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Autumn in the Northwest Territories

Autumn has always been my favourite season for photography. With an explosion of colours, Mother Nature reminds us her beauty is unmatched. With all the changing colours and that cool crisp air making its way back, it’s a nature-lover’s paradise. Couple this with an arctic backdrop and you have yourself a photographer’s paradise.

Autumn colours of the Northwest Territories in late August.

In August of 2016, I was fortunate enough to be able to go to the Northwest Territories to see what it had to offer. Being further North than my hometown of Toronto, the Autumn season in the Northwest Territories starts around mid-August. The days slowly start to get shorter and darkness starts to fall at night, allowing us to see the Aurora Borealis again.

If you’ve ever wondered what the Northwest Territories are like, follow along as I take you through my journey through the southern portion of this beautiful territory.

My trip started in Yellowknife (flying from Toronto to Calgary to Yellowknife via Air Canada). We rented a Jeep to explore various areas of the territory, camping along the way. We had no set itinerary; we just drove where we wanted to go. With breathtaking scenery at every turn from waterfalls to remote towns and of course, the Aurora Borealis, it was an inspiring trip to say the least.

Outlined below are the major stopping points that we took during our four-night, five-day road trip through the southern portion of the Northwest Territories.

Ingraham Trail

The Ingraham Trail spans more than 60km from Yellowknife and makes its way to Tibbitt Point where it ends. In the winter time, this area is the starting point to an ice road that leads trucks to several mining sites.

Yellowknife to Tibbitt Point

Tibbit Point

Other than a small parking lot, there’s not much else to Tibbit Point. However, we were tipped off by another photographer saying it’s a great place to see the night sky. Upon arrival, we saw small rocky shores along the lake, where you can spend your nights gazing at the Aurora Borealis. That’s exactly what we did one evening, witnessing a spectacular display of the Northern Lights.

Along the Ingraham Trail there are several Territorial Parks, camping sites, and areas that offer spectacular lakefront views for the Aurora Borealis. Not too far from Tibbit Point was Cameron Falls, which we went to visit during the daytime.

Cameron Falls Trail

We made a stop at the Cameron Falls Trail, which is part of the Hidden Lake Territorial Park.

Map from Yellowknife to Cameron Falls

The waterfall is roughly around a 30min. hike on a well-marked trail from the parking lot, which seems to be open year-round (along with a nearby outhouse). The water cascades down the rocks and makes for a great place for photos. There is a lookout with a bench that offers this view, as well as the view down the river.

Cameron Falls Trail is located within Hidden Lake Territorial Park, about 47km into the Ingraham Trail.

A little further down the Ingraham Trail is where you can find the Cameron River Ramparts Waterfalls, which are smaller than these ones here. I didn’t make it out there so I have no photos of it, but the two are connected through an eight to nine kilometre hike along the river.

Looking down the river that Cameron Falls opens to.

While we couldn’t make it out here during the evening, we went to another spot that was also suggested to us by another photographer. Cassidy Point, we were told, is not too far from Yellowknife, and has a great lakefront view of the Northern Lights.

Cassidy Point Park

Cassidy Point Park is accessed by the Cassidy Point road, which is the entryway to the famous Aurora Village. Rather than turning on Aurora Village Road, you simply continue on Cassidy Point until you see a small opening to your left. The park is a small beached area with a dock, and boats perched alongside it. The lake here freezes over in the winter, making an unofficial ice road to go to the other side. During Autumn, however, it provides for a great backdrop to the Northern Lights.

Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary

The Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary (just northeast of Fort Providence) is a protected area bordered on the west side by Highway 3—otherwise known as the Frontier Highway—and by Great Slave Lake on the east side. There is no road within the sanctuary, but imagine driving down a highway and seeing groups of bison roaming around the side—sometimes even crossing the highway. That’s what it was like driving down Highway 3 from Yellowknife. They are majestic in their own ways, silently roaming around and minding their own business even when they see you.

A herd of bison roaming along the side of the Frontier Highway—otherwise known as the Yellowknife Highway, or Highway #3.

Kakisa

The drive from Yellowknife to Kakisa passes by the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary, bordered by Highway 3.

Driving further South, we reached the small town of Kakisa. It seemed almost abandoned as we didn’t see a single person there while we drove around during the day. I later found out this is a traditional Dene settlement with a population of just 45. It is in fact the smallest community in the Northwest Territories. Located just by the Kakisa river, we did notice that it offered a great view that would only be accentuated by a showing of the Northern Lights.

