The perch on the hill I photographed the Aurora Borealis and lightning storm from a couple of weeks ago is now officially one of my favourite prairie viewpoints. On the weekend, I left my home in the dark and headed northeast towards the growing dawn. With a short drive I returned back to the same spot and found the view to be beautiful.
A heavy cloud stretched overhead towards the horizon with a break which allowed the first rays of pink sunlight to skip along the underside. The fast rising sun quickly changed the light from pink to gold as it pushed through less of the atmosphere.
One of my drives home earlier this week was made more exciting by a massive thundercloud just south of Highway 8. I stopped near the Rockyview Fire Department in Elbow Valley and photographed as it rumbled past. There were a few lightning strikes that I managed to capture but I was paying more attention to the angry beast.
It was dark, dark grey in the center, the edges were rolling fast and the temperature plunged by 10°C or more just before the rain began to fall. I scurried back into my car once the volume raised up to a downpour. Back on the road, I wondered how the storm would develop as it moved eastward. The next morning, I learned that it contributed to the flooding and heavy hail that beat up Chestermere. That was one of the mean summer storms we get in the Calgary area and I am sorry to hear about the damage it caused.
I came home late last night after watching the chuckwagon finals and the final grandstand show of the 2015 Calgary Stampede. That was a great night (thank you Larissa and Sean) and as I cleared the city driving home, it became that much better. From the Trans-Canada Highway, I looked northward and could easily see the glow of the Aurora Borealis stretched between Cochrane and Calgary.
Altering my course, I drove towards the Springbank airport and found a good hill to watch the sky from. While setting up my camera gear, lightning flashed from deep within the thunder clouds that hung low in the sky. The party was in full swing and I was excited to join in, albeit from a distance, and start photographing.
The auroras were rippling above these clouds and it made for an incredible experience.
I stayed out for two hours watching as the storms slowly wound down while the entire northern sky was painted on with ethereal beauty. Early on, the lightning streaked to the ground several times in different parts of the sky and ripped across the clouds regularly. In the second hour, the Aurora Borealis grew larger and brighter while the storm separated as the clouds spread out across the prairies.
I live in a forest community along the Elbow River near Bragg Creek in Alberta. I often enjoy watching the stars against the silhouette of the trees. When I saw the Aurora Borealis begin to shade the northern sky once dusk’s afterglow darkened, I raced around to set up my gear on the deck.
It turned out to be a very active aurora and I had a couple of hours to watch the colors ripple across different parts of the northern sky. The beauty above was met in equal measure by the sounds of the crickets and birds and the relaxed touch of a warm, summer wind.
The time drifted by without any ties to an actual clock and I felt pleasantly ensconced in my own little world. The Northern Lights seem to have that effect on me.
A little over a week ago, on June 13th, I spent a night out on the prairies near Nanton. I love the vast skies and many of the interesting things that fill them – above and below. I settled into my sleeping bag to watch the stars while I drifted off. That idea evaporated when I received an Aurora Red Alert indicating that there was a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights.
(If any images look a little grainy, please click on the picture to open a higher resolution version in a new window)
The image directly above was one of the first taken once I was set up. I used a long exposure of 30 seconds to stretch out the lights of a semi-trailer traveling north along Highway 2.
I played around there for a while before moving further east to reduce the golden glow on the undersides of the clouds resulting from High River’s lights.
I found a quiet field several miles away and the timing worked out as the spikes in the Aurora had just started to appear.
The Northern Lights were still glowing as dawn started to push into the sky and before 4 AM I was transitioning into sunrise landscapes.
Nanton is a small town along the Trans-Canada Highway close to an hour south of Calgary. I stayed out overnight on the prairies just east of town for some solo photographing. A storm was fading at sunset but not enough to let any color show through the clouds so I did not make any interesting images before nightfall. In the middle of the night, the Aurora Borealis came out in subtle fashion and that got me out shooting from then through sunrise. I will share some of the Northern Lights images soon but wanted to first share some of the photographs from before dawn.
I love the skies on the prairies and this morning’s canvas was beautiful. I traveled along the gravel roads and found a couple of nice locations. The layers of clouds caught different colours through the morning and I had fun composing those against silhouettes from the land.
After a chilly night photographing and then sleeping at the foot of the Athabasca Glacier, I shook off the cold with a cup of tea before getting out of my sleeping bag and taking a look around. It was about 5:30 am when I was up and the blues and whites in the sky and on the mountains were lovely as they waited for the sun to light them up.
The image above was made at 5:47 am and less than 10 minutes later, the pink sunlight of dawn was splashing the upper reaches of the mountains on either side of the glacier. It was beautiful and I took turns between watching the light move across the slopes and trying to remember to photograph.
I started where the light first reached along Parker Ridge and Hilda Peak on the western side of the Sunwapta Pass, then worked to the right watching as Mount Athabasca and Mount Andromeda were hit with shafts of light here and there.
I panned across the Athabasca Glacier towards the Dome Glacier and saw the light show unfolding there a couple of minutes behind my location. I ran to my car and drove to a viewpoint where I could see up the valley to the glacier and up to the peak of Mount Kitchener (the first image in this post). It proved to be a good move and I was able to watch the sunlight as it transitioned from pink into gold.
When the golden hue started to drain out of the light, I packed up and headed north towards Jasper. A couple of kilometres down the road, I noticed this peak still basking in beautiful light. I stopped and made this last image of a fine morning in the Rocky Mountains.
When I ventured up to Jasper National Park in May, I spent the first night at the foot of the Athabasca Glacier. After laying my sleeping bag across the reclined passenger seat, I set up my tripod and camera along one of the trails that lead up to the edge of the ice.
Looking up the glacier, between the clouds as they slid by, a subtle green-blue glow was visible above the ice, rock and snow. With long exposures, the glow was more pronounced. I first thought it may be the Aurora Borealis but I was facing towards the southwest so I would have expected a show behind me more than where I was looking. It was a new moon that night so I’m not sure was responsible for the glow. Could it be the starlight on a clear night, free from light pollution, reflecting off of the ice? Maybe, but I really can’t explain it. It was hauntingly beautiful and I enjoyed spending a couple of hours in that place within this immeasurably vast universe – a night with the stars will get you thinking such things!
It was a great auditory experience as well, the ice cracks and rock falls echoed off the mountains and down the glacier field irregularly through the night which broke up the steady cries of the racing winds.
Sparkling stars, blurred clouds, glowing skies and jagged peaks – it was a special night.
I found this abstract tree form in the exposed bed of Medicine Lake east of Jasper. I liked how water was running down the branches that led into the dry ground.
Our family stayed at the Emerald Lake Lodge on the weekend. It is a beautiful lake ringed by peaks including Emerald Mountain and Mount Burgess but can prove tricky for sunrise photography. I had two mornings where I was able to watch dawn arrive. I really enjoyed the stillness of the water and its mirroring of the pastel sky. Both mornings ushered in great days for the kids, Bobbi and I.
The boat house across from the lodge is a beautiful, rustic spot that I love to photograph around when I’m visiting. I found a few different looks this time around.