Prairie Landscapes: An autumn sunrise at Lake Newell
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.