I really don't think there is any place quite like the Canadian Rockies...it's just a really nice mountain range...and the farther you venture within them, the more amazing they get. Every fall we take a group of adventurous photographers to the Banff area to explore the iconic spots and a few off the beaten path locations as well. I met my group in Calgary on a Friday night at our hotel for a brief orientation before we got ready to set off on our adventure the following morning. It was a small, hearty group of 5-photographers, most of whom were familiar faces from other Aperture Academy workshops. The first night is always great because there's no need to get up early in the morning. Everyone gets one last night to sleep in, and get rested for the early morning and long days that lie ahead.
We wake up at a leisurely time, and load up the "Soccer Van" It's a tight fit, but that adds to the fun. The town of Banff sits about 90 miles to the north of Calgary. We arrive early afternoon, grab a wonderful lunch at a local Greek restaurant, and check into our lovely hotel- The Buffalo Mountain Lodge. After a brief break for the group to get situated in their rooms we head out for our first game drive. The Canadian Rockies are home to a variety of animals...and we hoped we'd at least get a few cracks at photographing them. Our first attempt at the Lake Minnewanka loop had nothing to offer, so we opted to stop along the shoreline of the lake to grab some landscape images. A great set of clouds lingered in the area, and dappled light bounced off the nearby peaks. I pointed the group towards a few rocky outcroppings to use as a foreground. The group was pretty dialed in with their settings, so it was only offering up some confirmation to them so they'd feel confident with their exposures.
The evening light was beginning to glow, so we packed up to head to the Vermillion Lakes area for sunset. Of course, we saw some elk on our way to the lakes...because we couldn't stop to photograph them. These would be the only elk we saw the entire trip. Once at the lakeside, we braved a muddy, boggy area to get out along the shoreline to utilize the lovely reflections of Mt. Rundle, the iconic peak that dominates the vistas from all over the Banff area. The group experimented with very simple shots of the mountain and the reflection, as well as others that included some of the golden grasses that littered the edge of the lake.The color never exploded, but the pastels of pink and orange that were present were very nice. Everyone got some wonderful images of this first iconic location.
After a fun dinner at the hotel it was time for everyone to get some sleep...the next morning was an early one.
Those who travel with us a lot know we love some early mornings...we don't really LOVE them, but we certainly like to make sure our groups get to these often popular locations first, and have our choices of the places we'd like to shoot. When we pulled into the parking area of Two Jack Lake, we were indeed the first ones there...so we sat in the car to avoid the cold morning air until we saw another car coming into the lot...then it was our time to go get set up. It's a very cool lake with a very cool view of Mt. Rundle. Sunrise was quite nice, and the sky blossomed with color in various shades of pink...I had everyone try some long exposures to smooth out the water and give the images some added effect. One of the goals of some of the group was to get faster at switching between compositions...and they were starting to get that down already. Each location has several opportunities to make a nice image, and it's hard to stick with just one...so I encouraged everyone to move around and try out different ideas.
After Two Jack Lake we continued along the Minnewanka loop stopping to photograph some of the various peaks and the warm light of the morning sun. Our afternoon was spent driving along the Bow River Parkway looking for critters (we found none) and working with some abstractions of the lovely aspen groves in the Sawback area. We also made a stop at the Mule Shoe groves to watch for the train as it winds its way through the rockies...it's a pretty nice image when you have the great weather we had. That afternoon, after our break the weather began its dance with us. Rain and wind blasted Banff, and I was a little concerned it would mess with our shooting that evening. I did some weather checks, and it looked like Emerald Lake was still nice, so we packed up and set off for Yoho National Park in hopes of nice weather.
While we were waiting for sunset we stopped along the Yoho River to shoot one of the peaks as it emerged with a fresh dusting of snow after its bout with the afternoon storm. I moved the group down along the turquoise blue waters of the river, and had them shoot this wonderful scene. Light rays would illuminate the tree line from time to time, adding extra drama and mood. It was slippery along the rivers edge, and we almost lost Sherry. Thankfully she is part ninja, and was able to save herself and her camera...AND she got some killer shots to boot. Emerald Lake was our sunset destination, and it was A-MAZING. The blue green water was calm and reflective...the mountains danced out of the fog, and illuminated with warm evening light. It was EPIC! Everyone had fun working different compositions, utilizing the rocks and other little bits of interest along the shoreline. It was easily one of the coolest scenes I've witnessed in all my time in the Rockies.
We stopped for dinner in the Lake Louise area on our way home. It was another long night, but oh so worth it. What better way to celebrate than waking up at the crack of dawn again the next morning!
Our goal was to try and capture something along the Bow River...utilizing the giant Castle Mountain in the background. Unfortunately the mountain was playing hard to get. I noticed some light moving along the Bow River Parkway, farther to the south, so we opted out of our spot along the river and went in search of some magic elsewhere. Along the roadside we found a nice vista of the peaks and a little bit of the river in the foreground. It certainly wasn't an iconic vista, but the light and drama of the clouds made it an epic stop for sure. Our search for light took us to Moose Meadows next...or as we liked to call it- Just Meadows. We never saw a moose in those meadows. The fall foliage in shades of reds and yellows made nice foregrounds for the mountains that were dancing in and out of the fog. The next stop on our agenda was Marble Canyon a cool little river bend with the bluest water. On our way to this canyon we saw that Castle Mountain had come out to play...so we stopped again to retry our shots of the mountain with the river in the foreground. It was really nice. I had the group get low to really utilize the rocks and puddles in the shot. It wasn't a long stop, but a nice little detour on our way to Marble Canyon. Marble Canyon is certainly pretty, but I think we all find it a little harder to shoot than most spots...it certainly looks like it should be a wealth of images possible, but the trees here are much taller than the mountains and it makes it difficult to really show the grandeur of the location, and the canyon also has some funky angles that really make composition difficult. Some of those things we remedied by creative cropping in post-processing, others we try to alleviate with a change in our angles of shooting. Overall, it was still a very great place to stop and take some photos.
