A skein of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) broke from the standard V formation as they navigated through the Bow Valley corridor. It may have been wind shear out of the mountains that pushed the birds around but as I watched them rise over a forested hill and bank around a massive peak, I had a notion they were playing as they flew along. Very likely just my imagination having a bit of a run but I enjoyed watching the constantly changing pattern created by their silhouettes against the Banff National Park’s early winter landscape.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens: 80 seconds at f/11 on ISO 800
During the tail-end of the full phase of August’s blue moon I went to the edge of the first of the Vermilion Lakes just west of the Banff townsite and set up for a night of long exposures. I drifted in and out of sleep but my timer remote stayed awake and kept running across the dark hours of the night. The clouds raced across the sky under pretty steady winds. With the longer exposures, they were stretched out and occasionally lent a mystical quality to the images.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens: 658 seconds at f/11 on ISO 400
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens: 80 seconds at f/11 on ISO 800
As it drew closer to the morning, the land started to brighten and one of the last images revealed more of the scenery.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens: 238 seconds at f/11 on ISO 1000
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.
This coyote found Jack and I as we wound upwards along the road up towards Lake Minnewanka. It trotted along in the trees and then cut down into the ditch and then took a few steps towards up the hill again before it stopped. It stared our way for a few seconds before backtracking a little bit and then crossing the road and going over the edge. Beautiful animals who are among nature’s most adaptable. I see them alone or in small packs in the mountains, on the prairie and throughout the Foothills and enjoy photographing them immensely.
Following a beautiful sunrise down on the Vermilion Lakes, my friend and I drove up towards Lake Minnewanka to see if there was any wildlife that wanted to be seen.
We spied this bull elk along the edge of the canal where the lake drains out grazing on the patches of snow-free grass.
He spent a little time in the water and the climbed out and moved towards us along the tree line. I loved the way the reflection cast by the elk and the trees onto the water shimmered and blurred.
Just after walking behind the stand of trees that hung over the water, the elk walked into the trees to graze. Returning to the car, we found the elk had moved to the edge of the trees by the road and that allowed us to watch him stripping bark of fallen tree branches.
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.
Dawn at the second Vermilion Lake was beautiful with some lovely colour in the sky around Mount Rundle early in the sunrise. As the sun climbed, I moved into the contrasts and this one worked well in black and white.
Lake Louise is a favourite place for my wife and I to visit in the Banff National Park. This weekend, with my parents taking care of the kids for a night, we went up and stayed on the lake’s eastern shore at the Chateau. The view across the ice up to the Victoria Glacier and the surrounding peaks was hidden by nightfall by the time we arrived so I was anxious for the morning to come. As it turned out, I may have slept right through sunrise, if Bobbi hadn’t looked outside just after 7 and woken me up. The black of night had given way to the dark shades of blue ahead of the dawn. I looked outside and then raced out of the door a few minutes later.
Winter at Lake Louise is magical. The Fairmont had an ice carving competition earlier this year and the sculptures fanned out between the hotel and the lake. At night, they are lit up as is the patriotic castle that is in the middle of the skating rink cleared out on the lake ice.
An ice castle is made every winter by the Chateau’s chefs from large blocks of ice. Nearby is a hockey rink and the trailhead for ski trails along the northern shoreline. Through the evening and again during the day, as it turned out, these drew many visitors who walked, skated and skied around. However at the time I went down to the lake, in the early but quickly brightening morning, there were only a few other people around.
Two people were playing around with hockey sticks and a puck while a couple of other photographers were roaming across the ice. And there was one gentleman out skating laps around the castle – I was glad he wore a red coat.
Once the sunlight hit the peaks, the dark sky disappeared and the cold, clear dawn of a beautiful morning took hold. It was wonderful to be out on the lake and I had a lot of fun working with the details in the castle and the spectacular landscape surrounding it.
When the sun was rising out of the forest east of the lake, the warm light on the ice blocks provided another opportunity to play a bit longer before I headed in for breakfast with my dear, and patient, wife.
That went by quick. Seems like things are speeding up and 2012 went by in a flash. I reviewed a large set of landscapes from the past year and it was fun to recall those moments. But, I was a little surprised that a year has gone by since I pulled together a list of my favourites from 2011. I suppose I have little control over how quickly time rolls – I will just continue to try to stuff as much into it as we go. Before I move with my camera forward into 2013, here are some images of mine that stood out for me from 2012.
