Photo Cascadia Blog
Archive for the ‘Fall Color’ Category
It feels like during any given season we as nature photographers spend time chasing after the elements that first and foremost speak to the season. I would say this certainly applies to trees as well. When someone says fall, we think of trees with colors of a vibrant the sunset. When someone says spring we think of lush glowing greens. When someone says summer we think of them being full to help balance out the scene whatever color that may be. Of course that is some of the list as there other elements that come to the front of our mind for specific seasons whether it’s related to trees or not.
Fog Shrouded Forest – This scene if was all or mostly evergreen trees would be nice yet to me not nearly the same. The many details on the branches in the dense fog is what makes this scene for me.
I can say when it comes to deciduous trees in my early days of photography I always wanted trees to be filled with something, Whether it was green in spring, yellow in fall, or anything else in between because it made sense that would be more photogenic than a bunch of naked trunks and branches. Come on trees, get some clothes on for this photo shoot!
After a number of years photographing I realize now that I am drawn to trees with their stark beauty as much, and sometimes more, than than when they have their coats on from spring to fall. I am specifically talking about scenes without snow because in locations with multiple seasons we naturally think of winter and snow. The intent here is to illustrate there is much more in winter than a cold snowy scene of trees, even though I will admit I sucker for a great photo of snow covered trees.
Here are some reasons why you might think about photographing these more in the “off season” if you don’t already.
- Different Focus – When the trees are bare of leaves you can no longer rely on the colors of the leaves that may add to the overall compelling scene. Instead I feel like you have increased focus on composition and other elements that might normally be side dishes to the overall show.
- Hidden Details – With the leaves gone for the season you can see the details underneath that are normally hidden from view. I have some photos where the detail from many thin stark branches is what makes the photo.
- Contrasting Elements – When you have evergreen and deciduous trees together they can sometimes lack contrast depending on the season. When it’s winter time there is no question. It can provide much needed contrast to specific photos.
Here are some more of my favorites over the years falling under this theme.
Wetland Layers – In The Grand Tetons before leaves started budding I caught this scene of yellow and orange branches from the ground bushes against the empty trees in the back.
Stark and Slender – Trees from a fire decades ago still stand mostly barren while the undergrowth is growing. In spring this glows green (see the contrast here). Yet this stark muted scene stood out to me. As an aside this is likely the type of scenes will start to photograph in the Columbia River Gorge or other locations that have been damaged by wildfires.
Final Flames of Fall – To me this single tree with fall foliage stands out because of all the other stark and colorless trees around it.
Organizing Chaos – The sunset and ground bare ground foliage glows in the sunset light.
Around The Corner – Many smaller trees and bushes bare during winter are reaching up like arms to the light above.
Exposed – With this winter scene there is more more emphasis on the beautiful water and colorful mossy greens along with what is behind this small forest of trees. Something hidden most months of the year.
Outcast – This lone aspen in Grant Teton National park stands out in stark contrast from the giant evergreens surrounding it.
Pure Elowah – If you photograph this scene outside of late fall to very early spring you will have leaves on the trees blocking the view of the waterfall. Another case where a leaf-less tree is in your favor.
In this article, I’m sharing 20 of my favorite tips to enhance your autumn photography. I hope you can put some of these ideas to use as you explore with your camera in the fall.
1) Create a surreal mood by trying to include a sunstar that showcases your subject. The sun sets as an anchor point that guides your viewer to the subject.
Images from Yosemite National Park in the Lower Yosemite Valley
2) Create a warm overall balance with your images when including the colors red, yellow, and orange.
3) Early mornings in autumn are fantastic for finding mist and atmospheric conditions.
4) Look to include the color red when photographing autumn colors and blue skies.
5) Try to add variety to your autumn collection of images by including wide-angle images, telephoto images, abstracts, and macros.
6) Don’t forget to look on the ground and include fallen autumn foliage. Using a very wide angle approach and getting as close to the ground can offer a very different perspective.
8) Use a mix of different shutter speeds to get varying moods of autumn images. For example, I like to use fast shutter speeds to capture the leaves as they fall. I use long exposures to create a softer mood with the movement of water, clouds and foliage.
9) Include many element layers when photographing wide-angle scenes. I look for a foreground that will immediately capture the viewer’s attention. Use composition techniques to connect the foreground and background through the use of leading lines and depth. The more layers the more three-dimensional the image.
Image from the Dempster Highway in the Yukon
10) Reflections double the color and add that wow factor to autumn images. Look for ponds or small lakes that are more likely to be calm and still.
11) Don’t be afraid to include people in the image to give a perspective of scale and mood. To really add another dimension to the image look for people doing activities in the autumn surroundings.
