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
Capturing Cityscapes During the "Perfect 15" Subset of the Blue Hour
Following Sean's recent winter photography tip suggestion, I took the Canon 11-24mm f/4L Lens to New York City for a late-winter day. New York City is one of the most photogenic cities on the planet and it remains similarly so at all times of the year. Advantages of shooting architecture and cities when it is uncomfortably cold out include fewer people to interfere with your compositions, fewer photographers competing for the same shooting locations and easier isolation of composition-enhancing people while doing street photography.
New York City is extremely large and I doubt that anyone will ever exhaust all of the photo possibilities of this location. For sure I will not. This means that pre-trip scouting is especially important. Using available online resources to visualize the location's available compositions maximizes one's photo time. These resources include maps, satellite imagery, The Photographer's Ephemeris, reviewing photos others captured at the potential location, etc.
Part of this scouting involves determining the direction of sunrise or sunset as this effects the look of the image at a key time of the day for cityscape photography. The sun rising or setting to the side of an image will be the most challenging with the sky taking on a brightness gradient from one side of the image to the other. If the sun is rising or setting behind you, buildings will reflect the brighter sky and the background sky will be darker in relation to the buildings. The sky may also become pink above the horizon in this situation. If the sun is rising or setting in front of you, the sky will be brighter in relation to the buildings, but the building lights will become more pronounced. Both latter options are great. My choice in this example was the in-front-of-me sunset.
Arriving at the location early to verify the choice made during pre-trip scouting is highly recommended. You never know what you might find upon arrival (such as a large construction project), so arrive early enough to implement plan B if necessary. Yes, having at least a plan B and, better yet, a plan C and D is a very good idea. Arriving early also provides the best opportunity to score the perfect shooting location.
On this particular cold evening, there was no competition for shooting location and to completely avoid the chance of people walking into my composition (and to avoid an ugly sign and construction fencing), I setup so that no foreground was visible in the frame. To do so at the focal length I wanted to use (24mm – the longest available on the lens I was evaluating) required extending my tripod down through the curved East River fencing.
The Right Time of Day Makes the Difference
City lights do not come on (or become visible) until it gets somewhat dark and these lights are a key to one of my favorite cityscape looks. The lights add life to the buildings and while cityscapes can be captured in complete darkness, I find that some color remaining in the sky makes a better image.
The "Blue Hour", by definition, lasts for 1 hour just before sunrise and just after sunset (use your online tool or phone app to find out when it happens at your shooting location on your chosen shooting day). However, the perfect shooting time, when the sky color balances with the city lights (and possibly reflections), lasts for closer to 15 minutes within that hour. I'll dub this time period the "Perfect 15" and I can usually narrow my ultimate preference down to a subset of that duration. While the Perfect 15 are ideal for capturing a variety of image types, cityscapes are an especially great use of this short period of time.
While it is possible to capture a number of compositions within the Perfect 15, I find it best to concentrate on one composition at the key time of the day. Fifteen minutes sounds like a very adequate amount of time to capture one image, but I assure you, it is often not. Here is why:
At this time of the day, each f/11 image requires 30 seconds of exposure (roughly) followed by 30 seconds of long exposure noise reduction dark frame capture. Add a few seconds for mirror lockup and multiply each shot by two or three for exposure bracketing (if warranted for HDR) and those Perfect 15 minutes begin to look very short.
Reflect a Great Scene for a Better Image
Want to make a great scene even better? Reflect it in water to double the greatness. Many major cities exist because of the water located by them, and cityscapes often look best when reflected in water. However, these waterways are typically large enough and have enough wind and boat traffic on them to never permit a mirror-smooth reflection. Reflections in rough water can look OK (though somewhat distracting), but making a smooth blur of the water via a long exposure is usually my preference. The Perfect 15 happens at the right time of day for long water-blurring exposures, but the boat traffic presents a problem.
Even during a 30 second exposure, the waves created by a large boat are going to create possibly-undesirable lines in the final image. Also, at this time of the day, boats are required to have lights on and those lights show very clearly as long streaks in the image. Sometimes these light streaks can be removed in post processing (try the content-aware healing brush in Photoshop), but lights on the larger boats (such as ferries) streak across the city details, becoming much more difficult to remove. When this happens, an available option is to simply leave the light streaks remaining in the final image, adding an effect. Most of the time, I find this effect undesirable. Correcting the uneven reflections caused by 30-second wave blurs is usually very challenging.
