Moraine Lake Sunrise, Banff National Park
One of my primary goals for my time at Moraine Lake was to capture the warm light from the rising sun hitting just the top of the mountains with the amazing blue lake reflecting the same. The scene I was visualizing required a very clear sky to the east, allowing the sunlight to reach the mountain unimpeded/undiffused. The other important factor was wind – I needed there to be none of it. I had three mornings for everything to come together.
Capturing this scene of course meant being in place and ready to go before the sun rose. On the first morning, having never been there before, I not only needed to find the lake, but needed to hike to (find) and climb up the Rockpile (via a trail) followed by scouting – all in the dark. Well, in the dark but with the help of a super-bright SureFire Maximus Headlamp. As incredibly bright as that light is, I was not going to be lighting the distant mountains and it was a guess as to where the sunlit mountain peak reflections were going to fall in the lake.
I picked what seemed like a great position, with a distant glacier framed between the trees, some nice boulders in the foreground and the overall scene nicely framed and bookmarked with a pair of large evergreen trees. After setting up a Canon EOS 5Ds R with an EF 11-24mm f/4L Lens on my primary tripod, I set up a second 5Ds R with an EF 16-35mm f/4L IS Lens mounted on my travel tripod a short distance away. The plan was to go back and forth between the cameras, rapidly capturing multiple compositions with immediate redundancy available if a problem was encountered (it is called the Rockpile for a good reason and I had one very close call).
The weather proved ideal and everything was looking great until ... I realized that the mountain peak reflection was being cut off by the foreground. I immediately abandoned the carefully selected locations, running across the rocks with the primary camera setup to quickly find a better position. There was no time to waste because the sun line moves down the mountain very rapidly.
While I have a large number of images I like from my three mornings at Lake Moraine, this one, one of the first ones I captured on the first day, remains a favorite. The sun line had moved down the mountains slightly farther than I originally visualized, but ... I may actually prefer this version better. While simply having that preference adds to the satisfaction of achieving the goal, I really do think that I like this scene better. With more of the mountain in the still-very-warm sunlight, there is more desired color in the frame and more of the peaks are being lit than when the first light hit only a couple of the peaks.
This is an HDR image. Because, as I mentioned, the line of sunlight moves quickly down the mountain, it is important to capture the HDR frames in very quick succession in this situation. My preference is to use AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing) with the camera in high speed burst mode. I used Live View to gain mirror lockup and used a locking remote release to complete to capture. Lock the release down and quickly go to the second camera. Quickly check the results, fine tune if needed and repeat.
For processing the HDR image, I used a combination of Photomatix (the best HDR software I've used) and manual blending in Photoshop.
While 4-5 hours of sleep three nights in a row is not a good habit from a physical or mental health standpoint, I'm sometimes willing to make that sacrifice for a good image. While that effort is not always rewarded with a great photograph, the disappointing efforts serve to make the successful ones even more special. Fortunately, disappointment didn't happen in this location.
18mm f/8.0 1/5s ISO 100
One of the Most Beautiful Places on Earth: Moraine Lake, Banff National Park
I have long admired images of Lake Moraine in The Valley of the Ten Peaks, Banff National Park (Alberta, Canada), especially those taken from the Rockpile. While huge numbers of great images have been captured here, none of them were captured by me. That is, none until recently.
The Rockpile (ascended via the Rockpile Trail) is a foreground-rich location overlooking an amazing turquoise glacier-fed lake that, when the wind is not blowing, reflects the close, steep, craggy, with-character mountains beyond it. I was blessed to spend 3 very early mornings at this location (and would return in a heartbeat). One quickly forgets the 3:00-4:15 AM alarms (followed by 11:30 PM bedtimes) when reviewing Moraine Lake images.
For this composition, I moved in close to a carefully-selected large rock. This rock, with plenty of leading lines, appears to fit into the edge of the mountain reflections like a puzzle piece, with even the notches appearing to align with reflected peaks. With the large mountain weighing heavily on the top left of the image, the large foreground rock is positioned proportionally higher on the right to, along with the shaded trees, aid in the overall image balance. Required for this perspective, and not visible in this image, are the tripod feet (and me) precariously positioned on the top edge of several different rocks.
With the mountain peaks being directly hit with sunlight and the dark evergreens being in deep shade, the dynamic range in this scene was extreme. Thus, I was shooting bracketed exposures. A camera's built-in HDR feature is a good way to capture bracketed exposures, but ... I didn't want the in-camera-generated JPG image and didn't want to wait for that composited image to be created.
My favorite method of shooting bracketed exposures is via the camera's AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing) feature. Simply select the number of bracketed images desired and the desired exposure difference between them. Each image captured in succession, up to the selected number of bracketed frames, will have a different exposure (ideally for landscapes, the shutter speed is varied), insuring that all parts of the scene are adequately exposed in at least one of the frames.
To speed up the capture, select and use the camera's high frame rate (burst) mode. When the sun is rising, speed matters for HDR captures (this is a manual HDR image). The line between sun and shade moves quickly and ... that line becomes hard to composite if time lapses between captures. With AEB selected, a high speed burst will stop after the selected number of AEB frames.
