Photography Excursion – The Canadian Rockies

Photographing the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, Canada

© Mac Danzig

Well, I haven’t been keeping up with the blog as usual and I suppose this is where most bloggers throw out some hollow apology, followed by a personal excuse for their absence, as if the world were to completely halt without their ramblings…  Well, you’ll get neither from me.  I know how much impact my web log has on the world and I’m not delusional about it…  Recently have been working and also doing what I love, and that’s taking photos and exploring the outdoors.  This time, it has been in an extraordinary location: The Canadian Rockies.

A few photography friends and I spent a week up there, during which time we also attended a 3-day photo tour run by Darwin Wiggett.   Darwin knows the terrain up there like no one else and showed us some of the best locations for great photographs.  Since my time is limited at the moment, the following is simply a quick summary of the trip with a few accompanying photos I took…

© Mac Danzig

After a night in Canmore, we made our way north, up through Banff and Lake Louise, finally arriving at the Aurum Lodge which is just 40 kilometers east of Banff National Park.    The lodge is run by Alan Ernst and his wife Madeleine.  If anyone knows the area as well as Darwin does, it’s Alan.  And he has a ridiculously good collection of photos from around the area to prove it.

The Aurum lodge sits right along Abraham Lake, (which is frozen over in the winter) and is in a perfect location for photographers. It’s no wonder that Darwin and other great nature photographers choose to stay here when photographing the area or running workshops…

© Mac Danzig

Throughout the next few days, we spent every moment of daylight- from dawn to dusk, out in the field shooting or hiking to different locations.   This was definitely my kind of trip.  Darwin and Alan took us to some really incredible locations including frozen waterfalls, snow-covered mountains, glaciers and of course all of the flat frozen bodies of water with many different Canadian Rocky peaks in the background.  The average temperature was around the 30 degree range (Fahrenheit).   We were told that even with the occasional harsh windchill, it was unseasonably warm in comparison to previous years at the same time.   I stayed comfortably warm simply by dressing in layers with a light windbreaker on top.    Crampons or ice-cleats are a must and I found StabilIcers to be very functional for the price.

The extreme lack of tourists due to the remote location and cold weather was a welcome change from my springtime photo excursions in the Southwest…  The only other people we encountered most of the time were ice-climbers.   These people are crazy, but in a good way.  I couldn’t believe some of the sheer ice cliffs these guys were scaling.  It was great to witness, but I doubt I’ll be trying my hand at vertical ice climbing anytime soon.

Ice climber © Mac Danzig

Driving through the Icefields Parkway is a humbling experience.  As the road winds through the forest of mountains, you are completely surrounded.  Everywhere you look, there is a gigantic peak piercing the sky.

© Mac Danzig

As far as wildlife goes, I had three excellent photo ops with Bighorn Sheep.  I had never gotten a good shot of this animal prior to this trip, so whenever we came across a herd, I spent my time photographing them, while most of the others continued working on their landscape shots…

© Mac Danzig

© Mac Danzig

On the third morning, we went to Abraham Lake for the second time and were treated to the most spectacular natural colors I have ever seen during a sunrise.  Everyone wandered carefully out onto the lake and found their own bit of foreground to prepare for the sunrise.   The lake is frozen solid in some places, but further out into the center, you can see the water below about 1 to 3 feet of ice.   There are bubbles, cracks and all sorts of amazing natural textures to use as foreground during these winter months.   Luckily for us, the fire in the sky hung around for a good 10 minutes, which was more than enough time to obtain some keepers.   When I viewed the files in the raw converter, untouched, they appeared almost over-saturated.  That is how intense the color was.  I actually ended up having to de-saturate the colors when processing the photos from that morning, due to the fact that digital files just can’t handle those intense reds the way film can…

© Mac Danzig

One thing that I made a conscious effort to do on this trip was look for new types of composition and focus a little more on abstract views of nature and textures.  Darwin and Alan are masters at this kind of shooting and being around them helped out a lot when it came to opening my mind to some great shots that I would normally walk right by (or over)…    The Canadian Rockies are so beautiful and the landscape so dynamic, that it’s easy to forget to shoot with anything other than your wide-angle lens.   But many times when the light was harsh and the sun was high in the sky, I would put my macro lens on and simply start paying more attention to the ice beneath me.   I’m glad I did.  So many great ice textures and tiny subtle scenes would have been lost if I hadn’t decided to open my mind to different types of composition.

© Mac Danzig

© Mac Danzig

During our last evening at the lodge, we were met with the company of Royce Howland and David Clapp.  They were just beginning their stay at the lodge on a 2-week-long photo expedition of their own.  Both of these guys are great talents and I personally feel they are among the very best landscape photographers out there today.   It was great to have an evening discussing (and sometimes hilariously criticizing the hell out of) the many facets which make up the present-day photography industry.  Clapp has got to be one of the funniest Englishmen I’ve ever met, and that’s saying a lot.  After a few hours of good conversation and red wine, it was time to pack it in, as tomorrow would be our last morning in the area.

© Mac Danzig

Making our way back to Canmore, we stopped at a few different spots including Mistaya Canyon.  While there, I kept my eye for the details working, rather than trying to capture the entire scene.  In the end, I got a few shots I was happy with, using a 10-stop ND filter to slow my shutter speed down to 30 seconds…

© Mac Danzig

This was such an excellent trip, we all agreed to come back sometime in the near future.  I particularly enjoyed the fact that everyone in the group was there to take photos and have a good time, rather than the tourist types who get bored and whine about the cold…  That, and it was insanely beautiful up there.

Here’s a list of links related to this article that you might find interesting:

More of my photos from this Canadian Rockies trip (as I post them)

Darwin Wiggett’s site

Aurum Lodge

6 favorites from each of the tour attendees (including myself)

Royce Howland’s Site

David Clapp’s Blog

Bryan Konietzko’s photos from this trip

Michael Dimartino’s photos from this trip

© Mac Danzig

Thanks for reading and looking…


One Response to “Photography Excursion – The Canadian Rockies”

  1. […] Photographing the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, Canada Well, I haven't been keeping up with the blog as usual and I suppose this is where most bloggers throw out some hollow apology, followed by a personal excuse for their absence, as if the world were to completely halt without their ramblings…  Well, you'll get neither from me.  I know how much impact m … Read More […]

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