felt that the advantages outweighed the disadvantages so I put my backpack in a safe place, pulled out my camera and began to poke around.

After sizing up the location a bit I set up with my tripod very low–partly for compositional reasons and partly to minimize the impact of the wind on the steadiness of the rig.  As the light came up, I alternated between views looking up and down both directions of the lakeshore.  The obvious shot was in the general direction of the sunrise itself.  (You can see Elliot Peak in the upper right-hand quadrant of the frame.)

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

In fact, however, I found the opposite direction, looking toward Mt. Abraham in the upper left, almost as compelling, at least partly because of the more interesting sky.

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

There was a third option, and even though I found the compositional possibilities highly limiting, the cloud formations and the associated light show that developed–looking directly across the lake in the direction of Mt. Michener–were too compelling to ignore.  The hang up for me was the inability to incorporate any of the rocky facade as a foreground.  Had there been better reflections to play with it might have been a different story, but there was far too much wind for that.

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Gradually I returned to the original set of views, which took on new looks as the sun crested the mountains and began to throw direct light on the landscape.  Elliot Peak took the first rays of light as I looked to my right.

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

To my left, the dappled light on Mt. Abraham and the aspen forests on its flank reminded me of a painter using his brush to dab highlights on various features.

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Our next location on this day, after a brief pit stop at the lodge, was the Fire Trail, back in the direction of the Icefields Parkway, beyond the Kootenay Plains on Highway 11.  This interpretive trail winds its way through a prescribed aspen forest burn dating to 2009.  It was late morning of a partly cloudy day when we arrived at the area.  The Fire trail is one of those locations that requires quite a bit of study to extract anything more than snapshots; there are no real “trophy shots” to be had.  This is the kind of environment that I often find myself wandering around with camera gear back in the Midwest and with that in mind I started my trail wandering.

Aspen Snags, Fire Trail, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspen Snags, Fire Trail, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Among the interesting features in several areas traversed by the fire trail was the existence of Native American prayer flags–colorful shards of cloth tied around tree trunks as part of spiritual ceremonies.  The cloth is left on the trees to disintegrate naturally over time.

Prayer Flags, Fire Trail, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Prayer Flags, Fire Trail, David Thompson Country, Alberta

At one point I found myself in a thick stand of scrub aspen that was backlit by the now early-afternoon sun.  A high shutter speed was needed to deal with the wind, but given the brightness of the subject matter that wasn’t a problem, even at base ISO.

Backlit Scrub Aspens, Fire Trail, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Backlit Scrub Aspens, Fire Trail, David Thompson Country, Alberta

We continued to the west from here, returning to the Icefields Parkway for a stop at Mistaya Canyon.  Here, the Mistaya River cuts its way through deep, thick rock, forming a slot canyon with a surging river running through it.  Access to the canyon is via a steep, but short, trail from the parking area alongside the parkway.  In many respects, Mistaya reminded me of Maligne Canyon at Jasper National Park, which I visited on Day 6 of the trip.  Maligne is longer with more controlled access than Mistaya, but Mistaya is more accessible than Maligne; there are no protective fences at Mistaya, which makes it potentially more dangerous but also more shootable for the (relatively) adventurous photographer.

The only problem I had when we were at Mistaya was the light; it had become mostly sunny by the time we arrived and that’s not the kind of light I prefer to shoot in when photographing these narrow canyons which are, by their very nature, highly susceptible to objectionable “hot spotting” when in direct light.  Still, I fought my frustration and tried to make the best of the situation.

The Mistaya River, like most of the waterways in the region, is glacier-fed with the telltale bluish tint to the water.  Given the bright conditions, I put a polarizer and a neutral density filter on my lens for the first, wide shot I took after wandering out to a rock that bordered the rapidly moving river.  I wanted a slower shutter speed than I could obtain without filtration.  The combination of filters would, I knew, make it essentially impossible to focus so I took care to pre-focus before slapping the second filter on the rig.

Mistaya River, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya River, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

As a way of dealing with the rather contrasty light, I converted the above image to black and white–something I ended up doing with most of the images that I obtained at Mistaya.

Mistaya River Black & White, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya River Black & White, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

I played around with a few different compositional ideas, including eliminating the sky (the brightest part of the above image set).

Mistaya River, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya River, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya River Black & White, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya River Black & White, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

I caught a few moments when the sun disappeared behind a cloud, which gave me the opportunity to obtain more evenly lit frames that I composed to feature hard-soft/yin-yang elements.

Mistaya River, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya River, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya River Black & White, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya River Black & White, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

As the cloud-diffused moments became fewer and fewer–i.e. as the sky became clearer and clearer–I set up tighter and tighter shots that featured the shrinking areas of even light.

Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

My focus became narrower and narrower with each passing minute.

Mistaya Canyon Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Eventually I had to pull out the telephoto lens to tighten compositions up sufficiently.

Mistaya Canyon Intimate Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon Intimate Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

I had spotted at least ten times as many interesting compositions at Mistaya Canyon than I had shot due to the uneven light.  My conclusion as we put a wrap on things was exactly the same as the one I had drawn after my time at Maligne–I’d love to spend a cloudy day there.

Late afternoon was approaching as we left Mistaya Canyon and we had one more fairly brief stop to make before returning to the lodge for the pre-sunset break:  an Icefields Parkway overlook at Saskatchewan River Crossing.  Here we were perched high above the Saskatchewan River floodplain, looking back in the general direction of Mistaya Canyon.

Saskatchewan River Flood Plain from Saskatchewan River Crossing Overlook, Banff National Park, Alberta

Saskatchewan River Flood Plain from Saskatchewan River Crossing Overlook, Banff National Park, Alberta

After shooting wide for a bit, I pulled out the telephoto for a peak portrait.

Kaufmann Peaks from Saskatchewan River Crossing Overlook, Banff National Park, Alberta

Kaufmann Peaks from Saskatchewan River Crossing Overlook, Banff National Park, Alberta

We returned to the lodge for a dinner break, but then it was back out for the “golden hour” time leading up to sunset.  Our ultimate destination was a return to the Kootenay Plains, but we made several quick stops along the way.  Royce called these stops “five-minute drills” because the goal was to spend no more than five minutes at each place.  We were, essentially, trying to have our cake and eat it too.  There were some marvelous views and wonderful light, which we wanted to capture, but we didn’t want to find ourselves out of time to shoot at Kootenay.

Ex Coelis Peaks from Preacher's Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Ex Coelis Peaks from Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

It was a bit harried but we pulled it off.  Everyone exited the vehicles knowing what they wanted to do and I think we all managed to get the shots we wanted during these short bursts.  The evening light was still kissing the Ex Coelis Peaks under brilliant skies during our brief visits.

Ex Coelis Peaks, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Ex Coelis Peaks, David Thompson Country, Alberta

The light conditions were excellent and still improving by the time we hit the Kootenay Plains.  Everyone else crossed the road to the same area we had shot from during our first visit on the evening of Day 8.  I decided to hit the side of the road we hadn’t explored, having been attracted to a particularly interesting (at least to me) lone aspen.  I had taken note of this singular tree as we were leaving during the first visit, and now–again, under a very interesting sky–I wanted to obtain some images.  I set up my tripod at knee level and crouched on the ground to make the photograph you see below.

