Photographing the Canadian Rockies.

What brought me to the Canadian Rockies, was a One Of A Kind (OOAK) photography tour that my friend, Timothy Poulton was hosting alongside Chris Collacott and Sarah Hatton. For as long as I’ve been into photography, I hadn’t considered joining a tour, mostly due to what I consider as excessive costs. However, upon inspecting the per day cost of the OOAK tour, the costs turned out to be somewhat comparable and in line with a self guided trip, but with the added bonus of having professional photographers guiding us around the best locations within the Canadian Rockies.

As a travel and landscape photographer, it’s hard to fathom that it’s taken me so long to travel to the Canadian Rockies. Straddling the border of British Columbia and Alberta, the Canadian Rockies forms part of the stretch of mountains that span from the Northwestern tip of Canada, all the way to New Mexico in the U.S.

Created over millions of years as a result of tectonic plates, bumping and grinding, the Canadian Rockies is what I can best describe as one of the most stunning ranges that I’ve ever laid eyes upon.

Investing in experience, not gear.

Another reason why I chose to go on this tour was that it was the perfect opportunity to focus on improving my craft. Most of what I’ve achieved to date with my photography has been self taught – mainly through reading other photography blogs as well as watching copious hours of Youtube tutorials.

I went through a phase of constantly upgrading my gear, but I’ve accepted the fact that acquiring more gear isn’t going to make my images any better. The only way forward was to invest in experiences alongside photographers whom I respect; pick their brains and ask the questions required in order to take my photography to the next level.

Also, traveling solo for two and a half years can be quite lonesome, so hanging out with like minded individuals to get up at 4am every morning for twelve days can’t be a bad thing, right?

castle mountain

The last of the light, setting on Castle Mountain in Banff.

My Pre Tour Objectives

I’m a believer that to become the best in any field, one needs to be humble enough to understand their own strengths and weakness and where there are areas for improvement. For me, I had three specific areas that I wanted to excel in by the end of the tour.

  • Improve my panorama photography technique: My previous panorama photography experience was limited to just stitching a series of  hand held images together. Chris and Timothy’s areas of photography expertise is in panorama photography, so it made sense to sign up for this.
  • Astrophotography: I haven’t had much luck with having the right conditions to do much astrophotography, but there were some sessions during the tour that were dedicated to it.
  • Filling in any gaps with my post processing workflow: I consider my post processing skills to be more than adequate, but you can never stop learning. Plus, it’s the attention to detail, and other information tidbits obtained by observing others that can make a major contribution to workflow and ultimately, the final output.
herbert lake banff

Pre sunrise at Herbert Lake

Making the most of challenging conditions

It wasn’t the best start to the tour, with lingering overcast and and damp conditions throughout the first few days. Usually, I probably would have been happy to leave the camera in the bag, but seeing we were all there to shoot, we just had to adapt and make adjustments to the locations to best suit the weather conditions.

two jack lake alberta

A grey and misty morning at Two Jack Lake in Banff. My intent with this eight image vertical panorama was to work on the compositional elements and enhance the mood in post processing.

moraine lake

Moraine Lake in Banff. Sometimes it’s ok to stick the horizon in the middle of the image, especially when reflections are involved. The usual shot of this location is from high above, but with the overcast weather, I went for an image with the contrasting colours of the canoes against the grey skies as well as the leading lines from the mountains and tree line directing towards the canoes.

Carpark Photography at The Icefields Parkway

You have got to give the Canadians a lot of credit; the highways and infrastructure in this area is world class. Visitors have easy access to the most beautiful locations, mostly requiring little effort to walk from the carpark to a viewing platform.

