Posted by: kerryl29 | January 27, 2015

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

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

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Responses

  1. Utterly amazing shots, Kerry. What an absolutely marvelous set of images you’ve come back with from this trip. I can totally understand your desire to return for more of this heavenly landscape.

    BTW, thanks for including the color before B&W conversion. I must be missing some special gene that explains this desire to wash out color.

    • Thanks!

      Re B&W…it’s a matter of taste/opinion, obviously, but there are times when, for a variety of reasons (e.g. excess contrast, minimal color, an emphasis on details or patterns) I think that color serves more as a distraction/detriment than a help. But there’s no right or wrong with regard to this, of course.

  2. gorgeousness!

  3. I will be sorry to see this series end. Not only have you reminded me of my visit to one of the most beautiful corners of the world, but as much as I’ve always admired your work, you really upped your game for these! Every image has been a feast for the eyes. I also enjoy reading how and why you set-up for the shots the way that you did, hoping that some of what you know will stick in my brain to assist my efforts to improve my skills. Thank you so much for putting so much work into your posts.

    • Thanks very much for the kind words. I’ll probably post two more entries re the Canadian Rockies–one for the final day and one a summation, of sorts.

  4. Outstanding! I was impacted most by the sunrise over lake photograph.

    • Thanks very much!

  5. Great post Kerry. The images are fantastic and so pleased to see both the colour and B&W. The two aspen shots at evening really show how quickly the light changes and what a difference it makes to the colour, but it’s your natural chatting about what you did and why that makes these post so interesting, thank you.

    • Thanks very much for the kind words and for letting me know that you find the commentary of interest.

  6. Really enjoyed the photographs, especially the black and white/color comparisons. Narrative is excellent. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks very much for the kind words.

  7. These are gorgeous shots, Kerry, bring back memories of the lodge and being close to the shore of Lake Abraham as well as those saplings standing alone and yes, your narrative is interesting as well as informative.Like the aspens in lower exposure -sure brings out the contrast.

    • Thanks very much, Jane!

  8. What an incredible place and your images capture it in all its natural beauty. Fantastic set, Kerry.

    • Thanks very much, Jane.

  9. […] than a mile north of the bridge, on the west side of the Parkway.  We had shot there, briefly, one day on the photo tour the previous year.  The viewpoint provides a sweeping view of the river and the rest of the Howse […]


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