12) Look for themes or commonalities when photographing autumn colors. One of my favorite themes is photographing barns and churches surrounded by color.
14) Try to find higher vantage points that offer a unique perspective of the autumn colors that most people don’t see. Many hiking trails in parks have this option. It’s always a special treat when you reach the top and you look down into a valley of color, or endless mountain ranges, or the stillness of a lake below.
15) Take it a step farther and look into adding aerial photography or drone photography into the mix. This can lead to fantastic images of winding roads through fall colors.
Images from the Dempster Highway in the Yukon
16) Autumn season is a great time to look for weather changes and unique weather systems. These types of conditions adds a special element of drama to the images.
17) Get out into the backcountry and away from other people for to photograph lesser known landscapes. I love to get deep into the mountains and find idyllic mountain settings combined with fall color.
18) Shooting a variety of subjects and elements when it comes to autumn can enhance your fall color portfolio. I like to include lakes, rivers, creeks, waterfalls, forests, and ponds just to name a few.
19) Get out in the rain. One of the best conditions for shooting fall colors is overcast weather. I especially like it when it’s slightly rainy which gives the fall colors an extra boost of vibrancy.
20) Have fun and try to be creative whenever possible. Get out of your comfort zone.
Last Fall myself and a handful of my Photo Cascadia peeps headed down to the desert southwest region. I had only been down that way a couple times before, the only longish trip before I had the knowledge and desire to create art like I do today. Needless to say I was very eager for the trip not only to travel with great friends but also in hopes coming home with a few images for the portfolio and experiences to last a lifetime.
Although this time of year normally consists of chasing scenes with yellow, red and other similar hues that are planted in the ground, this was not that trip. In fact I came home after 9 days with over 2,300 files and no fall color in any of them. Beyond that it was likely one of my most productive trips of this length that I can recall. What I have in this post is a healthy dose from that trip yet it’s a series of folders I will dive into periodically to find more nuggets to process for years to come.
David Cobb and I touch down in Las Vegas. Grabbed the rental car and headed to eat. I am always hungry for those that don’t know me well. David tells me if we were stranded on a boat in the middle of the ocean he would throw me over before he started to look like my next meal. I can’t blame him. We scarfed down lunch sitting outside right next to the sports car race track. Damn those cars are loud in this setting. After raising our voices just to talk over lunch we get on the highway, we leave behind Vegas in search of tranquil nature scenes.
We meet up with Chip Phillips and Zack Schnepf as they were just wrapping up a couple days in Zion National Park. After a quick pit stop for supplies in St George we decided to make our way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We planned to camp on the back roads outside the park yet seeing many of the backroads with head lights for the likes of hunting season, we opted for the modern day comforts of a hotel. We will camp this trip, just not here.
We head out before day break because well that is what we are here for. It’s a long haul from where we lodged to the rim but sunrise doesn’t disappoint. We stand along the edge at Cape Royal. I don’t really care how amazing the sky is or isn’t, it’s simply a great feeling to stand here. The warm light hitting the rocks and first time in over a decade to the area was a reminder why it was worth coming back to. After the sunrises we stop in a turn out along the road and eat a tailgating breakfast of champions.
After a few hours back at the hotel we cruise back to Cape Royal for sunset. This is a beautiful spot and conditions prime that evening with dappled light and showers rolling through. Complete with colorful rainbow and moody storm clouds, and of course among great friends. The light fades away into darkness; the photos will be here to keep the memories in the light.
I am thankful for this time of year with less daylight and more opportunities for zzz’s between sunset and sunrise. This morning we head to Point Imperial. We pull in to a quiet parking lot. We are the only cars here. Any noise we hear is us and a gentle breeze.
As we setup the sky and steep jagged cliffs glow every shade of red I can remember seeing in nature over the years. We tell stories, we shoot, and we laugh. We shoot some more and more laughs. You don’t want it to end. Until for some reason while I am packing up I open my wallet and realize I am missing my credit card. Doh!
I didn’t mention it earlier but we are here for the last few days the North Rim is open for the season. The droves of tourists have long departed and the visitor center’s shelves look like a department store that had long been out of business, empty. It’s the right time to be here for photography, except the warm monsoon summer season which is too warm for me.
When we get back Zack walks out from the restaurant holding my credit card in the air. Whew! I had left it at the restaurant the night before. The cars are packed and it’s time to head to the next location.
After a decent drive we make it to a location of Grand Staircase Escalante that we had hoped to get to. There were a couple water crossings that fortunately were running low for David’s new favorite vehicle in the whole world could make it through, our rental Jeep Compass. And to think it didn’t even have a compass. Huh.