The Perfect 15 is Short for Even One Image
So, in addition to the over-1-minute exposure captures along with similar durations for exposure bracketed shots (for potential HDR use), a boat moving through an image can cut the remaining available time drastically. A tug boat pushing a barge through the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Skyline scene takes a couple of minutes and the waves don't settle for a period of time after that. The East River Ferry is much faster, but it also makes significant waves. Boat traffic alone took a major chunk out of my Perfect 15 on this day.
Does the Tide Matter?
If your city's waterway is tidal-influenced and water-level subjects, especially in the foreground (such as pilings), are in your frame, make sure that your capture date is ideally timed with the tide. Use the tide charts available for your location to determine this.
The Weather Matters
If it were raining, snowing or foggy, I would not likely have been able to see the city I was photographing, so yes, the weather matters. Aside from being able to see the primary subjects, what the weather is providing becomes decreasingly important for cityscape photography at these times of the day. If you want the sunset to add a significant interest to the sky, there needs to be some clouds to catch color and an opening in the sky allowing the sun to illuminate those clouds. Since I wanted the city itself to be the primary interest in my image and because I wanted a high-percentage weather forecast, I chose a perfectly clear day for this trip. A clear sky provides a great blue color over the city and reflects in the water below it.
Seeing Stars and Aircraft
Cities are usually bright enough to overwhelm the visibility of most stars, but if you happen to be able to see the stars in your images, 30 seconds is probably going to give you some star trails. What to do with the handful of visible stars and their short trails is a matter of taste, but they appeared to be an anomaly in this image. There were not enough stars showing to make them appear as part of the scene, so I removed them.
Along with waterways, large cities usually have busy airports and air traffic very frequently becomes part of these images. The flashing lights from this aircraft generally create long dotted lines through a cityscape captured during 30 the seconds exposures typically in use during the Perfect 15. Again, the choice of what to do about these inevitable additions to the image is up to you. Fortunately, most of the aircraft are flying above the city and can be easily removed in Photoshop.
Replacing Light Bulbs
The waterways commonly found by large cities frequently have bridges over them. These bridges are often landmarks that you will want to incorporate into your images and these bridges commonly have many lights on them. The Brooklyn Bridge is one such bridge. After a severe winter, numerous light bulbs were in need of replacement. I'm sure that there had been very few maintenance crew members volunteering to scale the bridge under the severe temperatures (along with plenty of snow and ice) NYC had for many months prior, but I felt the missing lights negatively impacted the image and took the liberty of replacing the bulbs myself (in post of course).
Note that, while often the highest location in a city, bridges would seem to be great vantage points for cityscape photography during the Perfect 15. Unfortunately, for bridges with traffic on them, this is not the case. The amount of movement on most bridges with vehicular traffic is incredible (especially the large suspension bridges) and long exposure images captured from such bridges are typically very blurry.
This New York City Image
While reviewing the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens, I wanted to put some on-location hours behind this lens and decided that Brooklyn Bridge Park, just across the East River from downtown Manhattan, would be a good destination. I arrived early in the afternoon, spent an hour or so selecting what I thought was the ideal composition for capture during the Perfect 15 and then explored the area for other photographic opportunities.
About 45 minutes before sunset, I came back and anchored myself into the selected shooting location. I setup the camera, perfected the framing using a completely level camera (keeping the buildings vertically straight) and then established the proper focus distance setting. While I have yet to take a miss-autofocused image with this lens, I wanted no chance of that happening when the scene became dark. I used autofocus to get the initial setting, switched to manual focus mode and took a verification image.
While my selected image was captured 41 minutes after sunset, I captured images periodically before entering the Perfect 15. Some of these images are very nice and I'm glad to have them. More importantly, these images allowed me to monitor the exposure settings and how they were changing. There was no question about what settings I should be using when the ideal shooting time came.
While I did some bracketing and captured many exposures before, through and after the Perfect 15, everything came together in one image this time. The boat traffic stopped long enough for the waves to even out. The brightness in the sky leveled with the brightness of the city lights and the brightness of the reflection seems just right to me.
Aside from some of the tweaks I mentioned already (such as replacing burned out light bulbs), this image is basically right out of the camera. I shoot with the Neutral Picture Style selected in-camera to get a lower contrast histogram to best show the camera's available dynamic range and how I'm making use of it. Because this style's low contrast is not typically what I'm processing for, my usual first post processing step is to select Standard Picture Style. I added some saturation and turned the sharpness setting down to "1". Even with a very low "1" sharpness setting, all details in this image are tack sharp. Awesome lens.
