Posted by: kerryl29 | February 23, 2016

Canadian Rockies Day 12: A Few Moments of Sunlight

I spent parts of five days during last 2014’s trip in the area near the town of Jasper, Alberta, which serves as a kind of nerve center to access Jasper National Park.  In 2015 I would only spend two full days and one brief morning centered in Jasper, but I apportioned the days this year intentionally.  While it certainly would have been nice to have more time in Jasper, there were only so many days I could devote to the trip and I had a lot of unfinished business in Banff and Yoho National Parks that were best served by being based near Lake Louise.  The goal during my time in Jasper, then, was to make the most of the limited time I did have.

The first morning–Day 12–the forecast was for cloudy and breezy conditions, but as is my wont when I’m on location, I decided to head out for sunrise, negative forecast be damned.  But I did hedge my bets a little bit; I decided to head to the Pyramid Lake Road, just a few minutes away from the town of Jasper.

I’d spent a full morning, and a good chunk of an afternoon, here the previous year, and spent sunrise photographing at Patricia Lake, in what turned out to be fortuitous conditions.  But between the wind and the clouds, this particular morning wasn’t looking so promising.  I decided to head to bypass Patricia Lake and head to Pyramid Island, just a mile or so farther down the road.  I’d scouted Pyramid Island in 2014, but hadn’t photographed there.

Pyramid Island is a small blip of land accessible via a short footbridge that spans a shallow channel of Pyramid Lake.  One of the advantages of the island as a shooting locale is that there are spots accessible, separated by a very short walk, covering 270 degrees looking out over the lake.  That would come in handy this morning.

Pyramid Lake Sunrise from Pyramid Island, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Pyramid Lake Sunrise from Pyramid Island, Jasper National Park, Alberta

At dawn, there was enough of a break in the clouds to the east to allow some color to skim the sky.  The wind played havoc with any reflections, however.

Shortly after the above image was made, I looked behind me and saw an interesting lighting effect.  I ran the couple of hundred feet to the other side of the island and set up quickly.

Pyramid Lake Sunrise from Pyramid Island, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Pyramid Lake Sunrise from Pyramid Island, Jasper National Park, Alberta

When the effect of the beams faded–and that didn’t take long–I returned to my original spot, and composed as the light came up.

Pyramid Lake Sunrise from Pyramid Island, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Pyramid Lake Sunrise from Pyramid Island, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Pyramid Lake Sunrise from Pyramid Island, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Pyramid Lake Sunrise from Pyramid Island, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Not long after the images immediately above were made, the light was gone, for the rest of the day.  The forecast being what it was I decided that today–nearly completely overcast–was perfect for photographing the Sunwapta Falls area and Beauty Creek–locations that called for even light.

I’d photographed Upper Sunwapta Falls the previous year, on the morning of my trip down the northern end of the Icefields Parkway on my to David Thompson Country.  I had wanted to make the journey down to Lower Sunwapta Falls and photograph there as well, but I couldn’t spare the time.  I decided to rectify that this day.  I’d shot sunset at the Beauty Creek Reflecting Pool the previous day.  Beauty Creek itself was just up (and across) the parkway.

Sunwapta Falls was roughly a 45-minute ride down the parkway and along the way I found some interesting spots along the Athabasca River–which parallels the parkway–that compelled me to stop and make some images.

Athabasca River, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca River, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca River Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca River Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca River Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca River Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

I ended up stopping at a series of different spots along the way, each with a different set of foreground elements.

Athabasca River, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca River, Jasper National Park, Alberta

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

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

Athabasca River, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Athabasca River, Jasper National Park, Alberta

In addition to the wide scenes, I found some intimate shots that caught my attention amid the river mud and rocks along the shoreline.

Rocks & River Mud Intimate Black & White, Athabasca River, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Rocks & River Mud Intimate Black & White, Athabasca River, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Eventually I made it to Sunwapta Falls.  The area around the Upper Falls was crowded, as usual.  I made a beeline for the trail to the rarely visited Lower Falls and spent a few hours in happy solitude, making the most of the series of cataracts that make up Lower Sunwapta Falls as well as the Sunwapta River and canyon.

