The Northern Lights on the weekend were beautiful. On Friday morning they were active from 10 pm through to 5 am Saturday morning. Fiery, green ribbons rippled under the stars with faint echoes of blue and purple streaming skyward.
When I received an email from Aurora Watch’s alert service, I was in Calgary finishing dinner with my friend Jack. We headed up to a hill that overlooks downtown to check the sky. Even with the orange glow in the atmosphere from the city’s lights, we could see shimmering swaths of green. That whet the appetite and we headed west along the Trans Canada Highway out of the city and into the rolling hills to the west. A small marsh south of Cochrane being our destination to take in the lights.
By the time we were at the pond, it was after midnight and the early wisps of color had intensified in color and solidity. The thick bands stretched west and east, from one horizon to the other. With the Northern Lights reflected in the water, there were some interesting images available. I also posted another photograph separately called The Phantom Menace which is a favourite of mine from the night. You can see that image here.
The aurora was at its most discrete around 2 am with beautiful details etched into the fabric swimming between land and sky. The Cree named these colourful displays the Dance of the Spirits. I really like that. On this evening, the spirits enjoyed a long spell on their dance floor.
With the east starting to brighten ahead of the coming sunrise, we were a bit restless for another viewpoint so we followed the road west for a little while. This small industrial plant was overlooking the fields and when we stopped to have a look, the aurora was pulsing in what turned out to be the final flurry of the night.
The Aurora Borealis lit up for a couple of hours last night so Jack and I were out until 5 AM watching the ribbons stripe the night sky. There were few clouds and it turned out to be a very enjoyable performance.
Driving through farmland south of Cochrane today, I came across a glowing ball in the top branches of a thicket of scrub bush. The ball was a North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum). The glow was from the sunlight reflecting off of the quills.
I knew this was one of the things that porcupines frequently do as they climb up to eat the bark, but it was my first time to see it directly. I had to cross a field to get remotely close and as I drew near, the spiky fellow dropped down lower into the branches. Indicating it was uncomfortable with me coming over for a visit. I waited a hundred feet away for a few minutes to see if it would relax and climb back to a higher spot where I would have a clear line of sight. It didn’t but I was able to find a couple spots where the face and front claws could be seen amid the brambles.
Hopefully next time I can approach a little slower or find a more curious porcupine that will let me take a couple of photographs that better portray these interesting creatures.
This week’s cold snap came with a lot of moisture and it wrapped the prairie in a thin sheet of white. This old truck, long parked in this spot and used to advertise a nearby tree farm, did not escape the icy snow either. Drawing in closer, I really liked the details in the front, particularly the grille.
A cold snap has taken hold of the prairies around Calgary for the past few days. I saw this eagle picking away at some bones out in a field in Springbank and stopped to photograph it for a few minutes. After a few minutes, it took to the air to find the next meal. Given the damp cold, I would suggest it carry on the migration that brought it our way last week and head for somewhere more temperate. That said, I will be very happy if I have the chance to photograph it a few more times before then.
The winter morning was beautiful earlier this week. I watched the sky brighten and start to illuminate the sparse clouds scattered along the horizon and further off to the west. With the color running into the day, I saw a dragon stretch its wings out as it reached towards the rising sun. Surely a victim of my exuberant imagination, I was little surprised when I saw a phoenix flying low along the eastern horizon when I turned in that direction. Switching from one fantastic creature to the other during the short time that the best light of the day held, I enjoyed this sunrise tremendously. A childhood spent reading legends and myths revisited for a few minutes out on the cold prairie. A warm thank you to my elementary teacher, Alanda, who introduced our class to these stories and kindled the fire of my imagination.
Once the horses moved on, I returned to watching the brightening sky. I didn’t have to wait long for the colour to brush into the clouds.
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And when the warm sunlight came in, it only stayed for a couple of minutes. It was great to shoot a few different images while the light was really nice. The sun cleared the horizon quickly, the light cooled and the day began.
The horse that ended up posing for me before padding away led the small herd up the hill towards me. During one of their pauses on the way up I took the opportunity to frame them as part of the larger scene of dawn on the prairie. As I said before, I wish I had brought some horse-friendly snacks.
