With fresh snow on the ground, I went back up to Elbow Falls to see how the valley would look in a return to winter clothing. I was there only a week ago and the change, beyond the cold, was significant. I love snow-covered landscapes so I found this visit to Kananaskis to be a very beautiful one. I think spring is coming soon but when winter is this pretty, I don’t mind a little delay.
Canon 5DIII + 300mm f/4 lens: 1/4000th of a second at f/11 on ISO 400
The winds that came with the weather change last weekend were heavy when I left my home in Bragg Creek for the Banff National Park in the morning. When I got into the mountains, the Bow Valley was pretty calm but higher up on the slopes, the snow was blowing around in opaque sheets while the clouds raced by above. Watching from the Vermillion Lakes shoreline, I was mesmerized by the view of Mount Rundle. The sun catching the wispy snow drawn out over the slopes before fraying into the shadow as it flew over the cliffs was beautiful to watch.
A few days ago, the clouds were anchored along the eastern edge of the Rockies all afternoon and I was not sure how the sunset would develop. Well, I guess I was sure that the winter sun would go down early and fast but what the light would do was the question.
I found myself on the edge of Springbank, west of Calgary, at 5:30 and the clouds had stretched east across the prairies and were catching and filtering the rich glow from the sun now hidden behind the mountains.
It was a scene that didn’t require much input from me to create images. I did like the reflections on my car’s glass and hood so that provided an opportunity to play around a bit.
Bobbi and I are off to Sedona, Arizona tomorrow for a week – this landscape session provided a nice warm-up for the spectacular red rock scenery I’m looking forward to photographing down there.
Fuji X100S: 1/30 of a second at f/8 on ISO 800
I couldn’t help but think of the carnival ground food staple when I was photographing at dawn a couple of days ago.
We have several woodpeckers who use our backyard as their home base. There are a couple of Downy Woodpeckers and up to five Hairy Woodpeckers that hammer the tree trunks throughout the day. A couple of days ago, this male, denoted by the red stripe, Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) was working away at this jagged tree top and was unconcerned about being photographed.
Their tongues are really long but, unlike a dog’s tongue on a hot day, are not long in sight. It was a nice bit of luck to get a couple of images with the tongue visible. Above, his tongue was pretty close to full extension. Well suited to catching insects hiding under the bark and in the crevices.
He worked his way up the tree (though it looks more like a branch) and having exhausted the supply of critters that suited his palate, he flew on to one of the larger aspens across the yard. I liked this crouching pose I caught just before he launched.
We are just coming out of a long cold snap here on the eastern flanks of the Rockies. Temperatures started out around -10°C (14°F) last week and then dropped to -25°C (-13°F) a couple of days ago and have stayed there. This image is from a stretch of the Elbow River just a couple hundred meters from my home in Redwood Meadows (west of Calgary). Most of the river there is now iced over but I haven’t been back at dawn to photograph the difference.
Apparently we start climbing upwards later today and should be just below freezing by the weekend. That will feel balmy – I hope the forecasts hold! I love the winter landscapes but this year when the temperature fell below about -15 my enthusiasm for the season fell too. Maybe some powder skiing on the weekend will remind me of the upside of winter.
I was walking along a forested stream that runs parallel with the Elbow River where they run under Highway 8 near Discovery Ridge on the western edge of Calgary on Saturday morning. When the snow started to fall, it took very little time for the flakes to grow in both size and frequency.
The trees were soon cloaked in white, leaving the water alone to provide a little colour in the landscape.
It was quiet with only the sound of the snow falling. And a serene walk along this tributary to the Elbow River among the trees that edge its length.
Near the end of the walk, a raven flew overhead – the snow visible between us.
A co-operative cloud anchored itself just above the horizon as dawn broke west of Calgary. I set up in the dark on the Jumping Pound overpass with my camera and tripod. When the sunlight started to paint the clouds, I liked how it contrasted with the vehicles and the lines on the road.
I was up in Kananaskis a few days ago to explore the recently opened stretch of Highway 40 up to the Highwood Pass. Leaving home in the dark, I arrived at Wedge Pond just as light was creeping into the eastern edge of the sky.
We had several days of rain preceding this visit so I was unsure what the weather would be like in the mountains. The reports called for partly sunny with showers. From experience, that can mean anything from empty blue skies to heavy, wet gray clouds. I don’t mind either so I was happy to head up and find out. That morning the mist was swirling above the pond and rising up to meet the low hanging clouds that were stuffed into the valley. I trotted down to the water’s edge and moved along keeping an eye on Mount Kidd. The mountain catches the early pre-dawn Alpen glow and can be spectacular right through sunrise. The view over Wedge and up to Kidd whispered of something good that might come and I was happy to move around, watching and waiting.