Sunwapta River Rapids, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Sunwapta River Rapids, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Sunwapta River Canyon, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Sunwapta River Canyon, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Tree Roots Black & White, Sunwapta River Canyon, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Tree Roots Black & White, Sunwapta River Canyon, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Elegant Evergreens, Sunwapta River Canyon, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Elegant Evergreens, Sunwapta River Canyon, Jasper National Park, Alberta

The Lower Falls themselves are really a series of drops of varying heights and widths.  There are numerous spots from which the water can be photographed.

Lower Sunwapta Falls, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Lower Sunwapta Falls, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Lower Sunwapta Falls Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Lower Sunwapta Falls Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Lower Sunwapta Falls, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Lower Sunwapta Falls, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Lower Sunwapta Falls, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Lower Sunwapta Falls, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Lower Sunwapta Falls, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Lower Sunwapta Falls, Jasper National Park, Alberta

I retraced my steps on the trail and made my way another 25 minutes or so down the parkway to the trailhead for Beauty Creek.  The trail is barely marked.  There’s a tiny parking area in a wide open area across the road from the river and the trail gradually winds its way though a forested stretch and, after a short hike, meets another trail that looks a lot like an abandoned railroad right of way.  In reality, it’s a part of the old Banff-Jasper Highway thoroughfare.  The old B-J Highway was the predecessor to the Icefields Parkway.  By following the old thoroughfare perhaps 1/4 mile to the south, you find yourself astride Beauty Creek, with the concrete remains of an old highway bridge lying in fragments in a gully below.  By following the trail the hike up the steep mountainside that Beauty Creek courses down begins.

I met two groups of people on their way out as I was beginning to hike up.  They were the last people I saw in the field that day and I was in the area for another six-odd hours.

As I’ve mentioned in past blog posts, “creeks” in the Canadian Rockies are invariably gushing torrents, not the gentle brooks that the term might seem to connote.  Beauty Creek is no exception.  I hadn’t seen Beauty Creek prior to this visit, but I had read (in Darwin Wigget’s Icefields Parkway e-book) that there was a series of waterfalls along the creek, culminating with Stanley Falls at the top of the trail.  I could see glimpses of the gushing water at a variety of spots on the way up,  and, after a bit of a climb, I caught sight of a tall waterfall.  This couldn’t be Stanley Falls, could it?  It was certainly quite a drop.  I had to get right up to the edge of the precipice to get this shot which was a bit dicey as there’s no protection along the creek trail anywhere.

Beauty Creek Waterfall, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Beauty Creek Waterfall, Jasper National Park, Alberta

The trail–it was often difficult to see a true trail, there was mostly a lot of bare ground that wandered through the trees–appeared to continue from this spot and I determined, pretty quickly, that the waterfall I’d seen wasn’t the last one–it was the first one.  As a result, I spent the rest of the day–something like six hours–photographing along Beauty Creek.

Beauty Creek, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Beauty Creek, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Beauty Creek, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Beauty Creek, Jasper National Park, Alberta

At times, as in the images above, I was able to descend to creek level and take advantage of the perspectives so offered.  It wasn’t, by any means, always possible to do this, so I had to pick my spots.

Beauty Creek Waterfall, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Beauty Creek Waterfall, Jasper National Park, Alberta

On other occasions I had to settle for perching myself on rocky shelves above the creek and make do.

Beauty Creek, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Beauty Creek, Jasper National Park, Alberta

One of my favorite things about locations like this is that, with some patience, all sorts of images start to reveal themselves.  Once I determined that I’d almost certainly be spending the remainder of the day at this spot I slowed down and completely immersed myself in the locale.  That’s the kind of mindset, I’ve found, that allows for images beyond those immediately obvious to work their way into my subconscious.

Beauty Creek Intimate, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Beauty Creek Intimate, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Just about every time I rounded a bend in the creek or trail I ran across another series of rapids or a waterfall.  Less than halfway up the trail I realized that I was pulling the camera out of the pack constantly and just left it around my neck for the sake of in-field workflow efficiency.

