In recent years, I’ve been asked why, when I take a photo trip, I try to set aside so much time in one place. The shortest answer I can give is: weather is relatively unpredictable and it’s extremely unpredictable in some of the best landscape photography locations in North America, like the Oregon Coast and the Canadian Rockies, just to name a couple. Simply put, the more days I spend in area the better my chances are of attaining favorable weather conditions for a variety of subjects.
If you’ve been following the day-by-day recaps that I’ve posted thus far from my September trip to the Canadian Rockies, you know that–other than the morning of Day 1, when I drove from Calgary to Banff National Park–the predominant weather condition for the first four days was cloudy.
Add another overcast day to the ledger. Not only was the fifth day overwhelmingly cloudy, the afternoon of that day was punctuated by steady rain. But first, there was this impressive sunrise…
I’d scouted Two Jake Lake, on the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive near the town of Banff, on the morning of Day 1, and was suitably impressed. I’d planned to return. The forecast was for–you guessed it–cloudy conditions on Day 5, but the best chance of a decent sunrise location was to the south–meaning, near Banff–so I decided to head to Two Jack Lake. I gave myself about an hour to make the drive from Lake Louise, but I appeared to have miscalculated a bit as I started seeing an impressive pre-sunrise sky begin to unfold as I made the drive on the Trans-Canada Highway. I reached Two Jack as early as possible, but there were two significant complications–a number of other photographers already populating my pre-scouted spots and a pretty strong breeze, which substantially disturbed the lake’s surface.
Still, the sky was so impressive, I actually began my shooting, with a telephoto lens, directly to the east.
I quickly moved alongside another couple of photographers to incorporate the lake, disturbed surface and all, into the frame.
I then changed spots, moving about 500 feet to the northeast along the shore, to photograph in the direction of Mt. Rundle.
That brilliant sky didn’t last long. The anticipated bank of clouds, which was already dominating the western sky, rapidly drifted in and snuffed out the color and the sunrise itself. The wind seemed to grow stronger, if anything, but I made one last image before packing up.
I drove the very short distance to Lake Minnewanka, which is connected to Two Jack Lake by a small waterway, in the now mostly cloudy conditions and focused my attention on a couple of spots that I’d taken note of when I’d checked out the location under mostly sunny skies four days prior.
From here, it was only a five-minute drive to Johnson Lake–another spot that I’d scouted in harsh light conditions on my first day in the area.
There was still a lot of wind and I was receiving what would be my final brief glimpses of sun this day. Before I left the area, I stopped at a colorful meadow that had caught my eye, just a few hundred feet up the road from the Johnson Lake parking area. This spot was relatively sheltered, so wind wasn’t a major problem. I had to wade in through stands of trees and shrubs, but I found a spot, at the foot of an old downed tree limb, and set up.
With completely cloudy skies now expected for the rest of the day, I had to decide what to do next. I ultimately settled on a return to Bow Falls. I had shot there briefly, in less than entirely favorable conditions, on Day 1, but the even light of overcast this day would be perfect for the subject. I navigated my way through the town of Banff and reached the falls. I then wandered up the Bow River Trail, which skirts alongside the canyon that constitutes the Bow Falls area, stopping whenever I found an interesting composition, which was frequently.
Every shot I made while wandering the Bow River Trail was produced using a telephoto lens. I found the details of the rapids in the river above the falls to be particularly interesting.
The farther I moved away from the parking area, the fewer people I encountered–which is a fairly reliable sequence of events–but four different groups of people asked me to take their pictures. I was perfectly happy to do this as the light was even and I wasn’t in any particular hurry.
There were several different spasms of light rain during my time on the trail, but none of them lasted very long and most of the time I was covered by the canopy provided by mature trees nearby.
The trial moved upstream, gradually descending from the heights well above the water to something approaching river level.
Ultimately the trail paralleled a spot on the river that was above the rapids; at this point, I turned around and headed back downstream, in the direction of the falls themselves, and the parking area. Looking at the river from a different direction produced a number of interesting perspectives that I hadn’t noticed on the way in.
I also found myself focusing on elements other than the rocks and water. There were several interesting trees, for instance, growing right out of the rocky walls of the canyon itself.
With a few parting images of the rocks and water combinations I’d been so impressed with earlier, I returned to the parking area.
It was approaching mid-afternoon by the time I reached the car and before I left the area for good I decided to visit Surprise Corner, on the other side of the river. This required a drive through a couple of blocks of downtown Banff, and then up a steep road to a smallish parking area high above the same Bow River rapids I’d photographed earlier. This location also offered up a wonderful view of the Banff Springs Hotel and I made my way down to a spot on the edge of the bluff so I could take advantage of the vista.
After photographing the hotel, I made my way upriver along the series of informal paths that meander atop the bluff. Different perspectives of the Bow River rapids were available all along the way.
I also finally discovered a wider view of the canyon that I found appealing. The bright lichen-covered rocks and red leaves in the foreground really caught my eye.
When I finished at Surprise Corner and made my way through Banff back to the Trans-Canada Highway, it started to rain…and it never really stopped until after dark. I headed back in the direction of Lake Louise and spent the final few rainy hours of daylight scouting locations west of Lake Louise in Yoho National Park–Faeder Lake, Wapta Falls and Wapta Marsh. That scouting would pay off several days hence when I’d have the opportunity to photograph all of these places.
But my attention now was focused on the next day. This would be my first opportunity on this trip to revisit the place that had vexed me so heavily the previous year–the Lake O’Hara area. Last year’s highly anticipated visit had been negatively impacted by all-day rain. Despite the existence of the wet stuff on this day, the forecast for Day 6 was for mostly sunny conditions and zero percent chance of precipitation following cold overnight temperatures. Would I actually have the opportunity to experience the O’Hara area sans all-day downpour?