So naturally, we went back that night to be confronted with a brilliant showing of the Aurora Borealis.

This Aurora Borealis showing in Kakisa was intense, bursting with flare everywhere we looked.
The many different colours of the Aurora Borealis showed its presence that night.
Beautiful curves of the Aurora Borealis in Kakisa.

Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park

Having a craving for waterfalls, we continued further south along Highway 1 (Mackenzie Highway) to the Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park. This park comprises of Alexandra Falls—the third highest in the Northwest Territories—and Louise Falls, which is the smaller of the two.

Kakisa to Alexandra Falls and Louise Falls

Both waterfalls are beautiful in their own way. The sheer power of Alexandra Falls is mesmerizing, especially when you’re able to sit right on the edge of the rocks, listening to the power of the water rush by you.

The larger of the two waterfalls that comprise the Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park.
Alexandra Falls is where the Hay River plunges into a deep limestone canyon.
Louise Falls—the smaller of the two waterfalls—is a few kilometres further south of Alexandra Falls in the Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park.
Seeing the raw power of Louise Falls is exhilarating up close.

Alexandra Falls was so memorable to me I remember I really wanted to come down there during the night to see this landscape with the Aurora Borealis. Seeing the waterfall plummet to the river down below with the rocky gorge surrounding it, I imagined a scene of utter beauty.

It wasn’t until we arrived there at night that I realized this wasn’t going to happen. Walking along rocky shorelines and steep passes in pitch black wasn’t the smartest choice. I reluctantly stayed in the car by the side of the road, hoping to see any glimpse of the Aurora Borealis that evening.

It wasn’t until about 1:20am that we saw some lights appear. It was, however, short-lived.

As it turned out, it wasn’t a very active night for the lights, so we slowly made our way back to the campsite feeling a little empty inside.

Sambaa Deh Falls Territorial Park

Driving all the way back west on Mackenzie Highway, making several pitstops along the way, we finally made it to what would be the final stop of our camping tour: Sambaa Deh Falls Territorial Park. With its raw power, this waterfall was fantastic to see up close.

The scenic drive from Alexandra Falls to Sambaa Deh Falls on the Mackenzie Highway (Highway 1).
Peering over the ledge overlooking the waterfall.
The river on the north side of Highway 1.
The raging river on the south side of Highway 1.

Since we weren’t able to see a lot of the Northern Lights the night prior, we were really hoping to see it again this night. The only problem? Clouds were coming in quickly. By nightfall it was pouring rain, and it didn’t seem like it was going to let up anytime soon.

The tent we were in was so fragile that the strength of the pounding rain nearly toppled it over. Rather than sleep in it, we opted to sleep in the Jeep, where at the very least we knew we would be kept dry overnight.

Needless to say we didn’t get much sleep that night.

As much as I would have loved to continue exploring the Northwest Territories—we were only a couple hours away from Fort Simpson after all—we had a schedule to keep that day, so we made our way back to Yellowknife, ending a fantastic five days of driving and exploring around the southern side of the Northwest Territories.


Continue on my Autumn adventures in the Northwest Territories with my blog post on my first visit to Blachford Lake Lodge.


Taku Kumabe is currently offering a photography workshop in Yellowknife this August to photograph the Northern Lights! Click this link for more details or click on the image below.

A Winter Wonderland at Blachford Lake Lodge

Blachford Lake Lodge, located about 100km southeast of Yellowknife, is an eco-friendly lodge located high above the rocky shores of Blachford Lake. It is so remote, it can only be accessed by a 25min. float plane ride from Yellowknife.

Flying over the Northwest Territories on a float plane.

My first visit to Blachford Lake Lodge was in August of 2016. This blog post recounts my experience then. Three years later I found myself back at the lodge with nothing but great moments to recount. This time, yearning to experience a true Canadian winter experience, I took the challenge to go up to the lodge with -40 degrees Celsius temperatures in a snowy winter wonderland of a setting, and have absolutely no regrets.

Yellowknife in the wintertime is drastically different than in autumn. The landscape changes and you are reminded that cold doesn’t necessarily have to mean you stay inside. At Blachford Lake Lodge, that’s probably the last thing I had in mind.

A winter wonderland scenery at Blachford Lake Lodge.

The Arrival

The float plane now lands on the frozen Blachford Lake. Being completely frozen over, it’s safe to go on top, allowing you to experience the lodge from even more vantage points than when I was last here. The disembarking of guests sure looks great with the hazy sun in the background.

