Reflections in the Canadian Rockies

By Lance Warley

Vermillin lake and Canada goose by Lance Warley ©

Connie and I arrived in Calgary, Alberta from our home in south Florida on a Wednesday night in July. We drove to the town of Banff, where we stayed for a vacation trip to the Canadian Rockies. Thursday morning we met our guide, Rob Berdan. Rob said, “Welcome to my backyard.” Our first stop was Vermillion Lake. A solid cloud bank precluded any color in the Eastern sky. However, there was a family of geese on the lake, and the adults obliged us by posing for a few minutes. The soft light actually complemented the geese and their reflection nicely.

I kept looking to the east, wishing for a glimmer of light to enable a “big dawn” shot. I tried appealing to the sun, the earth, the trees, even to an elk who sauntered by, all to no avail. Then Connie goes, “Yo, pagan dude, turn around.” Evidently the sun’s rays reached above the clouds, because behind us, in the West, we saw this:

Vermillion lake by Lance Warley ©

We visited several of the Vermillion lakes near Banff and were presented with some terrific light and a composition with a rock and a snag in the foreground that created an interesting diagonal. I love using a strong foreground object as an anchor to create depth in landscape shots. If there are multiple foreground objects, even better. And if the diagonal flows into a reflection, then the photo has an even more dynamic appeal.

Vermillion lake by Lance Warley ©

When I looked at the last Vermillion lake photo in the computer, I also saw elements of triangles. This reminded me of an article I recently read by Darwin Wiggett on the golden spiral, the golden triangle, and photographic composition. Fascinating stuff, but I must confess triangles weren't in my thoughts when I made the photo.

Two Jack lake and Mt Rundle by Lance Warley ©

Two Jack Lake was kind to us, putting on a show with some terrific clouds below its peak. I used a polarizer, or a two-stop GND filter, or both on all of the photos on this trip. I didn’t use any special effects filters. In camera, I auto-exposure-bracketed plus/minus one stop on each shot. The filters, the three RAW exposures, and Photoshop’s Multiply and Screen blend modes gave me plenty of dynamic range tools to make the photos appear the way the scenes actually existed in nature. I didn’t use any HDR programs, because I prefer to blend different sections of different exposures manually. You could say I like my magic the old fashion way.

Friday morning, we arrived at Moraine Lake to a greeting of fresh snow and complete solitude. As we climbed up to the view above the lake, things started to, well, change.

Morrain Lake, Banff National Park, AB by  Lance Warley ©

The textures, the colors, the silence…all combined to create an other-worldly experience. I felt like we had stepped into Lórien, the magical woods in Middle-earth. Or perhaps we had landed on the mysterious island in “The Tempest.” Maybe we had somehow fallen inside of a Hunter-Garcia lyric, “In another time’s forgotten space…” Words fail here, unless your name happens to be Tolkien or Shakespeare or Dylan.

Heading down from Moraine, into the Valley of the Ten Peaks, we re-entered normal reality, with a view of nature’s forces hard at work. This is a much different perspective than the surreal view at the top of Moraine.

Our next stop was Lake Louise. Fortunately, we arrived just before the masses of humanity piled in. Even with the polarizer and the grad, a lot of blending was needed to make this photo.

Lake Louise by Lance Warley ©

From Louise, we headed to Peyto Lake (below). If Moraine was Lórien, then Peyto was Rivendell.

Peyto Lake by Lance Warley ©

Saturday, we headed towards the Columbia Ice field Glacier. At one point, Rob drove down a nearly invisible dirt road. We went a couple of hundred feet down the road, and turned around to see this incredible view of Bow Mountain (below). After a few more stops, we made it to the glacier. The speed at which it is receding is clearly marked and quite startling. It took me awhile to get my mind around a composition for something this vast. I ended up with a shot from ankle-deep water. Thank you for living up to your advertising, Gortex.

Mtn Reflections by Lance Warley ©

Sunday, Lake Herbert chose to reveal its glory to us, with this reflection of the Bow Range Mountains. We then went to Emerald Lake, which fully lives up to its beautiful name in displaying the hues of the glacial silt. On the way back to town, we encountered a Black Bear that Rob said “only” weighed about 400 pounds. Fortunately, the bear was more interested in eating the flowers than in eating me. I was also fortunate that Connie and Rob immediately threw me back into our vehicle. Monday, we slept in, took the Banff gondola ride, and drove back to Calgary. Tuesday, we flew home, exhausted and fulfilled. This was a great trip to a great, wild place. We hope it stays that way for a very long time.

Postscript, written after we’ve been home for a month: Black bear by Lance Warley ©

I go on these trips with two goals: To experience incredible places and to make photos that communicate the intensity of my experience to others. The first goal is relatively easy to attain. All I have to do is get there. Striving to make great photos, however, is where the real challenge begins. For me, the challenge is to perform all the left-brain photography work while simultaneously maintaining the right-brain state of wonder.

This challenge transforms me. Rather than just being an observer, I become an active participant. I'm continually thinking about dynamic compositions, anticipating what will work, what won't work, what might work. In effect, I become a vital part of creating the scene, rather than just a passive recorder. The transformation does not end when the trip ends. It carries over to my photography at home. The transformation becomes self-renewing, because it continues to increase my desire to improve the quality of my photos.

Head shot of Lance Warley



Lance Warley lives in Florida
All photos were taken with a Canon 40D, a Canon 17-85mm lens, and Cokin filters, except for the bear photo, where I used a 75-300mm lens

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