The mountains in the Albertan parts of the Rockies pulled me close many times over the year. I really enjoyed photographing Mount Kidd from a new location in the fall. Above, the reflecting pools along Highway 40 just past Wedge Pond were a new place for me. And I enjoyed a couple of mornings down along the shoreline of Wedge Pond with the image below resulting from one beautiful morning.
I also was pleased with the images I put together from Banff, Lake Louise, Moraine Lake and Jasper as well. The photograph of Lake Louise’s canoe cabin is subtle and is a vein of imagery that I am continuing to work in.
The view of the Valley of the Ten Peaks from the top of the rock moraine at the near side of Moraine Lake is spectacular – particularly the alpen glow in the morning. This summer I went up in the evening and was rewarded with a different, and equally beautiful, look at sunset.
This hoar-frost on branches stretching out of a small pool in the marsh west of one of the Vermilion Lakes in Banff provided for a nice abstract composition.
I spend a fair amount of time photographing wildlife and landscapes on the prairie. The storms in the summer can be incredible but the clouds this winter have been really inspiring. In the photograph below I watched a dragon form and stretch towards the east to meet the sun. Beautiful colours and great to let imagination have the reins.
Before the snow flew, I was working to photograph the warm autumn sunrises on the fields. When I had these horses approach as the sun cleared the horizon, the image really came together.
The sunrise photography extended west in Bragg Creek and the image below was made along the Cowboy Trail (Highway 22X) just east of the town.
In the summer I joined Bobbi on a journey to Sedona in Arizona. It was my first visit and is a place I was excited to return to as soon as I had returned home. The variety of landscapes in the Coconino National Forest and the time to hike into a few places were great luxuries I enjoyed on the trip.
Cathedral Rock is an iconic subject and it deserves its high standing with artists. Our first day in Sedona we walked along the river to the base of the rock and watched the shadows climb up the red rock. On a hot afternoon, I escaped to the West Fork Trail which meanders up the Oak Creek Canyon. The calm water, lush forest and red rock made many bends in the creek picture worthy and this was my favourite from a productive hike. And there were wonderful butterflies flitting around in one meadow of flowers too.
One of the evenings, I went out to the top of a mesa and photographed the night sky. It was a bit remote so I had the trees, the stars and a few strange sounds in the desert night all to myself. That was another side to Sedona that I was very happy to have experienced.
There were a few other nightscape photo outings through the year but the highlight was photographing the Northern Lights in October. I had missed several good Aurora nights through the summer so I was excited when I got to watch them rolling down from the north for almost two hours.
Later in October I was in Jasper on a wildlife photography trip. The animals were the focus of the week spent driving and hiking along the Icefields Parkway and around Jasper but this gentle scene where snow had just blanketed the valley along the Athabasca River demanded to be photographed (despite some good-natured heckling from my companions).
And in late November our family headed to Kaua’i the northernmost of the populated Hawaiian islands. Time dripped by and we had a great vacation. I had almost too much fun photographing creatures above, on and under the water and those are the images that first came to mind when I was looking back at our visit. However, once I worked through the catalog over the Christmas break, I realized that the landscape images from this year’s trip to the island were solid additions to my Hawaii portfolio.
We stayed a stone’s throw from Nukoli’i Beach on the east shore so the sun rose directly in front of us each morning. I spent a few mornings down on the beach photographing what the ocean delivered with morning sun.
The warm light following the sunrise provided beautiful illumination on the beach and through the waves. One of those places that is easy to spend a whole day shooting, painting or playing at.
We covered a lot of ground during our time in Kaua’i and one of the favourite places for seals, snorkelling, swimming, waves to watch and coastline views was Ke’e Beach on the northern edge of the Na Pali Coast. The last night in Kaua’i we spent at Ke’e and at one point there was a rainbow over the beach when I looked to the east and the mists and violent waves of the Na Pali in winter to the southwest.
A couple of days earlier, the spray kicked up from the waves hitting the rocks rolled up the forested mountainsides to create another magical scene.
An amazing lightning storm over the Hanalei Valley provided the last image for this collection. The rain held off for almost three hours before forcing me into my car and back to the apartment.
Lake Minnewanka has a beautiful shoreline on its southeastern edge. I have not spent much time along the rocks there but a few days ago I was there for about an hour in the morning and really liked the area. The ice coating the rocks where there were gaps in the snow worked in nice contrast to the stormy skies crowding over the ridges of Inglismaldie on the far side of the water.