Lone Aspen, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Lone Aspen, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

When I finished with the tree, I returned to the other side of the road to work some of the scenes I hadn’t quite had time to interact with during the visit four days earlier.

Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

The aspens were, as a group, a bit more picked over than they had been earlier in the week, but that was to be expected given the cold nights, the snow and the general passage of time.

As the color faded to a uniform bluish-gray in the eastern sky, I raced back across the road to shoot the lone aspen one last time.

Lone Aspen at the Blue Hour, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Lone Aspen at the Blue Hour, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

From here, I switched to telephoto and captured the remains of color in the west, above Mt. Peskett.

Mt. Peskett at Dusk, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Peskett at Dusk, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

I then went very tight to capture a peak portrait that I converted to black and white.

Mt. Peskett Black & White, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Peskett Black & White, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Before losing the light entirely it was back across the road one last time for the start of the blue hour.

The Blue Hour, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

The Blue Hour, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

That was the end of the day–another one that had been, on the whole, extremely satisfying despite my self-imposed frustration at Mistaya Canyon.

This was to be the last full day of shooting during my time in the Canadian Rockies, but we still had one final morning on the tour and one more brief afternoon stop on my own along the parkway on the return trip to Calgary.

Next:  The Canadian Rockies, Day 13 – White Goat Lakes, Abraham Lake Floodplain and Peyto Lake

Throughout this series of posts devoted to the Canadian Rockies, I’ve tried–among other things–to demonstrate the variety of scenic wonders the region contains.  There are soaring snow-capped mountain peaks; rushing rivers and creeks; sheer textured rock faces; thundering waterfalls; dense forests filled with aspens and conifers; seemingly endless lakes and ponds…and it’s all wonderful.  But for some reason, I found myself drawn to the numerous meadows that I encountered more than any other scenic environ.

Hillsdale Meadows, Banff National Park, Alberta

Hillsdale Meadows, Banff National Park, Alberta

I was bitten with the “meadow bug” on my very first day in the region.  At some point early in the afternoon that day, I encountered Hillsdale Meadows along the Bow Valley Parkway.  As soon as I saw the place, I pulled off to the side of the road, gathered up my things and waded into the tall grass, swiveling my head around to take in the view in every direction.  It was there that I encountered the set of meadow elements that would become increasingly familiar to me as the trip moved along:  a broad, grassy area, dotted by stands of aspen and pine, mountainous backdrops and the ever-present fast-moving lines of clouds.

Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Occasionally, at a particularly high altitude location, the aspens might be replaced by larch and there might be a boulder field or two.  From time to time there would be a stream running through the locale.

Larch Forest,  Saddleback Pass, Banff National Park, Alberta

Larch Forest, Saddleback Pass, Banff National Park, Alberta

But, regardless of the specifics, there was something about these places that always seemed to provoke a specific set of feelings in me when I encountered a meadow.  Simultaneously, I seemed to feel quietude (I was typically by myself in these places), awe, peace…

Bow River Meadow, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow River Meadow, Banff National Park, Alberta

In a way, it reminded me of how I felt on the numerous occasions when I was walking the road between bus stops in Zion Canyon at Zion National Park in Utah.  There was something–ultimately indescribable in any meaningful sense–about those meadows that I can still feel (and looking at the images really helps bring it back to me) that I can’t quite put into words.

Icefields Parkway Afternoon, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Icefields Parkway Afternoon, Jasper National Park, Alberta

What is it about certain places–or certain kinds of places–that seem to have a special, deeper emotional impact on us?

Cottonwood Slough,  Jasper National Park, Alberta

Cottonwood Slough, Jasper National Park, Alberta

I’m still trying to sort out the answer(s) to the above question.

First Summit Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta

First Summit Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta

All I know for certain is that virtually every time I saw a meadow when I was in the Canadian Rockies I felt a kind of pull–one that was extremely hard to resist–to explore the place.

Glory Hole, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Glory Hole, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Beyond the spots you see in the images that accompany this post, there were a number of times when the light or other conditions simply weren’t right for photography, in my estimation, where I went off to explore a meadow, sans gear.

Approaching Storm, Palisades Picnic Area, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Approaching Storm, Palisades Picnic Area, Jasper National Park, Alberta

And, as I noted above, it happened again…and again…and again.

Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

I kept stumbling across meadows and I kept feeling the need to stop, explore and express…and try, unsuccessfully, to pull my emotions about these places together and make sense of them.

Morning Meadow, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Morning Meadow, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Even when I was ostensibly in a hurry to get to some other spot, the pull of the meadow seemed to call to me, cause me to stop and delay my travels.

Kootenay Plains Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

I visited meadows at sunrise, at sunset, and just about every possible hour in between, off and on, during the 13 days I spent in the region.

Lone Aspen, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Lone Aspen, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

The closest I can come to an explanation of what I ws feeling–and it’s not a very good one, I’m afraid–is to point you to a piece I wrote 3 1/2 years ago, based on an experience I had a White Sands National Monument in New Mexico in 2007.  Since it’s an attempt to explain the inexplicable I’m not sure how much help it will be in clarifying my thoughts and feelings but, sadly, it’s the best I can do.

Next:  The Canadian Rockies:  Day 12 – Abraham Lake at Sunrise, the Fire Trail, Mistaya Canyon, Saskatchewan River Overlook and the Kootenay Plains Revisited

At some point in the afternoon of Day 10, Royce mentioned to me that on the following day we were probably going to head southwest, to the Lake Louise area of Banff National Park, to do the Consolation Lakes Trail.  I was thrilled to hear this.  The Consolation Lakes Trail was one of two trails emanating from Morraine Lake that I had wanted to hike when I was in the area (by myself) the previous week that I had to eschew due to the restrictions put into effect because of bear activity in the area.  The rules in place required that, to hike either the Consolation Lakes or Larch Valley trails, you had to be in a group of at least four people.  Since I was by myself, I couldn’t do the hikes.  But our group would have seven people in it (since Alan, co-owner of the lodge we were staying at, would be accompanying us) we easily fulfilled the criteria.  So, I would have the opportunity to experience the Consolation Lakes Trail after all.  This was a very nice, and unanticipated, bonus of being part of the tour.

It’s nearly a 90-minute drive from the lodge to Lake Louise Village (and nearly another half an hour to get to the Morraine Lake parking lot after exiting at Lake Louise from the TransCanada Highway).  The plan was to shoot sunrise at one of the locations along the Icefields Parkway north of Lake Louise and grab any photo opportunities that presented themselves the rest of the way.

As we drove on Highway 11, in the dark, for about 15 minutes we had the opportunity to spot a small pack of black wolves right alongside the highway.  In fact, at least one of the wolves was actually lying down on the roadway as we approached.  After we stopped, he grudgingly joined his three compatriots and sauntered off to the north of the road.  This was the first time I’d seen black wolves in the wild.  (I’d spotted a gray wolf in Japser earlier on the trip.)