Disembarking from the float plane at Blachford Lake Lodge.

Lodge Rooms

Blachford Lake Lodge has several cabins scattered all over their property, each providing ample views of Mother Nature at her finest. My last stay had me at the Eagle’s Nest cabin so this time I opted to stay inside the lodge. Sunrise 1 was the room, and it came with two double-sized beds and one single bed, with windows galore, providing a spectacular view of the sunrise each morning.

The Sunrise I lodge room at Blachford Lake Lodge.

Being in the lodge means direct access to the showers and common areas, which in hindsight helped since putting on/off our winter gear every time was quite the chore. Also, who can resist waking up to the smell of bacon wafting onto the second floor? No worries for those non-bacon lovers as the smell won’t penetrate through closed doors.

Activities

I was happy to see that the inside of the lodge itself still retained its rustic yet homy feel to it. With the sun-lit common areas, it’s a perfect place to relax and soak up the atmosphere. Indoor activities hosted by the lodge include a speaker coming in to tell you about the traditional Dene culture (sadly she could not make it to our session), salve making, and dream catcher making.

If you’d prefer to be more active, not to worry as they have you covered there too. From fat-biking to cross-country skiing, skating, hiking, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and igloo-making, the staff and volunteers at the lodge do what they can to keep you busy. And busy I was, as I tried to cram in everything I could during my four-night, five-day stay there. I succeeded!

Paths are pre-made for cross-country skiing and snowmobiling, so it’s a straightforward affair. Travelling across the frozen Blachford Lake and looping around islands that you would normally have had to kayak or canoe to in the summer, was fun times.

Possible lynx tracks sighting on one of the frozen lakes we snowmobiled on.

Snowmobiling

When I found out they were offering snowmobile rides (extra fee applies), I was game; it would be my first time on a snowmobile, and now that I’ve been on one, it certainly won’t be my last time.

Snowmobiling at Blachford Lake Lodge

Isaac, our guide (pictured below), was very knowledgable about the trail system, the wilderness that are scurrying around, and the surrounding paths. He would stop and explain behaviours of various animals once he saw their tracks in the fresh snow. This 2.5 hour tour ended up being almost 3.5 hours, as he took us over frozen lakes, through an abandoned mine, and to a part of Great Slave Lake where we were able to see a pressure ridge passing through the entire width of the lake. It was beautiful and incredible to see the raw power of Mother Nature first hand.

Isaac, our snowmobile guide explains to us his findings of wildlife markings in the snow.

Hiking

Blachford Lake Lodge has several hiking trails to suit anyone’s comfort level. The 2km, 4km, and 6km loop trails are well marked, and paths are carved into the deep snow, letting you enjoy the hike with ease. We were blessed with beautiful blue-sky days so we enjoyed hiking all three trails. No need to bring a thermos with you because if you get thirsty, just grab a mouthful of snow from a branch and eat away. For real! There’s nothing like eating fresh northern snow—so much cleaner tasting than eating snow in Toronto…not that I do a whole lot of that.

Beautiful sunset colours at Carldrey Lookout point.

You’ll pass by fields of untouched snow with pristine winter scenery one turn after another. And while you’re in the middle of the trail system, stop and listen. You will witness absolute silence, which may sound strange, but is a good reminder of how remote a location this place really is. You may come across fox and lynx trails, or ptarmigans flying about—the peculiar looking birds of the north—and if Lady Luck is by your side, you may even see them in front of you.

Food

With all these activities at the lodge, you’re bound to get hungry. Not to worry though, as I’ve had nothing but great experiences with meals at Blachford Lake Lodge. Their chefs know what they’re doing, and take care to serve a variety of dishes to keep things exciting for everyone. As luck would have it, the chef in charge while I stayed loved to bake. How does eating a different type of freshly baked bread for lunch and dinner sound? It’s music to my ears that’s for sure.

The buffet table at Blachford Lake Lodge is always filled with a hearty meal. Dessert is waiting nearby on the counter.

Meals are buffet style, where you take what you can eat, from the main table. But remember to leave room for dessert, because there’s always something sweet waiting for you after lunch and dinner.

You’ll notice I don’t have a lot of photos of food from this trip. That’s because I couldn’t wait to dive in at each meal and forgot to take them.

