Photo Cascadia Blog
Posts Tagged ‘Fall Color’
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.
Tips for Photographing Fall Aspen
By David Cobb
It’s that time again in the Pacific Northwest when I’m on the search for fall aspen. The season usually runs from mid-September to late October, depending on the elevation and whether the aspen stand is in the eastern or western sections of the Pacific Northwest. Even though I seem to photograph aspen every year, I never tire of the challenge–and challenging it is. What follows are a few ways I’ve found to improve your chances of taking an aspen image you’ll like.
First, USE A POLARIZER! This not only cuts down on the leaf reflection, but also adds to the pop and warmth of the leaves. When shooting fall aspen, also pay attention to your histogram’s red channel, because your RGB average may indeed seem inside the histogram but that doesn’t mean you’re losing information on the red channel and detail on your leaves.
You’ll need to find an interesting stand when photographing aspen, because color alone doesn’t cut it. Look for interesting trunks and avoid deadfall. Ask yourself if the trunks have an interesting form? Are there corridors within the forest that will lead the eye into the scene? Another way to add interest to an aspen scene is to photograph the smaller trees among the larger. This adds color and interest to the lower sections of the stand, and breaks up the monotony.
With most forest photography of fir and pine, I often climb a hill and shoot towards the middle section of the forest. Not so with aspen. With aspen I find myself shooting more level or sometimes uphill. I also climb a hill and shoot down, but only if I want to include the color of leaves for a golden background behind nicely formed trunks.
Another tip is to shoot aspen from far above. From here, the color itself can create interesting patterns and become form. Fallen aspen leaves shot with a macro lens can have a similar effect and pattern, especially when dotted with water droplets.
I find a zoom or medium-wide angle lenses works best when photographing aspen. This doesn’t cause too much distortion in the trunks, and easily frames the interest of the shot. I also use these lenses when creating an aspen panorama in order to avoid image distortion while stitching. Of course, image blur may be what you’re after with a forest pan. Aspens are great for that when the light is at higher contrast. I often use this technique with a shutter speed between ¼ and 1 second, and simply pan vertically while shooting. The results are a crapshoot, but you’ll find yourself getting more successes with practice.
The best aspen stands to be found in the Pacific Northwest are scattered about the region, and here are a few of my favorites:
1) The Steens Mountains in eastern Oregon are known for fall aspen, so arrive for some early season practice.
2) The road between East Glacier and Saint Mary, Montana has wonderful craggy aspens, and these often change the third week of September.
3) There are some great stands near Stanley, Idaho, but you’ll need to search them out and recent fires have hurt some areas.
4) Check out Washington’s Columbia River Plateau near Mount Adams for some great fall aspen amongst ranchland.
5) Also the road between Leavenworth and Lake Wenatchee in Washington supplies a variety of aspen color including deep red.
6) In southern Oregon near the Klamath Basin, you’ll find a few stately groves which look best in the snow.
There are still a few weeks left to take part in the fall aspen shoot, and hopefully these tips will prove handy.
When it comes to getting great autumn images there are many things that you can do to achieve success. The following list is just a brief summary of the top tips to adding impact. I encourage to go out and shoot as much as you can this fall and come up with your own top ten next year.
1) Use the light to your advantage: It is necessary to consider the light when trying to maximize color when shooting fall foliage. The golden light of early mornings and late evening sunset work best. Avoid the harsh contrast light of midday light that strips subjects of their color. Also, do not be afraid to shoot in overcast weather just be careful not to include too much sky in your shot.
2) Find colors that are complementary: Finding color in autumn is easy; trying to make visual sense is not. This means you need to consider how you arrange the colors in your image. Look for ways to match complementary colors or color contrasts. More specifically, I will choose compositions that accentuate the red of the leaves against the green grass or blue sky.
3) Try different perspectives: The best way to achieve this is to use a variety of lenses and focal lengths. There are many ways to showcase autumn; don’t lock yourself into one approach. I always shoot both wide-angle and telephoto. The wide-angle does a great job of showing the larger landscape and the color within its environment. It gives the viewer a better understanding of the whole scene. On the other hand, the telephoto is great for isolating smaller details against contrasting textures. Both give a completely different feel to the mood but equally effective.
4) Shoot with a polarizer: always shoot with a polarizer to maximize color: Using a polarizer can really add an immediate impact to your image. The polarizer deepens the color of blue skies, provides more saturated colors, and reduces glare and reflections in bright or sunny conditions.
5) Include reflections in the visual design: in a sense look for ponds, lakes, or any body of water to mirror the impact of color doubling the beauty. Water adds a sense of dimension and motion that adds to the depth and substance of the image.
6) The tranquility of water and its reflection brings a subtle mood to your autumn images. When photographing using water don’t be afraid to break the rules of thirds. This is the time to go with a 50/50 in terms of composition.
7) Use color in the image to tell a story: Use color deliberately in your story telling. Color is important but it is how we use it that really tells a story. Use the strongest colors in your foreground to grab your viewers attention; from their find patterns of color that connect the foreground to the background to really connect the image and tell a story. Too often we see one part of the image bold with great colors and nothing elsewhere. The image falls apart.
8) Shoot fall colors after a period of rain: Although not mentioned a lot in tips about fall photography. I have found my most successful fall images right after a rainstorm. The reasoning behind this is simple; the wet leaves are at their most vivid and the addition of rain adds another dimension to the image. Remember to combine this with a polarizer to reduce glare and reflection.
9) Look for unique perspectives: Too often we see the same type of fall photography. The stock image of the fallen leaf on the ground; the forest of aspens, or the collage combination of several colors along a backcountry road. Challenge yourself to step out of the box and come up with something completely new. Creativity is what will set your photography above others.
10) Remember to not forget about the basics of photography just because of color: Although hard to describe I believe this is the most important tip to fall photography. Too often I become overwhelmed with the color and start shooting at the first sign of color. Because of the power of color I forget everything else in terms of composition. It is important to step back and take a deep breath. Maybe take a day to take in the sights without shooting. Once you have become accustomed to the color then you can coordinate color with composition. Remember color is just one part of what makes fall photography so interesting. Look for ways to bring all of your set skills into the image.
So that is a small list of tips to improve your fall photography. It is important to combine these tips with your style of photography to come up with a winning combination. Keep pressing the boundaries of creativity and develop a style that people can recognize as your own.