The sunrise location was Waterfowl Lakes.  I’d passed this spot on my trip north on the Icefields Parkway, on Day 4;  I hadn’t stopped, as it was raining when I went through the area.  There’s a campground at Waterfowl Lakes, which was closed for the season, so we parked at a gate and made the short walk down to the lake itself.  It was another cold morning–in the upper 20s (F), I’d estimate–and there were signs of ice in some of the small puddles near the lake shore.  It was still dark when we arrived and difficult to scope out the best perspectives, so Royce gave us a thorough description of the lay of the land.

At dawn, it became clear in short order that it was going to be one heck of a nice sunrise that morning.

Sunrise, Waterfowl Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Sunrise, Waterfowl Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

We had almost a perfect confluence of conditions.  You can see the subject matter; that’s Howse Peak to the left and Mt. Chephren just left of center in the frame of the image above.  The snow that had fallen overnight from Day 9 to Day 10 had also coated these mountains very nicely and was still present.  There was scarcely a whisper of wind, making for nearly perfect reflections.  It was possible to take very long exposures–30 seconds or more–and still retain the fruits of the glass-like surface of the lake.  And then there were the clouds…long, beautiful streamer-like lines of clouds, not too thick to prevent the necessary early light from coloring them pink and purple, not too thin to be unsubstantial.  I’d had some nice sunrises on the trip prior to this one, but I’m not sure that I ever had quite this combination of elements.

Sunrise, Waterfowl Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Sunrise, Waterfowl Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

I’d determined, before the light even came up, that the 24-70 wasn’t going to be wide enough to give me quite the coverage that I thought I’d want, so the very first thing I did was switch to the ultra-wide 14-24 mm.  This undoubtedly turned out to be the right call and I’m glad I made it right out of the shoot.  The last thing I wanted to be doing when the light was changing by the second was fiddling around with a lens swap.

This was an example of allowing myself to really try and get a feel for the location.  In my more typical shooting environs, there’s seldom a call for using an ultra-wide angle lens in an open environment.  Doing so almost always involves a combination of introducing unwanted elements into the scene and reducing the influence of the center of interest in an image by appearing to shrink it down to nothing.  But this kind of scene doesn’t exist in the places that I ordinarily shoot.  Thus, I had to set aside my “conventional wisdom” and let the scene dictate the optimal approach.

Sunrise, Waterfowl Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Sunrise, Waterfowl Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Of course, I still had the telephoto lens on the second camera body and when the sun began to kiss the peaks, I pulled it out.

Howse Peak at Sunrise, Waterfowl Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Howse Peak at Sunrise, Waterfowl Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Howse Peak at Sunrise, Waterfowl Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Howse Peak at Sunrise, Waterfowl Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

The telephoto lens was also useful for isolating reflections in the lake itself.  As the sun came up, the wind did as well, naturally, which had some effect on these quasi-abstract shots.

Howse Peak Reflections, Waterfowl  Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Howse Peak Reflections, Waterfowl Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Chephren Reflections, Waterfowl Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mt. Chephren Reflections, Waterfowl Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

After a very successful sunrise shoot, we piled back in our vehicles and resumed the drive on the Icefields Parkway south.  More clouds blew in as we did so and produced mostly overcast conditions, at least for a time.

As we approached Bow Lake, we could see that the wind had died down again and that the lake surface was almost entirely undisturbed, making for some great reflections of Crowfoot Mountain and Crowfoot Glacier.  There was no direct sunlight, but that was just fine.  We pulled off to the side of the road to, briefly, do some shooting.

Bow Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Crowfoot Mountain from Bow Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Crowfoot Mountain from Bow Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

There were ample opportunities to play with abstracts at this location.

Crowfoot Glacier from Bow, Banff National Park, Alberta

Crowfoot Glacier from Bow, Banff National Park, Alberta

After playing with wide-normal a bit, I pulled the telephoto back out and went to work.

Crowfoot Glacier from Bow Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Crowfoot Glacier from Bow Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Crowfoot Glacier from Bow Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Crowfoot Glacier from Bow Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

I didn’t allow this chance to pick out details on the glacier to go wanting.

Crowfoot Glacier from Bow Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Crowfoot Glacier from Bow Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Crowfoot Glacier from Bow Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Crowfoot Glacier from Bow Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

We made one last stop before reaching Lake Louise Village–Herbert Lake.  I had stopped at this spot and done some quick shooting, under less than optimal conditions (off-and-on rain) on Day 4.  The conditions this time around weren’t perfect, but they were much better than those I had experienced a week earlier.  There was no sunshine given the still mostly cloudy skies, but no rain either, and very little wind.  Besides, the background peaks were nicely dressed with a coating of snow, something that hadn’t been in evidence during my previous stop.  I was quite glad to have the opportunity to have another look at the place.  On my earlier visit, I had taken the time to scout the location, and I tried to put this experience to good use.

Herbert Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Herbert Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Herbert Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Herbert Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

I liked how this image set came out in both color and black and white–something that’s not ordinarily the case–so I’m presenting a paired series here.

Herbert Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Herbert Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Herbert Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Herbert Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

I did play around with one lakeside location that I hadn’t really investigated during my first visit, utilizing a set of submerged rocks as a dominant foreground interest.

Herbert Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Herbert Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Herbert Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Herbert Lake Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

When we were done at Herbert Lake, we drove the short distance to Lake Louise Village.  After a brief pit stop there, we moved on to Morraine Lake–a route I was quite familiar with, having made that drive three separate times by myself when I was in the area the previous week.  The Morraine Lake lot wasn’t too crowded when we arrived–it was still fairly early–and we rapidly hit the trail to Consolation Lakes.  The trail dips around the Morraine Lake escarpment, through a forested area to a valley containing the outlet stream from the lakes themselves, right to the water’s rock strewn edge.  There’s little elevation change and the route covers only about 3 1/2 miles, round trip.  We did have to deal with some snow, and occasional ice, on the trail, but with some caution applied, there were no casualties.

Most of the photo opportunities come near the end of the trail, when approaching the lakes themselves.  But in this instance, no more than a few hundred from the trailhead, we encountered a huge morraine (or rock pile), covered with snow, with some of the Ten Peaks in the background.  Royce quickly climbed up the pile and I, along with one of the other participants, followed.  We were treated to the view you see below.

Valley of the Ten Peaks Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Valley of the Ten Peaks Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

After we descended the morraine, we resumed the hike.  The skies turned from mostly cloudy to partly cloudy as we encountered a meadow with some larch remnants on the overlooking slopes.

Open Meadow, Consolation Lakes Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

Open Meadow, Consolation Lakes Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

 

From this point, it wasn’t long before we reached Lower Consolation Lake.  With some rock hopping, I managed to work my way out to a spot in the outlet stream that enabled me to frame some compositions that I found pleasing.

Consolation Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Consolation Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Consolation Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Consolation Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Consolation Lakes Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Consolation Lakes Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

It was a short walk from this point to the end of the trail.  Here, numerous huge boulders were strewn throughout the close-in waters of the lake.  The best route to reach the edge wasn’t always obvious, but Royce was very helpful pointing out the way.  I was eventually able to work my way out to the edge of the water-surrounded boulder field.