I usually have MLU (Mirror Lockup) enabled when photographing landscapes, avoiding any possible vibration caused by the mirror raising. However, using MLU adds a short, but undesired, delay between the frames captured in an AEB burst. There is a better way: Live View is another method of achieving MLU. By using a remote release with Live View and high frame rate (burst) mode selected, one press of the remote shutter release (pressing and locking the release button down for long exposure brackets) captures the set number of frames in very fast succession (without the mirror moving).
Depending on the Lake Moraine scene and scenario, I was shooting 5 or 7 frames varied by 2/3 or 1 stop. From most sets, I deleted all except 3 or 4 images with the exposure variations needed remaining available. This image was created from three exposures.
Due to packing restrictions, I nearly left the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens at home. Upon arriving at Moraine Lake, I was SOOO thankful that I had it with me. Aside from using the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens on a second camera and tripod setup some of the time, the 11-24 was the only lens I needed at this location. And, it performed extremely well as did the Canon EOS 5Ds R camera I used behind it.
11mm f/11.0 1/6s ISO 100
Peyto Lake, Banff National Park
My pre-trip research placed Peyto Lake, along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, high on my to-photograph list. With a strong glacial flour flow in the summer, this lake takes on an amazing turquoise color, with Caldron Peak and Mt Patterson providing exclamation marks behind it.
To get the high sun position required to light up the lake color, a late morning or early afternoon-timed shoot was determined to be best. Of course, summer is the peak tourist season for this location and tourists come here in droves (and buses) ... and this time of day seems to be best for many non-photographers as well.
Combine this common timing with a relatively small viewing area at Bow Summit and, even though a hike is required, the place was packed. Upon working my way to the front corner of the platform, I took some photos but soon determined that somewhere below deck would work better. Even down there was challenging with people sometimes walking up and sitting right in front of the camera. Patience paid off when a thunderstorm rolled in and created some great drama in the sky and contrast on the lake. No, even the approaching thunderstorm did not chase the crowds away, but patience and my position worked out for the capture of an image that I was happy with. Then, I ran back to the safety of the SUV.
The Canon EOS 5Ds R and the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens were the perfect combination for this location. The Gitzo GT1542T Traveler 6x Carbon Fiber Tripod (now GT1545T) and Acratech GP-s Ball Head were my choice for their light weight, small size and rigid support. As usual for middle-of-the-day landscape photography, I was using a circular polarizer filter for this capture.
16mm f/11.0 1/80s ISO 100
Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park
The weather on much of this day in Banff National Park ranged from poor to terrible (including wind and strong thunderstorms). I knew that, if the rain at least mostly stopped, this was the perfect time to visit Johnston Canyon. The ground would be wet and colors would appear very saturated with a circular polarizer filter cutting reflections. The lighting would be void of hard shadows and ... would (somewhat) reach into this cave.
Johnston Canyon is typically packed during the short summer tourist season, but a late-in-the-day arrival timed just after a heavy thunderstorm (waited in the SUV for it to pass) meant that the trail was nearly void of people. Also, few people venture down the steep, slippery (at least when wet) slope to this cave and very unique land formation at the bottom of the canyon. A downside of the late day start meant that I had to run most of the trail, stopping only long enough to grab the occasional photo.
My initial plan (if I could find the cave in the first place) was to include the top of the interesting chunk of land in the frame, but that view included a bit of sky in the background. I went ahead and captured that set of images, but was undecided about the extreme difference in brightness the sky created. To eliminate the sky from the frame, I moved back/up into the large but shallow cave until the top of the cave blocked the sky.
As I find so often to be the case, the Canon EOS 5Ds R and the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens were the perfect combination for this landscape situation.
19mm f/8.0 5s ISO 100
Lake Louise, Banff National Park
Lake Louise, referred to as the "Jewel of Banff National Park" is high on most of the park visitors' must-see lists. Fortunately, for many at least, is that it is easily accessible including large parking lots just a short walk away. Unfortunately, it is so popular that these lots fill up early and the easy-to-access side of the lake becomes very crowded even early in the day.
Photographing this lake wasn't my highest priority, but I did want some decent photos of it. After spending the early morning at Moraine Lake, I headed over to Lake Louise at roughly 8:30 AM. While there were plenty of people here already, the crowd was considerably thinner than later times of the day (the icy boardwalk also helped thin the summer crowd). The crowd was thin enough that I was able to capture a clear view of the foreground rocks and the glacier-fed lake still looked like glass (prior to the lake filling with canoes and the wind picking up). The beautiful mountains reflected where the lake was shaded and a glowing turquoise color showed where the lake was directly illuminated by the sun.
While I captured a variety of images, I found the round rocks at the edge of the lake to make a nice foreground and selected a red-toned rock as the standout. Once again, the 11mm field of view proved very useful.
Note that this is an HDR image.
11mm f/8.0 1/250s ISO 100