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.
I woke up this morning at 4:30, not for any particular reason I can recall. I went down for some water and saw there was an Aurora Watch Alert. The live update showed that there was a lot of Auroral activity so, at my wife’s prompting, I headed out.
In Bragg Creek we still get a fair bit of Calgary’s night city glow, so I drove northwest to a dark area of the prairie. Some clouds cleared out along the horizon as I set up and then the show picked up and kept going strong until dawn.
This was a special time under the stars for me. I have been visualizing photographing the Northern Lights and planning to get out for a couple of years. I had a fantastic time watching the streams of light streak across the sky. It was great to be able to realize what had been a little bit elusive.
So now, with this first Aurora shoot, in the rearview mirror, I’m looking forward to finding some new locations and compositions to photograph (and probably a faster f/2.8 or f/1.4 lens to shorten exposures).
The crops around the Springbank airport have all now been harvested. This leaves the fields shorn bare except for the uncollected bales of hay. The attraction drawing hawks is the exposed ground which presently offers little protection for field mice and the like. I have spent a fair bit of time walking and driving along the range roads to photograph some of the activity while it lasts. This Red-tailed hawk, one of the light morphs, was absolutely beautiful. It flew between a couple of posts before launching out across the meadows.
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After a warm weekend where we crested 25°C, winter jumped out of his hiding place and threw snow down overnight. The weather report calls for rain by this afternoon and then warming up to 17°C by the weekend. It would seem that this is a short reminder of what will come. It would be nice if autumn held on a little longer – we’ll see.
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The Bews are a ranching family and the youngest generation is following that well-worn path. When I was photographing them at the ranch Mady and Katie showed their ease in the saddle and proved to be very good sports while the shutter clicked away.
Katie was learning to trot and she seemed to master it over the course of a few crosses of the overgrown field during the morning. Mady practiced her roping which made for some great photographic opportunities.
While the girls rode, their grandmother Rosemary, grandfather Tom and his brother Joe alternated between time in front of the camera, tending to their horses and chatting. Very good people with lot’s of room in their hearts for their family, their animals and their land. It was a pleasure to spend some time with them.
Joe Bews in the morning leading his horse up with his partner by his side and later running through the dry creek bed.
Tom taking a break from the saddle
The last image I took up at the ranch was of the Bews family as they headed back for the trail back down to their farms. A warm thank you to them for coming out on a cold morning which became a hot afternoon. And, thanks to Julian Ferreira and his team at The Camera Store for arranging for a great day in the High Country on the edge of Kananaskis.
In fact, Julian stood in as a cowboy model in the cook shack and played the role exceptionally well.
Joe Bews is a cowboy I was fortunate to photograph last weekend at one of his family’s stations near Longview. When I asked Joe if he would mind doing a bit of rope work, he kindly obliged and I had the opportunity to try a few different approaches while he roped some imaginary targets lurking in the tall grass. His skills certainly didn’t need the practice so it was really great of Joe to throw for me and a couple other photographers on a pretty warm afternoon.
(As always, please click on any image to view a higher resolution version)
I was at a ranch for a photography workshop put on by The Camera Store on the weekend. The workshop was with William Albert Allard and it proved to be n educational and very enjoyable weekend. On Saturday the group went to Kananaskis where access had been granted to shoot on a long-standing ranch back in the High Country. The venue was full of character and the cowboys, lady and cowgirls that came up to model for us had the same in ample supply. I will post some more images from the day soon but wanted to start with a concept image that I worked on in post a bit. During the Sunday critiques, one of the participants had shown a few sepia toned images and that got some ideas rolling around in my head. I had completed my work keeping most of the portraits in straight colour. With this photograph of Tom, one of two lifelong ranching brothers that own the ranch and rode up for the day, I wanted to make a desaturated and almost metallic look to this tight portrait. I used Lightroom’s Develop suite for the post-processing and leaned heavily on dropping saturation and increasing the clarity to realize the look. For reference, here is one of Tom as he really looked in the warm light bouncing off of the exposed wood beams inside the barn.
