No amount of research could prepare me for my first visit to the Canadian Rockies. The sheer magnificence of this area is a wonder to behold for any visitor but especially for a landscape photographer.
Arriving in Banff National Parklate in the evening it was too dark to appreciate the staggering scenery literally all around me. It was not until the next morning that I got my first view of the landscape. As I wandered down the main street in Banff looking for a café serving breakfast I could not help but gape in awe at the mountains towering over the town.
For the next couple of days I explored Banff in my rental jeep and walked (cautiously) on hiking trails ever wary of encounters with bears. I made mental notes of places to return to at either dusk or the following dawn when the low light would transform the already magical scenery. But in such rich surroundings this proved more challenging than I had anticipated and after a couple of days with no photographs I found myself worrying that I would return home empty handed.
A location that I had earmarked to visit while doing my research back home was Moraine Lake. The photographs I had seen from this lake to me perfectly represented the Canadian Rockies – a turquoise lake surrounded on three sides by soaring mountains and on the other by a forest of coniferous trees.
I made two dawn trips to Moraine Lake, and on the second occasion was lucky to catch the scenery covered in a light dusting of snow. Most photographs of Moraine Lake are taken from a small rocky hill, known as the Rockpile, which provide spectacular views over the lake and mountains. I climbed the Rockpile and, while waiting for the morning sun to set the mountain tops aglow set up my Canon EOS 5D onto my Manfrotto Magfibre tripod. In the quiet of dawn the Rockpile was deserted and the lake very quiet and peaceful; perfect conditions for a landscape photographer I thought to myself. As I exposed my first few frames I felt as excited as a child, eagerly checking the feedback on the LCD screen.
I stayed at Moraine Lake for a couple of hours exposing images from a variety of compositions. The difficult thing when photographing such wonderful scenery is knowing when to stop. But as the sun rose higher in the sky and busloads of tourists started to climb the Rockpile, I returned to my car very satisfied with the images I had exposed.
A few days later as I was driving through the national park, I was taken with the afternoon sunlight hitting the mountainside at the base of Lake Minnewanka. It had been a frustrating morning of sunshine and showers, with me mostly being at the best locations whenever the showers hit! Thinking my luck had changed I pulled into a lay-by and dashed down to the waters edge. But as I set up my camera I watched with dismay as the mountainside moved into complete shadow as a large ominous looking cloud blocked the sunlight.
I decided to be patient and wait for the cloud to move away, but as I sat in position it began to rain. I quickly packed up my gear and dashed back to the car where I waited 20 minutes or so. After the rain stopped I returned to the same position, more determined than ever to capture this shot. But before I could shoot a single frame the rain suddenly returned. Deciding to persevere I took out an old rain sheet that I keep in my backpack and covered the camera and tripod, and also unwrapped the AW cover on the Lowe Pro bag. I pulled up my hood and crouched next to my gear and waited.
My persistence paid off, as almost at the same time the rain stopped and the sunlight hit the mountainside, but with the added addition of a gorgeous rainbow. I didn’t even have to alter my composition – the rainbow was directly in the frame. Using my polariser to maximise reflections and add saturation I took a couple of shots before the rainbow faded. This experience served as a reminder to me not only of the special conditions you can capture in changeable weather, but the rewards possible with some persistence.
After a week spent photographing the landscapes of Banff National Park, I moved northwards via the stunning Icefields Parkway, to the equally beautiful Jasper National Park. Staying in a lakeside cabin on the banks of Patricia Lake enabled me to easily photograph the lake at dawn and dusk.
I woke early the next morning and was greeted by a cloudless sky. I grabbed my bag and tripod and wandered a hundred yards down to the shore edge in time for sunrise. Due to the mountains in the east I wouldn’t see the sunrise itself, but I hoped its glow would light up Pyramid Mountain on the opposite side of the lake. While waiting for the first rays of sunlight to appear, I busied myself by moving up and down the shoreline, checking out compositions to return to and taking the occasional low light long exposure.
When I noticed the crest of Pyramid Mountain light up pink, I was fully prepared to make the most of the conditions and for the next 20 minutes or so photographed many different compositions. As the sun grew higher in the sky the mountain light ranged from deep red through to orange and then yellow. The conditions couldn’t have been more perfect; glorious light, mist burning off a perfectly reflected lake and lots of rocks for interesting foregrounds.
I was captivated by a large submerged tree root that I had noticed while carrying out my earlier reconnaissance. To my somewhat overactive imagination the root resembled a deep sea monster lurking just below the surface. Using my polariser to cut through any unwanted glare on the water surface I filled the bottom of the frame with the submerged object, while in the top I included both the mountain and its perfect reflection. The deep blue of the water contrasted well with the yellow glow on the mountain. After a wonderful early shoot I wandered back to my cabin to prepare some breakfast and review my mornings work on my Epson P4000 viewer.
The Canadian Rockies proved to be everything I could have hoped for and more. Such breathtaking scenery is to be expected in such a well known location, yet still fails to prepare you for such a mind blowing encounter with some of the finest wonders of the natural world. Rarely have I returned from a trip feeling such a sense of satisfaction with the pictures I have taken. Long may they remind me of such a wonderful country.
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