We do some scouting and find a good place to put our tents down to call home for the next couple nights. All we see is openness and desert cliffs from camp. It’s a great place to park it.
The next couple days here are an all you can eat buffet of scrumptious light, flavorful skies and delicious scenes. I told you my mind can revolve around food.
This day brings more good times, good shots and good camp food. By the afternoon we see a trail of dust off in the distance slowly barreling our way. Erin has joined us for a few days of this desert adventure.
We leave Grand Staircase Escalante behind for a bit to check out another spot. The Coal Mine. With no camping nearby we find a hotel to crash at after visting the location for sunset. We cross the street for dinner. Here we learn time is an hour forward from where we stood across the street. What?! It’s hard enough that Arizona doesn’t change their clocks for daylight savings yet some reservations do recognize it while others don’t. In this case the restaurant was on the reservation land and the hotel was not. We almost missed sunrise one day having our heads flopping back in this mini time warp.
After peaceful and majestic sunrise at the Coal Mine, back at the hotel we say good-by to Chip and Zack who start their journey back to the Pacific Northwest. David and I had a few more days before heading back home via Sin City.
Erin, David and I make our way to one of many slot canyon options in Grand Staircase Escalante. The day is late and we know better than to hike miles upstream and come out in the dark. We explore enough to know it’s worth a full day.
We come back to the same canyon from the prior day. We arrive just after sunrise. Spending all day exploring, photographing and crisscrossing the water with my water logged boots. We hike out and make back to the car just after sunset. The dim light almost calling for a headlamp, I enjoy dusk and let my eyes adjust instead.
Erin needs to start her long drive back this morning. We part ways and now it’s down to David and me for the final couple days. Being in Page this day we decided to visit this little known place called Horseshoe Bend. Besides visiting The Grand Canyon during the off season with few people around, we have tried to avoid iconic landmarks. I don’t mind photographing them, and I will, yet I don’t seek out trips that I am simply trophy hunting. To me there is no fun in that. A sense of exploring places with few others around is part of the thrill of nature photography.
As you can imagine Horseshoe Bend was not a quiet spot. Mind you I have never been here and I show up in the dark before sunrise. I find what looks like a decent spot (can’t really tell) and setup more to enjoy the scene but do plan to take a photo or two. As dawn breaks on a gray day as if I brought it with me from Oregon, I hear another couple photographers pass behind me on the trail. One of them says “That guy is in my spot” and I turn to realize the only person he can be talking about is me since no one is next to me. Really!? This solidified why I am not drawn to visit the icons on a regular basis.
As I pack up David and I connect again. I realize I lost one of the feet on my Gitzo tripod. I was sure I had it on when I was photographing that morning. I have no extras this trip and thankful we are near the end and I can make do. Hiking the ~1 mile trail out about half way up I just happen to look down and I see a dark object. I bend down and pick it up. It’s a foot that fits my tripod perfectly! Whether it truly fell off my tripod or I picked up someone else’s I can’t say for certain. Either ways it worked out.
David and I start our trek back in the morning. We settle on the last night camping at Valley of Fire. We make it there in time for some brief photography before the ranger comes barreling down the road at dusk ensuring everyone is out.
Up at sunrise we head back into the prime area of the park that is closed at night. We photograph The Wave while exploring other areas until the light is harsh and photography at this point is small scenes requiring the use of my t-shirt as diffuser. It’s November and for my Pacific Northwest body is downright hot outside. How folks living down here deal with this in the summer I have no idea. I love it down here yet my body prefers cold over hot. It’s easier to layer up; you can only remove so many layers before it’s an issue in multiple ways.
We enjoy our nice little camping spot for the morning and head into the city that never sleeps. I know David as our main driver was sad to say goodbye to our gutless and compass-less Jeep Compass.
Leaving I already make plans in my head when I want to return, both for a family trip and photography. I can’t wait another decade without a decent trip down here. If you have not been and wonder why, just try reading the work of Edward Abbey or newer work from Guy Tal. There is much to ponder, dream and explore in this area to fill a lifetime.
“In my mind these experiences are a kind of retirement savings – the moments and memories I will someday recall with the same bittersweet joy and immense gratitude I felt experiencing them, and I will know that I truly lived”
– Guy Tal, More Than A Rock
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.”
― Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
Autumn is a favorite time for photographing in the Pacific Northwest. There are so many places to capture fall colors but nothing quite compares to photographing Mount Rainier in autumn. The Pacific Northwest and Mount Rainier make the perfect combination of elements needed for stunning images of fall photography. Not only is Mt Rainier known for its larger than life size but it picturesque lakes, waterfalls, meadows, and tundra. Although it varies year to year I find the best time for fall colors is the last week of September to Mid-October. But the color usually lasts until the first week of November when the snow first starts. Check fall reports on the Internet and the Mt Rainier website for more up to date information. There are two main areas to visit when going to Mt Rainier, which are the Paradise side and the Sunrise side. Both have excellent fall color and a host of different aspects to photograph. In my experience the fall colors start a few weeks earlier on the Sunrise side. The best places to photograph on the Sunrise side are Yakima Peak, Emmons Glacier (Silver Forest Trail), and the Tipsoo Lake area. Take time to explore around Tipsoo Lake especially the Naches Peak trail and both the Upper and Lower Tipsoo surrounding lakes. Early morning around Tipsoo Lake usually has a host of colors and mist that make for excellent atmospheric images. When photographing in late September the stunning sunrises make for great fall conditions. In terms of the foliage high elevation red huckleberry and larch is what you can expect to find on Mt Rainer. The other types of foliage you see are cottonwoods, willows, elderberry, aspen, tamarack (western larch) and deciduous trees. Although there are several types of foliage to shoot in autumn on Mt Rainier my personal favorite is the Red Huckleberry. The red is visually very impactful and always sticks out above other fall foliage. Look to incorporate the red huckleberry when combining it with areas of water like lakes and ponds that mirror the color of red. The red huckleberry is the first sign of fall color followed by larches, which tend to occur at the later stages of autumn.
When it comes to photographing on the Paradise side of Mount Rainier I always like to start off looking for fall colors at the Paradise Inn which has a great view of the mountain and the best displays of fall color right at the visitor center. Heading up the pathway to Myrtle Falls the views only getting better as well the color. Look to incorporate waterfalls as well as the mountain when making your way up the mountain from the Paradise side. Although the hike can be somewhat strenuous the hike is worth it. If you keep along the paths they converge into the Paradise Valley where the mountain is in full view but also if you turn 180 degrees away from the mountain you get grand views of the Tatoosh range. The Tatoosh Range looks best at sunset. The Paradise Meadows also makes a great sunset spot when the weather looks active and the clouds are moving in. Sometimes the clouds move over Mt Rainier making it impossible to see but the action on the Tatoosh Range gets color. So in essence it’s your safest bet if you are looking to capture some fall colors on the mountain.
If you continue up the hill past Myrtle Falls you will eventually reach the Mazama Ridge. It’s my favorite area to see the mountain and fall color. With wide-open meadows of fall color and full views of the mountain it makes for an excellent combination. The total hike in and out from the Mazama Ridge is about 4 miles but there are several areas to stop along the way for fall colors. If you like to shoot reflection images of the mountain you can’t do better than both the Reflection Lakes and Bench Lake areas. I always make an annual stop at these lakes early in the morning to capture both atmospheric mist and fall colors.
Another favorite of mine for great views of the mountain is the hike up to Pinnacle Peak saddle and the surrounding areas. There are great views of Mount Adams as well from up here. The hike is short but steep. Once at the saddle I explore around the area for good compositions and color.
The hikes around the lake also present many possibilities to shoot more intimate shots of autumn. If you are looking to capture images of fall color and forest scenes then head into the Grove Of Patriarchs. Many short hikes in this forest provide stunning forest views of the tall trees and fall colors. To get really creative try photographing really low to the ground and look straight up with the camera and shoot fall colors and the trees together. With so many places to photograph on Mt Rainier you always have many options available.
If you are lucky enough to live close to the mountain September is a great time to watch the mountain for unusual weather activity. Because the elevation of Mt Rainier is so high it creates its own weather system. So your chances of seeing unusual weather patterns like lenticular cloud buildup is quite possible. In layman terms lenticular clouds are those clouds that look like UFO’s in the sky but are caused by encounters with obstructions in the sky like very high mountain peaks. Known also as “wave clouds” they make for very interesting patterns and when combined with fall colors make for ideal conditions. In autumn I check the webcams quite often looking for a buildup of these clouds as it takes often several hours to buildup. The Paradise Valley makes for one of the best spots to see this unique weather pattern. The other place that I will often head to if I see these weather patterns is along the Silver Forest Trail, which is about .5 of a mile from the parking lot at the Sunrise Visitor Center.
With so many options on Mt Rainier to photograph as well as the diversity of colors it makes for the perfect place to photograph. Combine all of the elements of unusual weather, stunning sunrises, and atmospheric conditions and Mt Rainier makes for the perfect autumn spot to photograph.