Consolation Lakes Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Consolation Lakes Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

In addition to the wider perspectives, tighter shots of reflections and their interplay with the rocks were also in evidence.

Consolation Lakes Reflections Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Consolation Lakes Reflections Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

At one point, the breeze picked up and sent ripples across the entire length of the lake’s surface.  It required some patience, but after more than five minutes of waiting, the lake settled to it’s prior glass-like state.

Consolation Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Consolation Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Back on terra firma, after rock hopping back to the shore, I pulled out the telephoto rig again and worked on the details of the patterned slopes that surrounded us on all sides.

Mountain Patterns, Consolation Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mountain Patterns, Consolation Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mountain Patterns, Consolation Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mountain Patterns, Consolation Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mountain Patterns, Consolation Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mountain Patterns, Consolation Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mountain Patterns, Consolation Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mountain Patterns, Consolation Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mountain Patterns Black & White, Consolation Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mountain Patterns Black & White, Consolation Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

We made the hike back to the parking area.  The sky was completely overcast, and a bit threatening, at this point, but we did have one last stop to make–Paradise Creek, along the Morraine Lake Road.  I’d admired this creek during my previous visits, but hadn’t made the time to stop.  That shortcoming would be rectified now.

Paradise Creek, Banff National Park, Alberta

Paradise Creek, Banff National Park, Alberta

Paradise Creek Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Paradise Creek Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

As is my custom in such settings, I oscillated between wider, more representative shots and tighter, more abstract compositions.

Paradise Creek, Banff National Park, Alberta

Paradise Creek, Banff National Park, Alberta

Paradise Creek Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Paradise Creek Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Paradise Creek Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Paradise Creek Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Paradise Creek Intimate Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Paradise Creek Intimate Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

There was a downed branch spanning part of the creek–you can see it in some of the shots above–that still had a line of icicles protruding from it that I thought made for a compelling center of interest.

Paradise Creek Icicles, Banff National Park, Alberta

Paradise Creek Icicles, Banff National Park, Alberta

Paradise Creek Icicles Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Paradise Creek Icicles Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

It was early evening by the time we wrapped up at Paradise Creek.  Thoughts of a sunset shoot were quashed by the persistent overcast, occasionally mixed with rain; there would be no sunset this day.  For the umpteenth time on this trip, another long, successful day of photography had come to an end.  Umpteen plus one still beckoned.

Snow fell overnight–an inch or two at lower elevations–on the night of Day 9 and into the morning of Day 10.  It was roughly 25 degrees (F) as we headed out in the pre-dawn darkness.  Our destination was a rock outcropping high above Abraham Lake, not far to the northeast of the lodge on Highway 11.

The cold felt worse as we waited because, as the ambient light rose, the prospects for a good sunrise were bleak.  The good news was that the fresh coating of snow–clearly more than just a couple of inches at the higher elevations–really looked good on the surrounding mountains.  The bad news?  It appeared that heavy cloud cover to the southeast was going to make sunrise a washout.  But just when I was about to give up on anything noteworthy, color began to appear in the sky.  Before long it became obvious that this was going to be fine sunrise indeed.  There was just enough wind to be an annoyance, but I made sure that I was getting a sufficient shutter speed to keep the copious foliage sharp.

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

At some point, while this was happening, I remembered the old photographer’s aphorism about remembering to look behind you.  So I cast a glance over my shoulder in the direction of Elliot Peak.  The sun was hitting the mountaintop and I very quickly changed positions and recomposed.

Abraham Lake and Elliot Peak at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Abraham Lake and Elliot Peak at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Abraham Lake and Elliot Peak at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Abraham Lake and Elliot Peak at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

After shooting the wide scene, I leveraged the two-camera strategy that I described in my last post, to capture the peak portrait that you see immediately below.

Elliot Peak at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Elliot Peak at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

The scene was still highly photographable, even after the sun had been up for awhile.

Abraham Lake and Elliot Peak at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Abraham Lake and Elliot Peak at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

I ultimately turned my attention to the north, in the general direction of Mt. Abraham.  I started by using the highway itself as a leading line.

Highway 11, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Highway 11, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Then I went back to the telephoto, to pick out details of Mt. Abraham itself, which was bathed in low-hanging clouds and a foggy mist, and the large aspen grove fronting the mountainside, which was erupting in color as the rising sun’s rays struck the foliage.

Aspens and Mt. Abraham, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspens and Mt. Abraham, David Thompson Country, Alberta

The upper reaches of Mt. Abraham’s Peak reflected the merger of sun and fog.

Mt. Abraham Details, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Abraham Details, David Thompson Country, Alberta

I felt that a black and white treatment helped bring out some of the textures of the cracks in the mountain’s rocky face.

Mt. Abraham Details Black & White, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Abraham Details Black & White, David Thompson Country, Alberta

When we were finished at this location, we continued up the road to the east, but stopped again at a marshy area that was surrounded by conifers that were covered with new-fallen snow.  A bit more snow was on the ground here than had fallen at the lodge–probably 2-4 inches.

Composing shots in this area was a bit of a different experience than the mountain-peak inspired images of the previous location, but this kind of thing is right up my alley.  I often find myself facing similar pattern-driven subject matter back in the American Midwest.  Still, I found myself challenged by the combination of subject and light, which was becoming harsher as a function of the now mostly clear skies.

Snow-Covered Conifers, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Snow-Covered Conifers, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Snow-Covered Conifers Black & White, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Snow-Covered Conifers Black & White, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Snow-Covered Conifers, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Snow-Covered Conifers, David Thompson Country, Alberta

From here, we moved on to the east again, stopping this time at another boggy area that included the first larches I’d seen since my time at Banff National Park, most notably at Saddleback Pass and a day earlier on the Opabin Plateau at Yoho National Park.  This was a very different setting for larch than the high elevation subjects I’d seen earlier in the trip, and made for some very different image making opportunities.  The setting was reminiscent of Cottonwood Slough in Jasper National Park, along the Pyramid Lake Road.  But there were no larches in the Cottonwood Slough area.  (The yellow trees in the background of the following image set are larches.)

Marshland Larches, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Marshland Larches, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Of course, there hadn’t been any snow when I was at Cottonwood Slough either.  Here, the white stuff made for a nice, complementary accent.

Marshland Larches Black & White, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Marshland Larches Black & White, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Marshland Larches, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Marshland Larches, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Our next stop was the old coal mining town of Nordegg.  Although mining came to a halt for good in 1955, many remnants of the industry remain in place.  We took a short hike down an abandoned railroad track, terminating near an old trestle.  There was plenty of snow along the route, but it was mid-afternoon at this point and the light was pretty harsh.  I played around with the area around the bridge a bit, obtaining images including the one you see below.

Nordegg Railroad Bridge, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Nordegg Railroad Bridge, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mostly, though, I struggled to find images that I found compelling.  The return hike was a different matter, however.  As I was heading back, my attention was focused on intimate scenes along the railroad track that were in open shade.

