I was recently blessed enough to spend eight days in the Canadian Rockies on vacation with my parents. This part of Rocky Mountain range is paradise for photographers. Between the diverse and sociable wildlife, incredible mountain ranges, and unique subjects for macros this region is filled with countless photographic opportunities.
Our first night we stayed in Canmore – a small town south of Banff national park. It was mostly clear and wonderful for landscapes. I was able to shoot several pleasing images of The Three Sisters – a well known mountain range in the area which can be photographed from several parking lots within the town of Canmore – along with some lesser know mountains in and around the Peter Longhead Provencal Park at and before sunset. I shot the Tree Sisters from the Safeway parking lot. I used my Nikkor AF-S VR 70-300mm lens handheld to shoot these two close ups of the mountains. I spot metered the brightest part of the sky with +1 exposure compensation. I usually practice a technique called “exposing to the right” which makes the images as chose to being over exposed as possible to retain as much detail as possible and the lights and darks. I darkened the sky in Photoshop using the Multiply blending mode and increased the contrast using a Hard Light blending mode. This helped bring out the colors and enhance the intensity of the shot. Our first day was very successful.
The next morning it was rainy and dreary but it cleared up for the evening and created some nice intense clouds to accompany the mountains. The Peter Longhead Prudential Park and spray lake may be known for its wildlife viewing – which I’ll write about in my next post – but it also proved to be great for photographing lesser known lakes and mountain peaks. The small lakes made great reflections at sunset so I used my Tokina 12-24mm to capture the entire scene. A tripod and good circular polarizer – two accessories which all nature photographers should invest in – are a must for these images. I set my camera on a tripod and shot two exposures of the same image. One was exposed for the sky and mountain and the other for the water and reflection. I merged these two images later on in post by adding a layer mask and using the gradient tool to have one image fade into the other. Before the digital era of photography to deal with high contrast scenes like these photographers used graduated neutral density filters. These filters were darker on one half and lighter on the other. These were strategically placed in front of the lens to darken skies. Depending on the scene either soft or hard grads were used. We can know mimic this effect by shooting different exposures of the same image and merging them with layer masks and the gradient tool in Photoshop. HDR software can also be used in these scenarios to battle high contrast. Many companies make Photoshop plug-ins and stand alone software to merge and tonemap different exposures of the same image to create detail in the lightest and darkest areas of an image.
After shooting some great landscapes in Canmore we moved north to Lake Louise – sadly it was rainy and overcast the entire time we were in Lake Louise and Lake Moraine so I didn’t get any images worth sharing of these iconic locations at sunrise like I wished. We ventured over to part of Yoho National Park were the clouds started to break up and I was able to get some great images in British Columbia near Takakkaw Falls. A long the drive down to Takakkaw falls there are several places where you can pull of and shoot the peaks which are lit beautify at sunset. I got this image while the light peaked out from behind the clouds. Because there weren’t many suitable subjects to use in the foreground for wide images I decided to use my Nikkor AF-S VR 70-300mm to get a tight close image of the peaks.
Luckily it started to clear up near the end of the trip while we were in Jasper were I got many nice sunrise images of Pyramid Mountain over Patricia Lake a lesser photographed area just outside the town of Jasper. This spot is great for seeing elk in the morning as well; several walked right behind me while I was shooting Patricia Lake at sunrise. There’s a hotel right on the lake as well for those who really like this area. For these images I shot using my Nikkor AF-S VR 70-300mm and Sigma 28-70mm. I tried to find some good rocks for foreground interest but was unsuccessful. 28mm on Nikon D200 with an APS-C DSLR was plenty wide enough to include the reflections of the mountains into the lake. Using my longer lens also gave me a more unique up close view of morning light.
Later that day I photographed Peyto Lake – one of the Canadian Rockies most photographed areas – at sunset. This lake is usually photographed at sunrise but I was able to get some nice close ups of the mountains surrounding the lake. I also got several landscape images of the lake at sunset which I had to spend quite some time compositing in post. This was a time when HDR software would prove to be very helpful. Peyto Lake is an iconic location in the Canadian Rockies and is defiantly worth going to in the morning or evening if you visit the area.
On our last day we headed back to Canmore for one last night’s stay in the mountains. I photographed Castle Mount from a scenic look off between Storm Mountain and Moose Meadows. Unlike other spots in the Rockies you’ll probably encounter less people at this scenic view that at others. This image was another composite to add detail in the sky and trees.
I was finally able to get some pleasing images of Mount Rundle – a well known mountain just west of the town of Banff – at sunset. Shooting from the Vermilion lakes provides one of the best views of Mount Rundle. The light and lack of clouds made for some stunning shots and I had the opportunity to talk with some other amazing photographers. I incorporated the texture form one of the several small docks into my image for foreground interest. I really liked the wood texture and leading lines in the dock. Again I shot two exposures one exposed for the sky and the other exposed for the deck and merged them in post. A wide angle lens – like my Tokina 12-24mm – works great for wide foreground interest shots while a mid range zoom – like my Sigma 28-70mm – worked well for closer up images of Mount Rundle and it’s reflection.
I love the Canadian Rockies and can’t wait to go back! For photographer’s planning to visit I highly recommend having a wide variety of focal length available. A good wide angle lens is a must, but a good telephoto zoom can prove to me very beneficial as well for scenes which you can’t find good foreground interest. A good tripod which allows you to shoot with your longest lens at a fairly long exposure is also a must. A circular polarizer will also prove to be very beneficial. Last you need something to balance the high contrast of the sky next to the dark foreground. Either a graduated ND filters, HDR software, or knowing how to combine different exposures in Photoshop to get maximum detail will also be needed. The Three Sisters at sunset, Lake Moraine at sunrise, Lake Louse at sunrise, Mount Rundle at sunset, Peyto Lake at sunrise, and Patricia Lake at sunrise are all worth photographing if you’re planning to photograph this area. Sadly do to the bad weather I didn’t get all the images I’d hoped to obtain. This part of the country is bountiful with photographic areas; this is truly a wildlife and landscape photographer’s paradise! Check back next week where I’ll have a new post about the wildlife shots I got from Alberta!