Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Day 7: Banff to Lake Louise

I woke up at 6:00am on an unusually warm morning, and immediately drove up Norquay mountain, which was recommended to me as a potentially sunrise spot. Arriving at the view point, I saw that the area was clouded over, and the light would not be ideal: I would see the mountains lit from the side, and not from behind me. Further more, the high mountains behind me would obscure the sun for a long time, which would keep me from working the light for quite a while yet. I therefore quickly shot a nightscape of Banff and moved on.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

I was reminded of Lake Minnewanka, which had several signs pointing to it, and which Eungshin had mentioned the day before. I drove towards it and when I arrived, saw that another photographer had already staked out the place. The light was starting to look pretty good, so I quickly parked the car and ran out with my gear next to the photographer, who turned out to be Bill Wood.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

The light was amazing, and we started getting some of the most brilliant alpenglow I had ever seen. I worked the light every which way and then suddenly saw a rainbow right in front of Bill!

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

The rainbow never got very strong, and certainly had faded by the time I got out my polarizer, but I just could not believe my luck. 2 rainbows in one trip! I kept working the light, but one of the biggest penalty of the strong wind was that long exposures would lead to the trees blurring, which led to many a heart-breaking shot when I finally saw the resulting photos in light room. For instance:

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

The light eventually faded, and Bill and I finally found time to introduce ourselves and chat about our experiences. We exchanged e-mail addresses and were about to leave when an acquaintance of Bill's showed up and showed us the full rainbow she had found in Cranmore while we were shooting here. Apparently the clouds were not as extensive up there and so the rainbow had lasted quite a bit longer.

Bill sent me a link to his PicasaWeb gallery which includes some of the best sky/cloud pattern pictures I've seen yet.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

Bill drove off towards the highway, but I wanted to explore the whole loop, and besides, was looking for somewhere to eat breakfast anyway. Driving past Two Jack lake, I saw Johnson Lake and decided that it looked like a nice place. I made breakfast, which wasn't easy in the wind, but the water boiled in a reasonable time thanks to using the methylated spirits instead of rubbing alcohol. After breakfast, I walked around the lake, which was pretty in a very understated fashion. I even found a squirrel who let me shoot a picture of him eating his breakfast.


From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism




Leaving the lake, I saw yet more vistas with potential, if only the light was just a little better. I had plenty of time before meeting up with Eungshin, so I dropped by the Vermillion Lakes as well, but found them uninspiring. It had also started raining very hard at that time, so perhaps they'd be better if you were luckier with the weather.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

I parked my car by the Safeway and started stocking up on food. I had plenty of freeze-dried food for up a few nights in the back-country, but given the amount of front-country camping I was thinking of doing, I needed more. I had also run out of chocolate.

I met with Eungshin and we went out to lunch at the local food court. I mentioned that I saw a rainbow this morning. "I haven't seen a rainbow since I came to Banff!" Seeing rainbows isn't just a matter of luck, it's a matter of optics. I racked my brain as to how to translate Galen Rowell's words "anti-solar position when the sun is below 45 degrees" into easier to understand sentences. I thought for only a few seconds before realizing that I was an idiot. I'm talking to an engineer. Math and Science are universal languages for people like us, so I drew a simple diagram showing the physics of rainbow spotting, and she got it right away. "We'll find you a rainbow this afternoon," I promised rashly.

We left some of my batteries charging in her apartment and then drove North to Lake Moraine, which was a much longer drive than expected because of the amount of construction on the highway. The weather was overcast while we were driving, and by the time we got to Lake Moraine it was raining and windy. We were astonished by the bluish color of the lake, but it was so cold we huddled in the gift shop with some hot drinks instead. By the time we were finished with our drinks however, it was pretty outside, and we could walk around the Lake.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

Actually, you couldn't quite walk around the lake, as the path dead ended half way around the lake. Overcast days make for good portrait weather, so I broke out my 100mm/2.8 macro and showed Eungshin how many shots it took to get a good portrait. The number exceeded 10, but I'm also an unusually poor portrait photographer. My friend Jenny Yee could probably nail something in just a handful of shots. You'd hire her to do your wedding. You wouldn't (or shouldn't) hire me! I did take the time to show Eungshin how to use the DOF preview button on the camera. The little button used to be a bonus feature you could only get on high end cameras, but in recent years has migrated down to even the lowest end Canon body. Given that I consider a camera without the feature crippled, that's a good thing.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

By the time we were finished it was 4:00pm, and I told Eungshin that it was time to start chasing our rainbow. "The time for rainbow starts at 4:30pm." "How did you know that?" "I saw a rainbow pop out at 10:30am in Glacier. That's 3 hours after sunrise. I'm guessing that 3 hours before sunset, which is 4:30pm, would be also when you can start seeing rainbows." Lady luck is a fickle woman, but she had been smiling on me the entire trip, and thus fulfilled my rash promise at 4:30pm while driving down the Transcanada highway to Banff. The anti-solar point was on the left side of the car, so Eungshin got a good look at the rainbow. Unfortunately, the rainbow was also seen at the point of construction on the road, with no shoulders and no place to pull over, so despite all our desires to stop for a photo we could not do so. Eungshin had to settle for shooting from inside the car, which was not at all how you wanted your first rainbow shooting session to go. She also needed a polarizer and needed to know how to use it, which unfortunately since I had to have both hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road, I was in no position to teach her about at this point.

I delivered her safely back to her home, and got my camera battery back fully charged but my ipod only half charged because someone had unplugged it so he could charge his own device instead. A half charge was plenty though, so I was happy. We said goodbye to each other. As I pulled out of her driveway, my ipod played Don't Let Go by Canadian artists Bryan Adams and Sarah Mclachlan. I laughed at the irony, pointed the car North, and headed for Lake Louise.

Lake Louise at sunset was beautiful, but with the sun hidden back behind the mountains behind me, it was difficult to have good lighting. I ended up using an ND grad. filter in conjunction with a flash to properly expose flowers while retaining the background snow.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

With the disappearance of the cloud cover, the weather had suddenly turned very cold. I was shivering by the time I got back to the car after the sunset shoot, and drove down to the campground as described by the park ranger a couple of days ago. Driving around the campground left me uninspired, however, so I ended up at the youth hostel for the night. It was incredibly expensive for a hostel ($42.50), but it did have internet, and a warm place to cook my dinner. My dinner table was shared with a Swiss woman who was poring over loads of maps and information sheets. We exchanged information about where to go, where she was going, and when she told me she was Switzerland, I told her about my adventures this past summer. She told me I had to go to St. Mortiz next time for hiking, and gave me the names of a couple of small towns that was quite a bit cheaper than St. Mortiz itself, while retaining easy train access to St. Moritz.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

I went to bed with everything else packed so that I could make a silent getaway at 6:00am tomorrow.

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