I did a blog post a number of years back on abstract nature photography yet it’s been a long time and thought I would revisit this topic. I really enjoy this type of photography especially when you find hidden gems that others may not have seen or might have passed over many times before you. Often what ends up being the final photo doesn’t jump out at you without surveying a scene for potential compositions. Sometimes I dig in and strike it rich finding those gems and other times I come up empty handed which is part of the fun.
Rather than a lot of typing for this post I will let the video do most of the talking this time around. I am not normally the video tutorial kind of person yet I am getting myself to branch out into this type of work. Below is the video and three photos I discuss in greater detail. For each scene I show several compositions I took leading up to the final to help understand my thought process to build a compelling abstract or intimate nature photo.
Standing Tall – In cold wet forest of the Columbia River Gorge in early winter
Desert Lizard – In the dry cool desert Southwest in Fall inside Zion National Park
Final Flames of Fall – Above a forest in the Columbia River Gorge during the final days of fall
Video covering the three photos above in much more detail. Happy viewing!
Welcome to 2016 on the Photo Cascadia blog. I have the distinct honor of being chosen to write the first article of the new year. Actually I drew the short straw, but either way I’m excited to be kicking off Photo Cascadia’s sixth year of sharing, learning, exploring and inspiring here on our blog.
Back in October of 2015 I lead a photo tour in the Eastern Sierra through the Cascade Center of Photography with Christian Heeb, one of the most versatile professionals and experienced travel photographers around. The two of us, and our intrepid group of photographers, spent a memorable week exploring the mythical landscapes along Highway 395. The following is a photo journal of the trip. All of these photos were taken by Christian and myself. Christian is the people photographer, so he’s not in many of them.
The Eastern Sierra is a land of legends. Every landscape evokes geologic and volcanic legacy, Native American history, explorers, pioneers, the gold rush, famous mountaineers and one of the birth places of the American national parks and environmental conservation movement. The expanses are big, the mountains are grand and the landscapes are varied. Of course, the Sierra Nevada has inspired some of the most well known American photographers, Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell not the least among them.
The area is so large and parts are so remote that a lifetime of exploring wouldn’t allow you to see it all. Some of the most scenic and photogenic locations are in the high mountain wilderness, deep in canyons or far out in the remote desert and only accessible by those who are especially adventurous and fit. However, it also has many world class photography locations which are accessible by car or with short hikes. This makes the Eastern Sierra a great destination for any photographer and a popular area for photography workshops and tours like this one. There are so many good locations which can be accessed by a group workshop that one week almost wasn’t long enough.
Christian and I planned our tour to be timed with the peak of autumn aspen color. Like anywhere, the fall color quality and timing varies from year to year, but most often it peaks near the third week of October. During our visit some of the highest elevation groves were past peak, but the middle and lower elevation colors near Lee Vining, June Lakes and Bishop Creek were at their height. During the fall season the temperatures are generally very pleasant. Mornings at the higher elevations can be below freezing, but daytime temperatures were quite comfortable at 60-75 F (15-22 C). The busiest time in the Sierra is summer when it is overrun with tourists, backpackers, mountain bikers, climbers and campers. In October, some areas still get quite a few visitors, but nothing close to the crowds of summer, and we were the only people at several of the places we went.
Our trip covered the region between Mono Lake on the north and the town of Lone Pine on the south. The distance between is over 100 miles, so we based out of a few different towns during the trip to minimize driving time to our sunrise and sunset locations. As you can see from the images, we had some spectacular light and weather conditions.
Most important of all is the fun we had. We had a wonderful and diverse group of talented photographers. People came from all over the west and as far as Florida, Maryland and Switzerland. Everyone was enthusiastic, positive and energized. I think everyone learned a lot, made new friends and had lifetime experiences. We also laughed a lot and captured some spectacular photographs. Photo credit for this next collection of workshop images goes to Christian Heeb.
I work with Christian and the Cascade Center of Photography regularly. They are one of few dedicated photography centers in the Western US and a great resource for all types and levels of photographers. Each year they offer a wide selection of classes, workshops and tours. Classes for all levels and genres of photography are held in Bend, Oregon, where the center is located. They also lead tours all over the world. Christian and I will be taking a group to Patagonia and Easter Island in March and they have trips to Cuba, France and Morocco on the calendar, just to name a few.
All of the locations in this article are open to the public, have good access and ample information can be found on them with quick web searches. Following are some additional resources for the Eastern Sierra you may find helpful.
- Michael Frye’s Sierra Blog Articles. Michael is one of the most knowledgeable, experienced and talented photographers currently in the area.