Other "Perfect 15" Cityscapes
A few other recent cityscape images can be found here:
Pilings, Brooklyn Bridge Park, NYC Skyline at Sunset
Capturing the Spirit of Baltimore's Inner Harbor
Manhattan Skyline and Hamilton Park
A majority of photographers and other observers pack it in when the sun dips below the horizon, but the show is just getting started at sunset. Stick around. If the sun is visible in the sky, unfortunately, the best AM photo time may be in the past. This is the time to make plans for tomorrow. Try shooting during the blue hour and learn what your "Perfect 15" is.
24mm f/11.0 30s ISO 100
The Big Ferris Wheel at Night
Amusements parks, carnivals, fairs, and similar are popular summer attractions. The next time you visit such attractions, be sure to take your camera gear (including a tripod) and ... make sure that you stay until the lights come on. To be more "attractive", amusement rides are typically well-lit at night and these rides (along with other signage) can make colorful images.
The first step: before you leave home, make sure that you know the park's rules for photography. The bigger the park, carnival, etc., the more likely that your activity will fall under regulation. The Ferris wheel shown here was captured at Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, PA (America's largest free-admission park). This park requires permission for "Professional Photography".
Also before you go, scope out potential opportunities using the park's map, satellite imagery and photos found online. Look for colorful rides that move significantly and have lots of lights on the moving portions of the ride. While motionless lights can be attractive in images (especially if out of focus), moving lights can be made to cover much more of the frame, replacing dark sky with bright light. Spinning rides often work well, but roller coasters often do not.
A perfect night photography ride example is the big Ferris wheel at Knoebels. The park has recently installed a new LED lighting system that displays constantly changing colors as the big wheel spins. The ride looks impressive and attracts many spectators in addition to riders.
Though it has excellent image quality, my choice to use the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L Lens for this image was foremost for the ultra-wide focal lengths. Because of the many obstructions around (notably, trees), I wanted to be as close to the ride as possible and also wanted the close, looking-up perspective. This position also helped avoid people (the spectators I mentioned) in the frame (and the model release complication they could potentially add).
There are many options for photographing amusement parks in the dark (or just before dark), but I like to fill a significant amount of the frame with light. In this particular case, I liked having the entire wheel in the frame while shooting (I was over 11 hours into my commercial shoot and had gone to bed at 3:00 AM that morning, so I can't argue that my decision making ability was not slightly clouded at the time). During post processing, I decided that I liked the wheel cropped tighter, showing even more color in the frame and making the support structure larger in the frame. That the 5Ds R has such extreme resolution enabled me to crop significantly into the frame and still have a high resolution image remaining (roughly 22 megapixels). And, I still have the full size image available if wanted at a later time.
Camera exposure settings for lights moving in the dark are often determined by aperture and ISO. That was the case here. Since the lights in the middle of the wheel are not moving as fast as the outermost lights, there is an overall exposure balance required. The LED lights were very bright and ISO 100 with an f/11 aperture worked well in this case (I reduced the brightness somewhat in post processing). I adjusted the shutter speed (in manual mode) to capture the complete movement between wheel spokes without overlap (which would cause overexposure), generating a complete circle of light that, with the changing lights, resembles a pinwheel.
Dark park photography will test your visualization ability, but it is great fun to anticipate and view the results. It is not hard to create attractive blurs of light at these venues. Give after-dark amusement park photography a go! It shouldn't be hard to entertain the kids while you do.
15mm f/11.0 1.3s ISO 100
Jane's Carousel, Brooklyn, NY
Jane's Carousel is a standout landmark in Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn, NY. While it is hard to miss the carousel house, the highly-styled words in the concrete are not as obvious. Ultra-wide angle lenses are great for emphasizing the foreground and I decided to emphasize the not obvious in this case, the words:
"Jane's Carousel made by Philadelphia Toboggan Co in 1922"
Jane's Carousel is a very popular location and, while not a necessity, keeping people out of your frame is challenging (an understatement). To start, visiting on a cold winter weekday will reduce the visitor population. Next, taking enough frames to allow all parts of the scene to be captured without people or their shadows in them is key. Fortunately, I had two images that when combined, showed no humans outside of the building. In post, I combined these two exposures to show only the sans-people parts.
