Autumn is a great season for sunrises in the prairies around Calgary. The clouds at dawn can be spectacular. Last week, I was in Springbank and the sky was beautiful. The interesting silhouettes from this wind-broken stand of trees were a good partner to the light playing in the clouds.
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.
Since the floods, I have been eager to drive up Highway 66 which runs in and out of the valleys where the Elbow River unwinds out of the mountains. A few weeks ago, the road reopened and I have been back into this quieter side of Kananaskis Country a couple of times since. On the first trip I went straight to Elbow Falls to see what remained. Rumours through June and July ranged from the Elbow Falls being reduced to a set of rapids through to vast swathes of land disappearing, replaced by river rock spread over the lost forest area. The former is not true – the falls remain, as seen in the image here from that first visit after the floods, and are still beautiful. The latter is very true in many places – many favourite spots, including the winding river path above the falls, have been drastically reshaped.
On the weekend, I found myself on a hill overlooking the farm fields south of Cochrane waiting for the morning to arrive. I had went out at 4 in the morning looking for the Northern Lights but they eluded me. This time of the year dawn comes early and by 4:30 there was already a bright line on the horizon to the east. I enjoyed listening to the birds waking up as I sat beside this gravel road hoping for a nice sunrise. As the sun prepared to rise, this wonderful cloud caught the early light and met all expectations that I brought to the day.
A few minutes later, the cloud hanging above the farmland took over the show. The colours and textures were brilliant. Dawn comes early but I’m rarely disappointed when I do force myself to roll out of bed and get out to enjoy it.
While the sun and the cloud were performing magic, the moon was full and glowing above the Rocky Mountains. I’m glad I had a look behind me while I was changing lenses as the view to the west was on equal terms with its eastern counterpart.
(as always, please click on any image to open a higher resolution version)
In March, I spent a weekend in Vancouver photographing birds, Granville Market and a few other things with a good friend. On one of the mornings we headed down to Stanley Park around 4:30 AM to see about sunrise. We walked to the seawall along the Burrard Inlet and worked for a while with the lights of North Van across the water.
As dawn came in, we moved slowly towards the Lion’s Gate Bridge and I had a lot of fun working with this dominant structure. I was very happy that they left the bridge lights on right through sunrise. I used to spend a lot of time exploring the park when I went to school in Vancouver but this was one of only a few times that I have photographed there. It is a beautiful place to spend time – with or without a camera.
With morning came the runners that pile on miles along the pathways year round. I enjoyed working them into a few photographs before packing up for breakfast.
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.
It was a sunny morning today so I spent some time photographing the Black-capped chickadees that live in our backyard. There are several of them that share the bird seed we put out with a large flock of Common redpolls and a few Red-breasted nuthatch through the winter.
As from a couple of weeks ago with their redpoll cousins, the chickadees were elusive to capture nicely in flight. But it was a very nice time with my backyard neighbours.
A couple from the morning.
I like my backyard, it’s a cool place.
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.
Ahead of a stormy sunrise, people were moving along the beach, talking with others and taking photographs. I used a 20 second exposure (with f/16 at ISO 200) with the intent to blur the water and the clouds. When I saw how the people took on an ethereal quality in varying amounts, dependent on how long they stayed in place during the exposure, I played with that idea for a while.
(please click on the image for a higher resolution version)
The first sunrise of this visit to Kaua’i was spectacular. I watched the clouds retreat towards the horizon under the moonlight before dawn and when the day started to come, they were a heavy veil stretching up from the ocean. A few minutes after sunrise, the sun shone red through a thin spot in the clouds. For the next twenty minutes the sun broke free here and there while the waves kept crashing in and the sky steadily brightened. Nukoli’i Beach is a long stretch of sand along Kaua’i's eastern shore. At this time of the year, the sun rises directly off the beach. When the clouds cooperate, the mornings can be exceedingly beautiful. This morning was exactly that.
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.
This morning I hiked up a hill for the sunrise. As the light started to brush the clouds stacked above the eastern flank of the Kananaskis mountains, a horse came up close to where I was set up. She nuzzled around for a bit but I didn’t have any carrots with me. Just after turning back towards her colt, she paused for a few seconds and I framed her against the bright horizon.
(please click on this image to link to a higher resolution file)
Clouds blocked the early pink light at down this morning but as the color went to gold, nice breaks higher off the horizon let the sunlight in. The light reflected on the water and the look of the rocks under the water made a very pretty scene.
(please click on an image to link to a higher resolution version)
The Cowboy Trail runs through Bragg Creek and is lined with evergreen forest on either side of the town. On the weekend I was heading out to Wild Rose to see about some of the birds there. I left home as the morning colour was coming into the sky. I was not planning to shoot the sunrise but within a few minutes of driving down Highway 22X, the road’s less evocative other name, I pulled over and spent a few minutes watching the clouds soak in the warm light. It was an easy diversion and a great start to the day.