- Photo Trip USA’s Photographing California Volumes 1 and 2 by Garry Crabbe and Jeffrey Sullivan.
- Mono County Eastern Sierra Fall Color Report
- Sierra National Forest
- Inyo National Forest
Late last year we were out as a Photo Cascadia group along the Oregon Coast when the idea was brought up to head to the Canadian Rockies for fall 2015. I was in! I had not been there while it sat on my list of must see places to visit for too long. Fast forward to the last week of September 2015 and we were off for a one week trip.
After the first 6 hour leg from my house in Portland, Oregon I met up with Chip in Spokane, Washington to finish out the next 6+ hours to our destination and meet up with Sean and Zack who had already been there a day. After a long day we arrived at Lake Louise Campground shortly after sunset. No sunset photos that night. We pulled in. Hung out with Zack and Sean for a bit while eating dinner then off to catch zzz’s for sunrise.
Getting up this time of year for sunrise feels like a treat after the droopy tired eyes of summer. We made our way to our first photo stop, sunrise at Moraine Lake. I expected busy. It was a little more than I expected. Far and away the most crowded location on this trip photographing with 100+ of my closest friends. Amazing to see yet it loses the appeal a little for me with that many photographers all jockeying for limited space. I kept setting up high in the trees, in the dark, only to find someone else eventually moving around already setup in my shot. One gal was getting aggressive when a photog got too close and he wasn’t moving. I was waiting for a fight but he eventually moved. I left the main viewing area on the top to join my peeps along the shore where I had a great rest of the morning with this splendid view!
This trip would not involve lollygagging around the same campsite for multiple nights. We had breakfast in town, back to camp to pick up Chip’s trailer and then off to the next location, Yoho National Park. A rather short drive away (~ 20 kilometers) we checked in at Kicking Horse Campground which was a good location in the middle of Yoho Park.
We spent the afternoon checking out Takakkaw Falls, walking part of Emerald Lake shoreline and then finishing with sunset at Emerald Lake. It’s only seconds after arriving here to know how it got it’s name. “Hiking” around the lake is more like an extended nature hike. At least the section we did was pretty flat yet very scenic. As we all know not all great scenic photos require long bouts of strenuous activity.
Up plenty before daylight and off to Bow Lake for sunrise. The drive was about 50 kilometers. The wind was whipping pretty good. I was not happy with any of my images from this morning yet we had a fun time regardless. The clouds rolled in and we could tell things would get wet later in the day. Back to Kicking Horse for breakfast at camp, fill up on water and off to the next campsite closer to the Bow Lake area.
Our next stop was Mosquito Creek Campground on Ice Fields Parkway. We filled up on water before arriving as this time of year it’s a dry campground because overnight lows dip below freezing. By the time we arrived the rain had already started dropping. We spent the afternoon chilling in our campers reading, listening to podcasts and napping. Having warm dry shelter was very welcome at that moment.
After getting bored we decided to drive and see if could find a place to have a beer. First stop was Bow Lake restaurant. The lady at the desk was indirectly kind in trying to say the restaurant was for guests only yet suggested we head a ways down the road for a bar. Mind you this is National Park with few places to stop and all tree lined roads. After driving another 40 km in the pouring rain at dusk we arrive at the mildly depressing oasis called Saskatchewan River Crossing. We were happy to have this place pretty much to ourselves sitting on couches drinking a beer and snacking on mediocre wings. Out into the rain and 50 km later we are back at camp. Rain still pouring outside we eat dinner in the camper then hit the hay.
I wake up shortly before dawn. I step outside the camper and can see nothing but endless grey with rain still coming down. Feels like home. We decide to bag sunrise and go back to bed. What seemed like 5 min later, in reality over an hour, I wake up and look out the window to see a huge patch of blue sky. Shorter than the click of a shutter I yell for Chip to wake up and jump out the camper. No courteous knock, I whip open the door to Sean’s camper and say “get up now, we need to leave!” Minutes later we are on the road. It did not take long to see this was going to be a fantastic morning. The snowline went down low overnight but only brought a dusting. With the sun coming over the horizon and quickly clearing skies we had to act fast. After pulling into Peyto Lake we made a short hike to an area with a perfect view and away from the main viewpoint.
While still on a morning high from the scene at Peyto Lake we make our way down to wander around Waterfowl Lakes. After breakfast back at camp we decide very early tomorrow is the time to make it up into Lake O’Hara with the slowly clearing weather pattern.
Midday we head back into Lake Louise Village for supplies. Mainly the $6 dollar bear spray rental since I left mine back home. I know now I can take it across the border next trip. As the kid in the store weighs the bear spray he proceeds to tell me that if I end up using it and the weight is not the same upon return I will have to buy it. My response “if I have to use this I have much bigger concerns than the retail price of a can of bear spray!”