Abandoned Railroad Track Black & White, Nordegg, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Abandoned Railroad Track Black & White, Nordegg, David Thompson Country, Alberta

With the snowy accents everywhere, these scenes were naturally devoid of color, so I converted several of them to black and white.

Abandoned Railroad Track Black & White, Nordegg, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Abandoned Railroad Track Black & White, Nordegg, David Thompson Country, Alberta

One of the things I look for when I shoot in snowy settings is a sign of color–the contrast between bright color and the otherwise monochromatic landscape is palpable.  I don’t often find such subjects in most of the wintery venues that I typically shoot.  In this instance, however, almost all the way back to the point where the hike began, I spotted freshly fallen aspen leaves, still golden yellow, on the surface of the snow.  The leaves were in open shade, but I’d have been prepared to cast a shadow over them with my body had it been necessary to do so to render them in even light.  This image has become one of my favorite intimates of the entire trip.

Aspen Leaves in Snow, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspen Leaves in Snow, David Thompson Country, Alberta

When we were finished at Nordegg, we returned in the direction of the lodge, put paused several times along the way.  The first was when we caught a glimpse of a truly unique sight:  calm waters in Lake Abraham.  The area around the lake is notoriously windy, making reflections a truly rare occurrence.  But we were treated to such an anomaly and stopped to take advantage of this unusual opportunity.

Mt. Michener from Abraham Lake, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Michener from Abraham Lake, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Michener from Abraham Lake, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Michener from Abraham Lake, David Thompson Country, Alberta

At another late afternoon stop along Highway 11, I paused from shooting aspen stands alongside the road and noticed the omnipresent Elliot Peak while glancing down the road toward the southwest.  About 1000 feet ahead of my position the road curved sharply to the right, buttressing an overlook, of sorts, across a long valley toward Elliot Peak.

When the opportunity arises, I like to use the illusion of compression produced by telephoto lenses to create a sense of depth in images.  This doesn’t happen all that often, but I thought I saw the potential for such an instance here, so I pulled out my telephoto rig and took a long look.  I liked what I saw.

Low-hanging clouds were cutting across the mountain, but leaving the peak itself visible, and trees perched near the bend in the road served as a foreground, of sorts.  The mountain itself took on a looming presence when viewed at roughly 200 mm, an essence that was entirely missing when viewing the scene using a wide angle or normal lens.

Elliot Peak from Highway 11, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Elliot Peak from Highway 11, David Thompson Country, Alberta

I played around with a couple of slightly different compositions.

Elliot Peak from Highway 11, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Elliot Peak from Highway 11, David Thompson Country, Alberta

After returning to the lodge late in the afternoon, we headed west on Highway 11 to Whirlpool Point, overlooking the Saskatchewan River, for sunset.  As had been the case the previous night, sunset itself was a bit of a disappointment, but I still found plenty of subject matter to shoot.  I began by photographing the serendipitous moonrise.

Whirlpool Point Moonrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Whirlpool Point Moonrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

I then wandered down a steep sand dune to the shore of the river itself.  Here, I found myself captivated by reflected light in the river, much as I had been on Day 6 in Jasper at the Maligne River  and then again on Day 8 at the Athabasca River.

Saskatchewan River Abstract, Whirlpool Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Saskatchewan River Abstract, Whirlpool Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

After climbing atop the dune again, I did catch the slight bit of color amidst the few clouds in the western sky as the sun set.

Whirlpool Point Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Whirlpool Point Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

I picked out some details one one of the mountainsides that had been freshly covered by the previous evening’s snow.

Mountain Details Black & White, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mountain Details Black & White, David Thompson Country, Alberta

And I put a wrap on the day’s shooting as the blue hour set in.

The Blue Hour from Whirlpool Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

The Blue Hour from Whirlpool Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Another day filled with marvelous photographic opportunities had come to an end.  The following day would, if anything, be even better.

Next:  The Canadian Rockies –  Day 11:  Waterfowl Lakes, Bow Lake, Consolation Lakes Trail and Paradise Creek

Posted by: kerryl29 | December 30, 2014

Thematic Interruption: Two Cameras

I purchased my first digital SLR–a used Nikon D100–in the late summer of 2003.  In late September of that year, I took the D100 and my film camera with me on a photo trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, along with a pair of tripods.  My plan was to use both cameras, side-by-side, which I did on the first full morning of the trip.  After a few hours of comparing the two, I didn’t use the film camera again–not on that trip or at any point afterward.  Not long after I returned home from the UP, I purchased another D100 camera body (also used), ostensibly to be used as a backup.

In fact, I used the second D100 as a second camera.  At the time, I had one ultra-wide angle zoom lens, a wide-to-short-telephoto zoom lens, a true telephoto zoom and a fixed focal length macro lens.  I typically had one of the shorter zooms mounted to one camera and either the telephoto zoom or the macro (usually the former) mounted to the other camera.  This allowed me to change gears in a snap.  Rather than taking the time and going to the trouble (and it really is trouble, as I’ll note below) of changing lenses when I wanted to go in an entirely different direction photographically, I’d simply change camera bodies.

When I upgraded to the D200 in 2006, I didn’t wait all that long before purchasing a second camera.  It was fairly easy to justify.  At the time, my wife was into photography so I could tell myself that the second body would serve the purpose of giving her a camera to work with.  And, the D200 wasn’t a super-expensive camera, so the cost wasn’t insane.  As a result, I still had the benefit of using two identical cameras, and I utilized them the way I had done with the D100s.

Larch Forest,  Saddleback Pass, Banff National Park, Alberta

Larch Forest, Saddleback Pass, Banff National Park, Alberta

Larches on Saddleback Mountain, Saddleback Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

Larches on Saddleback Mountain, Saddleback Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

By the time I moved up to the D700, the situation was different.  By this time, my wife’s interest in photography had waned significantly and the price of the D700 was far more than the D200 had been (something like $1200 more).  Since moving from an APS-C sized sensor to a “full frame” (i.e. 35mm film-sized sensor) camera meant an investment in lens upgrades was necessary, I couldn’t justify the cost of two cameras.  So, for the first time since shooting with a digital camera roughly six years earlier, I was left with a primary camera body and a mere backup–something to use in case the primary camera broke or was stolen.  In truth, I never had the need to use the backup camera.

When I bought into the D800E about 2 1/2 years ago, I faced the same situation that was staring at me at the time I moved to the D700; there was no way I could justify the expense of two D800 series cameras; in fact, I had to swallow hard just to get one.  But after using the camera for a few months, I concluded that I would probably be sticking with this camera for a long time.  Unlike the previous iterations, which saw me upgrade every 3-4 years, I figured I’d stick with this format for the foreseeable future.  A minor, incremental update definitely wouldn’t cause me to go to the expense of updating, I was convinced.  That presumption was confirmed when Nikon announced the successor to the D800 line of cameras earlier this year–the D810.  It’s a fine camera, no doubt, and includes some improvements over the D800/E lines, but most of the upgrades had little or no impact on my style of shooting and it certainly wasn’t enough of an upgrade to justify–to me–the cost of forking out another $3300.  In fact, my hope fell on the opposite side of the fence:  perhaps there would be enough interest in the D810 on the part of other D800 series owners that I’d be able to get a second, D800E body at a significant discount on the used market.

