With the day slipping away from the Vermilion Lakes in the Bow Valley, the clouds began to light up in the last light of the day. This column started out bright white and soon burned into a hot pink. It hung over the valley between Sulphur Mountain and Sunshine Peak brushing them with a faint pastel hue before dimming as night took hold.
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.
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.
Time spent at the Vermilion Lakes in Banff National Park is always worthwhile. It had been a while since I had watched day break there so on the weekend I drove up to do that. I went very early so I was able to make some long exposures at the second lake before the morning arrived.
With sunrise threatening, other people wanting to enjoy the quiet spectacle came down the road to find their spot. I didn’t mind adding a light streak into the scene!
When the clouds above the Fairholme Range to the east began to glow the day soon rushed in behind. The lake dazzled again, as usual, reflecting Mount Rundle and framing the energetic sky above as it ran through dawn’s color palette.
A small group of photographers assembled along the shoreline nearby as the sky’s performance heightened. The tone of the hushed murmurs suggested they were enjoying the moment. I certainly was.
Dawn reached across the Fairholme Range and brushed the sky through to Mount Rundle. An eight second exposure traced the motion in the scene, blurring the water into soft streaks and stretching out the clouds above. Photographed on June 4, 2017 on the Vermilion Lakes in Banff National Park’s Bow Valley.
The moon was scribbling on the surface of one of the Vermilion Lakes in Banff National Park on the weekend.
I found a pair of common loons on the third Vermilion Lake in the Banff National Park on the weekend. They were diving and skimming the water surface for food, enjoying the sunshine and paddling close to each other at different points.
The sunlight caught the iridescence in their feathers. It is beautiful when the red eyes glow and the silky greens shimmer along their necks.
The quick stab of wintry weather last weekend reminded me of a visit to the Vermilion Lakes in January. It was cold, -25°C cold, but this American dipper flitted around the pond with the energy typical of this species.
This was a welcome distraction from my wait for daybreak, still 15 minutes away, so I switched to a telephoto lens and photographed the comings and goings for a little while. Hot springs seep out of the hillside and run into the pond which keeps sections ice-free throughout the winter and creates the hazy mist that rolls in slow motion waves across the water. It was a beautiful spot to be on a frigid morning – even when my fingers might argue it was not worth it, I believe it was.
In late January I spent time on a small pond between two of the Vermillion Lakes watching the day break. The blues of the early morning held on to the landscape as pastels started to be brushed into the clouds above Mount Rundle. The silence in this sheltered spot was wonderful and helped me to enjoy a calm, mindful meditation while I watched and photographed.
I was in Banff for an early morning sunrise shoot a couple of weeks ago. Following that, I spent the morning hiking and driving around looking for wildlife. The first animal I found was this Great blue heron fishing on the first Vermilion Lake.
Following this short story of the heron in Yellowstone National Park, I thought it would be good to post another with its Canadian cousin. I watched the heron work in the long grass on the lake edge for several minutes before it turned away from the sun and flew eastward and beyond my sight.
I love when I can get out early in the morning. When it is pitch black as I get to my destination, I get excited as I wait for the first hint of light on the eastern horizon. As the sky slowly brightens, there is a magical time ahead of any color in the sky where blues of almost every hue color the world. I enjoyed one of these mornings on the shore of the Vermilion Lakes in the Banff National Park a couple of weeks ago.
When I set up my gear on the shore of the first of the Vermilion Lakes, it was cold and dark. I wanted to be there early to catch Jupiter and Venus in the eastern sky before it brightened too much. The pair, with Mars less visible to the left, were directly above Mount Rundle’s peak when I arrived.
As the horizon brightened the stars faded while color started to creep into the clouds. The lake was frozen with a thin cover of ice which gave abstract reflections of the sky and the silhouettes across the water.
(Please click on any image to see a higher resolution version)
Early sunshine brought a cloud to life as it stretched and broke up over Mount Rundle. Before long, bright pink strands hung above the Bow Valley. It was a beautiful morning and I loved watching it build from darkness into light.
The pink softened quickly and pastels held the sky until the sun blew away the soft hues of the early morning.
