Canadian Rockies Photo Tour II

After a windy afternoon and evening at Abraham Lake, our tour resumed early the next morning with a trip down to Kananaskis Country to shoot ice bubbles at sunrise on Sparks Lake.  For many photographers, this type of experience makes the Canadian Rockies in winter a major attraction.  But it's not as easy a task as it may seem.

For starters, ice bubbles are small and are often best photographed with the camera very close to the ice.  Marc did a great job walking us through the technique of getting close--even placing the lens hood directly on the ice if possible--and then taking a number of shots while adjusting the focus ring of the lens.  This allows you to get sharp bubbles (mostly) while also allowing, through successive shots with different focal points, an in-focus midground and background.  (Of course, the images then have to be combined in Photoshop to create a single image that is sharp from front to back.)

But using a tripod that close to the foreground ice is very difficult.  I tried it but found it wasn't letting me get close enough.  So as Marc urged, most of us abandoned the tripods and hand-held our cameras as we took successive shots.  This is tough because you have to minimize movement between images or the eventual image blending in Photoshop won't work well. 

   Morning Glory,   Sparks Lake

Morning Glory, Sparks Lake

I'll be honest and say many of my images from this morning simply failed because I didn't get the full range of the scene in focus from front to back.  But after a lot of "screen time" going through different images I found a series that worked well and, fortunately, included the sunrise near its peak color.  That image, Morning Glory, is shown here.

I really liked the different blue tones on each side of the ice crack, and this was easily the best sunrise of the trip.  All in all, a rewarding morning with a bit of frustration at moments, but still a great experience.

After some misadventures chasing a lenticular cloud for a few hours, we headed back down to Kananaskis Country in the late afternoon.  This ultimately led to one of my favorite captures of the trip, and it was one of those wonderful, spontaneous moments when we rounded a bend in the road and dramatic scene was simply right there waiting. 

The image shown here is one of many that I shot of this ridgeline alive with blowing snow in the late afternoon light.  I have a much wider panorama of the same scene that is composed of four shots stitched together in Photoshop to make one very large image.  I ended up cutting it down some in the final edit to include only the most interesting parts of the overall scene.  It really was a wonderful sight to see...the sidelit mountain and the powerful wind churning fresh snow into clouds hundreds of feet high (look at the trees to get a sense of scale).  My current title, "Windswept," is hardly adequate to describe the scene.

   Windswept,   Kananaskis Country

Windswept, Kananaskis Country

Our next day was, somewhat remarkably, unproductive for me at least.  We had a forgettable sunrise and then struck out again in the afternoon, but as always the winter scenery of Banff and Jasper National Parks was enjoyable. 

The final full day of the trip began with an early morning adventure at Abraham Lake with a couple of other participants, David and Jack.  The rest of the group stayed behind with Marc to work on Photoshop post-processing techniques, which Marc had reviewed with us the day before.  We had a clear dawn and some good explorations along the frozen banks, with large blocks of ice forming small caverns here and there that were fun (if somewhat unproductive) to check out.  We later reunited with the group to check out Tangle Creek, a well-known location just beneath dramatic Tangle Peak in Jasper National Park.  A short time later, we stopped at the Athabasca Glacier viewpoint where sweeping winds carried snow particles down from the icefield.  It's quite a sight, and we had it entirely to ourselves in the late afternoon. 

   Athabasca Glacier,   Jasper National Park

Athabasca Glacier, Jasper National Park

This image, Athabasca Glacier, is a blend of three images in Photoshop to create a panoramic view of the scene.  The late afternoon light didn't offer a lot of color to work with in post-processing, and for my tastes a black and white conversion of the final image best conveyed the drama of the setting.

   Afterglow,   Abraham Lake

Afterglow, Abraham Lake

We traveled back out to Abraham Lake for what proved to be the best sunset of the trip.  It might seem like we spent a lot of time at Abraham Lake during the tour, but there are a number of nearby locations that we also visited and explored.  Abraham Lake is also quite large, and you can spend days exploring different parts of its shoreline.  In short, it deserves a few visits during a winter trip to the Banff/Jasper area, and at no time did I feel like we were continually treading the same ground in returning to the lake.  Each visit was quite different and enjoyable.

Abraham Lake is famous for its ice bubbles and other dramatic foregrounds, along with ceaseless winds.  Nonetheless t is hardly easy to find "the right" foreground when the clock is ticking and you're competing with a handful of others.  The image shown here is my best effort to pair a workable foreground with the peaking sunset light.  The ice in the foreground is only 8-10 inches from the front of the lens.  While I also captured a few other images this evening with ice cracks and textures that were maybe a bit more dramatic, only this series of a few images also included the nice reflective glow of the sunset light on the ice. 

We stayed out late, well after sunset, to capture some images of the stars above the mountains.  Although we had a relatively warm trip in the Canadian Rockies (temperatures on this mid-February evening were probably in the low 30's or perhaps high 20's with little of the typical Abraham Lake wind), sitting on the ice for a couple hours eventually catches up with you. 

With that, the photo tour had essentially concluded.  We technically had the following morning for shooting as well, but heavy clouds thwarted plans for a couple of locations and we ended up at the Vermillion Lakes near Banff.  Marc was quite apologetic about this--as indicated in my first post on the photo tour, the Vermillion Lakes are easily visited from Banff and thus not "tour worthy" from his perspective.  While we were there a busload of tourists and photographers also showed up, right next to us, to enjoy the sunrise.  There's nothing like the drawing power of a few photographers with tripods...

Without a doubt, the photo tour was a fantastic experience.  We had some good luck with wind, blowing snow, and light at the ends of the day, and that more than made up for some of the "fails" that are part of any time spent photographing in a dynamic environment.  I'm considering a further post with some reflections on the tour--what I really liked, what I would do differently in the field next time, and so on--in the future.  But my hope is these two posts capture the experience well and tell at least a brief story about some of the images in my Galleries