Ask Locals

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.

Never Can Take the Same Photo Twice

“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:

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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.)

Backroads of Alberta

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.

Being Spontaneous

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

Moonrise over Canadian Rockies

Never Give Up

I’ve just got back from a week long trip to Alberta, Canada. The trip was tiresome as it involved more driving that I wished for due to road closures.

My main destination was Abraham Lake. I was coming from Banff and was going to take Icefields Parkway to get to Abraham Lake. Unfortunately, when I got to Icefields Parkway I discovered that it was closed till at least noon of the next day due to unsafe driving conditions. The only way left to get to Abraham Lake was all the way around thru Calgary and thru the north route. That meant extra 5 hours of driving. It also meant I would unlikely make it there by sunset of that same day.

I had little choice but to drive that long way around. I got to a small ghost town called Nordegg where I had a hotel reservation just before sunset. I had a choice before me: to stay and relax for the night or to go to Abraham Lake (another half an hour driving). The sky was overcast with no breaks in the clouds.

I went to the lake anyway. I thought I at least check out ice conditions for the sunrise the next day.

I got to the Abraham Lake just after sunset. The sunset was purely theoretical as the sun was not visible thru the clouds. The wind was strong albeit warm. As I open a door a gust of wind almost knocked me over. The ice was covered with melted water. Everything seemed to tell me to get back to the hotel and be done for the day.

Nevertheless I put on spikes on my shoes, took my backpack with photo gear and tripod and went down to the ice. I always take photo gear with me, it has become part of me. Even if there was nothing happening I could take a few test shots to figure out what’s best lens, settings, filters to use and get sketches for ideas I might implement later.

I’m quite cautious person when it comes to water. I almost drowned when I was a teenager. The memory of that still makes me afraid of water. So, I carefully stepped on ice and was staying by the shore to gain some confidence. But then the last rays of the Sun broke thru somewhere beyond horizon and lit up the clouds from below. That was the kind of things I dream about as a photographer. The light was surreal violet. I forgot about my fears of water and ran in a search of bubbles frozen in ice to complete the image of surreal landscape.

Violet Sunset

Violet Sunset