I’ve just got back from a trip to Banff and Abraham lake in Canada. What an adventure! Not all of it was safe or easy. Winter roads can be quite challenging to drive.
My body was challenged too with the cold that I’ve never experienced before in my life. First day it was -31C. The day after it was -21C which seemed like an improvement but it was slightly windy which made it feel even colder.
On the third night I wake up earlier to photograph sunrise at Abraham lake. The place is popular for photography due to natural phenomenon. The lake freezes up deeply during winter and as freezes up methane bubbles rising from the lake bottom get captured any preserved in the ice creating fantastic three-dimensional structures.
As I got to the lake, to location I explored and decided on the day before. It was cold, very cold. The wind was howling outside rocking my car from side to side. Despite layers and layers of clothes I had on me, once I stepped outside I got cold within seconds.
I immediately got back in the car. I could not convince my body to go outside again. No matter how beautiful sunrise was going to be I could hike to the lake and back in such weather.
As I was faced with this challenged my first reaction was to just sit in the car and watch the sunrise. Then I thought that maybe I should get out of the box and photograph something else. I remembered the trees with a small frozen pond around them with ice shining like a mirror. I drove to that place. It was cold but it was quiet, still, no wind at all. I felt warm and cozy.
That ended up the place where I photographed the sunrise. There were no bubbles in the ice in my photos but the sky was nice and I liked the trees and the frozen pond around them.
In fact, I realized, I’m not that attached to the bubbles in the ice. I’m fascinated with the phenomenon and I like to look at them but I don’t feel emotional connection to the scenes involving them. Thanks to extreme cold and wind that drove me away from the lake I found something of my own, something that I enjoyed more photographically.
Recently (four months ago) I bought myself a new camera. Just then I understood just how much my previous camera had become an extension of me. I did not even think about controls, I just thought about picture I want and fingers did all the work.
There was a lot to learn with the new camera. I’ve read thru the manual repeating all the steps that I thought were important to me. I started making photos. I stumbled over and over, had to think about what buttons to press, what dials to turn. Many pictures went straight to trash – they were technically very bad: out of focus, under-exposed, over-exposed.
I kept practicing. I had to re-read parts of the manual because I forgot how to make certain adjustments. At last during the trip to Alberta I noticed that my fingers do all the work automatically again. It was such a pleasant feeling to be in control of the camera again. I somehow think it is similar to how pianist is playing on a piano.
Here is the final set of images from the trip.
To Dmitri and Marina: Thanks to you guys for pointing some beautiful places in Banff.
On my trip to Alberta I met my friends Dmitri and Marina who live in Calgary. First, we met in Banff where they were celebrating 25th Anniversary of their marriage. They suggested to me a few places to see in and around Banff.
On of those places was Johnson Canyon. It sounded interesting and I went there. It is a small canyon with a stream running at the bottom. The trail is well-setup and quite active with hikers. There is a guard rail that keeps hikers of falling into canyon. For me it was an obstruction. I did not want to look at the bottom of the canyon from a distance. I’d rather be down in the canyon, close by water, to be participant not observer, to be in the scene and be part of it.
My only photo from the first trip was a photo of frozen lower waterfall:
A few days later I visited my friends at their lovely home. Sure enough we shared some photos. It turned out they went to Johnson Canyon too the next day after me. It looked to me like they were photographing close to water, just like I wanted too. I asked how they got their and they told me that there was one spot where one could climb over guard rail and get down to the bottom of the canyon.
The next day I went to Johnson Canyon again. That time I was closely watching over the guard rail for footprints in the snow and I found the spot my friends had talked about. The walk down was very steep but manageable. At the bottom I found a throve of photo opportunities. There was a small cave covered with icicles, there was clear snow not covered in footprints, , there was a stream in the snow.
“No man ever steps in the same river twice” – Heraclitus
There is a set of small lakes near Banff called Vermillion Lakes. They are easier to access and a nice spot for sunrise photography. I visited them several times: on my way to Abraham Lake and on the way back. They are mostly frozen during winter that is if the winter is actually cold but there are a few of hot springs coming into them that never seem to freeze up.
I found myself a nice cozy place there which I kept coming back to photograph over and over. Initially, I wanted to repeat the photo I took the first time, just with a slightly different composition. When I came the second time though I discovered that the weather changed the look completely. After that the change itself was more interesting to me. So, I kept coming to the same place to see how it looks like at sunrise or sunset, how it looks in warmer weather and in colder weather.
Here are a few photos that I like the most out of my study of the same place.