Beauty Creek, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Beauty Creek, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Beauty Creek Waterfall Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Beauty Creek Waterfall Black & White, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Beauty Creek Waterfall, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Beauty Creek Waterfall, Jasper National Park, Alberta

On one or two occasions I found myself with the opportunity to go extremely wide and do something I rarely do when photographing waterfalls: incorporate background elements and sky into the composition.

Beauty Creek Waterfall, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Beauty Creek Waterfall, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Beauty Creek Waterfall, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Beauty Creek Waterfall, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Finally, I reached what I determined must be Stanley Falls.  The trail appeared to continue up the mountainside but a sign at this spot noted that the path was unmaintained beyond this location.  Given the number of limbs that had fallen on the trail prior to this point I wondered what “unmaintained” would be like.

It was beginning to get dark, so I set about examining Stanley Falls.  I put my backpack down and wandered around the edge of the canyon and found three spots from which I wanted to photograph the waterfall and set about to do so.  One of those spots was from directly above the falls themselves, and was a bit dicey as I set up my tripod flush against the edge of the cliff face.  There were objectionable elements that were encroaching on the view from multiple directions so I took the time to position everything in just the right spot.

Stanley Falls, Beauty Creek, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Stanley Falls, Beauty Creek, Jasper National Park, Alberta

The other locations to photograph Stanley Falls were on the way down so, before I left the top of the falls, I composed an intimate shot of the creek feeding the waterfall that had caught my eye.  Between the gathering gloom, a polarizer and a neutral density filter, I was getting very slow shutter speeds.  I played with a variety of apertures and ISO settings to vary the speeds a bit and settled on 3 seconds.

Beauty Creek Intimate, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Beauty Creek Intimate, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Finally, I nabbed the last two shots of Stanley Falls.

Stanley Falls, Beauty Creek, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Stanley Falls, Beauty Creek, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Stanley Falls, Beauty Creek, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Stanley Falls, Beauty Creek, Jasper National Park, Alberta

The light was almost completely gone now and I had at least a mile downhill hike, over a “trail” filled with down tree trunks and limbs, protruding roots and rocks to navigate, so I strapped on my headlamp and made my way back to the car…without incident, I’m pleased to report.

It was odd.  I’d photographed literally from dawn until dusk and I’d spent all that time at just four distinct places:  Pyramid Island, on the east side of the Athabasca River, Lower Sunwapta Falls and Beauty Creek.  Sometimes, when it comes to photographic locations, the key is quality not quantity.

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Responses

  1. A photographer’s day doesn’t get much better than this! Beauty Creek has a well-deserved name. Not being a “stand on the ledge” kind of person, I really appreciate that you were able to get these shots and share them.

    • Thanks, Ellen. I just want to clarify that only a few of the Beauty Creek images I posted were created from the precipice edge. There are many, many shots to be had that involve no real risk, so if you’re in the area under favorable conditions, don’t hesitate to check out Beauty Creek. It’s a great location for a cloudy, or mostly cloudy, day.

  2. These pictures are stunning! Thank you for sharing!

    • Thanks very much!

  3. I have to go back. I thought I had seen all the falls on Beauty Creek then found out I stopped short of Stanley falls.It was very flooded at the time. and the water was roaring and frankly lacked definition.Since you read Darwin’s book, i would recommend horseshoe Lake Horseshoe Lake just a few minutes north of Athabasca Falls.Again, like the intimates as well as the wider scale with the mountains in the background.

    • Thanks, Jane.

      For the second year in a row, Horseshoe Lake ended up on the cutting room floor (so to speak). Day 12 would have been the day to visit–it was “on the way” and it was mostly cloudy, but I was focused on the river when I was in that general neck of the woods and the only other opportunity would have been on the last day, when I was headed back to Calgary and it never crossed my mind. My loss.