The Icefields Parkway is the stretch of road, between Banff and Jasper, where there is a consistent barrage of epic scenery, just waiting to be photographed. Spanning over 230 km within the heart of the Canadian Rockies, visitors can access views of pristine glacial fed lakes, plunging valleys and jaw dropping and ancient glaciers.

icefield parkway alberta

On the road to Jasper. It’s difficult not to pull over and take a shot. Be sure to use a telephoto lens to compress the image and fill the frame with the mountains. A vehicle in the image give the mountains a sense of scale – just don’t get run over.

icefield parkway canada

A vertical composition of Sunwapta Falls. Waterfalls are best shot in overcast conditions as there is less glare from the water.

peyto lake icefield parkway

It was probably the longest hike of a kilometre that we did to get to this location at Peyto Lake. Sometimes an image doesn’t do a place justice as in this case, as the rays of sunlight pierced through the clouds and danced across the lake.

Jasper National Park

Jasper National Park is the largest national park within Canadian Rockies, offering a plethora of lakes, waterfalls, glaciers and wildlife to photograph. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see elk roam around the neighbourhood streets in the early hours of the morning, or black bears foraging for berries along the side of the road.

jasper waterfall

A “quasi” long exposure image at Athabasca Falls. I exposed the waterfall for a few seconds, but the sky is a series of exposures over time and stacked within Photoshop to end up with a long exposure effect.

jasper road trip

Last road shot, I promise.

jasper sunrise

Taking advantage of one of the few sunny mornings that we had.

Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park

Our time at Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park was meant to be the highlight at the end of the tour, and oh boy, did it deliver. Also known as the ‘Matterhorn of The Rockies”, the area can only be reached by a 26km hike, or helicopter, which we opted for.

The area is known for its grizzly bear population, so we had to be extra diligent on food storage as we were camping there for two nights and were spending quite some time, hiking to and from various locations.

mount assiniboine

Shot from “The Nublet”, this is blend of two panoramic images: First exposed for the mountains during the blue hour and the second image, exposed for the Milky Way.

lake magog

The final sunrise at Lake Magog at Mt Assiniboine. The entire morning was overcast, with showers threatening to ruin the session. However, for a brief moment in time, the warm morning glow managed to kiss the mountain peaks.

Overall impressions of my first photography tour

As a long term traveler, I usually had my doubts with most kinds of tours. While I am not opposed to them, the majority of them are designed for a specific customer who want most of the heavy lifting taken care of, and have their hands held most of the time. As I mentioned earlier, the cost of the tour ticked the boxes for me in terms of competitive pricing, but did it meet the three criteria points that I set out to achieve?  It would have to be a yes.

Although the tour wasn’t specifically workshop orientated, Chris, Sarah and Timothy were approachable and willing to offer their assistance or answer any questions on anything in the field, or post processing related. Being a native Canadian, Chris had an incredible depth of knowledge and advice to get the most of all of the photography sessions in every location.

Being a large group, we ended up splitting up at times to cater for differing levels of endurance and “adventure” which I thought was a smart move. That way, the attendees could work at a pace that they were comfortable with. In my opinion, where I probably got lucky was that everybody on the tour were genuinely nice and easy to get along with – something that is rare when traveling with a group of any size.

By the end of the twelve days, I would say that I learnt more than a thing or two about my attitude to pre-visualisation, composition and post processing techniques that I haven’t come across in the time that I’ve been shooting. Heck, I even learnt a thing or two off Sarah about taking epic environmental selfies 🙂

mount assiniboine

“Life should be an adventure, or nothing at all.”

Other useful information

Getting there: Calgary International Airport is the most convenient airport to fly into. From there, it’s a 145km drive to Banff. We stayed an evening in Calgary to stock up on supplies.

Accommodation: We stayed at Hampton Inn, only a few minutes from the airport which has quality rooms at an affordable price. We opted to stay  at Ramada Inn in Canmore instead of Banff which is only thirty minutes away, but more affordable rate.

If you enjoyed any of the images, high quality prints can be purchased HERE

Disclaimer: All costs for this tour was paid for by myself and all opinions are my own.

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2 Responses to Photographing the Canadian Rockies.

  1. Lisa December 23, 2015 at 6:17 am #

    This is why I love Canada!
    Lisa recently posted…Die Minimalismus-Packliste: Die ReiseapothekeMy Profile

  2. Lisa December 23, 2015 at 6:19 am #

    This is why I love Canada!!

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