That night we had some intelligence give us a tip we might find Moose in the Spray Lakes area outside of the town of Canmore. We packed up to head down the gravel roads in the area and see what we could find. Given our track record, it should be no shock we found zero moose down the road...but we did find a few wonderful landscape shots of falling snow, epic peaks, and some sweet pastel light. It was really beautiful there. That night we dined like kings at the disco themed Grizzly Fondue House, an experience we'll all remember for a long time. Such a fun, and interesting place...with some killer food too.
Today we opted to leave a little later in the morning and try the Spray Lakes area again for moose. Again, we failed to find any moose, LOL. The road was really pretty though, and even though we hit some good snow drifts we had a fun time exploring.
That afternoon we planned to visit Peyto Lake...a great blue lake of epic proportions that is viewed from a high overlook. The sad part was that we weren't able to even see the lake as the snow storm had swallowed it up. We moved off and made our way to Bow Lake, another little gem on the Bow River Parkway. This lake also has an epic blue color and some nice mountains. The mountain was coming out of the fog as well..which helped make some great images...those who used the ND filters had some really nice simple compositions of the mountain and the reflections. Banff NP was due for some bad weather, and it was definitely on the way. Looking at the forecast it looked like snow and clouds for our remaining time in the area. We had moved our residence to the lovely, and fancy Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise here we lived like kings and queens. Our first night looked like some really nice light coming before the storm so I made the call to go to Moraine Lake. This lake is one of my favorite in the world...it's blue as can be, and surrounded by amazing mountains. We photograph the lake from a high rocky outcropping which really gives a great perspective. I feared that with the weather turning, we'd not get a shot in the morning at shooting it and being able to see the mountains, so we made a visit during the evening. It was amazing. Pikas' squeaked and scurried about as my group set up shop along the rim overlooking this majestic lake. The group was really strong technically, so most of my suggestions were tweaks to composition, and reminders to bracket for tricky lighting situations. It was another fantastic image that could be added to a growing collection of work the group had been assembling during our week. We ate a lovely meal together at the Fairmont and enjoyed swapping tales of the trip we'd been apart of and some of our other adventures in life.
The weather looked grim, but we made a drive along the Bow River Parkway to look for any signs of light. Though there didn't seem to be much chance of an epic sunrise, we found Herbert Lake to be quite nice, and the reflections of the peaks as they emerged from a nightly snow looked awesome. it was a very blue and quiet scene, and the group had fun shooting it for sure. That's why we go out...to find what nature has left for us to photograph...if you don't look, scenes like this will go unrecorded. I really do believe there's always something to photograph...you just need to go find it. We tried to find more treasures on the parkway, but the snow began really piling up on the road and our soccer van was not equipped for that kind of adventure...so off we went. On the positive side, the snow will also make finding animals much easier...but do you think we found any. NOPE. It was a running joke for the whole trip.
That afternoon our plan was to head to Johnston Canyon after a little bit of a processing session. Processing the groups images is always fun for me...I love seeing their takes on things, and helping them bring the most out of their images...the processing side of things is often what they have the most trouble with..and while that process is always a learning curve, it's nice to help folks get a few new tips to help them work over their images.
Johnston Canyon has one of the more awesome little hidden gems. In addition to the wonderful waterfalls and colorful canyon walls there is a cave in the area with a lovely vista. There's no signs for it, so you just have to know where it is. I was really hoping we could all get down there to shoot it...and WE DID. it was a little bit of mud scooting for a couple of us, team mud butt...but we all got down there, and got shots of his epic spot. It's a bracketing nightmare, because of the contrast in light from the cave, but it's why we bracket. On our way home we noticed a car stopped looking at something...given our track record we thought it would probably be a raven. I asked the driver of the car who pointed to a shape in the woods, and told us it was a grizzly. We perked up...I noticed a little service road up ahead, and we took that to put us behind the tree line with a pretty nice vantage of this GIANT grizzly. It was a treat to watch this apex predator tear through the roots of a tree, and then lumber our along the road where we could all see him. A few people got a nice shot of him...others had only landscape lenses, for the canyon, and just got to enjoy seeing this massive bear up close and personal from the safety of our soccer van.
WHAT a GREAT thing to witness on our last night.
That night, a bit of a break in the clouds gave us a nice light to shoot right at our hotel..Lake Louise is pretty spectacular as well. I helped dial in a few different compositions for folks and we enjoyed what had been a very full day. That night we enjoyed a last meal together at the hotel. The next day we had one last sunrise to shoot, and it was off to Calgary again for everyone to go their own ways.
Morning brought snow...and a cold reflective Lake Louise. Everyone worked up some modified versions of their compositions from the previous night, and we moved along the shore to photograph the iconic red boats lined up on the dock, dusted with a bit of snow. Still one of my favorite little scenes. The weather was all over the map on this trip, but we made the absolute best of each and every curve ball Mother Nature threw our way, and the group got a lot of really terrific shots. It was an absolute blast hanging out with you all during the week, and here's to hoping we all meet up in a soccer van down the road!
Until next time,
Brian and the rest of the Aperture Academy family
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