      I don’t know what time of the year you were at Beauty Creek, but having been there myself in the fall, when the water levels were presumably at or near their lowest, I can’t imagine what it would be like in, say, late May or early June when it would be chocked with the runoff from the snow melt.

  4. Heavenly!

  5. Magnificent images again! I may never be a huge fan of black and white landscapes, I am learning to appreciate the skill that it takes to produce ones like yours. The composition, exposure, and everything else has to be close to perfect or you end up with photos like I shoot.

    When you’re shooting a sunrise, how do you know when you’ve gotten the best light? Is it all experience? This morning I was shooting a sunrise and really wanted two cameras on tripods so that I could shoot two different views entirely, but didn’t dare move from what I thought would be the best spot to shoot the other. That may have been a mistake, but I never shot the other scene, so I’ll never know.

    • Sorry for the delay in responding–I’m fighting off a nasty cold, among other things.

      Thanks, as always, for the kind words.

      Re your question about the quality of light at sunrise…I’m not sure you can ever know with absolute certainty that you’ve captured the best light until the experience is over. Depending on conditions, you might have a situation where clouds will impact the quality of light and you could get something even better. But in terms of making an educated guess when you’re in the field, yes, it’s largely a matter of experience. When it comes to, for instance, evaluating the best color in the sky–particularly when you’re shooting in the direction of the rising sun–the best color is almost always some minutes before the sun actually crests the horizon. Exactly how much before is variable, but you’ll literally see the color in the clouds and nearby sky peak…and then fade a bit. At that point, the sky/clouds aren’t going to get any better.

      Now, if you’re shooting in another direction, or you’re trying to capture something other than the sky, the calculus is entirely different. The closer you get to 180 degrees away from the rising sun the better the light will be on any clouds present closer to sunrise, and in some cases the best color will actually come shortly after the sun has crested the horizon. And if the sky isn’t the main subject, it’s all but certain that you’re going to want the directional light that will only show up on the subject after the sun has risen.

      I can probably best illustrate these points with some examples. Consider the latest blog entry: https://lightscapesphotography.wordpress.com/2016/02/23/canadian-rockies-day-12-a-few-moments-of-sunlight/

      The first image, from Pyramid Island, was taken in the direction of the impending sunrise–roughly ESE. The shutter was clicked 5-10 minutes before sunrise. The second image, also from Pyramid Island was made in a direction oblique to the sunrise–more or less ENE and was taken just about exactly at sunrise.

      Now check out this series of shots from the same sunrise shoot, all facing the direction of sunrise, from the Foothills Parkway, just outside Great Smoky Mountains NP:

      http://www.lightscapesphotography.com/p659823747/h67967c1e#h67967c1e

      http://www.lightscapesphotography.com/p659823747/h6521e368#h6521e368

      http://www.lightscapesphotography.com/p659823747/h6fdf9cea#h6fdf9cea

      The first image was taken at the height of sunrise color. The second was taken a few minutes later–the color in the east had clearly begun to fade. The third image was taken after the sun had crested the mountains to the east and begun to backlight the trees in the valley below.

      So, the timing and description of “best light” is dependent, ultimately, on a series of things including shooting direction and primary subject matter.

      • Thank you for taking the time to give me such a well thought out answer! Thanks to the photos in your blog posts, and the questions that you’ve answered before, I’m seeing more possible subjects than I have time to shoot when the light is really good. I have to learn to pick which I think will make the best photo that day, and produce the best image that I can of that one subject before I move on to others. I guess the only person who can help me with that is me, but I’m not used to seeing the world around me as I do now, and for that, I have you to thank!

        • “I’m seeing more possible subjects than I have time to shoot when the light is really good.”

          Congratulations! That’s a very big deal, in my opinion. Photography–all forms, I believe, but landscape photography in particular–is, at its essence, about seeing. When you start recognizing potential compositions all over the place, you’ve crossed a developmental, aesthetic line.

  6. […] in other access points to Nigel Creek that I’d visited on Day 11, or at spots along Beauty Creek–where discretion was the better part of valor.  There were, obviously, no railings in this […]


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