That night we photographed sunset along Waterfowl Lakes. The partly cloudy skies made for a really nice scene. We don’t stick around long as we need to hit the sack early since wake up will be 3:15! No time for s’mores or kumbaya this trip.
My soothing alarm ring goes off at 3:15 am. Surprisingly I slept better than expected and feel pretty good. We eat a quick breakfast, as much as my body wants to eat this early in the morning and out into the morning cold crisp air we head as we start our trek to Lake O’Hara.
Spots in and around Lake O’Hara are amazingly scenic like out of Lord of the Rings or where you truly might find that pot of gold with a leprechaun. This is the reason it’s not easy to get there. For most normal people there are two options; camping or the lodge. Both options book up months in advance. Our plan would be to hike the 11 km gravel road in the dark to make it by sunrise. You can see why I rented bear spray. Although we were a group of four it’s prime bear country. With our head lamps moving around like the light in a lighthouse and plenty of “hey bear” shout outs we arrive at Lake O’Hara shortly before sunrise. I would not necessarily recommend this approach yet it worked for us.
We quickly find out the hiking is not over. We have at least a few more kilometers of all steep terrain to make it where we want to go. I am on a high and power through the next part. The sky starts getting lighter to slowly reveal this magical landscape. We spend a couple hours hiking around and taking photos. Honestly it’s a place you could stay all day with the perfect conditions we had yet we needed to ensure we could get a bus out. We leave it behind taking our photos as constant reminders for years to come.
We decide our next stop is Kananaskis. Kananskis Country is known for large photogenic groves of aspens. After the 160 km drive (about 2 hrs) we were pretty wiped considering the early morning wakeup call and long hike. We pull into a campground in Kananaskis area and take a long nap.
We decided on Wedge Pond for sunset, a short jaunt from camp. The golden aspens line the pond and do not disappoint. Not only did we have a beautiful view yet on the other side of the pond were what appeared to be two female yoga instructors doing poses in a wildly colorful yoga pants while a male photographer taking the shots was cheering them on. They were the only people there besides us.
Up the next morning and fortunately another not too far away drive which allowed for a more normal wake up time. It was a nice little marshy pond area not far from the road with a perfect view of Mount Kidd. A thin layer of ice continued growing on the small ponds as we photographed which was all we needed to tell us the temperature outside.
After that we spent the next few hours chasing around different aspen groves before the light got too harsh. Daytime photos are beautiful with golden aspens mixed with blue skies yet we had other plans in mind given it was our last day.
A late breakfast and on the road to the town Banff we go. There is a campground just outside of town where we setup camp. After “roughing” it for the week we decide an evening on the town is in order to finish this phenomenal trip. I highly recommend a soak in Banff Hot Springs and grabbing a beer with dinner at Banff Brewing Company. The next morning before dawn we head home.
If you have not been it’s a must add to your bucket list. In my home state of Oregon I feel lucky to live near mountains to play and photograph yet in all honesty they feel less dramatic in scale and size when comparing the endless large mountains around every turn in the Canadian Rockies.
Timing: The first part of any fall color foliage trip is timing. We all had it Sharpied in our calendars many months in advance and while peak fall colors certainly change every year none of us had much wiggle room. Fortunately our timing could not have been better. Normal peak for this area is middle to late September. As a side note you can easily spend a couple weeks in the Canadian Rockies and still feel like you are only scratching the surface.
Transportation: Living in the Pacific Northwest we are in reasonable driving distance. I only lug all my camping or backpacking equipment at 30,000 feet when necessary. The drive was about 12 hours, pushing the envelope to do it one day. Flying you will likely need to come through Calgary, the closest International airport at 120 kilometers from Banff.
Weather: This time of year you need everything from t-shirts to thick down jackets. We experienced snow, rain, wind and bright blue sky mild days. Be prepared for it all. Our coldest morning was about -3 degrees and our sunny warmest day about 15 degrees Celsius.
Lodging: There are plenty of options from budget camping to deluxe pampering hotels. We would be camping the whole time which made it very cost effective. Campgrounds we stayed at in Yoho and Banff ranged from $18 to $27 Canadian a night with additional $8 if you want to have a campfire. Beautiful Lake O’Hara I mentioned, lodging is a mere $600 to $900 CA a night for two.
Locations: Overall there many different parks and places that are part of Canadian Rockies yet we had no problem filling the days with our focus on three of them…Kananaskis, Banff and Yoho National Parks.
