Posted by: kerryl29 | April 13, 2020

The Story Behind the Image: Waterfowl Lakes Sunrise Perfection

[If you’re wondering why I’m detailing photographic experiences on this blog as if a pandemic wasn’t ravaging the planet, click here.  Be sure to read the comments.]

The image discussed in this post was made during the photo tour that was part of my first trip to the Canadian Rockies, in the autumn of 2014.  This was around the midpoint of the tour and Day 11 of the entire trip for me.

The decision had been made to make an early morning–read:  in the pitch dark, long before sunrise–trip to the Waterfowl Lakes area of Banff National Park, just west of the Icefields Parkway.  (From where we were staying, about 30 miles east of Saskatchewan River Crossing, it was close to an hour’s drive.)  I had driven past this area about a week earlier during my own drive north, from the Lake Louise area to Jasper, but stopped only briefly.  As I had a lot of ground to cover that day, countless places to see and was facing inclement weather conditions at the time, I had made no images during my solo time at Waterfowl Lakes.

And it is lakes, plural.  There’s an Upper Waterfowl Lake and a Lower Waterfowl Lake, with a campground in between them.  When we arrived in the deserted campground area, still in the pitch dark of predawn, we made our way, with the aid of headlamps and flashlights, to the southern shore of Upper Waterfowl Lake.  (Lower Waterfowl Lake is north of the campground.)  The lake itself is of modest size, perhaps a bit more than a mile long and maybe a half-mile across at the widest point, and is surrounded by thick conifer forest and ringed by mountains.  Mt. Chephren and Howse Peak are the most prominent of the peaks to the west and northwest of Waterfowl Lakes.

It was entirely unclear what kind of a sunrise, if any, there would be that morning; the forecast that day was for mostly cloudy skies–a forecast that would be quite accurate, as the rest of the day would prove.  But we made the short walk, through the forest surrounding the campground, and were on the sandy lake shore in short order.  There were seven of us present and we more or less informally split into two groups; I went with the smaller gathering and set up in the middle of the southern shore while the others picked out spots a few hundred yards away on the southwest shoreline.  It was light enough at this point to roughly make out the silhouette of the mountains and I liked the look of the gap to the north, with the prominent peak of Mt. Chephren anchoring the left-hand side of the scene.

Once in place, we waited for the light to present itself.  While there would be plenty of compositional options at this location, demanding a variety of focal lengths to capture them before it was all said and done, once thing was certain:  if there was going to be a nice sunrise this morning, a wide angle approach would be called for.  As a result, I started out the day with my 14-24/2.8 ultrawide lens mounted on my camera.

As the light came up, slowly, we could see that the sky above us was partly cloudy:  perfect, as long as the southeast horizon was clear enough to allow sunlight to light those clouds up.  There was no way for us tell if that would happen, as the southeast view was completely blocked by tall mountains.

So we waited…and, before too long, the clouds did indeed begin to take on a purplish/pinkish hue.  There were no prominent complementary objects to use as a foreground–no shoreline rocks protruding from the water, no attractive fallen logs or anything of that nature.  So, I decided to use the reflections in the shallow waters to serve as foreground interest.  Fortunately for all of us, there wasn’t a breath of wind anywhere near us; the lake surface near our position, and for hundreds of feet out in the water, was glass-like.  Just to complete the perfection, the clouds visible to us that morning were in long substantive strips, running more or less perfectly along the V-shaped “cut” in the mountains to the north.

All I had to do was to double check exposure, confirm focus and trip the shutter with my remote release:  perfection.

Sunrise, Waterfowl Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta


  1. It’s beautiful Kerry, well seen and capture. You are a master at planning, preparation and execution.

  2. It was indeed a beautiful location on a lovely morning. Sometimes the photo gods smile.

    • Thanks, Ellen. You were privy to the real time experience, of course.

  3. What a gift!To think that all of this is closed now, except for driving through, almost physically hurts. What hurts more is the thought that people will not respect the closure and will camp willy-nilly, wreaking havoc as they go.

    • Thanks, Jane. Here’s hoping that no one’s violating the Parks Canada rules; they’re in place for a (very good) reason.

  4. Thanks again for keeping up the good work and bringing us more of these enlightening rays of hope.

    • Thanks, Gary. Good to know that these posts are providing some small benefit.

  5. What a great catch!! I know you are glad to have traded a little extra sleep for witnessing this glory!!

    Thanks for sharing!!


    • Thanks very much!

  6. Wow!! Such a glorious catch!!

    I know you are glad to have traded some extra sleep for witnessing this beaut of a sunrise!

    Thank you for sharing!


    • Thanks very much! (My apologies for overlooking this pending comment for so long.)

  7. What a photo worth waiting for! I have a cousin who lives in Edmonton now and I’m dying to get up there for a trip so I can head over to Banff with my camera! Such a beautiful souvenir for you to treasure! Thank you for sharing

    • Thanks very much!

      I hope you get that chance sooner than later. If you’re in Edmonton, don’t miss the opportunity to spend some time in Jasper NP (which is much closer) as well! It’s hard to choose a bad spot if it’s in the Canadian Rockies!

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