Pyramid Mountain from Patricia Lake at Sunrise, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Pyramid Mountain from Patricia Lake at Sunrise, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Pyramid Mountain at Sunrise, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Pyramid Mountain at Sunrise, Jasper National Park, Alberta

To make a long story comparatively short, that’s what happened.  This past summer, I had the opportunity to purchase a used D800E that was in perfect working order for roughly half the cost of a new D810 (which was introduced at a price identical to that of the D800E a couple of years earlier).  I was able to justify the expense to myself due to the significantly lower price tag and my expectation that I would stick with this camera format indefinitely.   In the end, I made that purchase and, for the first time since I abandoned the D200 for the D700 at the tail end of 2008, I had two identical camera bodies.  My trip to the Canadian Rockies was the first photo excursion I made with these two cameras in my pack, one attached to my 24-70 mm lens, the other attached to the 80-400 mm.  If I wanted to go ultra-wide, I’d replace the 24-70 with the 14-24 mm; if I wanted to use my macro lens, I’d replace the 80-400.  I had forgotten just how nice it is to have a setup like this in place, but I was reminded–in short order–every day while I was on the ground in Canada.

Mt. Edith Cavell from Cavell Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Mt. Edith Cavell from Cavell Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Mt. Edith Cavell at Sunset, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Mt. Edith Cavell at Sunset, Jasper National Park, Alberta

The primary advantages to utilizing a two-camera setup in a manner comparable to the way I do it are as follows:

1. Less lens changing.  This has two principal benefits of its own–less time carrying out procedural moves in the field and fewer opportunities to accumulate dust inside the camera’s lens mount.  The first of these I’ll discuss immediately below.  The second is an obvious benefit to anyone who has ever had to deal with sensor cleaning (which means anyone who has shot with a DSLR and has ever changed lenses).  Sensor cleaning is a necessary evil to anyone shooting with an interchangeable lens digital camera–as is cloning out the visual evidence of dust during the post-processing phase of digital imagery–but the less of  it I have to do, the better.  No matter how careful I am about trying to avoid the dust problem when changing lenses in the field–and I’m very careful–it can’t be avoided entirely, so the less lens changing I have to do, the less sensor cleaning I have to deal with.  That’s a win-win.

2. Greater in-field efficiency.  From a creative perspective, I don’t want to feel as though I should try to avoid changing lenses because of the time it takes to do so (or because of sensor dust fears).  Having two cameras, with different lenses mounted, minimizes this potential problem.  It also means there’s less chance of missing shots.  While the situation was unusual for me, I found myself with numerous unanticipated wildlife shooting opportunities while I was in Canada.  If I’d had only one camera with the wrong lens (and it almost certainly would have been the wrong lens for wildlife) mounted, I would have missed most–if not all–of these opportunities.  A few of these chances that ultimately didn’t work out–photographing wolves and bears–wouldn’t have even been considerations without my two-camera setup.  Landscape opportunities in changing light situations also would have been far more difficult–and might have been missed entirely–if I’d had to spend my time swapping out lenses.  On occasions too numerous to count on the trip–the visual evidence for some of these occasions accompanies this entry–I was able to very quickly go from wide to telephoto in rapidly changing lighting conditions and successfully capture both versions of scenes that I had my eye on, for one reason only:  the two camera setup.

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Elliot Peak at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Elliot Peak at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

3. Related to number two but treated separately because of the notable significance was the ability to very quickly check out massively different perspectives of a subject simply by putting one camera down and picking up the other.  Sometimes this led to unexpected photographic opportunities and sometimes it led to the rejection of extensive exploring of an entirely different perspective.  Either way, the central point is the existence of the ready opportunity to pursue the creative option.  With only one camera, it’s far more time-consuming to do this and I will admit, with some chagrin, that in the past I wasn’t always willing to go to the trouble of undertaking something that can often amount to little more than a wild goose chase.

4. Identical ergonomics.  Since, with two identical bodies, the controls are the same, there’s no fumbling around to adapt to any differences that might exist between a primary and backup body that aren’t the same.  The cameras can be configured to be absolutely identical, right down to the custom functions, if that’s the photographer’s desire.  This makes swapping one rig for the other an effortless experience.

 

Paradise Creek Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Paradise Creek Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Paradise Creek Intimate Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Paradise Creek Intimate Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

As a practical matter, I leveraged the advantages of my two-camera setup multiple times every day while in Canada with the exception of my day at Lake O’Hara, and that was only because the weather was so awful that day that I scarcely pulled out one camera, let alone two; had the conditions been even decent I would have undoubtedly benefited from my arrangement there as well.

Now that I’ve relived the benefits of having a second, identical camera, it would be very difficult to go back to what I had been doing for the six-odd years that preceded my purchase of the second D800E.  Hopefully I won’t have to do so any time soon–if ever again.

We returned to the Kootenay Plains before first light on the first morning of the tour, but to a different spot than we had concluded the previous day.  This time, we accessed an area of reflecting pools, in a small wetland not far from the banks of the Saskatchewan River.  From this position, Mt. Peskett and the Ex Coelis Peaks lay to the south and east.  The former would be sidelit by the rising sun.  With good conditions, it was possible to capture the peaks’ reflections in the pools.

Unfortunately, the conditions weren’t quite ideal.  The skies were mostly clear, which meant a limited opportunity to capture colorful sunrise clouds and, worse, the wind kept kicking up, causing copious ripples on the surface of the water, spoiling the reflections.  After a bit of time trying to create a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, I gave up and changed positions, managing to capture one frame of the pre-sunrise sky facing almost due east, during a moment of calm.

Reflecting Pools, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Reflecting Pools, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

I moved toward the river as the sun came up, and stopped in a broad meadow, where I used the remnants of a fallen tree for foreground interest.

Kootenay Plains Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

I’d been keeping my eyes on the pools–which weren’t all that far behind me–all along and when I felt the wind drop for a sustained period of time I ran back to find the near-perfect reflections that I’d anticipated earlier which, along with their Platonic ideals on the opposite bank, comprised a composition that I found mesmerizing in its natural symmetry.

Reflecting Pools, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Reflecting Pools, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

At this point, I pulled out the camera with the telephoto lens attached and played around with some semi-abstracts.

Reflections, Reflecting Pools, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Reflections, Reflecting Pools, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

From here, it was back into the plains, as I made my way toward the river.  The upper reaches of Mt. Peskett were taking on some very nice light so I stayed with the long lens to capture the phenomenon.

Mt. Peskett, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Peskett, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Peskett, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Peskett, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

I wandered down to the edge of the Saskatchewan River and, again staying long, captured selected parts of the scene.

Ex Coelis Peaks at Sunrise, Saskatchewan River, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Ex Coelis Peaks at Sunrise, Saskatchewan River, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

I moved to a different spot along the river bank, an area of confluence as the water flowed around both sides of a sand bar, and pulled out the wide angle.