Seven minutes later, pink light was hitting a few of the higher clouds. The lower clouds were breaking up and it seemed like a clear view of the mountain was coming forward.
It didn’t – the clean view was swallowed up by the clouds as the rich colours on Mount Kidd came in. I didn’t mind at all as a few fleeting openings afforded beautiful views of one or two of the peaks for the next couple of minutes.
I have not had such a dynamic encounter with the weather up at Wedge Pond and I had a great time. It was fun to play around with the moodiness under the clouds balanced (and thrown out of balance) with the sunrise opening above. I’m enjoying the late resurgence of summer we are enjoying but I found myself looking forward to the fall colours that always look so wonderful in this special place. I will be there and would be very happy if these clouds returned then too.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens: 2 seconds at f/22 on ISO 100
I enjoy photographing the landscapes around Moraine Lake and realized it had been almost a year since I went up and waited for sunrise there. I clambered up the moraine, the geological rock pile at the eastern edge of the lake, near the end of August and shared a beautiful dawn with a few other people spread out along the pathways.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens: 4 tenths of a second at f/11 on ISO 100
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens: 2.5 seconds at f/20 on ISO 50
On this visit to the Valley of the Ten Peaks, a cloudless sky to the east allowed the early sunlight open passage to the mountains above the lake. They did their part and caught the red ribbons wonderfully.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 24-105mm lens: 1/13th of a second at f/11 on ISO 100
Even after the light had cooled there were still interesting images to be found around the valley.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 24mm f/1.4 lens: 1/320 of a second at f/1.6 on ISO 50
I love driving along backroads through the farmlands on the prairies and in the foothills of Alberta. The landscape is beautiful, wildlife (when they allow you to see them) abounds and I often have the roads to myself. On these tours, I keep an eye out for interesting farm vehicles and buildings. There are many unusual items designed for a specific agricultural purpose that can be very photogenic. As purposes move forward alongside changes in technology, some of these barns, tractors and other things fall out of use and weather. This tractor is a beautiful example of the worn down equipment that dot the landscape. This old Massey Ferguson seemed to be parked in an idyllic spot to enjoy a hard-earned rest after a long run of service. That’s a rather romantic notion and I could drive by there next week and find it out turning soil in one of the fields on the far side of the pond. Whatever the truth, it was a great subject to photograph on a summer day north of Cochrane.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/000 of a second at f/4 on ISO 800
The evening light was soft and warm last night. I loved the colour in the coats of this small herd in Springbank. #83 was particularly interested and turned out to be particularly photogenic.
The Canada Day fireworks at Redwood Meadows were great. This was the first year our children were able to stay awake late enough to see them. Their big smiles and excited commentary continued throughout the performance. The fireworks marked the end of the Canada Day celebrations – let me back up and share a little bit of the fun we all had throughout the day.
We all joined in bike parade led by the firefighter trucks and rescue vehicles that always starts Canada Day in Redwood. Kian and Kezia both had a lot of fun making the loop of the town with all of their friends. It was good that the parade started at 10 am – it was warm then and by noon it was hot and sunny.
Following the parade, the stage in the middle of the sports field was the centre of attention for the opening ceremony which led into live performances that continued for the afternoon. Dancers from the Tsuu T’ina Nation opened the performances on the stage. It is always an honour to watch them and with Hal Eagletail narrating everyone was made welcome and enjoyed their dancing.
Hal narrated, joked, drummed and sang – he set a great tone for the rest of the live music, magicians (both were great although Kian gave his vote to the gentleman who used swords!) and speakers.
Around the stage, the community association had set up a bunch of activities for the kids including face painting, street drawing, games and bouncy castles. For adults, including weary or wilted parents, a beer garden was open.
Kezia decided on a rainbow connecting a heart with a happy face.
Kian transformed from a Canadian boy to a Canadian ninja.
There were two themed cakes as well as cupcakes. Kezia was quite happy to show her support…
The heat built up by mid-afternoon and even the kids looked to be feeling a little worn down. That all changed when the firefighters spread out a large sheet of plastic and hooked up one of their hoses to the fire truck. The water was turned on, the kids lined up and then chaos was unleashed (very fun chaos).
Bart Frasca is a firefighter and resident in Redwood Meadows. He was one of the key people involved in saving the town during this year’s flood. He didn’t need the help running the hose but he let Kezia provide her assistance for a minute or two nonetheless.
With paint now dripping off their faces and weariness starting to settle into their bones, we took our children home to relax and wait for the fireworks. When we returned to the field just before 11, the sky still had traces of the day on the western horizon. We settled onto a blanket and covered up from the mosquitos. The wait wasn’t long and soon explosions of color spread out above. It was a great ending to a great day. Thank you to all of the people who set up, performed, painted, sprayed, played and made it so much fun for all.