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.
Wind blows snow off of Mount Rundle’s eastern peak. This was the vanguard of the storm that brought snow out onto the prairies over the weekend.
The trees in the forest were soaked and the rain was still falling as the morning brightened. We found a large herd of elk in the woods in the Lake Minnewanka area of the Banff National Park. There were seven or eight cows and two calves grazing, grooming and walking in the shadows.
And one beautiful bull.
He was back in the forest for quite a while and only came up to the edge of trees for a few minutes before moving slowly back again. Nearby, one of the calves settled down on a patch of grass in a clearing. It seemed to have only a passing interest in its observers.
The rest of the family was grazing through the forest. The two below were content to share a clump of colourful leaves for lunch.
The bull came back for another lap along the frontline and we left soon after.
I went up to Banff National Park with my friend and fellow photographer Jeff Rhude on the weekend. The clouds were hanging low all the way from Bragg Creek, through Canmore and into the park so we were unsure what opportunities we would find in the mountains on the day. As the sky brightened a little we could find no breaks in the clouds so we left the sunrise plans on the shelf for another day. Focusing our attention on wildlife, we headed up to the ring road which leads up to Lake Minnewanka. With bears trying to fatten up for hibernation, sheep starting into the rut and moose and elk following suit, we hoped there may be a few animals out in the rain.
It was the wapiti, the word for elk in the Cree language, that seemed least put off by the weather and we found a small group of calves and cows led by one majestic bull on the meadow approaching the turnoff to Johnson Lake.
It was still very dark so high ISOs and long shutter speeds were required which resulted in a few blurs when an ear twitched or one of the creatures stepped forward. Still, the family were cooperative and with the benefit of long lenses I was able to stay a good distance away while making some nice images.
Driving on towards the lake, we did not see any other animals. At Minnewanka aside from a couple of mergansers on the water there were two large flotillas of black birds, each probably with over a hundred members, but they were too far out for me to identify. We turned around and retraced our steps. Passing the meadow, we could see the bull on the edge of the trees alongside one calf. A couple of miles down the road, we caught sight of one elk in the trees. Stopping and looking more intently, we soon saw about ten more cows and calves moving through the shadows and the gloom. I will put together a post with a few of those images soon.
(please click on an image for a higher resolution version)
Paddling the red canoes on Lake Louise are a well-known draw for visitors. As sunset faded, I turned away from the glacier and looked towards the cabin where the canoes are rented, and at night, where they are stacked in tidy rows on the dock in front.
(please click on either image to link to a higher resolution version)
My family spent the weekend at Lake Louise and I got out to greet the sunrise on the top of the rock pile at Moraine Lake on Sunday morning. As the eastern sky began to brighten clouds were swirling along the Valley of the Ten Peaks and I was hopeful for a nice backstop to develop above the mountains and catch the colourful light. When dawn was breaking the clouds had mostly cleared out around the lake but to the east a different set had anchored on the horizon and I worried that by the time the sun climbed that little bit higher and the light could paint the Ten Peaks, the colour may have faded to normal daylight. I waited, along with a few other photographers strung along the top of the trail, and we were granted a very short window where a beam of red light shot through a whole in the eastern cloudbank and painted the rocky slopes. The beam lasted well short of a minute but the valley transcended its normal beauty by a long margin while it lasted. Above is one of the images from this moment. I took the photograph below after the red light faded as the clouds returned and glided above the valley. The last sunrise I caught there was in July and by the time the light fought through the clouds stacked in front of the sun it had no colour left so I have no complaints with this weekend’s weather.
(please click on any image for a higher resolution version)
This adolescent osprey’s nest is along the Bow Valley on top of the Castle Junction bridge. Its sibling had not yet fledged and the two of them spent the whole two hours I watched them screaming at one another. Screaming may be too strong, but if they were just calling back and forth, it seemed to have considerable emotion behind it.
Maybe the one who was flying was urging the other one to try, maybe the nest-bound bird was telling the flier to go away. With other nests I know of emptying as their summer residents head south, I wonder how much longer the one will wait for the other.
Watching this bird circle around was incredible, it always is. After this flight it landed on a bushy tree nearby and at one point it stared down at me reminding me of an inquisitor.
