A 25 second exposure and a fast lens (in this case, a Canon 24mm f/1.4 set at f/1.8) revealed wisps of clouds stretching east across the Kananaskis River valley a little after 4 in the morning on October 7th. The soft green glow betrayed the Aurora Borealis pulsing low over the northern horizon.
Red light from my headlamp illuminated Highway 40 in this 10 second exposure that centered on the hazy Northern Lights.
Last Tuesday, April 17th, Venus shone brightly as dusk fell. It joined a beautiful crescent moon in the northwestern sky. Stars began to pop out while the night took hold. I had been out walking my hound and thought the silhouettes of the line of trees above the Elbow River near my home would help frame the conjunction nicely. When I got back to the house, I quickly gathered my gear and went out to the river – I’m glad I did.
As the moon dropped, I kept moving west, upriver, the descending tree line allowing me to keep the Moon in sight. Some gauzy clouds came in low and afforded some interesting, hazy halos around the Moon.
Eventually the Moon slipped behind the trees and quickly disappeared leaving Venus glowing in a sky filling up with stars.
Before I packed up, I took one last long exposure facing west where the river winds past Bragg Creek and on to the front range of the mountains in Kananaskis Country.
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.
There have been strong Aurora Borealis events over the past couple of weeks. These have extended far enough south that those of us in southern Alberta have been able to enjoy great displays in the night sky. Throughout the earliest hours of May 20th the Northern Lights flashed, rippled and glowed over Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park. It was a beautiful night with few clouds and a sky that looked like someone had spread out all the diamonds across a dark blanket.
Along the lake’s western shore, many people had come out to see the auroras. When I passed the marina, the storm was in a lull but the green glow drew a sharp line on the Palliser Range’s silhouette. I’m usually alone when I’m photographing at night so it was neat to be part of a loose community all there to enjoy this natural event.
Most people were lined up along the dam. I hiked down a trail a bit further south and found a stretch of rock along the water’s edge that looked good to me. I spent the next four hours watching the sky, scrambling around the rocks and photographing the aurora. The photographs here are from the first hour during an active period following the lull. I will share a few more from later in night in another post soon.
Only three days after I was able to watch a great showing by the Northern Lights, they came out to dance over the foothills again. The clouds were heavier this time around and grew steadily through the night while I was out. That set up for some backlighting by the aurora that looked really beautiful. This time around, I started at the same small pond as before but then drive to a couple of different spots along Highway 1 before ending my night at the small lake beside the Sibbald Creek Trail (Highway 68) where it meets Township Road 252.
At first I was trying to get away from the cloud bank as it coalesced and then moved southwards and increasingly obscured my view of the night sky. Soon I became a little hypnotized by the glow around and through the clouds so I settled down and enjoyed the moment.
After 2am, the clouds broke up and seemed to return back to the north. I was too tired to see how far they retreated and made my way home just before 3.
September closed out with several strong Northern Lights displays that reached down to southern Alberta. I was happy to make it out to the Foothills to photograph in the middle of the night for two of them. These images are from the first foray which started around 11:30pm and continued rippling when I finally headed home around 2am on the 26th.
The clouds seemed to move in slow motion and picked up the glow from Cochrane differently as the night progressed. Above, the aurora’s color palette shifted into pastels. A few of the later images reminded me of cotton candy and were fantastic to watch slowly ripple then fade away. I imagined these were tie-dyed waves rolling in both over the pond but also the sky they were reflecting.
Ursa Major and its Big Dipper were constant companions in the sky behind the dancing lights. The stars would run in and out of the clouds, hiding at times and burning brightly at other times. There was good magic to watch throughout.
When I photographed the Burmis tree, a limber pine that was between 600 and 750 years old when it died in the 1970s, I circled it a couple of times. It presented very different looks as I moved around which was great fun to photograph. I wanted to share a few of the ones I liked from this stop on the edge of the Crowsnest Pass.
Please note: those familiar with the Burmis tree will note that in three of images, and the image in the previous post, I have removed the metal pole that supports the long lower branch that extends away perpendicularly from the main trunk. I rarely edit out things in my landscape photographs but I find that pole to be quite distracting. It is necessary given that someone cut the branch in 2004 and nearby residents re-attached the limb and needed the pole to support the weight. I am grateful they did this work but used some artistic license to create the final images as I imagined them.
Clouds from the west slowly advanced as I scrambled around, at first only hiding the stars but then dragging rain into the scene. Sometimes that can make things more interesting photographically but at that late hour and with the wind picking up sharply, I soon packed up and carried on to Fernie. I did have almost as much time as I wanted there so the weather’s turn was a nice push to get moving.
I have driven by the Burmis Tree, an Alberta icon, many times while traveling through the Crowsnest Pass on my between British Columbia and Alberta. It stands out on a rocky outcrop just above Highway 3 where the road bends into the valley below Turtle Mountain. This limber pine catches many people’s eye as they travel past with its gorgeous lines and skeletal beauty. This weekend I drove past close to midnight and stopped for an hour to photograph the tree. This image is from the western side of the hill facing east. The limbs were backlit by the headlights of the oncoming traffic and the hill glowed red from their tail lights as they passed by.
On December 20th, the Aurora Borealis were very active above the Ghost Lake area. I spent a bit of time photographing a prairie church with the Northern Lights before I went to Mount Yamnuska. The colors visible against the night sky varied between green, purple and blue as the charged particles slamming into the Earth’s upper atmosphere interacted with different atoms.
After a couple of hours, it was close to 6am and I was pretty worn out. One of my last images, below, I was facing northeast and caught the aurora along with the city glow from Cochrane and the earliest hint of dawn. I went home and played catch up with sleep.
The Aurora Borealis was just starting to visibly glow when I arrived at the McDougall Memorial United Church near Morley, Alberta. Cochrane’s city lights reflected off the large cloud behind the church which brought the peach hues into the scene. It is a tranquil scene to look at while I recall the heavy wind and biting cold that came along with it. Still, I was happy to be out and it was a beautiful start to a great night watching the Northern Lights.
Last night was the lunar eclipse where the moon turned a deep red which lasted for more than an hour. I traveled to south to get to the edge of the clouds which had rolled in over my home in Bragg Creek before sunset. In Turner Valley I found clear skies and set up as the moon was entering the earth’s shadow.
I was awestruck, as usual, with this fourth of the tetrad of lunar eclipses which have been spaced six months apart starting in April 2014.
It was a beautiful transit with the moon’s surface moving through oranges and reds before returning to her brilliant white. It has been an incredible series of events to witness and I have enjoyed photographing them immensely. I’m excited about the new beginnings and opportunities they herald.
The stars in the Waterton area shine brilliantly under the dark sky. From our campsite, my son and I could make out the Milky Way as it rose out of the mountains that line the valley from the town and down the lake.