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.
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.
The Aurora Borealis has been very strong for a few nights in a row, reaching southern Alberta regularly which comes after what has seemed like a very long absence. Perhaps it has just been me that was absent for shows since last year but being out for this one on the night of March 18-19. When I went out at 11pm, there was a dull green bow low in the sky towards Calgary. After a while, the arch began to glow brighter and stretch higher. Columns then started to separate from the green band and the arch itself dissolved. For the next couple of hours the lights shifted their shapes, colors and intensity.
I was out on the berm that sits between Redwood Meadows and the Elbow River. The height of the berm, the rocky shoreline and the snow remnants allowed for a variety of perspectives. The three and half hours that the Northern Lights performed allowed me the time to explore these. It was an amazing night.
I returned to Irricana recently to look for Snowy owls. I left early and arrived well before night had given much ground to day. Having criss-crossed the backroads west of the town, I have a decent feel for the farmland in the area and took the opportunity to photograph a couple of locations while the clouds were glowing pink ahead of the sunrise.
A lost wallet and a flat tire, both noticed about an hour after the last of these photographs was taken, made me feel like I earned these images a bit more than usual. The wallet had fallen out of my pocket unnoticed when I was at the farmstead above. A fair bit of time spent retracing my stops before finding it undisturbed in the middle of the gravel road. When I picked up the wallet, I noticed the flat rear tire. Along the way to Irricana, I apparently drove over a hardware store as Phil’s Auto in Irricana (very friendly people – thank you for the coffee!) later showed me the 3 inch long screw that had lodged into the tire. The wallet was recovered before I found the first owl and by the time of my appointment at 3 pm, I was happy to have had several good encounters with 5 different Snowies. I will share those soon. These prairie landscape images from a beautiful morning heralded what became one of the more interesting days I have had out on the prairies.
I have created a gallery of scenic images that I curated from a recent look back at 2014. If you are interested in seeing these landscapes, please click on any image or this link.
In 2014 I spent much of my time waiting for wildlife when I was out with my camera. That came at the expense of some time I may have used to search for interesting landscapes and compelling ways to interpret them in my imagery. Far from being lost opportunities, I treasured the time when I was focused on the land a little more than I have previously.
Reviewing last year’s images, I see growth and feel like I am successfully bringing more of my emotion in the moment and some of “me” into the landscapes I am photographing. It is that interpretation where I am happily expending energy focusing on.
When we were in Los Cabos last December, we were able to enjoy beautiful sunrises almost every day. This morning’s dawn was a favourite and I was out early to catch the sun rising out of the Sea of Cortez at these fingers of rock that I had scouted a few days earlier.
An early morning east of Calgary near Strathmore looking for Snowy owls came up with only one shy one isolated in a field. This allowed time to see the prairie landscape. And, as it has turned out, one of the last days before the warm weather of the past couple of weeks came and melted all of the snow. While I’m not missing the bitter cold, I did enjoy the icy air and snow-covered fields when I was out then.