The Aurora Borealis

If it’s the Aurora Borealis that enticed you to come to Blachford Lake Lodge, you’re in luck. With no light pollution around, the only thing lighting your way at night are the night stars and the moon. The lodge lights are on, but don’t take away from the viewing experience. They’ve also installed minimal lighting along pathways to cabins to guide you throughout the property.

The Aurora Borealis at Blachford Lake Lodge.

If you love your sleep and don’t want to stay awake all night long, you’ll be glad to know they also provide wireless buzzers to each guest. With a night staff always available in the lodge, they will be your eyes while you are asleep in your bed. If a showing of the Northern Lights are visible, the buzzer will ring, vibrate, and light up, letting you know it’s time to wake up. The night staff will also knock on each door to ensure you are awake—unless you’d rather sleep that is.

The expanse of the Northwest Territories with the Northern Lights.

It’s a system that seems to work fine—although for me, I found myself awake anyway as that’s part of my enjoyment staying at Blachford Lake Lodge.

The Tipi

If you want to gaze at the night sky but want to quickly warm up, you can have the staff set up the tipi for you. They will light the fire and even provide all the goods to make some s’mores—just to make sure you don’t go to sleep!

The tipi backed by a fantastic showing of the Aurora Borealis.

My time in Yellowknife and Blachford Lake Lodge in the winter couldn’t have been any better. It was truly a Canadian winter experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was cold, but still manageable—if you dress appropriately, you’ll be just fine.

Have you ever been to Yellowknife before, or seen the Northern Lights? Let me know below in the comments.


If you’re interested in seeing the Aurora Borealis, I will be hosting a photography workshop at this lodge in August 2019. Please head over to this page for all details and to book your spot. Feel free to let me know should you have any questions.

Lunenburg

My previous post took you through the wonders of Peggy’s Cove in the early morning light. This post will take you through another must-see area of the Southern coastal area of Nova Scotia: Lunenburg.

A drive around the southern coastal region of Nova Scotia wouldn’t be complete without going to Lunenburg—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—so we decided to make this our destination for that evening’s ride. A direct drive from Peggy’s Cove to Lunenburg should take about an hour and a half, but when I’m in a new place with camera in hand, that time stretches to more than double.

Driving along the Lighthouse Route (Route 333), I took several detours to all the coves that lined the shores. Every road we drove on would lead to breathtaking scenery that we would have loved to have ourselves on a daily basis.

Our driving route from Peggy’s Cove to Lunenburg, hugging the shoreline as we went.

While we admired the many views going north on Peggy’s Cove Rd., I enjoyed the loop around Hwy 329, off of Hwy 3. It does add a little more time to your drive to Lunenburg, but when you’re in Nova Scotia, I consider the drive as part of my experience there.

 

Lupin, Lupine, Lupinus

Whichever name you go by, there’s no doubt these flowers are very picturesque.

They grow wild all over the province and offer so much colour to any landscape. Pink, purple, light pink, and light purple, you’ll see patches of them as you drive along the highway, making driving so much more enjoyable there too.

Lupins along the shores at Blue Rocks. 

Apart from the Lupins, there were other flowers that made for great foreground elements.

Flowers along the shores of Blue Rocks.

 

Mahone Bay

The three churches in Mahone Bay is another popular stop en route to Lunenburg, and is quickly becoming one of Nova Scotia’s iconic views.

Picturesque Mahone Bay.

 

It’s a charming little costal town and a great place for a break. We arrived there shortly before 5pm, so we had to hurry in through the many quaint shops before they closed. A quick stop at Lahave Bakery for a delicious cup of cappuccino satisfied my coffee craving.

Inside Lahave Bakery in Mahone Bay.

Shortly thereafter though, we left to go to Lunenberg, since we wanted to eat dinner there before sunset.

 

Lunenburg

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lunenburg is a beautiful port town that is home to the world-famous Bluenose (now Bluenose II), Nova Scotia’s sailing ambassador. I knew I wanted to spend some time here, just wandering around the narrow streets, and to admire the architecture and harbour.

Quaint sitting area found while walking in Lunenburg. Taken on my iPhone.

Hunger may have got the better of us though, as we walked from one seafood restaurant to the next, looking at their offerings. We opted for the Savvy Sailor Cafe because of the one dish.

The scallop sandwich, which was what we were looking for, was a hit. Both a unique offering (never had scallops on a bun before!) and tasty, it was a perfect match.

Scallop sandwich from the Savvy Sailor Cafe. Taken on my iPhone.

