During the warmer months, there are a number of great blue herons that settle around the Vermilion Lakes in Banff National Park. A couple of weeks ago, I was on the shore of the second lake watching daybreak over a smoke-filled Bow Valley.
Looking across the lake, I saw ten herons spread out across a marshy spot a couple of hundred meters away. They were a bit too far away to observe them closely but I liked watching them as they hunted, interacted with one another and preened their feathers.
An eagle flew overhead which sent all of the herons into the air. In twos and threes they sped away while the eagle stayed on a straight line towards the first lake. Within 15 minutes a couple of the herons returned. Shortly after that three others alighted in the shallows of another marshy area.
There was a trail that angled towards that spot so I hoisted the big lens and tripod and wandered down. The path died out, overgrown by tall grass, but not before leaving me less than 50 meters from the closest of the three herons there. I set up and then enjoyed an hour watching these birds doing their thing.
I was very excited to get out to photograph the most recent lunar eclipse. I kept an eye on the weather forecasts and knew clouds were moving over southern Alberta that night. I hoped for a break in the clouds but when I woke up early that morning the sky was low and heavy with no stars, or moon, to be seen. So, I packed up and headed west to see if I could get the western edge of the cloud front. My first glimpse was between Canmore and Banff when I came around a corner and the moon was hanging in the sky. That was not a safe place to stop and the moon alone in the blackness was not the image I had in mind so I kept going to Banff. Thought I still did take that shot a little while later!
Clouds returned by the time I was in the townsite so I headed up towards the hot springs to see if I could find a good vantage point. That didn’t pan out but when I came back down, the moon re-appeared. Now it was falling quickly towards the western flank of Cascade Mountain. Her and I then played a game of hide and seek as the clouds continued to drift in front of the red globe.
I framed the moon using trees and the mountain’s ridge line when the opportunities came. Within a few minutes it disappeared. I didn’t realize the image I was looking for but had a great time watching the spectacle. I have been able to photograph several lunar eclipses and always deeply enjoy the otherworldly beauty as the moon slips into and eventually out of the sun’s shadow.
It was fun to look back over the past year’s photographs recently and recall the story behind them. I’ve created a gallery of my favorite images you can check out here (or click on any image to open that page in a new window). I moved in new directions with my landscape work which, through trial and error, yielded some work I really like.
I practiced a technique where I change the focal length (zoom) the lens during a long exposure which creates a variety of effects that I have had great fun exploring.
I walked into some of my images, to provide scale in some and interest in others, which I want to continue to explore and build on. I also hope my children will join me for some of those in the coming year – if I can wake them up early enough!
I had a lot of fun scrambling around valleys and peaks in Banff and Kananaskis. I wanted to hike more in the warmer months and was happy with the images I made from those outings to new locations. I photographed through many nights along the lakes there and enjoyed seeing these amazing places under the stars. I have always loved the mountains and that love continues to deepen.
A trip to the Palouse in Washington in May was a definite highlight. The agricultural geometry laid over the rolling hills is beautiful. Exploring the area and searching for interesting compositions filled a long weekend and a couple of memory cards.
Excursions on the Prairies, searching for snowy owls in winter and a long list of other birds in the other seasons, were regular for me in 2017. These are often solitary travels for me and I find the landscape imagery often reflects that. Lone subjects, standing as islands on endless fields, stand defiant under the massive skies in one image and vulnerable in the next. I have much more that I want to create out there in this new year.
There were many pieces of last year that bring a smile when reflecting back. And a few that well some tears up. They combined to make for a good year. For me, this gallery reflects that. Thank you for following the visual journey I share here.
In August I photographed through the night along the Vermilion Lakes. The air was heavy with smoke from nearby wildfires. This long exposure caught the glow from the town of Banff as it pushed through thick haze and got caught in clouds hanging low in the Bow Valley. A timer and a flashlight allowed me to run out onto this dock on the third Vermilion Lake and trace out the circle in this image.
Watching the last light of the day slip away to the west from one of the piers on the Vermilion Lakes. I was reminded of this night scene from August when I was waiting for dawn near the same place last weekend.
When I arrived at the second Vermilion Lake and scrambled down to the shoreline I was alone and in darkness. Once I turned off my headlamp my eyes adjusted and a thin line brightening to the east. Mount Rundle stood resolutely across the water and I started to make out clouds as they slid toward the horizon.
The image above was a 25 second exposure on f/10 and ISO 800 taken at 7:25 AM. I used that to get a feel for how the scene looked as it was still too dark to make out much of the details and color in the sky with my eyes alone.
I didn’t mind the grass but I chose to focus on the sky and its reflection so a few steps to the right and setting up closer to the waterline was the next step. The clouds in the image above made a great frame around Rundle and the pre-sunrise colors intensified considerably by the time that I made this photograph at 7:35 AM.
