Posted by: kerryl29 | November 17, 2015

The Canadian Rockies, Day 4: Cloudy

I’ve often written on this blog that the operative definition of “good light” is dependent on the specific subject matter.  Optimal light for one subject may be undesirable for another.  The Day 4 forecast was mostly cloudy, again, so we’d put this axiom to the test.

We decided to give Moraine Lake another try at sunrise, principally due to its relative proximity to Lake Louise Village.  Why, we reasoned, should we make a long drive to a remote location when the likelihood of a decent sunrise was remote?  The hope was to get lucky and, finally, catch some early light on the peaks, but for the fourth time in the last two years, I came up empty in my quest.  Still, we got some interesting mist and there was very little wind which made for some nice reflections.

Moraine Lake Morning, Banff National Park, Alberta

Moraine Lake Morning, Banff National Park, Alberta

With clouds in the forecast all day we decided to hit the Bow Valley Parkway after putting a wrap on things at Moraine.  I spent a bit of time on the parkway during the first day of this year’s trip, and on the first day of last year’s trip, so I had a good idea of what to expect.

The Bow Valley Parkway is a low-speed, two-lane alternative route that runs more or less parallel to, and just east of, the Trans-Canada Highway between Lake Louise and the northern end of the town of Banff.  It meanders past forests, meadows, ponds and lakes and provides access to a corresponding never-ending set of photographic opportunities.  We essentially covered the entire 30-odd mile length of the parkway, from north to south, on this day.

Our first stop was unplanned.  Near the parkway’s northern terminus I saw a number of aspen saplings, with gold leaves, amid a grove of staid, dark green conifers.  I stopped the car and we made some images by the side of the road.

 

Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

For the first–but not the last–time this day we had to explain to a number of passing motorists who stopped when they saw us, with our cameras and tripods, that we were not photographing wildlife.  This news was invariably met with great disappointment, but it happened so many times this day that it became something of a running joke.

Our next stop was at the small bog near the Castle Mountain Internment Camp.  This was a tough location to photograph, given the proliferation of dead trees, but we stuck around the location for a little while and I took the opportunity to take a close look at many of the nearby elements and the subtle beauty they rendered.

Internment Camp, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Internment Camp, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Internment Camp, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Internment Camp, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Internment Camp Black & White, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Internment Camp Black & White, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Not too much farther up the road we spotted an interesting meadow, in the shadow of Castle Mountain, and pulled off the road to investigate it more closely.

Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

The mix of colors created by the at-peak aspens, the contrasting conifers and the occasional splotches of red and gold in the meadow was captivating.

Castle Mountain from the Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Castle Mountain from the Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Castle Mountain itself, its turrets buffeted by swirling, low-hanging clouds made for an intriguing backdrop.

Castle Mountain from the Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Castle Mountain from the Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

The occasional presence of a shock of color produced from a sole aspen, in full autumn splendor, caused me to reach for my telephoto rig on more than one occasion.

Lone Aspen, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Lone Aspen, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Moose Meadows, near the halfway point on the parkway between Lake Louise and Banff, was our next destination.  This extensive open area runs for several miles on the west side of the parkway and provides an almost endless mass of subject matter.

Moose Meadows, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Moose Meadows, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

These meadows, from heath to aspens, were essentially at their autumn color peak.  Due to the presence of almost entirely gray skies I chose to omit them from my images, an option that was readily available to me in light of the mountain slopes in the background.

Aspen Trio, Moose Meadows, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Aspen Trio, Moose Meadows, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

I kept switching back and forth between telephoto views–both short and long–and comparatively wider perspectives, as my eyes wandered around the meadows.

Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Various shapes and color patterns caught my eye.

Moose Meadows, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Moose Meadows, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Moose Meadows was the site of our greatest faux wildlife experience.  We stopped at one spot that was completely devoid of people.  There was no designated parking area so we pulled off on the shoulder of the road and began to explore the area–tripods in hand, of course.  Within five minutes there were at least a half a dozen other vehicles pulled off in our general vicinity.  It was not unlike a snowball rolling downhill, as the traffic clog grew (and really hit its apex when a couple of recreational vehicles joined the fray, to our endless amusement).  Of course we informed those who asked–and several did just that–that, despite the name of the place (Moose Meadows) that we weren’t photographing moose and that, in fact, moose rarely frequent the location at this time of year (which is true).