Physical Activity Level: You can make it as adventurous as you want from photographing out the window of your resort room to backpacking deep into the mountains. If money is no object then the best of both by staying at mountain lodges in the back country. Given we had only a week most of our locations were short hikes to nature walks with one long strenuous hike.
By David Cobb
A decade ago I traveled through Iceland exploring and planning for my 2006 walk across the island. I marveled at the stark scenery and the long hours of beautiful light-a photographer’s paradise. Today, you can’t fling a spoonful of Slátur (blood pudding) in Iceland without hitting a photographer. Those early feelings in an earlier day I had for Iceland rose again on a recent trip to Slovenia, but on this trip I felt I had barely scratched the surface of discovering the beauty of Slovenia.
The Slovenian photo opportunities are much more than the beautiful Church of Assumption atop an island of Lake Bled–waterfalls abound, gorges seemingly are everywhere, the Julian Alps are spectacular, and the countryside is filled with vineyards farms, and picturesque landscapes.
My trip began in the capital city of Ljubljana (a place I joked was the only city with more coffee shops and bicycle riders than my hometown of many years Portland, Oregon). The streets of old town are attractive and easy to wander with a camera and tripod, and at night they truly become alive with lights reflecting onto the river below. And like many European cities, Ljubljana is topped with a castle that you must explore.
Next on the list was a trip to Lake Bled which is truly in a fairyland setting. From here short trips can be made to the popular sites of Lake Bohinj, Vintgar Gorge, Savica Falls, and other parts of Triglav National Park. I’m sure there are more than a million places to discover, explore, and photograph here, but I only had time for a few as we moved on to our next destination east to the town of Ptuj which is surrounded by rolling hills and vineyards that reminded me a bit of Tuscany or even the Palouse. The rural countryside, green grasses, and fall color combined with the soft light to make for some enjoyable photography. The small city streets are also quite photogenic, and the morning city fog adds an air of mystery to it all. From here we left to explore the northern section of Croatia, a country I’ve visited in the past but wanted to see more. We returned to Slovenia along its small coastline and stayed in the town of Piran–a lively coastal city and photogenic along the harbor.
A two-hour drive brought us back to Ljubljana and completed our loop of the country. The people here were always friendly and knew English well. The food ranged from very good to excellent, so I never had a bad meal. Like I said, I barely scratched the surface of this country’s photo opportunities. Fellow Photo Cascadia member Sean Bagshaw also vacationed here in 2014 and we’re planning to conduct a fall color photo tour of this country with Slovenian photographer Luka Esenko in 2017, so stay tuned for updates.
Four Takes on the Same Scene: Getting Creative
By David Cobb
This fall I conducted a photography workshop in Glacier National Park through the Pacific Northwest Art School, and the fall color was some of the best I’ve seen there in years. One afternoon we headed out to an aspen grove to capture fall color and I used the opportunity to practice pans, zooms, and multiple exposure images, which I like to do in the fall when the light is still bright on the trees. I also figured it would be a good time to teach these techniques to those interested. I remembered reading a book by photographer Freeman Patterson, who would throw a hoop in his backyard and then try to come up with original images while staying within that hoop. To help expand our creative thinking, I thought I’d try a similar exercise while keeping my tripod in place.
I first started with multiple exposure images and set my camera to three images on one frame, then took three shots while moving my camera slightly (between each shot) in the shape of a V. Depth-of-field is of little importance here, since you’re going for the “impressionistic look.” Three images weren’t enough to capture the impressionist “feel” I was after though, so I increased it to five images on one frame, taking each shot in the shape of an X and moving my camera each time no further than one-quarter of the distance of my baby fingernail. That did the trick, and I was able to capture the impressionist “feel” I was after.
Next I started to pan my camera up and down while taking a shot. Each person moves differently, so a time that might work for me might not work for you. Instead, concentrate on your follow-through with the camera. If you anticipate stopping when you hear the shutter click, the image will look a lot less fluid and probably won’t be very good. Once everyone got the hang of that trick, we moved onto another–this time zooming while shooting. You can get some interesting results with fall color when you zoom and shoot, but I have learned that when you zoom in on a solid object (like tree bark) your image will be more successful.
Once the sun set over the distant ridge, it was time to take a “normal” shot. I framed the image in my usual way by using my live-view in conjunction with the zoom to make sure of my focus. This automatically turns on camera lock-up, so the image should be tack-sharp. With aspen leaves I often turn up the ISO, since the leaves are quaking, and I pull the trigger. This image can be used as a reference shot to compare against those more “creative” images taken earlier.
People in the group were learning and having fun and I walked away with an idea for a blog. I think that’s a good day of photography.