Sunrise after snowfall:
Twilight before sunrise with warm weather:
Sunset with clear sky when the temperature dropped below 0C again. I’ve waited for this one until gradient of color reaches its peak. (BTW, I love watching Earth’s shadow moving across the sky.)
If you ask anyone “what’s your favorite whether” most people will likely respond sunny clear sky. It is indeed a pleasant weather. It cheers us up and lifts our moods. I bet you’ll see more happy faces on a sunny day than on a gloomy overcast day.
It is indeed most enjoyable weather for most activity. With a small exception of landscape photography. Clear sky is empty and boring in landscape photographs. How many landscape photographs have you seen that struck you with its beauty of clear sky? Not many, if any. The only image that comes to my mind is by Freeman Patterson with a wall by the right edge of an image, fence by the bottom edge and a person’s head in the right bottom corner, the rest of the image is blue clear sky. And it is not even a landscape.
So, when a photographer is met with such weather what is left to do? Right, turn to close-ups or abstracts or both. Such was the case on my trip to Alberta. On the third day by Abraham Lake I was greeted with sunny clear sky. It was warm too. Very pleasant weather for a little stroll somewhere in a park. I’ve enjoyed it and tried to make some images. But to my dismay nothing was working out. The air was so crisp and clear that even during sunrise there were now color in the sky. The sky was simply getting brighter and brighter.
Eventually, I had to accept that it was not a great day for landscape and started paying more attention to the things under my feet, which was mostly ice. And what a fascinated subject it turned out to be. There were so many different textures and shapes. Here look for yourself.
One of the reasons I travel a lot by car rather than plane is to see places around on the road to the destination. Unfortunately, in most cases once I’m behind the wheel I get a tunnel effect when I see nothing but the road with its final destination ahead. For some reason getting to the destination as fast as possible becomes the only goal.
On the trip to Alberta I actively fought an urge to drive from point A directly to point B. Instead I was taking some backroads, sometimes unpaved, moving slowly looking at things around. It was taking me much longer but it was a more satisfying study of Alberta outside its famous national parks and big cities. Here is a small selection of photographs of rural Alberta.
The main destination of my recent trip to Alberta, Canada was Abraham Lake. The reason Abraham Lake is so attractive to photographer in winter is because of unique phenomenon of frozen bubbles. While the lake freezes up in winter plants at the bottom of the lake produce methane gasses that come up to the ice and stay there frozen in ice while ice keeps growing downward. This creates fantastic surreal tri-dimensional structures in the ice sheet that covers the lake. There is also a persistent strong wind running thru the valley where the lake is located keeping ice clean of any snow. And the last but not least feature of this lake is winter is that it is artificial lake as the water is slowly drained from the lake in winter the ice cracks under its own weight.
It was quite scary standing on the ice when it cracks. The sounds of it ranged from a pitch high as if a guitar string was torn to a loud boom. The ice was very clean making me feel sometimes as if I was standing on water. And while consciously I understood there is thick ice under me, the sound of cracking ice made my subconscious scream RUN. So far subconscious was on a losing side.
The end of January when I went there turned out unusually warm there with temperatures rising up to 15C making ice melt at the top and thin ice walls separating layers of bubbles were melting away the fastest. On the second day of being at Abraham Lake I witnessed one of the photographers falling thru the ice while standing one one of the spots with high concentration of frozen bubbles. Fortunately, he did not fall of the way thru and was able to get out before anyone of the people rushing to help him (including me) were able to get to him. The whole incident seemed to be forgotten rather quickly. Even the photographer who fell actually staying on the ice and continuing to take pictures even in partially wet clothes.
But it scared me enough that I decided not to go on ice anymore. So, I set off to explore areas around Abraham Lake and find some other interesting spots to photograph. It proven a hard task. The warm temperatures melted most of the snow leaving the ground bare and unappealing to me. Yet I was stopping my car at any parking spot or trailhead, walking out and looking for opportunities. One of such spots was near river bed. It had been probably quite wild river in spring and summer. In winter it was lots of crumbled ice sheets lying on the ground. I thought I might be able to find a line in the ice cracks that would lead to the mountains in the distance.
While searching for that composition I saw a moon rising above the mountains. On a whim took a picture of it. I took only one picture. It was unusual for me. Typically, I work thru composition taking lots of images until I feel like I cannot get it any better. This time I just felt the image was ok not no more than that. Only when I was editing images from the trip at home I saw that image and thought it was beautiful. There are so many elements that work together and yet there is simplicity in it which attracts me.
Moonrise over Canadian Rockies