At 11mm, it is hard to keep your own shadow out of the frame. By using the self-timer, I was able to step back before the shutter released. The camera's own shadow was the remaining problem. With a clean foreground, I was able to remove the shadow in post processing without difficulty.
11mm f/16.0 1/60s ISO 100
The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge
The Little Red Lighthouse, officially named Jeffrey's Hook Light, is a small (40'/12.2m) lighthouse located under the eastern span of the George Washington Bridge (AKA the Great Gray Bridge) in Fort Washington Park, Washington Heights, New York City. The official name of this lighthouse was surpassed by the name given it by Hildegarde Swift and Lynd Ward in their famous 1942 book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. This book was one of my wife's childhood favorites, so ... it was fitting for me to have this location on my photo bucket list and circumstances worked out for me to cross off this line item.
Typically, big city landmarks are readily accessible and easy to visit. While the first applies to this one, for a non-local without a bicycle, the second ... not so much. The problem is the lack of local parking and the significant roads and railroad tracks separating Fort Washington Park and the Hudson River Greenway from the rest of the city in this area.
There are two entrances into Fort Washington Park. I chose the more-northern 181st St option over the southern 158th St entrance as it appeared logistically better. Parking at one of the closest parking garages, Alliance Parking Services (for GPS, use 649-699 W 184th St, New York, NY 10033) resulted in a just-over 1 mile (1.6km) hike to the lighthouse. The landscape in Manhattan and many other parts of New York City is mostly flat, but Washington "Heights" wasn't given its name without reason. While not a mountain by most people's definition, the ascent and descent into the park, over and under the roads and tracks, is noticeable under the weight of a heavy pack.
Loaded into my MindShift Gear BackLight 26L for this trip was the following:
A pair of Canon EOS 5Ds R DSLR bodies
Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens
Gitzo GT1542T Traveler 6x Carbon Fiber Tripod with a Acratech GP-s Ball Head mounted.
Numerous accessories, food, plenty of water, warm clothes.
I hand-carried a second tripod, my current-favorite Gitzo GT3542LS Systematic Carbon Fiber Tripod with an Arca-Swiss Z1 Ball Head mounted.
This gave me two complete camera setups with plenty of focal length overlap in the range I expected to need the most. The redundancy was first and foremost to allow me to take twice as many photos during the short time period within blue hour that I was most-targeting. This shoot consumed most of a day (I arrived home at 2:30 AM) and with the small extra effort of taking a second camera setup, I was getting nearly twice as many photos when the exposure durations hit 30 seconds (with an additional 30-second-long exposure noise reduction) during prime time. I would start one image capture and go attend the second camera setup, located far enough away for a different composition, but close enough that I had a close watch on it from a security standpoint.
Backup in case of failure was the other reason for the second complete camera setup. I was investing heavily enough (time and other costs) in this trip to warrant a backup.
The Little Red Lighthouse shoot went as planned. Arriving late in the afternoon, I climbed around the rocks for an hour or so, trying to decide what compositions would be best for prime time. I ate, rested and went to work as the sun set behind the GWB.
As the sun set, the balance of sky brightness to the light hitting the lighthouse transitioned from silhouette to nearly the opposite. By shooting continuously during this time, I could select my favorite look later. A darker background is always an option, but a brighter sky is not available again until another day (without some post processing techniques).
For this image, I opted for the 11-24L lens set to 11mm to provide a dramatic perspective that included the entire river span of the bridge. To see a sample result captured from the other camera, with a lens choice made for a reason, one that you may not have considered (not focal length or sharpness), check out the pic I creatively titled The Little Red Lighthouse.
11mm f/11.0 30s ISO 200
12mm Environmental Portrait and The Making of My First Selfie
I'm not focused on me, can be accused of under-marketing myself and until very recently, I had never taken a selfie (at least not one shared beyond the immediate family). Of course, when the request for a portrait came in, I didn't want to under-deliver on the effort and set out to have some fun, creating my first selfie. Since the task turned into a major project, I thought I would share some of the undertaking.
I know, I gave away the focal length choice in the title and right away some of you are thinking that I've lost my mind. The 12mm focal length, and anything close to it, is not going to create a pleasing portrait perspective, right? Not necessarily. Perspective is created by distance and, if you are far enough away from the subject, any rectilinear focal length can work (I'll save the fisheye discussion for another day). The 12mm angle of view includes a lot of environment in the frame at that adequate distance, and that was my goal for this shot.