Happy 146th birthday Canada!
Our community of Redwood Meadows is located along the Elbow River west of Calgary. Normally, the river is a steady flow that winds out of Kananaskis Country through the Foothills and drains into the Weaselhead delta in the city. For the past week, heavy rain and snowmelt swelled the river far above its channels and in many places along its path expanded well beyond its banks.
Owing to a sustained fight by emergency workers, volunteers, community members and skilled heavy machinery crews to reinforce the berm that separates the town from the river, the water was kept out of most houses. I did not stop to take many photographs during the river’s rise, we were sandbagging and racing to shore up the berm. I did grab a few afterwards to remember how close the water came to making things significantly worse in Redwood Meadows.
The reinforcement of the berm continues with many truckloads of concrete blocks and rock boulders being positioned to defend against the next time the Elbow’s temper flares again.
The story of this year’s flood from Bragg Creek and into Calgary (where the Elbow joined the Bow River and unleashed true destruction), is still unfolding. The waters have crested, many people are back in their homes and the cleaning up has begun. There is great community spirit at all places affected and we will all need that over the next weeks and months.
The water ripped away trees and changed the shape of the valley. It carried mud through the forest and left a heavy layer behind when it receded. I found this small flower which had weathered the deluge and seemed to be a good symbol of strength and resilience. Two qualities I have seen in my neighbours, friends and strangers who rallied to save a town and continue to work to bring it back to normal.
On the weekend I was out early combing the prairies west of Cochrane, Alberta for wildlife. The clouds were heavy from rain overnight and had only started to thin out at dawn. I was driving northward along a hillside gravel road when I saw a couple of ravens explode out of a tree on the edge of the ditch just ahead of me. Watching them fly in haphazard circles it seemed something had stirred them up. In a break between a few of the trees, I caught a flash of something racing through the field away from the birds. I was going 40 km/h when I looked at the speedometer and this creature was pulling away from me. I sped up and realized I was alongside a Red Fox. It was about a 100 metres from the fence dividing the field and was absolutely flying.
For the few hundred metres that we traveled in parallel, we were going at 50 km/h. Its stride was incredible – fast, powerful and efficient. The back and tail were straight as an arrow and the legs were a blur as it hurtled along. I have never witnessed an animal move so fast on the ground (I can’t imagine watching a Cheetah!) My camera was in the passenger seat and my window was already down so I had to try to photograph this sublime athlete in motion. There were three openings between the trees over the distance we covered together. The last one had a small rise that the fox disappeared behind and the first one yielded six out of focus shots. But, the middle gap was a little bigger and I was able to focus and capture three good frames.
Before a fourth break in the trees, the fox veered downhill directly west across the green field. This last image with it close came as I was slowing down and it was turning away.
I stopped to watch it bound away. That’s when I noticed that the ravens had been chasing the fox since they flushed out of their tree. Probably it had come too close to their nest and the birds wanted to make sure it did not come back. They banked with the fox when it turned and followed along across the field. About a kilometre down they stopped the chase, circled higher for a minute and then glided back towards their tree. When the chase ended the fox checked up beside a creek, grabbed a quick drink and then stared in my direction for a minute.
For its part, I don’t know if the fox grabbed an egg or a chick before being chased off but it seemed to have a contented look on its face to me. With the remnants of a winter coat still wet from the rain and the rich colour on the face and flanks, I think this fox was a magnificent animal. It was an amazing encounter that I could not have dared to imagine.
As the moon waxed towards full this weekend, I spent an evening at Elbow Falls to photograph the landscape at night. The clear air allowed stars to shine even with a relatively short exposure and small aperture (10 seconds and f/8.0, respectively). Always a bit lonely sitting out there for a couple of hours but the stars are really good company.
The 6400 ISO and the bright moonlight allowed for some of the great details at this magical place in Kananaskis Country to show in the image. I am impressed with the improvements in the dSLR’s low-light capabilities over the last couple of years. A couple of years ago I spent another evening up at these falls. At that time I was using a Canon 1D Mark III and when compared with the image above and others where I used a 5D Mark III, the detail, structure of the noise and the color are all vastly improved. The technology is less and less of an obstacle to realizing the images I want to make. I like that a lot.
The second sunrise at Vermilion Lake this weekend produced some wonderful images this weekend. There was a break between clouds and mountain peaks farther east so the clouds above Mount Rundle and the lake were painted with this amazing light. One of the best mornings that I have had in the Banff National Park.
The hot springs that seep into the water along the chain of lakes allow for a few pools without ice to remain open through the winter. These pools pull many photographers to their shores and this morning was no exception. It’s always interesting how quiet these moments become even with five other photographers nearby. The better the light gets, the quieter it usually becomes. It was silent at the peak of this morning’s sunrise.
