The cold which the east has been laboring under reached us this weekend. Yesterday I was out photographing and this scene illustrated the frigid turn winter has now taken once more.
I found this Highland bull on a fold west of the Springbank airport. He was scratching an itch along the broken planks in the corral when I stopped. He raised the horns, huffed and stared at me from under his dishevelled mop. Seemed like he was the master of his domain and he wasn’t particularly interested in my intrusion into it. A good character to photograph and then part ways with.
The hoar frost a few days ago was met by ice fog in the morning. I was along a gravel road when I first saw a soft outline in a field. A little further along I found several cows around a swampy pond. The cow above was close to the fence line and I was able to make a nice portrait with ice clinging to the hide.
A cluster of grain silos sits on the horizon under the brightening dawn sky on the prairies east of High River, Alberta, Canada. I love big skies and I think the scale provided by these farm buildings helps convey that here.
The smoke from early fires, mist from the warming earth and sunlight filtering through the clouds created an interesting atmosphere around this small village in the countryside a few miles north of Shangri-La. I ended up spending a couple of days in the rural areas outside of the city and enjoyed seeing this side of life and its juxtaposition with the urban pace in the city.
Owls don’t care about what day it is, but, on some level I guess I do. I went out this morning when the sun was shining and the day was quickly warming up. I was happy that the first day of May picked up where April left off as I was able to continue spending time with owls. This owl was hunting around a farm field and a horse meadow in Bragg Creek.
This Great gray owl was landing on some strategically placed posts in the middle of the field and successfully grabbed a couple of mice over a short span. I haven’t watched owls hunt on this field before but I will be back as it appears to be a very productive spot for this owl.
I have loved photographing one old, weathered tractor for years. It sits in a field that is home to horses now and I think it has been enjoying its retirement there for many years before I ever found it.
For the first time, I met the gentleman who owns this tractor, the horses and the land this past weekend. We had a pleasant conversation while we enjoyed watching this Great gray owl hunting along his fence line. Peter was very familiar with this owl and it was great to learn some new things about it.
Shortly after he left, the owl flew off the fence line and into a stand of trees near the tractor. I set up for a dive I hoped would come but was very happy when the next flight was not into the grass but over to the steering wheel on this much admired, at least to me, tractor.
From this perch, the owl’s glowing eyes scanned the surrounding grass.
After a few minutes it hunched down, signalling that it may fly. It paused for a couple of seconds and then launched.
This bird is an excellent hunter so it was no surprise that the strike was successful. As they like to do, after the pounce the owl looked around to check his surroundings as they are vulnerable when down on the ground. It stared at me to check that I hadn’t made any moves or movements that signalled a change in my intent.
It swallowed the mouse on the ground and then flew back to the same perch on the tractor.
It idled on the wheel for a couple of minutes, preoccupied for a moment with something it noticed in the sky above, before heading into the trees. These were the trees where I had gone into when I was photographing him on the tractor so I had a front row seat to the forest hunt and three different perches before he flew uphill and out of sight.
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.
Canon 5DIII and 24mm lens: 1/25th of a second on f/11 and ISO 800
The early morning sky was beautiful this morning. I stopped for a while to watch the clouds move from the pinks and purples to the reds and oranges and then into the yellow and golds. This bull was not impressed by any of that – he was calling from his solo field to the cows in the field across the road. He stared at me at one point and that worked for me.
There is a small hill that overlooks a farm and its fields in West Bragg Creek which is a favourite place of mine to photograph from. Throughout the year, the landscape is always beautiful, presenting an ever-changing face as the seasons cycle through. Late summer brings mist which stretches over the tall grass around dawn. These are a few of the photographs I’ve taken over the last week or so.
(Please click on any image if you would like to view a higher resolution version)
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/000 of a second at f/4 on ISO 800
The evening light was soft and warm last night. I loved the colour in the coats of this small herd in Springbank. #83 was particularly interested and turned out to be particularly photogenic.
(click on any image to open a higher resolution version)
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.
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.
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.
Right now is a great time for sunrises. The sun is rising much later than in the summer and now is clearing the horizon after 7am. That makes photographs of the Prairie at dawn much easier to be awake and in place for.
This sunrise was in Springbank just west of Alberta. The hay has been harvested and the bales are still in the fields. With the mist from a watering hole and the silhouettes of the fence and the trees, there were lot’s of nice elements to work with.
I roamed the back roads west of Calgary for a couple of hours last night as a storm blew across the prairies giving way to a pretty sunset. I really enjoy the opportunities to wander without a specific image in mind, working with what I discover along the way. My wife and children are still vacationing in Nelson so it’s nice to spend the evenings with a camera in hand and stave off the loneliness of the empty house. It will be great when they return home tomorrow.
As the days slipped away, I had a nice chat with Alan, the farmer whose field this tractor stands in. A fellow photographer, Alan and I found a common interest to build on after introductions. The tractor is a White 2-85 but I don’t know too much more about it beyond it running with a 6 cylinder Perkins diesel engine and the line being manufactured between 1975 and 1982 (I have no idea what year this vehicle is). Not the best looking tractor (as tractors go!) but the plain color scheme allows the color in the sky to catch the eye.
