Banff National Park in Canada is one of my all-time favorite travel destinations. I was only 15 years old the first time I visited and its relative proximity was one of the main reasons that I moved to Seattle over 20 years ago. I try to return as often as I can, but it had been several years until my recent visit in September. My buddy and I started off our week-long trip by getting snowed on at Bow Summit and hiking in Bugaboo Glacier Provincial Park. On our return to Calgary, we photographed this incredible sunrise over Mount Rundle from the Vermillion Lakes near the town of Banff. We’d both been here many times before, so we knew where to place our tripods, but we literally jumped out of the car and started shooting just as this spectacular light show unfolded. While cars and trucks whizzed by on the Trans-Canada above and behind me, a solitary bull elk was bugling just to my right. It was a beautiful morning to be out in nature.
I am excited to share that my “Discover Digital Quick Tips” article is published in the April 2012 issue of Outdoor Photographer! OP’s Editor gave me this opportunity after telling me that he always considers my images to be among the most authentic and beautiful that he regularly sees. In my article, I offer my advice on what my top processing techniques are and how photographers can use them to make their own images look spectacular. Please let me know if you enjoyed reading it and feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments below.
In other news, my regular readers, friends, fans, etc will probably have noted that I have not been online much in the last 2 months. I spent a wonderful, though, not super productive 3 weeks in Hawaii in February. I was barely home for a week before I flew down to Arizona to give 3 presentations about my Alaska photography at the Tucson, Paradise Valley, and Tempe REIs. (I will be at the San Diego, Portland, and Anchorage REIs in the coming month.) Last week, I moved my family into our gorgeous new house just south of Leschi. It is breathtaking to look out my windows anytime and see Lake Washington, the Cascades, and Mount Rainier. This week, I am finally settling into my new office which has its own separate entrance, new cork floors, furniture, and gallery track lighting. I have some large acrylic face-mounts being made by West Coast Imagining that will adorn my walls for when clients visit. Summer is also coming just around the corner. I have multiple trips planned to Alaska, plus my first trip to Tonga. This fall, I will also be joining a small sailboat expedition to South Georgia Island for 4 weeks. As you can see, I have a lot of exciting things going on and many new images to be created.
Here is another photo that I created during my recent Banff National Park photo tour. I am surprised by how much I like this image, since I remember walking away from this shoot in a dour mood after being denied an epic sunset. While scouting the river, I discovered this clearing which framed the mountains and allowed flowing water for my foreground. The spot-light illuminating the mountain happened so briefly that I could not have created this image had I not had my camera set up in advance. Using my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer in the shade of the river bank required an exposure of a 1/2 second or longer. This exposure rendered the water silky smooth. I also used my 3-stop Hard graduated neutral density filter to balance the exposure. I placed the filter above the trees at a slight angle down and to the right. Another interesting technical note is that I used my Canon 17-40mm f4 lens for the first time in a while in order to shoot this super-wide image. I love my Carl Zeiss lenses, but they are expensive so I do not own one that is wider than 28mm. It was a beautiful fall day to be out in the woods. I can still hear the gentle rush of the river, and there is nothing quite as affirming as a few “Hey, bears!” when walking back to the car through grizzly country in the dark.
I created this interesting river rapid abstract during my recent Banff National Park photography tour. It was damn cold that morning at the Columbia Icefields. There was a fresh dusting of snow on the ground and the rocks near this river were covered in ice. The sunrise was non-eventful, but about the time that one of my clients (from LA) felt that he was freezing to death and went back to the car to turn on the heater, the sun came up over the mountains at a very low angle which back-lit this small river. The boulder shadows and white water were too much for me to resist, so I pulled my camera back out and explored the simple beauty of the rapids, water, and splashes with my 70-200mm f2.8 IS lens. Normally, I would have used an exposure of 1/2 second or longer to render the water silky smooth, but I wanted to capture the random splashes as they burst above the river so I used a shorter exposure of about 1/4 second.