We had a great view of the port and Bluenose II, which happened to be in town that week.

Lunenburg Harbour at sunset. Bluenose II is the second boat from the left with the tallest mast.

After dinner, we headed over to the other side of the bay area to the entrance to the golf course, where we were told by a few people that it offered one of the best views of the Lunenburg harbour. We stayed there for the sunset that evening just enjoying the moment. The sunset wasn’t anything spectacular but we did have a nice subtle showing of purples and deep blues in blue hour.

Lunenburg Harbour at sunset with boaters.

Looking over to my right, I see some great golf-green lawn which contrasted nicely with the purple skies.

Golf course across the Lunenburg Harbour as seen at sunset.

Blue hour at Lunenburg looks the best when seen from the opposite side of the harbour, and when the lights at the harbour turn on.

Lunenburg Harbour at sunset.

A wider angle shows the entire harbour at blue hour.

Lunenburg Harbour at sunset.

And another one.

Lunenburg Harbour at sunset. The famed Bluenose II can be seen if you look closely!

 

Blue Rocks

I had the grand idea of going out that evening to do some astrophotography. Since we opted to stay in Blue Rocks—a 7min. drive from Lunenburg—we were in a prime location away from the village lights. After taking in the sunset, we went back to our Airbnb (which by the way, was very nice—see below), cleaned up, and then just instinctively got ready to retire for the evening. My astrophotography idea had just vanished into thin air as I was too exhausted from the full day’s events.

Sunrise at The Point at Blue Rocks.

Not catching the stars only means one thing though—we woke up around 4:30am to catch the sunrise at the point at Blue Rocks. As I peered out the window of my Airbnb after waking up, I saw the sky was a burning red. Excited to see this even more at the point, we hurried our way there. A short 4min. drive away, we came upon the most vibrant sunrise we had seen in our trip.

Sunrise at The Point at Blue Rocks.

The picturesque point painted with the beautiful sunrise offered the perfect subject for any photos, and I was happy to be there soaking everything in.

Sunrise at The Point at Blue Rocks.

Jumping from one spot to the next, it was brilliant wherever I looked…it was honestly hard to stay still!

Sunrise at The Point at Blue Rocks.

The boats anchored in the bay, the fishing huts perched afar, the rock formations, and that vibrant sunrise all made for one exhilarating morning.

Sunrise at The Point at Blue Rocks.

The various stores dot the Point at Blue Rocks.

Sunrise at The Point at Blue Rocks.

I love the unique look of the fishing boats here with the taller bow (front) and shorter stern (back); it’s something you don’t see too often in Ontario.

Fishing boat at sunrise at The Point at Blue Rocks.

More boats seen with the brilliance of the sunrise.

Sunrise at The Point at Blue Rocks.

Taking a drive along the shores of Blue Rocks after the sun had risen was also a very refreshing way to start the day.

Shoreline at Blue Rocks.

Afterwards breakfast, we headed back out to Blue Rocks where we rented kayaks for a few hours and enjoyed the calm waters of Millers Pass.

Kayaking through Millers Pass in Blue Rocks.

The area is known to be one of the best places to kayak in Nova Scotia as its suited for everyone from the beginner to the experienced paddlers.

Kayaking through Millers Pass in Blue Rocks.

 

Airbnb

(https://www.airbnb.ca/rooms/20538112)

The entrance to the airbnb.

So where did we stay? It was the perfect location for a quiet getaway with some of the best views to be had. I opted to stay away from the village of Lunenburg just to experience something new. Since Blue Rocks offered some great views, and was close to Pleasant Paddling, it was our ideal location—I wanted to go on a morning kayak trip so the proximity to the Point was ideal for us. I later found out that Blue Rocks is considered one of the best kayaking destinations in all of Nova Scotia, which is just icing on the cake!

The beautiful garden at the airbnb in Blue Rocks.

The airbnb is a small but charming place, and the owner—who also stays there—is a very welcoming and friendly individual. She had renovated the entire house herself, and tends to her beautifully decorated garden that is a great place to relax in as well. While you share the home with the owner, the guests get their own bathroom.

The beautiful garden at the airbnb in Blue Rocks.

Breakfast is included in this airbnb, and for us was some very tasty homemade granola and sweet potato muffins, with yogurt, fresh fruits, juice, and coffee. It was more than enough to get our morning started, not to mention very good. The only unfortunate part of breakfast was we ate too much of the granola that we didn’t leave space for the muffins.

