By Ken Bell
February 10, 2012
The Badlands of Alberta hold as much fascination for tourists as do the Rocky Mountains. Drive from Drumheller along highway 10 downstream, following the Red Deer River, and soon you will come to one of the most iconic features of the Badlands, the Drumheller Hoodoos.
Wind and water erosion created these fascinating pillars. Due to excessive foot traffic this erosion has been accelerated over the years. In an attempt to safeguard the hoodoos, and prevent accidents, metal stairways and paths were erected surrounding the hoodoos. While this detracts from the overall scenery to a degree, a balance had to be struck in order to preserve them from further damage.
I arrived at the site before dawn in the hopes that I could get some photographs without people around. It was cold waiting for the early morning light, but once the sun started to shine I quickly warmed up, moving from one location to another to try to photograph the hoodoos from all angles. As is common for our Alberta winters, the day was sunny and clear, with clear blue skies, not the best condition for taking shots with lots of sky in them. Along with the new metal grids and guide wires surrounding the hoodoos, it was going to be a challenge to get shots from low positions in order to make them appear taller and more majestic.
Later in the day I returned to get some afternoon shots of the hoodoos. There were more people around so I explored around the area, finding two smaller hoodoos just to the west of the main group. These proved to be more challenging to photograph due to the type of soil these hills are formed from. There is a lot of Bentonite in the soil, and when it is wet it is really greasy. There was a bit of snow in the crevasses that was melting, making the footing treacherous.
I worked my way back to the main formation, testing different angles while trying to be careful not to slip down the slopes I was on. A few of the slopes were fairly steep but not all that tall, so I was able to negotiate them without falling and damaging my equipment. Twice I extended the legs of the tripod to act as a walking stick. Spikes on the bottom of the tripod dug into the frozen ground, allowing me to use the tripod effectively.
When the sun goes down it does not mean it is time to leave; in fact it is far from it. A technique can be employed to illuminate the hoodoos with a large search light, or smaller flashlights. In the case of illuminating the hoodoos with small flashlights, you have to use a longer exposure and pass the light back and forth across the object you wish to illuminate, much the same way you would paint a wall. This technique is referred to as “painting with light”.
You will need to use a tripod and set the camera to Bulb setting, to open the shutter for periods between 45 – 70 seconds. It takes a few experimental shots to determine the best results. Start with settings like F/11, ISO 200, and expose for 45 seconds. If you are applying the light in a uniform fashion you should see an acceptable result. Lengthen the exposure time if necessary, or hold the light on an area longer to intensify illuminating that area. It only takes a shot or two to determine which settings will match the conditions you are shooting in to get adequate exposure. Try different colored filters on the flashlights to enhance the effect. Common colors to use are yellow, red, brown, green or blue depending on the subject. Use two flashlights, one colored and one white, to highlight elements or specific areas of the object you are trying to illuminate.
While painting the hoodoos one summer evening around midnight, we were treated with a wonderful display of the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). As we illuminated the hoodoos with our flashlights, the Aurora was lighting up the sky overhead. With the long exposures we were using, the light from the Aurora and stars was easily caught in the image. What an exciting coincidence!
Old Vehicles nearby the Hoodoos
An unexpected treat while photographing the hoodoos – the Aurora and stars shining above
Bio: Ken is an amateur photographer living in Calgary. His main profession, as an IT Integration Analyst, allows him to indulge in his favorite hobby. Although Ken has owned cameras since the early 80s, he did not take the hobby seriously until digital SLR cameras started to appear around 2003.
Equipment: Cameras - Nikon D700 and Nikon D300S Lenses - Nikkor 50mm F1.4G, 105mm F2.8 Micro VR, 14-24mm F2.8, 24-70mm f2.8G, 80-200mm F2.8D, 300mm F4D, various Sigma lenses Tripod and head: Manfrotto 055XPROB tripod mounted with a 410 Junior Geared Head.
Ken’s web site: www.kenbell.org
You can contact Ken at: email@example.com
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