“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.)
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
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.
This photo is just for fun. If you let your imagination run wild it can help you see interesting shapes around you. Like I saw a shape of a humanoid caught in a frozen waterfall.
I’m a perfectionist in everything I do. And I’m twice perfectionist in photography. In the field I keep taking photo over and over changing my position, perfecting composition, and changing settings perfecting my exposure. In post I can spend endless hours on a single photo perfecting every pixel of it to tell a clear story with my photo.
This was the case with this photo. It looked like illuminati sign for me. The problem was that pink spot in the sky was too weak. I wanted to make it clearly visible. Except I could not get it too stand out more without color shift and without impact on surrounding clouds. I’ve spend many many hours on it, printed proof after proof all of them going to garbage.
Finally, I think I got it. One thing is that it is unlikely you’ll be able to appreciate it since it pushes the limits of what uncalibrated regular monitor can show. That’s the problem with subtle color variations. Even on my laptop where I type this post I cannot see pink in the sky. I can see it on wide gamut calibrated monitor that I use for photo editing and on prints that I produce.
What can be simpler than a single curve in snow. It is like an artist calligrapher drew a hieroglyph with a single movement of hand.
What’s interesting is that I found the same curve in a track of foot steps that a fellow photographer left behind.
I think these two quite different photos capture the same feeling of the tough climate of Canadian Rockies in winter. Deep freeze ice with temperatures well below zero kept clean by sweeping winds so strong at times that it is hard to stay in one place on the ice.