Moose Meadows, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Moose Meadows, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Isolated Aspens, Moose Meadows, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Isolated Aspens, Moose Meadows, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

When we cleared the traffic jam that we had inadvertently created at Moose Meadows, we moved on to Pilot Pond.  This small body of water, situated to the northeast of Pilot Mountain, required a short, but relatively steep hike through the woods down to the shore.  I’d never visited Pilot Pond prior to this day so I wasn’t entirely certain what to expect.

Pilot Pond Reflections, Banff National Park, Alberta

Pilot Pond Reflections, Banff National Park, Alberta

We had to fight off a brief rain shower, but what we got at the edge of Pilot Pond were some phenomenal reflections.

Pilot Pond Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Pilot Pond Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

There wasn’t all that much wind this day to begin with, but Pilot Pond is in a sheltered bowl, surrounded by thick stands of conifers.  I would think that Pilot Pond is frequently a low- or no-wind location, even with a fair amount of breeze elsewhere.

Pilot Pond, Banff National Park, Alberta

Pilot Pond, Banff National Park, Alberta

As we had been driving along the parkway, Debbie–who had never visited the Bow Valley Parkway previously–took notice of virtually every aspen along the way.  Ellen and I had both spent time on the parkway before and we reassured her that the best locations for photographing aspens–Hillsdale Meadows and the Muleshoe Picnic Area–were yet to come.

Aspen Grove Intimate, Hillsdale Meadows, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Aspen Grove Intimate, Hillsdale Meadows, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

As soon as we drove down the hill from the Pilot Pond parking area and Hillsdale Meadows came into view, she understood what we were talking about.

Aspen Grove Intimate, Hillsdale Meadows, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Aspen Grove Intimate, Hillsdale Meadows, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

When the conditions are right, Hillsdale Meadows is probably the single best place to photograph aspen stands on the entire parkway.  It’s one of the relatively few spots with thick bunches of aspens amid open areas of tall grass and occasional bursts of colorful shrubbery.

Hillsdale Meadows, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Hillsdale Meadows, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Given how near to one another the various aspen stands are at Hillsdale, it’s remarkable how variable they are in terms of the timing of color change in the fall.  Some of these trees were well past peak when we were there, others were absolutely at peak and still others were mostly green.

Hillsdale Meadows, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Hillsdale Meadows, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Combined with the nearby conifer forests and tall meadow grasses, it all made for a marvelous mosaic.

Aspen Intimate, Hillsdale Meadows, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Aspen Intimate, Hillsdale Meadows, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Hillsdale Meadows, Banff National Park, Alberta

Hillsdale Meadows, Banff National Park, Alberta

While on site, we actually received a few moments of fleeting sunshine–the first we’d seen all day long.  I used the opportunity to produce a few wider scenics.

Hillsdale Meadows, Banff National Park, Alberta

Hillsdale Meadows, Banff National Park, Alberta

Our next stop on the parkway was also our last–the Muleshoe area.  I was the only one who had spent any time photographing at this location previously and since I raved about it, the others were anxious to see if it lived up to its billing.

Muleshoe Picnic Area, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Muleshoe Picnic Area, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

I had scouted this area when I drove through on day one; at that time, the aspens were still mostly green.  Given how cold it had been overnight on several occasions since that time, I was hopeful that the colors would be at or near peak.  I wasn’t disappointed.

Muleshoe Picnic Area, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Muleshoe Picnic Area, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

The Muleshoe area–loosely comprised of the picnic grounds on the west side of the parkway and the trail on the east side–offers splendid opportunities to photograph aspens, but without the wide open spaces of Hillsdale.

Muleshoe Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

Muleshoe Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

Here the focus is on tighter, intimate shots.

Muleshoe Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

Muleshoe Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

Image making here can be challenging, but extremely rewarding with careful vision and patience.