The clouds make or break sunrises in many landscape scenes. On Sunday, they broke apart just before sunrise leaving a nice gauzy patchwork above the glow on the horizon. A good start to the day just west of Calgary in Alberta, Canada on May 27th.
With spring having taken control, the hawks have returned in earnest to the prairie and the foothills around Bragg Creek. During my hikes and drives, I often cross their path. When they wait long enough for me to pull up my camera, I really enjoy photographing them in flight. I’ve had a couple nice flight series so far and wanted to share a few ahead of a larger raptor project I’m working towards completing in the fall.
When the sun is low in the sky, the warm light can beautifully illuminate the stretched out primary feathers (the fingers), the splayed out tail feathers (particularly true with the Red-tailed hawks) and the patterns in the covert feathers (the layers covering the wing at the base of the primaries). With the sun behind, the backlit feathers can glow in a striking fashion which I find very appealing.
Leaving the Calgary this afternoon, I drove through some heavy rain pouring down from some dark gray clouds rolling over Calgary. As I reached the western edge of the city along Highway 8, I was back in the sunshine and enjoyed the drive past the fields. Drawing closer to home, I looked back east and found a rainbow straddling the road. The arch was a mile wide and looked brilliant against the dark clouds still dragging the storm through the city. I pulled onto one of the gravel top range roads and composed this image of the scene.
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Red Rock Coulee is in Southeast Alberta near Medicine Hat. It is rarely visited and the few paths see little travel. For me, this is a wonderful landscape to photograph.
Heavy clouds and a prairie snowstorm made my visit there last weekend a fun challenge and created some very nice opportunities. It had been a year and half since my last visit there and I enjoyed seeing this more wintry side of the area.
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I went to Medicine Hat near Alberta’s eastern border with Saskatchewan on the weekend. I enjoy heading out onto the prairies for the photographic opportunities that present themselves. I can happily spend hours exploring the old buildings, farm vehicles and rural towns that cluster near the roads and the rails that criss-cross the land. For wildlife, I often spend time with hawks near watering holes or small stands of trees. On Sunday morning, I was returning from Red Rock Coulee and found a curious Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) near the highway. It was early and I was likely the only person in the area since nightfall the day before and this animal was interested rather than wary.
I often see herds of these antelope but they are either far away or bounding in that direction. This was easily the closest I had been to one and with a 300mm telephoto lens, I was able to resolve him really well. The encounter lasted for a few minutes where it would take a few leaps, then stop and look at me. At that point, I would move along the road a pull level before shooting again. We did this a couple of times before he retreated a hundred meters further back and I carried on.
Driving a few more kilometers I found a small herd of Pronghorns well back from the road that was alternating between grazing and short races across the fields in fast bursts.
I pulled ahead and then stopped to watch them pass.
This one left the herd and sprinted ahead so I isolated him against the open prairie. It was great to have these two different experiences so close together. Different chapters of the same story.
On a drive back from Gleichen where I was photographing Snowy owls I noticed the sun sparring with chunks of cloud making for interesting lighting on the ground. With strong swathes of sunlight and shade striping the farmland, I stopped for more than a few minutes to enjoy the land and photograph a few takes on it.
Winter has been mild here in southern Alberta this year. We had a short blast roll out of the mountains in the middle of the week with snow blanketing the city. That seemed like a last gasp as it lasted only one day and melted before the weekend arrived. It was an interesting run of weather that finished with a wind storm and warming that reached 15° C on Thursday.
These images are from my afternoon drive out of the city with the storm still attacking Calgary but open skies above me in Springbank west of the city.
For March, the prairies have very little snow. Makes for a bit different mid-winter landscape images than previous years.
Saturday was cold and clear, -19°C and blue sky. It was a perfect morning for a drive and I headed out on the prairies east of Calgary to see what I could find. I ended up working with a stoic, one-eyed snowy owl but along the way I found this weathered barn and weather vane that lured me to stop.
I originally had a black and white image in mind when I was composing this but the color version looks alright too.