Listed among the world's most renowned majestic destinations, Banff National Park was established in 1885 and is Canada's oldest national park. The park is located roughly 100 miles west of Calgary Alberta and encompasses 2,564 square miles of mountainous terrain with numerous glaciers and ice fields, dense coniferous forest, and alpine landscapes.
Needless to say, Banff is a mecca for photographers from around the globe who come to capture the unique beauty of bright teal lakes, towering snow capped mountains, rich fall colors and abundant wildlife.
The fall of 2014 brought all of these conditions together for our group of 12 eager photographers. Traveling from around the country, our group arrived throughout the 1st day and we met at 8pm for orientation -- a chance to get to know one another, go over gear and to outline the itinerary for the week.
The next morning we loaded up our baggage and camera gear and we headed west on the Trans-Canada Highway...next step, the Fairmont Chateau at Lake Louise.
Surrounded by soaring mountain peaks, the majestic Victoria Glacier and a glistening emerald lake, the iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise resort is located in the heart of Banff National Park and would be our, very luxurious, base of operation for the next three nights.
Once everyone was checked into their rooms we explored the sprawling hotel, ate lunch and then met for our afternoon departure -- it was time to go shoot!
We headed North from Lake Louise to Peyto Lake. A uniquely shaped glacial fed lake famous for it's extremely bright teal waters. As a glacier melts, the scouring action of the glaciers pulverizes minerals in the rock over which the glacier passes. These pulverized minerals become sediment at the bottom of the lake, and some of the rock "flour" becomes suspended in the water. These suspended minerals support a large population of algae, making the water appear teal green.
From Peyto Lake we made a short drive to the base of Bow Lake where the fields of willow were at their peak of fall color. Like a giant carpet of yellows, reds and oranges, these fields stretched across a giant area and all the way to the teal shores of Bow Lake. These vibrant colors under a late day sun made for some great photo ops. We worked on near-far compositions with the Bow Glacier in the distance as well as white balance and other techniques.
With a full afternoon of shooting complete we returned to the Chateau Lake Louise for a relaxing evening, dinner and a good nights sleep for the next full day of photography.
When you stay at the Chateau Lake Louise you simply walk out the back doors (with a warm cup of coffee in hand!) to the twilight shores, set up your tripod and camera and await what mother nature has to offer you for the morning. On this morning she did not disappoint. The lake was glassy and calm and we could see a near perfect reflection of Victoria Glacier and the two mountain peaks that frame this amazing valley. As the sun began to rise some high clouds lit up pink. We used high apertures to capture the foreground rocks, sharp reflections and the far distance mountains and glacier. It was indeed a great sunrise and a taste of some of the nice light we would see throughout the rest of the trip.
After working many different compositions around the lake, including the famous bright red canoes, we loaded up and drove 15 minutes to another great location, Herbert Lake. Now the sun was a little higher in the sky and some nice clouds hovered above the mountain range to our west. Herbert Lake was dead calm so the reflections of the colorful tree line, and distant mountains, made for some fantastic new images. Just under the shallow waters lie a number of dead trees and these really helped improve our compositions be providing leading lines into the distance.
That afternoon we took a drive down the Bow Valley Parkway looking for wildlife on our way to Hillsdale Meadow. When we arrived everyone was excited to see a giant Aspen grove at peak color. The light was perfect and the sky was filled with big puffy clouds. Yes! We found a ton of great compositions that included the wide array of colors and textures and we also worked on some panoramic images.
With the light looking so good, we decided to back track a little and visit a location along the Bow river as foreground for the mighty Castle Mountain. As we were arriving to park we could see the sun was likely going to be covered with clouds very soon so we nearly ran to find the best spots. We did manage a few images before the sunlight was blocked...but knew we'd have to revisit to ensure we captured the best Castle Mountain had to offer.
The next morning we departed nice and early for Lake Moraine -- to many considered to be the crown jewel of Banff National Park. This lake is stunning. It's a glacier fed lake so it's vibrant teal colors are unmistakeable and if that's not enough, it's surrounded by 10 giant mountain peaks known as the "Valley of the 10 Peaks". On this particular morning we arrived to overcast skies and a slight drizzle but no matter the conditions, you can't help but gasp at it's beauty as you lay eyes on it for the first time.