We stayed one night in the lodge on Emerald Lake in British Columbia so I was able to be on the water’s edge well ahead of sunrise the next morning. In the deep blues of the early morning, I could make out some heavy clouds in the sky so I was uncertain if a fiery sky was coming. The mountains that ring the eastern edge of the lake were streaked with thick fog rising off of the water and mixing with the clouds.
The sunlight was held up by a bank of grey so the drama never painted the sky however the details in the canoes, the bridge and along the shore as well as a slow shutter to drag out the sky and its reflection made for an enjoyable scene to work with.
I’m looking forward to getting back to this literal jewel of the Yoho National Park near the town of Field. A glowing sky of pinks, reds and oranges would be wonderful to see in this valley and reflected in the lake.
(please click on the image for a higher resolution version)
A coyote checked me out for a minute while I was waiting for birds to start fishing. It watched me for only a few seconds before retreating away from the lake’s edge.
(please click on the image for a higher resolution version)
I noticed one of the first hints of summer fading when I was out in West Bragg Creek this morning. The night air has cooled noticeably over the past week and today the dew had coated the leaves, flowers and grasses across the countryside. This spider web did not escape and I moved around so that the sun was lighting it up from behind. The backlighting on the threads made it glow. It looked like an elaborate, if somewhat haphazardly designed, piece from a weaver’s loom. Summer should run on for another month and a half or so but this is one of those early signs that fall is somewhere over the horizon, not so very away.
This duck was out for an early swim across the water from Kelowna. Me and the bird were the only creatures moving around near the shore at that time. The ospreys, eagles, grebes, loons and a muskrat stirred soon after. But, for a few minutes, this one duck was sole proprietor of the inlet.
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.
Driving in the dark before dawn the fog was thick and slowed us down a bit. As the light came up we came to the edge of the fog, near the Sibbald Creek Trail underpass on the Trans-Canada Highway west of Calgary. We were on a dirt back road and drove up a small hill to get some separation from the wall of fog blocking the horizon.
It was fun to work with the challenging light and minimalist elements in the landscape.
We were on the road for much of this weekend driving to Shaunavon, Saskatchewan for some family business. To break up the drive there and back, we stayed just outside of Brooks on Thursday and Friday night. We spent both nights at the Lakeshore Bed & Breakfast which backs onto the northern shore of Lake Newell – a lake that family friends used to take me boating on when I was 4! I have scattered memories of those days but I remember the massive number of birds that summered there so I was eager to see what I would find when I got out before dawn on Saturday morning. As we are halfway through October and winter is one storm away, I was not surprised when I felt the biting cold carried off of the water and across the beach. With ice on the car windows, I took that as a cue to layer up so I headed down to the beach decked out for an Arctic expedition.
It was about 6:30 when I started photographing and I started with just a faint line of colour to the east. With the sky brightening quickly, I kept reducing the length of my exposures to hold the intensity of the orange glow pretty consistent across the images I made over the next hour. Starting with two minute exposures (f/11 and ISO 400), I was down to 1.3 seconds (f/16 at ISO 100) by 7:30.
As dawn approached, I started to see more of the features around that part of the lake. We had arrived late on Thursday night, left early on Friday and returned in darkness again that night so I had not done any scouting of the shore before Saturday morning. Not ideal for planning but it was interesting to see shapes of trees, rocks, buildings and islands separate from the blackness. By 7:30, there were three things that had grabbed my attention and pulled the type of images I was working on in a different direction. Steady flights of gulls and ducks flew in front of the eastern sky and I could see hundreds of birds all gliding towards an inlet several hundred meters ahead of me. The cold air was rolling over the lake producing a steam that started gently but had increased to an endless rolling fog that would continue until well after sunrise. The third item I first thought was a tower as I walked towards the steam and the increasing congregation of birds but realized it was a lighthouse built on a small island at the mouth of the inlet to assist boaters sailing back to the marina in darkness during the summer months. The birds, the steam and the lighthouse were all in the same place so it was an easy decision to walk over there.
With the sun rising I worked with the lighthouse and shoreline in silhouette against the bright sky.
When the sun cleared the trees I worked several different compositions including this one below and the first photograph in this post.
Once the sun was up, the steam was rising higher and I was able to isolate these two elements against the clean background created. It was a great morning to play with different approaches and try to create a range of images across the shoot.
Lake Newell is a major birding lake on the prairies and I’m looking forward to returning next spring when the pelicans, cormorants and terns who summer there return and are joined by loons, four types of grebes and all manner of ducks and geese. As it was, for a late fall morning on the prairie, I had a great time there. The warm shower, hot coffee and delicious breakfast were the final pieces to a really good start to the day.