Aspen Trunk Black & White, Muleshoe Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

Aspen Trunk Black & White, Muleshoe Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

Muleshoe Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

Muleshoe Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

The picnic area and trail sides of the road offer up distinct opportunities.  It’s up to the photographer to find and render them.  In a sense, this rough dynamic provided the foundation for almost the entire day’s photography.  Most of the locations we visited were rich with possibilities but they were rarely obvious.  The creation of compelling compositions required time spent simply seeing the landscape, and patience to find the best spot to include and/or exclude specific elements to ultimately piece the frame together.  While the subject matter was completely different, this sort of gestalt was present at Mistaya Canyon the previous day as well.  I find this kind of artistic exploration/experience more gratifying than any other when I’m out with the camera.

Muleshoe Picnic Area, Banff National Park, Alberta

Muleshoe Picnic Area, Banff National Park, Alberta

We spent several hours between the Hillsdale and Muleshoe locations and by the time we were done at the latter it was early evening.  The prospects for a strong sunset weren’t at all promising, but–since we were so nearby–we decided to check out the Vermillion Lakes area.

As always seems to be the case, it was windy there.  We checked the entire set of three lakes and didn’t find a single spot that wasn’t heavily rippled by wind.

With Vermillion Lakes a washout we made a final decision to race up to Castle Mountain and we arrived there shortly before the appointed hour of sunset.  On the shore of the Bow River, between bouts of drizzle and with the turrets of the mountain still swathed in clouds, we got a few moments of interesting light before everything simply faded into a blue-gray gloom.

Castle Mountain from the Bow River, Banff National Park, Alberta

Castle Mountain from the Bow River, Banff National Park, Alberta

Thus ended the trip’s fourth day of photography.  Ellen and Debbie had to head home to British Columbia, so I drove them back to their car and we said our goodbyes.  They’d been fine company, but I’d be on my own for the next ten days.

As for the matter of the light, which opened this segment, I trust the point has been made.  While some of the meadow locations might have been even more appealing in low-angled light we were able to reward ourselves with an all-day photo shoot by utilizing the considerable benefits of the soft light of overcast, given our selection of subject matter.  The Muleshoe area, in particular, truly shined given the conditions we had to work with.

There would be one more day of (mostly) clouds–and ultimately steady rain–before conditions would finally change.  I’ll begin chronicling that experience in the next installment.

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Responses

  1. Your landscapes are so full of such gorgeous colors…I do really love that part of Alberta.

    • Thanks. Yes, the Canadian Rockies region is absolutely beautiful.

  2. Love all these trees. And you got some decent shots at Pilot Pond which is more than I can say for myself.

    • We didn’t have the greatest conditions at Pilot Pond. 🙂

  3. Great aspen shots.

    • Thanks very much!

  4. I hope that you don’t take this as a negative, because it isn’t meant to be, but why couldn’t you have done this post two months ago? 😉

    By studying your images and learning from them, my wider photos this fall showed a great deal of progress. However, I struggled mightily with my photos such as the ones that you have posted here. Most of mine were too busy, I don’t know what to leave out of the frame when I’m composing them. I love how you captured the essence of fall in your images, getting just the right blend of the more vivid yellows in contrast to the remaining greenery, or the fields in the foreground. You are truly an artist!

    • Thanks for the kind words.

      These (mostly) intimate shots can be really, really tough. In some cases–when they’re of a distant scene realized with a telephoto lens, for instance–you really can’t see the final scene without looking through the lens. I’m not sure how to describe how those kinds of things come about. Ordinarily it comes from something in the distance that catches my eye–a single, yellow aspen, for instance against a backdrop of conifers. Then I take a closer look at the scene.

      More generally…it’s very, very tough for me to describe the basic process behind how I go about assessing and capturing intimate scenes. I’ll have to give it some thought, and if I can determine how to explain how I go about it, I’ll put together a post in the future. It would make a great subject…

  5. Love the Hillsdale Meadow shot with the red bushes, yellow aspens and mountains and grey sky, also the last two Muleshoe shots looking low through the trees with a thick stand of aspens in the background.oh, I can’t forget to mention the Pilot Pond reflections.Ha ha, I relate to the stops that draw the attention to other drivers hoping to see animals, although I slow down to look when I see others pull over. So curious…

    • Thanks very much for the kind words.

      I think everyone slows down when they see people pulled over. That’s how I spotted a bear on the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive back in September (mediocre photos of which I will post in a future installment).

  6. […] 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. […]


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