After about 45 minutes the cloud ceiling started to drop and we could tell rain was on it's way. We packed up and headed back to the Chateau for something warm to drink and to meet up with laptops for some post processing lessons using Photoshop® and Lightroom®.
The storm front that brought the morning rains persisted but that wasn't going to stop us from getting out into mother nature. We headed north to Mistaya Canyon. This location is pretty amazing -- carved by the Mistaya River, the canyon was formed by millions of years of water flow cutting a deep path through dense rock. What's so unique is that the canyon twists and turns at sharp 90 to 180 degree bends with smooth walls and overhangs. It's truly a remarkable feat of mother nature and a great location for photography, especially as some of the canyon walls are adorned with peak fall color bushes which contrast nicely against the dark rock and teal rushing waters below.
The name of the game in nature photography is repetition...if at first you dont succeed, try, try again. Rinse and repeat. Or, we're gluttons for punishment. However you want to describe it...that's what we did, we revisited Lake Moraine for another sunrise attempt. When we arrived it was looking promising...some overcast but also some openings of light. But, as the morning went on the skies grew more ominous, the winds picked up and mother nature made herself clear that great photography of Lake Moraine would have to be another time. We retreated to the Chateau for breakfast and to pack up...it was time to head to our next location in the town of Banff!
At noon we made the 40 minute drive from Lake Louise to the town of Banff, where we checked into our next luxury hotel, the Fairmont Banff Springs. Built in 1887, this luxury hotel is rich with history and looks like a giant castle in the middle of the Canadian Rockies.
After lunch and a short break we proceeded down the Bow Valley Parkway and stopped at a large grove of trees adorned in fall colors. The sprinkling rain continued but that wasn't going to stop us from capturing this beautiful location under muted light with vibrant colors from the rain.
From there we continued down the winding road when we came across a large herd of Elk. There were approximately 20 females and one male and he was an impressive looking specimen. His giant 6-point rack was perfect and he strutted around the open grassy field herding the females and protecting them from other males that were nearby. This activity, and the overcast lighting, really gave us a chance to capture some great images.
Our persistance and patience with mother nature paid off and she granted us some of fantastic morning sunrise light over Two Jack Lake. Everyone lined up on the shores bright and early in anticipation. There was no wind and the lake was glassy-calm...we knew it was going to be good...it was just a matter of "how good"...well let's just say as the colors spread across the sky above the lake, and Mount Rundle in the distance, the clicking of 12 cameras sounded like a quite machine gun of fire for several minutes. We worked a variety of compositions and used warmer white balance settings to really draw out the colors. Filters also helped to bring more depth and detail in the sky and balance out the overall exposure of the scene.
Mother Nature wasn't done...as we packed up and drove away, giddy with delight over the great sunrise, we spotted a BEAR! We quickly and quietly pulled over to observe the bear as he grazed not far off the road in a bush filled with berries. After a couple of minutes we very slowly climbed out the far side of the vehicles so that everyone could take some photos of this black bear. He could not have been in a better environment...behind him were nice fall colors and the tree line...he stood out really nicely! Using the vans as safety, we observed and photographed him for about 15 minutes before he wandered off into the forest. Then, later that morning we spotte two more bears, however this time we were not able to photograph them as they were deep in the trees.
The afternoon brought some really nice light and since Castle Mountain wasn't quite as nice as we would have liked in the days prior we decided we would take one more swing at her...third time's the charm! As we arrived the light was amazing and the clouds above could not have been more perfect.
Next stop...Johnston Canyon. We spent nearly two hours hiking into the canyon on the easy to travel walkway that, in some places, elevates you 30-40 feet above the canyon floor which provides for some unique and interesting perspectives from above. Once the group returned to the bottom of the trailhead we packed up and returned to the Banff Springs Hotel to meet up for drinks and to recap the trip, share a few photos and laughs.
The next morning everyone slept in (just a little) and we then loaded up to depart Banff. We went for a hot breakfast before leaving town, then headed off to Kananaskis Country, visiting a couple of locations before headed to Calgary so everyone could prepare for their travels home.
Banff National Park is such a rare and spectacular place on earth and we were able to enjoy it, photograph it and take it all in during one of the best times of year. With fall colors at absolute perfection, everyone came away with a nice variety of new images to be proud of, and of course many new photography skills to take with them on future workshops and adventures.
A very big thank you to our guests for joining us on the adventure and we hope to see you again soon, eh!
Stephen, Ellie and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.