I should mention that human subjects tend to look best closer to the center of an ultra-wide angle frame, avoiding the stretched look that can be present in the corners. Keeping the camera level (both pitch and yaw) also helps keep perspectives looking reasonable in this image, though you can still find some stretching closer to the borders. For example, the white lens on the left appears somewhat wide.
I stopped short of making this image into an I Spy photo, but there are lots of (hopefully) interesting items in this photo. Some are easy to see and some are more obscure (such as the Multicart R12RT loaded with camera backpacks). Overall, I tried to keep the image borders free of lines, fully containing most items in the frame. I also attempted to position the closest lenses so that the hoods were directly aligned with the camera with the hood lines mostly clear of intersecting lines, making them stand out, including the one in my hand.
After "decorating" my workspace (my wife's reference to what I was doing), I positioned the camera for the composition I was envisioning. Then, I started pulling out Speedlites.
For the main light, I opted for a Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT Flash with a Photogenic Eclipse 60" Umbrella positioned mostly above the camera. This setup provided a soft light over the entire foreground. To reduce the remaining shadows, a second 600EX-RT, with the wide angle diffuser down, was directed into a 30" umbrella positioned behind the camera. This flash was below the first umbrella and acted as a fill light. Note that it is a good idea to use the camera's eyepiece shade/shutter when firing a flash into the back of the camera (especially if using E-TTL metering).
I added a third 600EX-RT on a backlight stand behind me with the unmodified flash firing directly toward the camera. This light provided some rim lighting that helped to separate me from the background and lit up the middle layer of the image including some strong reflections.
The last Speedlite, a Canon 430EX III-RT, with its wide angle diffuser down, was placed on the floor deep into the studio. This flash's job was to keep the background from going dark.
While I ended up selecting this image for use, I also photographed with other camera positions and lighting variations. One change that I liked was moving the background-most flash under the desk and aimed at the left wall seen in this image. This added a pop of brightness that created some stronger lines in that area of the photo.
The Canon EOS 5Ds R was tripod-mounted and the tripod was placed immediately against the edge of the desk and triggered via a Canon RC-6 wireless remote. See it on the desk in front of me? I would press the release button, put the release on the desk and grab the lens in time for the 2 second self-timer trip the shutter.
I photographed this image in three exposures. The primary f/11 exposure was selected to keep the cloudy sky properly exposed (this exposure happened to be convenient for the overall image) with the flash output, controlled by a Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT, adjusted to balance the overall image.
A second exposure utilized a more-diffraction-softened f/16 aperture for keeping the closest subjects in better focus and the third exposure was 4 seconds, necessary to capture the image on the monitor. The three images were composited in Photoshop.
Note that ISO 200 was used to increase battery life in the flashes (18 AA batteries in use, I used two sets).
See the ColorChecker in the foreground? It is serving a dual purpose. The first purpose is to add some color pop that balances with the images on the walls and on the monitor. The second purpose is for an easy custom white balance. While the Canon EOS 5Ds R provided a good auto white balance in-camera, it was extremely simple to select the custom white balance eye dropper and click on a gray square for the ideal white balance.
So, that is the story of my selfie. If you are interested in capturing a selfie of your own, be sure to check out Sean's guide to self-portraits in the site's photography tips.
12mm f/11.0 1/200s ISO 200
PPG Place Ice Skating Rink and Christmas Tree, Pittsburgh
They don't take Christmas decorations down on December 26th, but ... the crowds will be lighter than before Christmas. Public Christmas displays, including large Christmas trees frequently found in towns and cities, make great photography subjects. Photographing these displays after the crowds leave can make life easier for the photographer (and your social schedule will likely be cleared). Though the Christmas anticipation feelings may have subsided, the resulting photographs can be as good or better than those captured before the holiday.
When do they take down public Christmas decorations? That answer varies greatly, but on this particular year, the large Christmas tree on display at PPG Place in Pittsburgh was scheduled to be taken down on Jan 26th. Part of my pre-trip planning involved asking that question. On January 5th, a very cold Tuesday afternoon, the crowds at the ice skating rink were light, but ... timing the photograph with the ice being cleared for the Zamboni to do its resurfacing work meant a completely empty rink.
To add an extra element to the image, I aligned the sun with a small hole in the Christmas tree and used a narrow aperture to create a strong starburst effect.
Setting the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens to 11mm will take in a VERY wide angle of view. Pointing 11mm upward will cause buildings to strongly lean inward.
11mm f/16.0 1.30s 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
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