Cold is a Good Motivator

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.

New Year, New Challenges

I celebrated this New Year in Stockholm, Sweden. This was mostly a social and sightseeing trip but I still took my trusted camera because… just because that’s the way I am.

What was different this time though is that I did not take my tripod. I tried to challenge myself to capture fleeting moments, to be more mobile and to create a story with several photos.

This is very different from the way I am used to take photos. Many of my photos have long exposure, taken from a tripod and I spend a lot of time in the same spot, trying various angles, adjusting framing, micro-adjusting positioning of the camera to take the best image possible.

What I had not realized just how little light Stockholm gets in winter even during midday. I had to crank up exposure to 400-800 ISO just to get 1/40 sec exposure with fully open aperture during day. Nights were out of the question. So, I missed my tripod.

Finally on the last day of my stay in Stockholm something happened that made things a little bit brighter: snow. Rather then going into the city I went into kind of park and kind of forest. Turns out it does not matter where I go, I enjoy hiking in the nature. Nothing better for me. And hiking in the snow was a special treat.

There is a special kind of silence reserved only for quiet snowfalls. There is absolutely no sounds. Everything is still like a picture. And only snowflakes dancing in the air.

P.S. In retrospective it was a good decision not to take tripod on that trip. Even though I could not know way back that it would be a good decision. On the way back my luggage was lost and the airline has no idea where it is. But I have my tripod with me safely at home.

Freezing Temperatures

Pacific Nortwest of the US rarely experiences freezing temperatures in low elevations making for more exciting winter photography.

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It has been my long time dream to go out to Olympic coast around winter solstice. The sun is at the lowest point of the year making shadows longer whole day. Unfortunately with all the holidays preparation I hardly could get out and photograph during this time of a year.

This year I could finally get out and photograph. I was hoping for heavy clouds, moody skies typical here this time of the year. Instead it was kind of like summer: clear blue sky; the sun shining bright. The only difference was that it was very cold and I needed layers of clothing to keep myself warm.

Such conditions made images including lots of sky quite boring. At the same time the temperature dropped below zero which made it a good time to visit some old favorite places and see them in the new way.

Like a Pianist

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.

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.)

Sunny

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.