This massive cloud settled over Calgary about an hour after this photograph. I was chasing the sunset then but could see a great lightning show flashing just after sunset.
I thought this Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis calurus) had a great perch atop the exhaust stack of this old International Harvester 706 tractor. The 706 is a really classic looking tractor, they were made between 1963 adn 1967 so it is great to see this one still on active duty.
I was in a great location to watch the storm that had rolled in Friday night and dropped many, many buckets of rain through Saturday afternoon start to break up.
The drama in the clouds west of Calgary was beautiful to watch build and fall away for a few minutes.
Certainly a different feel in black and white. In the version above I wanted to bring the weathered barn to greater prominence. I ended up shedding the color and adding a little grain to create a more historical, antique feel.
I was exploring the country roads that divide up the fields along the prairie west of Calgary and found this old Ford 350 farm truck long since abandoned overlooking a river valley. The truck looked like it had been left where it finally broke down, just past a cattle guard on a dirt track that led down to an old farmstead.
With the deep blue sky of the early morning, the weathered reds and oranges of the cab and the hood made a nice contrast. I liked working in the white line on the horizon where the Rocky Mountains are still covered with snow. I will be back to this lonely Ford again soon to work in some star trails and light painting. When the new green grass comes in, I’ll return to work with the three strong colors (two primaries – red and blue, and one secondary – green) as they will allow for some dynamic compositions by varying the amount of each color in a frame. A great subject to find and I suppose it will be returning to work after having had at least a few years rest.
In the image below, I de-saturated the sky to emphasize the color in the truck (both the body and the rust on the bed’s frame. It creates an interesting feel to this image as the relationship between the truck and the surrounding environment is different.
In this final picture from this set, I walked down towards the valley so that the sun’s position relative to the truck changed from behind and streaming over my shoulder to behind the truck backlighting the truck and throwing a lot of reflected light towards the camera. The washed out color that resulted allowed for an image very different from the others.
I was out at the Folk Tree Lodge yesterday and had time to wander around the farm buildings and visit the horses. It was a beautiful afternoon, a warm day after a long spell of cold weather. I was photographing with a Lensbaby Muse which is tricky to focus at the wide open aperture but is really fun for the slices of focus and blur you can work with in camera. I really enjoy using this lens in strong midday light when I might otherwise be tempted to put away the camera and wait for softer, directional light.
Alvise and Paola were making use of the day and working around the farm. Alvise was up and down the road hauling with his machinery. The colors of the hard hat and the tractor drew my attention and made good subject matter for a few photographs before I ended up talking to the horses. They were not as inquisitive as a few weeks ago but still fun to work with.
I grew up in a small valley in southwestern British Columbia. Our house faced a large meadow bounded by a creek on one side and the treed flanks of a mountain on the other three sides. The meadow had once been a field with several orchards and the behind the house were the remnants of a farm with barns, corrals and sheds. The buildings were worn down, leaning at odd angles but all held their own treasure of rusted tools, missing floorboards, broken machinery and weathered vehicles. It was a paradise for a kid and I loved that place. We lived there for about eight years and I know there were a few places I still didn’t fully explore. Living on the prairies now, I get to revisit the same objects as they dot the landscape – abandoned farmhouses, vehicles both hidden and exposed as well as many other iconic farm “things”. I’m working on a project tying the photographs to the people behind these farms – let’s just say that is a LONG term project. However, it’s a lot of fun making the photographs in and around the farms – a good escape to the boy I still am.
I will post more on the buildings, tools, etc. from around the farm but for this one, I’ll restrict the images to vehicles. These images are from places across Alberta and in eastern Saskatchewan, linger over the picture for the particular location. As always, click on any of the pictures to jump to a full page version.
Alas, this last vehicle, a combine harvester, is not forgotten but I like it so please allow the exception.
We are into the third day of the first big snowstorm to hit Calgary and the surrounding area this winter. A shock to most people’s system. I love this season but I was a bit zealous shovelling the snow on my drive and my neighbour’s. Have to get the back into snow removal shape – not sure how, just more practice I suppose.
While trawling along the roads home this afternoon, I stopped by a homestead along Highway 22 to photograph some of the landscape altered by the return of the white blanket.
Please click for the full size version
And, at the fire hall that stands watch over our small community I laughed when I saw this sign.
It may be the case that the woods are still dry as the moisture in the snow has yet to be released into the soil but, at first glance, it seems a bold contradiction to the visible reality.
The drive between Bragg Creek and Calgary along Highway 8 is Alberta Prairie most of the way. Crop fields and cow pastures divide up the land on either side of the road. At the far end of Springbank near the Highway 22X (The Cowboy Trail) intersection is a herd of cows with a pretty steady uniform of black. There are a couple of exceptions to the solid black coats and I stopped the other day to take a few portraits of these trend dodgers.
A last one…