(Please click any image to open a higher resolution version)
Following an unusually warm Hallowe’en, the temperature dropped below freezing. That low pressure system was accompanied by heavy clouds and snow flew for the first and second days of November in southern Alberta. On Sunday, I left Bragg Creek early in the morning with the snow still falling fast. By the time I was in Banff, the cloud ceiling was much higher and the snow falling much softer. Before noon, the sun was out and the winter wonderland was starting to melt away quickly at the lower elevations. I went down to the Vermilion Lakes to see how things looked and check if any of the wild residents were wandering about. I didn’t find much wildlife, but the landscape looking beautiful with the shoreline’s snow gone but the belt of white starting only twenty or so metres above. When the long chain of freight cars riding the rails on the far side of the second lake came into view I stopped to take a few photographs.
My son and I were in Banff for the weekend and went out for a drive along the Vermilion Lakes just before sunset on Saturday night. We stopped at the first lake to watch the colors deepen on the face of Mount Rundle as the sun was going down. Another photographer, Grace Chen visiting from Calgary, asked me where the moon would be rising. I had to admit that I didn’t know – I hadn’t done any planning as Kian and I were water sliding all afternoon and the drive was a last-minute decision. I was quite surprised when I next looked in the viewfinder and saw a sliver of white rising behind the mountain! It was fun to point at the peak as a response to her question.
The moon climbed quickly, becoming steadily brighter and I finished shooting less than half an hour after first seeing it. The sunlight on the mountain moved from deep yellow to a beautiful red while the sky steadily darkened. It was not quite a full moon, being at 98%, but was still bright and wonderful.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens: 80 seconds at f/11 on ISO 800
During the tail-end of the full phase of August’s blue moon I went to the edge of the first of the Vermilion Lakes just west of the Banff townsite and set up for a night of long exposures. I drifted in and out of sleep but my timer remote stayed awake and kept running across the dark hours of the night. The clouds raced across the sky under pretty steady winds. With the longer exposures, they were stretched out and occasionally lent a mystical quality to the images.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens: 658 seconds at f/11 on ISO 400
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens: 80 seconds at f/11 on ISO 800
As it drew closer to the morning, the land started to brighten and one of the last images revealed more of the scenery.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens: 238 seconds at f/11 on ISO 1000
I heard a lady walking past me on the Vermilion Lakes road say to her friend that this was the first Canada goose (Branta canadensis) on the lakes this year. It certainly was the first one I’ve seen paddling around the open water near one of the warm springs that run out of the hillsides and hold back the ice through the winter.
The light was diffused by the clouds and the water was calm with no wind to disturb it. This bird swam around in large circles, lapping us several times as my wife and I photographed it and the kids watched it. It honked a few times but was not angry as when something gets too close to a nest. Seemed more like a call for a fellow goose to stop by. It could have been an inquiry to a potential mate but I did not see any other geese in the area.
As it was, we stayed with the bird for about half an hour. I worked with the reflections, the ripples, the edge of the ice and really enjoyed the personality I saw in the goose as it watched us. I may have been projecting this personality but it seemed very curious and even a little bemused as we looked one another over.
Yesterday, I went out for a morning photography tour along the Vermilion Lakes just outside of Banff. I enjoy returning to this area and usually am rewarded by the wildlife, the landscapes or something little thing that draws my eye. I settled into a favourite spot along the second Vermilion Lake where there are some hot springs that seep out of the mountainside, collect into a network of small streams and keep a few pools of water free of the snow-covered sheet of ice that hides the rest of the lake.
Mount Rundle stands directly between the lakes and the point where the sun rises at this time of the year so you need some broken clouds to be in the right place to catch the warm light.
Following my great morning spent photographing the elk, I went down the Vermilion Lake road the next day, Wednesday, with my wife and children to show them the spot where he had been. We stopped there for a few minutes and then carried on to the second lake. At the edge of the lake I was surprised to see the same elk standing in a couple of feet of snow eating leaves. I didn’t bother him for long in case he had reconsidered our encounter but my family enjoyed seeing him.
I didn’t get out photographing again until we checked out on Thursday and we took a quick drive down the lake road just to see if the elk or any other wildlife was hanging around in the middle of the day. After a couple of cloudy days, Thursday was mild and sunny so you never know what might be out warming up. We didn’t see any animals on the drive down the lake but returning I glimpsed the familiar antlers poking up over a bluff near the road.
Driving a little further, I took this last image of the elk who defined the photography on this trip to Banff. He was relaxed, with eyes half closed and sitting down facing the sun. It was an easy decision not to bother him. A bit unusual this elk in his habits and territory but I could not see any signs of ill-health or other impediments. Just an interesting animal. I will certainly be looking for him each time I get back to Banff.