My favourite one from this vantage point was when the raptor cocked its head in the direction of a sound and I caught this look.
During the short, warm months in the alpine elevations, the Columbia Ground Squirrels are a flurry of activity digging, eating, chirping and raising little ones. Bobbi and I headed up to Sunshine Meadows to hike around and enjoy the wildflowers that are in bloom right now. Along the trails these squirrels were busy with their daily activities and we both had a lot of fun watching these creatures.
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.
Last weekend, on June 9th, winter crept in a side door and threw some weather at the Rocky Mountains around Banff. I was hoping to find bears on my drive but wasn’t sure if the snow would convince them to stay hidden deeper in the forests. Around 8 am the gloom lifted a little after I photographed a young bighorn on the edge of Lake Minnewanka. I drove back towards Banff, passed a lone elk on the far side of a meadow and merged back onto the Trans-Canada Highway. I was on the way to Highway 93 which runs down the spine of the Kootenay National Park and is a haven for black bears and grizzly bears at this time of the year. As I approached the westernmost entrance to the Banff townsite, Vermilion’s siren call beckoned. I pulled onto the off ramp and then slowly glided along the lakeside road scouring the trees for wildlife.
On the second pass, I found #64 and her three cubs. The snow was falling in big, wet flakes. The moisture on the leaves, grass and everything else seemed to create a soft glow which was beautiful. The bears were only 15 or 20 metres off the road but clean, clear shots were hard to come by.
That didn’t bother me too much as I wanted to show the weather in the images I was making of the bears. They lingered in that spot for a few minutes and then trundled off, slipping back into the woods. The next day provided an easier vantage point to photograph this same family from. However, the image at the top of the post was easily my favourite from the weekend.
This cub is one of three two-year olds growing up in the Banff National Park under their mother’s attentive guidance and watchful gaze. I spoke with one of the conservation officers on Sunday and he knew much about this little family. I was happy to hear that the mother is roughly twenty years old. When Dave told me that it made me hopeful that her experience will help her bring all three cubs to maturity. A great addition to the overall Grizzly population in the park. First, a bit about this encounter and then some details about the mother bear and her story.
The snow the day before had given way to rain by Sunday morning. The wet hairs glistened as did the foliage which made added some interest to the images. The family was grazing near the roadside but were still in pretty deep forest so the dark scene was a puzzle to work with. We were able to stay in the car and use long lenses to fill the frames with the bears. A safe way to encounter bruins and they carried on with very little intrusion from our car and the couple of others that came and went.
The bears laid down at one point for a short snooze. Two of the little bears curled in with their mom while the third draped over her shoulder hump. I didn’t have a good angle on that moment but it was really nice just to see. After about half an hour, the bears moved on shuffling deeper into the forest and disappeared quickly.
Bear #64 is a well-known bear in the Banff area. John Marriott wrote a post that touches on her while telling the tragic story of the loss of bears #109 and #108. 108 was five-and-a-half years old when she was hit by a car on July 11, 2011. 109 was her twin sister and had been run over by a train the year before. If I had a wish I would spend it on helping these young cubs growing to an age where my kids are driving up on their own to photograph them with their own cubs.
(Please click on each image if you are interested in higher resolutions)
The weather this weekend was more winter than early summer – In the Banff National Park it was cold. Large, heavy flakes of wet snow fell fast for a couple of hours in the morning. I drove up to Lake Minnewanka and this was the only mammal I saw on the drive up and back down.
This young Bighorn sheep was walking alone on the edge of the road away from the water. When I pulled over, he walked 100 metres towards me and then sauntered nonchalantly right past me.
He stopped a few times on both the approach and as he walked away. Which gave me some nice photo opportunities to work with the animal, the snow and the even light.
I drove around the Minnewanka Loop in the Banff National Park this morning on the search for wildlife, bears in particular. The loop starts at the easternmost Banff townsite exit and goes uphill to Lake Minnewanka. Along the way you can occasionally see wolves, bears, moose, elk, bighorn sheep and deer. The snow was falling with great enthusiasm by 8 am this morning. It made finding wildlife a bit more challenging but I loved how the sky looked filled with these huge flakes.
In the image above I was on a bluff looking over Two Jack Lake towards Mount Rundle. This stand of trees is on a small point that juts out prominently. With the snow this was the only feature of the lake that could be seen. The trees looked like they were painted with brush strokes and this image shows some of that.