Saskatchewan River, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Saskatchewan River, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

On my way back to the original staging area, I ran across a sandy/muddy bit of shoreline that had some interesting water and wind driven ripples, with an occasional small rock in a sandy “socket.”  The intimate scene was essentially devoid of color so I converted the image to black and white.

Sand Pattens Black & White, Saskatchewan River, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Sand Pattens Black & White, Saskatchewan River, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Before we cleared the area for good, it was time for one more quick shot of Mt. Peskett, underscored as it was by a stand of aspen.

Mt. Peskett, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Peskett, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Our group decamped from here and headed back to the northeast on Highway 11, stopping at several spots to capture views of Lake Abraham from high above water level.  I focused on long lens views to pick out some of the details across the lake, where stands of aspens were partially submerged in the floodplains adjacent to the lakeshore.

Lake Abraham from Highway 11, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Lake Abraham from Highway 11, David Thompson Country, Alberta

When we reached the area where the Cline River flows into the lake, we stopped again, and after shooting from the bridge for a bit, meandered down a steep dirt road to water level.  The partially flooded wetland bordering the lake itself made for a fine foreground.

Abraham Lake Near Cline River, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Abraham Lake Near Cline River, David Thompson Country, Alberta

By now it was roughly mid-day, and we continued northeast on Highway 11 to an area known as the “Belly of Abraham.”  From here, Mt. Abraham towered above us, fronted by a thick aspen and conifer forest on the west side of the road.  To the east lay more aspen and the lake itself.  We spent several hours here, and I worked the west side first.

Aspen Forest, Belly of Abraham, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspen Forest, Belly of Abraham, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Just about everything was photogenic here, including the road itself.

Highway 11 Black & White, Belly of Abraham, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Highway 11 Black & White, Belly of Abraham, David Thompson Country, Alberta

The east side of the highway had just as many possibilities as the west, if not more.

Aspens, Belly of Abraham, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspens, Belly of Abraham, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Apens, Belly of Abraham, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Apens, Belly of Abraham, David Thompson Country, Alberta

The wind was blowing pretty hard that afternoon, but I was able to freeze the blowing foliage by finding my compositions and waiting for lulls, or by raising the ISO to increase shutter speed, if needed.

Aspens, Belly of Abraham, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspens, Belly of Abraham, David Thompson Country, Alberta

At one point, however, I decided to flip convention on its head by slowing the shutter speed down as much as possible–I added a neutral density filter specifically for this purpose–and letting the wind do its thing during the 15-second exposure, proffering more of an impressionist feel to the resulting image.

Aspen Breeze, Belly of Abraham, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspen Breeze, Belly of Abraham, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Eventually we meandered down to the shore of Abraham Lake to explore the opportunities there.  I started off by playing with a worm’s eye view of the less dense aspen growth.

Aspens, Belly of Abraham, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspens, Belly of Abraham, David Thompson Country, Alberta

The wind was blowing hard and the clouds were causing constantly changing exposures, and I gradually turned my attention to the scene at my feet.  I’m always interested in the forest floor and this spot, immediately adjacent to the lake itself, was no exception.  These intimate scenes were, depending on the position of the clouds to the sun at any given moment, partially in bright sunlight and partially in shade, so placed myself in such a position to create a small area entirely in open shade, to produce the even, soft light effect you see below.

Aspens Leaves and Pebbles, Belly of Abraham, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspens Leaves and Pebbles, Belly of Abraham, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspens Leaves, Belly of Abraham, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspens Leaves, Belly of Abraham, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Before we said farewell to this spot, I pulled out the telephoto lens one last time and, using the turquoise lake surface as my backdrop, isolated a set of aspen trunks.

Aspens at Abraham Lake, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspens at Abraham Lake, David Thompson Country, Alberta

The clouds had been playing footsie for awhile and, not long after we left this area, it got very dark and very windy.  A bit of rain fell, but the wind kept blowing even after the rain stopped and at that point we called it an afternoon.  We returned to the lodge, with the intention of setting out for sunset.

About 45 minutes before sunset we headed back out in the direction of the Kootenay Plains (i.e. southwest) and set up on a rock outcropping high above the lake, but, again, the conditions didn’t materialize.  Clouds to the west blocked the setting sun, depriving us of a colorful sky.  The big excitement was the spotting of bears–a mother and two cubs–about a 1/4 mile up the road from where we were set up.  I caught a quick grab shot of one of the bears, but it’s a speck, even at 400 mm.

Still, despite the lack of great sunset conditions, there were images to be made.  I stuck with the telephoto lens and captured the gathering storm clouds over Lake Abraham as the light fell away that evening.

Abraham Lake at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Abraham Lake at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Approaching Storm Black & White, Abraham Lake, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Approaching Storm Black & White, Abraham Lake, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Despite the lack of great sunset light, it had been another long, highly productive day of photography.  The storm clouds we witnessed, accompanied by the palpable drop in temperatures that evening (it was really cold out there by the time we called it a night) presaged a change in conditions on the ground for the following day–snow.

Next:  The Canadian Rockies Day 10 – Sunrise Mountain Views, Larch in Snow, Nordegg and Whirlpool Point

It was my last morning at Jasper and I decided to try and capture sunrise from Glory Hole–a location I’d visited in the afternoon of Day 7 that I thought would make a fine shooting location at first light, so I got up extra early and made the approximately 15-mile drive in the gloom to the location I’d recorded on my GPS the previous day.  I hung out at the spot for some time, but–though it got brighter–it was far too cloudy for there to be any sunrise that morning, so I grudgingly gave up and made my way back to Jasper with the intention of checking out of the motel and making my way down the Icefields Parkway in the direction of Athabasca Falls.

But while I was driving back toward the town of Jasper on the Yellowhead Highway, I noticed that the sky was doing some interesting things to the northeast.  It wasn’t sunrise light per se, but as I approached one of the Yellowhead Highway bridges that crosses the Athabasca River, I pulled off the road, made my way down to the river bank and captured the image you see below.

Athabasca River Morning, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca River Morning, Jasper National Park, Alberta

I made my way back to town, checked out of the hotel, filled the gas tank (very important, since the next gas station was at Lake Louise Village, more than 150 miles away) and began the trek south on the Icefields Parkway.  The first 50-odd miles covered terrain that I’d passed on the way to Jasper, back on Day 4, in the dark, so it was really my first look at this spot.  I didn’t make it all that far.

On a large bend in the road I saw a beautiful meadow to my right, and even though there wasn’t a pullout I stopped–well off the shoulder of the road.  I spent quite a bit of time at this spot, making the most of the stands of aspen mixed with pristine conifers and an attractive background of mountains and partly cloudy sky.  The light was soft and was a lovely complement to the setting.

Morning Meadow, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Morning Meadow, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Meadow, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Meadow, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

After shooting (relatively) wide I pulled out my second camera body with the 80-400 mm lens attached and spent some time working with tighter perspectives.

Aspen Trunks, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Aspen Trunks, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Aspen Monarch, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Aspen Monarch, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Once again I was left to marvel at the photographer’s paradise that is the region known as the Canadian Rockies.  Here I was at an unmarked, essentially unrecognized spot and I could have spent most of the day here making images, if I’d had the time.  All of the shots in this sequence were made without moving more than 75 feet from my parked vehicle.