The sky to the east was beautiful this morning. I had a chance to photograph from a good elevation which let me see the horizon towards the east and the downtown cityscape in the other direction. I loved the explosion of color in the clouds preceding the sunrise and those added nice reflections in some of the glass facades of Calgary’s prominent buildings.
The glow before sunrise caught bands of clouds above the forests in West Bragg Creek. With the temperature below -20°C, it was warming to see this early fire in the eastern sky. I enjoyed taking a break from following moose tracks for a few minutes to watch the morning arrive.
There are significant pressures on the forests that extend from Bragg Creek through Kananaskis Country. Kananaskis has sixty parks within its borders which protect two-thirds of the area. Kananaskis was set up as a multi-use area which would address the “needs of industry, ranching and tourism are still balanced with the mandate to preserve the animals, plants, and processes that keep the Kananaskis Country ecosystem healthy” (history). The current plans include a clearcut of roughly 700 hectares west of Bragg Creek around the Moose Mountain area. I was asked to pull together a gallery of images from West Bragg Creek and Kananaskis that could help show what stands to be lost if plans like this are acted upon. Click on the image below to link to this gallery if you are interested.
Clear-cutting scares me. I grew up in the Kootenay Valley in British Columbia’s interior and my father had a logging operation along with several tourism based businesses. His crew harvested forests by employing selective logging, they didn’t clearcut. The areas which were clearcut in the valleys there, and here in Alberta, often do not recover well. The topsoil washes away, new trees planted have challenges taking hold and then there are the animals. Obviously they can’t stick around once the cover, their homes and their food is lost. The impact is severe for most species and I hope the efforts made to change the current plans are successful. The Bragg Creek and Kananaskis Outdoor Recreation group has their finger on the pulse of this issue. For those who are interested there are things we can do to be heard and help to influence the decision makers. If you are interested, please visit their website for information on the proposed logging and what is being done. Sustain Kananaskis is another group that is working very hard to raise awareness and change the current plans. I do not have any direct connection with Sustain Kananaskis but their website has a lot of information and I agree with everything that I see in their mission statement.
The morning sun provided dynamic light on the slopes and ridges on the eastern side of Cascade Mountain in the Banff National Park. Another chapter in the long running story of light and shadow.
Moraine Lake is one of the Canadian Rockies most iconic landscapes. I have been there many times and it continues to share new magic with each visit. I was up on top of the rock pile with a couple of good friends for a quiet evening and we returned a few hours later for a cloudy sunrise. Both times presented views of the Valley of the Ten Peaks and the lake that I had not seen previously. I enjoyed them all immensely.
The evening watched as the clouds ran towards the horizon leaving open sky above the peaks that loom above the lake and curl west down the valley. The soft light near sunset looked beautiful where it touched the peaks and provided a very subtle contrast to the deepening blues and greens that ushered in the night.
When I was crossing the stream where the lake most visibly drains out, the bright colors in the landscape’s palette had been wrung out so I was drawn to the speck of orange upstream. I liked how this small information shelter’s log frame stood defiantly against the gloom. At this point, some great clouds had stretched out above the water and they provided an abstract mirror of the river’s folds as revealed in this 13 second exposure.
When we returned around 5am, the clouds had staked out all four corners of the sky. We watched breaks in the sky expectantly for more than an hour, taking us through sunrise without any light painting the peaks or the clouds curling around them. We were joined by a hopeful couple from Japan and two Chinese ladies on top of the moraine. Quiet chattering among the separate groups along with the occasional shutter click marking the time shuffling by. It was nice, not the dramatic alpen glow or early light that I have seen before but another interesting side of this valley.
Around 6:30 a large break in the clouds developed in the east and 15 minutes later the first shafts of sunlight hit the mountains. The light was still pretty warm and the drama I had been looking for unfolded for the next 45 minutes before the sun had risen too high for my landscape photography tastes. I enjoyed watching the color in the lake swirl and change as the house lights of the day came up. With stray clouds still wrapping peaks occasionally and the sunlight marching down the forest side of the lake, there was a lot to watch and to photograph.
Packing up, I retraced my steps down the path back towards the lodge. Crossing the river once more, I was drawn in again. This time the wet rocks were sparkling in the sunshine and I found the light on Yamnee (Mount Bowlen), Tonsa and Sapta (Mount Perren) particularly attractive. Breakfast was calling my friends (and me too – if I had been listening) and it was a good final image to complete this time with the lake, the valley and these wonderful peaks.
Saturday was the last chance for competitors in the rodeo events to qualify for finals. A lot of fun watching these athletes (people and animals) perform. I’m heading down to the Stampede for the finals now but wanted to share some of the moments from the day of wildcards.
Sunday’s Finals should be the exclamation mark to end a great rodeo over the past 10 days. Good luck to all the competitors!