I created this dramatic image of Castle Mountain on the first night of my recent Banff National Park Photography Tour. Unlike many of the famous viewpoints in the US National Parks, we had this beautiful vista all to ourselves. This location is right next to the road, making this view from along the banks of the Bow River one of Banff’s most iconic landscape photos. Many landscape photographers seem to be over-infatuated with the orange-red light at sunset. I don’t blame them, but I often find my most successful images earlier during the golden hour before sunset or after sunrise. This image is a perfect example of this early sunlight still at a high enough angle above the horizon to illuminate the entire scene. Any later and the trees are all just dark silhouettes (which they were and I have pictures of). The ominous clouds above the mountain add drama and help focus the viewer’s attention onto the mountain in the middle of the scene. I created this image with my Canon 5DmkII, Carl Zeiss 28mm f2 ZE lens, Singh-Ray LB Warming polarizer, and 4-stop Soft Graduated Neutral Density filter. On a tripod, of course.
Here it is! My favorite photo from my backpacking trip into the Tonquin Valley last week. Out of 500 images from 2 days of getting up at 5am for sunrise, backpacking over 40km while carrying my 50lb pack, & driving 1280 miles round-trip, this is the one that caught my attention the most. I can probably process and edit about 20 more images for my stock & publishing needs on top of the 4 that I have already posted here, but this is the one that I am most proud of. Why you ask?
1. Amethyst Lake was almost completely calm from where I was standing all the way across to the Ramparts, giving me a perfect mirror reflection.
2. The clouds were particularly symmetric above the Ramparts, but also in the reflection. I also like the way that the summits of the peaks are just barely in shadow, too. Very mysterious.
3. I like the dark gray color of the clouds and the direct front light on the mountains. This combination of yellow light & gray skies always looks very ominous and dramatic. Also, I find that publishers & art clients prefer blue skies, white clouds, & earth tones over the neon red/orange/yellow images that are more popular with photo contests.
4. The foreground rocks have a pleasant warm tone to them. Behind me, the sun was blocked by a large cloud which acted like a giant soft-box in the sky. During these few minutes, the sun would occasionally pop out and cause my shadow to be cast on the rocks, which I found distracting.
So, what do you think?
This spectacular image from the Tonquin Valley was taken about 15 minutes after I took what I consider to be my best image from my backpacking trip in Jasper National Park last week. About an hour and a half after sunrise, the light, clouds, & shadows gave me a brilliant series of images to choose from. I was so enthralled by the scene before me, that I had to remember to shoot, let alone switch from horizontal to vertical compositions. Most of the time the reflection was ideal with only small ripples, but at some moments it was absolutely still giving a mirror image of the Ramparts! What an awesome place to shoot without a single other photographer around. Keep that in mind next time you are taking pictures at a popular national park viewpoint!
As promised, here is my second image of the week from my backpacking trip into the Tonquin Valley in Jasper National Park. (As long as I have internet access in Whistler this week, I’ll be able to post the next 3 images after today.) This images was created an hour after sunrise on the same morning as my previous post. The sky was a brilliant blue, but there were almost no clouds to add any drama. I learned long ago that anytime I have a perfect mountain reflection in a lake, I SHOOT IT!!!!! (Especially when it requires a 40 km round-trip backpacking adventure, and 1280 miles of driving.) Luckily, a couple of wispy clouds on the eastern horizon began to block the sun, casting some pretty fantastic shadow patterns on the Ramparts. It was amazing to watch the shadows dance across the face of this enormous escarpment. This is my favorite image from the second morning’s shoot. My next few posts will be from the first morning when I had some clouds!
I’ve been working on an initial edit of my images from last week in the Canadian Rockies. My plan is to post 1 image each day this week of my favorite images from the Tonquin Valley. Here is the first one! This is from the second sunrise that I spent at Surprise Point. I got up that morning to perfect calm conditions on Amethyst Lake for a reflection, but there were no clouds at all. So, I did my best and this is a beautiful image from about 30 minutes after sunrise.