Aspens, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Aspens, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Aspen Forest, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Aspen Forest, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

It was mid-morning by this time and I reluctantly got back in the car and headed back down the parkway.  My next stop was Athabasca Falls–a popular location for the many tour buses that zip up and down the parkway.  The falls area wasn’t too crowded when I arrived and after walking the short distance from the parking area to the falls viewing area I sized up the location.

Athabasca Falls is a gusher of a waterfall, but it’s difficult to obtain what I’d term a clear, full view.  Ultimately, I spent most of my time working on sectional compositions, most of which I subsequently converted to black and white, as you can see below.

Athabasca Falls Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Falls Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Falls Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Falls Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Falls Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Falls Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Falls Sectional Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Falls Sectional Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Falls Abstract, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca Falls Abstract, Jasper National Park, Alberta

I then focused my attention on telephoto shots of the Athabasca River above the falls.

Athabasca River Rapids, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca River Rapids, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca River Rapids Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca River Rapids Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

I gradually made my way upriver along a trail that skirts the bank, and worked my way over to a rocky shore for a wider perspective of the scene.

Athabasca River Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca River Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

As I made my way back towards the parking area, I stopped on a bridge just below the falls which looks into the slot canyon that sits downriver.  There was someone in a kayak who was serving as a model for a group–I honestly couldn’t tell if they were preparing for a photo shoot or what (there was no equipment in place, but a lot of the talk among the participants sounded photo-ish)–in the rapids of the slot canyon.  The people up on the rim were occasionally trying to communicate with the kayaker, but he obviously couldn’t understand what they were saying over the roar of the waterfall, the sound of which must have been amplified by the echo bouncing off the canyon walls.  Regardless, the kayaker must have been highly experienced because he was holding his own under some rather gnarly-looking conditions.  I took a moment to pull out my equipment and capture the scene.

Kayaker in Slot Canyon, Below Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Kayaker in Slot Canyon, Below Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park, Alberta

I had spent nearly two hours at Athabasca Falls and it was pushing noon as I moved along.  As had been the case on my northward drive on the Icefields Parkway several days prior, I found myself stopping frequently at the many pullouts.

Mt. Edith Cavell from the Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Mt. Edith Cavell from the Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Overlook, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Overlook, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

At one of these stops, a huge glacier was the main attraction.  At this location, I worked exclusively with a telephoto lens to compress the elements of the distant scene.

Distant Glacier, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Distant Glacier, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Distant Glacier, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Distant Glacier, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

The river floodplain in the valley below also made for an interesting patterned shot, I thought.

River Floodplain, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

River Floodplain, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

I took a short road off the parkway to have a look at Sunwapta Falls, another gusher of a waterfall with limited views.  I couldn’t find a way to capture the falls in full without incorporating objectionable elements, so I worked the top of the falls, and the Sunwapta River above them.

Sunwapta River and Sunwapta Falls Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Sunwapta River and Sunwapta Falls Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

This was Upper Sunwapta Falls.  I wanted to hike the trail down the canyon to Lower Sunwapta Falls and photograph there as well, but it was mid-afternoon by this time and I knew that, between the round-trip hike (roughly 2 1/2 miles) and time spent shooting, I’d lose the better part of two hours and I had to be at the Aurum Lodge, for the start of the tour I was joining, before 5 PM.  From my current spot, if I drove without stopping, I’d probably arrive at the lodge after 3:30, and, really, given the scenery and my predilections, what were the odds that I wouldn’t stop again?  So I headed back to the car and resumed the drive.

Eventually I stopped at a location called Hilda Ridge, which provided interesting views of Hilda Creek on both sides of the parkway.

Hilda Creek from Hilda Ridge, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Hilda Creek from Hilda Ridge, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Hilda Creek from Hilda Ridge, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Hilda Creek from Hilda Ridge, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Finally, I stopped perhaps 15 miles north of Saskatchewan Crossing where low-hanging clouds were clinging to the mountainside, above the tapestry of aspens, east of the roadway.

Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

I was still roughly an hour short of the lodge and it was approximately 3 PM.  I told myself–no more stops!–and I behaved.  I continued south on the Icefields Parkway until I reached Saskatchewan Crossing and then took a left on Highway 11, exiting Banff National Park after a couple of miles.  This was my first look at David Thompson Country and I was impressed with the scenery and the emptiness of the area as I made my way 30-odd miles east toward the lodge.  There were almost literally no services or residences of any kind for the duration of the drive.  This was a remote area.

I reached the lodge at about 4:15, met one of my Aurum Lodge hosts, Alan Ernst, who got me checked in and settled.  I joined the other tour participants at around 5.  (For a more complete overview of the tour itself, go here.)  After some brief introductions and some words from Royce Howland, the tour leader, about what to expect, we piled into a couple of vehicles and made a 15-odd minute drive to the west–the direction I’d come from–on the highway for a sunset shoot at the Kootenay Plains.

Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

This became one of my favorite locations of the entire trip–not just the tour, the whole 13-day excursion, including my time on my own.  I’ll likely have more to say about this topic in a dedicated “thematic interruption” piece at some point, but suffice to say for now that I was as taken with the various meadow locations that I experienced in the Canadian Rockies as any scenic genre it was my pleasure to witness, be it the Hillsdale Meadows, the Opabin Plateau, the Bow River Outlet Trail, the Palisades Picnic Area or the unnamed meadow that I’d spent time in that very morning along the Icefields Parkway south of the town of Jasper.  The Kootenay Plains was as breathtaking a spot as any of these, perhaps more so given the incredibly open, big sky feel of the place.  There were stands of aspen and conifers in a broad, grassy pasture ringed by snow-capped peaks with fast moving cloud formations above and, quite literally, 360 degrees worth of spectacular views.  It was almost overwhelming.  Almost.

As the sun went down the cloud formations lit up, one-by-one.  The best locations to frame the views in different directions required a fair amount of movement.  I did some of this, but as I was brand new to the location, rather than running around like the proverbial chicken (without the proverbial head), once I sized up the place I confined myself, mostly, to one comparatively small area, best to capture the effects of the rapidly changing light.

Majestic Kootenay Plains Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Majestic Kootenay Plains Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

I simply couldn’t get over how wonderfully the elements of this location naturally conformed to my compositional desires.  For someone as used to cluttered environments as I am, I was like a kid in a candy store.  It was almost as though I’d been given the opportunity to arrange the various elements of the scene in advance.

Mt. Peskett and Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Peskett and Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Peskett at Sunset, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Peskett at Sunset, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Before we knew it, the blue hour was upon as us.  As if on cue, the moon rose, putting a cap on yet another extremely long, almost scarily memorable day of photography in the Canadian Rockies.

Kootenay Plains Moonrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains Moonrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

As the last light dropped away and we prepared to leave, I asked Royce if we’d have the opportunity to revisit this spot before the end of the tour and he assured me that we would–which I was very pleased to hear.

Next:  The Canadian Rockies, Day 9 – Reflecting Pools and Further Explorations of Highway 11

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