The pre-dawn light’s color faded out before 8 AM. The lull before the fire came into the sky did not last long and I soon caught the first hints of pink catching in the clouds. The photograph of Tunnel Mountain, Mount Rundle and Sulphur Mountain above was taken at 8:10 using a 2 second exposure on f/16 at ISO 50. The light soon caught the clouds hanging low above the mountains in the image below (8:13 AM; 0.8 seconds; f/16; ISO 50). From there the reds and oranges started to splash across the sky above the Bow Valley.
By 8:16, the pinks had been driven off completely. Now the trick was to hold the really bright circle of sky left of Mount Rundle (in the centre of the image below – 0.6 seconds; f/16; ISO 50)). I was exposing off of that circle so that the highlights weren’t completely blown knowing that the RAW file captured by my camera would hold detail in the shadows elsewhere which I could recover in post.
I played with the focal length of several images during the exposure. This created streaks in the photograph which served as interesting leading lines into the sunrise and Mount Rundle. I shared my favourite one of these on the weekend (here) and below is another that I really liked as well. This one has more brightness in the foreground so it has a different feel for me (8:20; 0.5 seconds; f/16; ISO 50).
By 8:20, the fire was waning and only golds and oranges outlined the silhouette of the mountains. The photograph below being one of the last from my shoot (8:22; 0.3 seconds; f/16; ISO 50).
I jumped into a last frame just before the sun came over Rundle’s flank. I had wanted to catch a sunstar as it crested the mountain but the clouds got in the middle as can happen. That exposure was taken at 8:50 AM with a 4 second exposure (f/16 and ISO 100) using a heavy neutral density filter to get the extended shutter speed. A beautiful morning in one of those places I love returning to again and again. It’s rare that it doesn’t share a new look, or a few of them, with me each time.
Sunrise streaked around Mount Rundle over the Vermilion Lakes in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada yesterday. I arrived in darkness and had time to find a great spot that I have not photographed from before. The clouds picked up the earliest light in the pre-dawn and the color in the sky continued to intensify. For this image, I zoomed the focal length of the lens slightly during the 1/2 second exposure to create the lines of light leading to Rundle.
The ice started to recede on Two Jack Lake in late April this year. Waterfowl was drawn to the open water as they migrated back to Banff National Park. Some birds were resting briefly before continuing further north. For a small gaggle of Canada geese, they seemed to be planning for a longer stay.
At one point, one goose decided to chase another. The target flew off and was joined by his mate and they landed at another opening. Perhaps this was a territorial “discussion”. For me, it yielded a series of images with the aggressor splashing, flying and skimming across the water. The bird banked around the small cove towards me so I was in a great position to photograph him.
The remaining couple settled down quickly and returned to paddling on the water. A little while later one laid don near a stand of trees while the other went to the edge of the ice that still covered most of the lake.
On the first day of October, I was in Banff National Park and found great fall colors across the Bow Valley. I returned to Hillsdale Meadow along the Bow Valley Parkway where I expected the larch would be showing their best golds and yellows. I wasn’t disappointed! For this image, I used a slow shutter to abstract the landscape similar to how I had done with the same stand of trees in July. I moved the camera downwards during the 1/40th of a second exposure to exaggerate the vertical lines present in the golden trees and echoed in the evergreens in the mountainside behind.
This past summer I spent a lot of time at the Vermilion Lakes in Banff National Park. I was drawn there by a pair of common loons who nested on the third lake this year. This photograph was from May 27th at 5:41 am on a morning when I was alone with the loons and their beautiful, haunting calls to one another. After diving, they preen their feathers and eventually lean back, unfold their wings and vigorously flap them to shed water. This process always fascinates me and I love the way the still images look. It starts slowly, with the bird shifting their weight and then stretching out the wings while raising their bodies off the water. The flapping then starts and builds to a crescendo with the loon’s head pointing straight up, wings blurring furiously and water drops spraying off in all directions. And then it ends with the bird dropping back into the water and carrying on preening, diving or paddling along. The whole cycle lasting roughly 3-5 seconds. The image below is that peak in the cycle where it seems the bird itself might fly apart.
Forgive the double alliterations in the title! I recently came across one of these pictures in my image library. That recalled the encounter with this grizzly bear and her three cubs in 2012. It was wet morning in June and my friend Jeff and I were out photographing near the Vermilion Lakes. We found the bears under the trees. While mom was sleeping, these two year olds were rough housing with abandon.
Though the bared teeth look fierce no true biting happened. Even the play lost their interest before long and they alternated sprawling across mom and nursing. We left then and it seemed they were close to a nap themselves – although they may have powered up again instead.
When they separated, I was able to grab a couple of individual shots. Truly beautiful animals. Five years on, I wonder how they have made out. Their mother, 64, was well known in the Banff area but disappeared at the age of 25 and was assumed to have died in late 2013. I believe one of these cubs was 148 who was relocated out of Banff earlier this year. That move was due to her increasing encounters with humans but, tragically, she was shot and killed last Sunday in British Columbia. A death, legal though it was, which I am having great difficulty accepting. Particularly when that province will outlaw trophy hunting of grizzly bears starting on November 30th. I’m a bit teary now so I’ll finish here.
Here is one of the last photographs I took of 64.