The beautiful garden at the airbnb in Blue Rocks.

Without a doubt, I would recommend this airbnb for those looking to get away from the village, and connect with nature.


Have you ever been to Lunenburg and/or Blue Rocks? How was your experience? I would love to hear about them so please feel free to comment below and let me know what you did!

Peggy’s Cove

Peggy’s Cove, located just 40km south of Halifax is home to one of the world’s most iconic lighthouses. This community, nestled along the shores of St. Margarets Bay, has much more to offer though, including some of the freshest lobster you’ll eat and a myriad of great vistas in the village.

As a photographer, I was looking forward to taking photos of the lighthouse, but by the end of the day, I had come back with memories of great seafood that left me wanting more and vistas that rivalled my expectations of the lighthouse.

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Fireworks photography 101

Fireworks Photography 101

You may think that taking pictures of fireworks is as easy as pressing the shutter button—and sometimes it really is that easy—but if you’re really keen on taking some great shots, there are a couple things to note in terms of settings and equipment.

Nikon D800, 1.2 sec., f/9.0, ISO 200, 14mm

Nikon D800, 1.2 sec., f/9.0, ISO 200, 14mm

Go early to claim your spot

There’s nothing worse in going to see and photograph fireworks only to have your view blocked by a few heads in front of you. You have to go early, scout the area for the best vantage point, and stay in that spot until the fireworks start. There’s really no other way around this unless you have some sort of special access that the general public does not have.

Setting up your equipment

Once you claim your location, be sure to set up your gear well in advance of the start of the event. This will ensure that you’re not fidgeting with your camera settings when the fireworks are going off in front of you.

Ideally, you should have a tripod, cable release, and if you’re trying for an extended exposure, a black card to block light from your lens while the shutter is open—I’ll explain more about this below.

The cable release comes in handy because it prevents you from shaking your camera by having to press down on the shutter button.

Start shooting

There are a couple ways of shooting fireworks. But whichever way you choose to go, be sure to keep taking those photos because fireworks go fast, and they don’t wait for you to ready your camera!

A simple long exposure of about 1-2 seconds will give you a decent display of fireworks that will work for the most part. The photo above was an exposure of 1.2 seconds on my tripod using a cable release.

Given the long exposure nature of fireworks at night, you may instinctively think to set your ISO to a high amount because of the amount of ambient light available. The higher your ISO, however, the more noise you bring into the photo.

My settings above brought in just amount of light without yielding too much noise. My ISO of 200 yielded in a fairly dark image at first, but I was able to open up the shadow areas within Lightroom without producing too much noise. I much prefer to do it this way than increase my ISO from the beginning as it almost always tends to produce cleaner images.

I mentioned a black card earlier in this post. This technique can come in handy if you want to stack multiple fireworks over each other by leaving your shutter open in Bulb mode, and covering the lens with this black card when you don’t want any exposure. You only take the black card away from the lens when you want to capture the fireworks. The photo below is a 4.6 second exposure where I used the black card method. This is why you see the coloured explosion on the top, and the white fireworks from the bottom.

Nikon D800, 4.6 sec., f/9.0, ISO 200, 14mm

Nikon D800, 4.6 sec., f/9.0, ISO 200, 14mm

You really have to be careful with this though, since you can easily over-expose certain areas of your photo, like you see in the photo below. You will have to figure out in advance how many seconds will give you a properly exposed photo.

Nikon D800, 12 sec., f/13, ISO 100, 14mm

Nikon D800, 12 sec., f/13, ISO 100, 14mm

A little post-processing helps

When you’re done shooting your photos, no doubt a little post-processing will help give your photos that extra oomph. This particular photo was editing completely within Lightroom CC 2015. I opened up the shadow areas while reducing the highlights. I boosted the saturation slightly, and added some overall clarity. And finally, the new dehaze feature of Lightroom really worked well in this case to remove some of the haze produced from the smoke of the fireworks.

The level of post-processing is always different for each photographer, so you do as little or as much as you want to make the final image what you envisioned.

Nikon D800, 0.6 sec., f/5.6, ISO 1250, 14mm

Nikon D800, 0.6 sec., f/5.6, ISO 1250, 14mm

One final note

Remember to enjoy the fireworks while you are there! They happen very quickly so try not to be totally consumed with getting that perfect shot. You can easily be distracted by fiddling with your cameras while the beautiful colours explode above you, preventing you from actually enjoying the evening. But with a little bit of preparation, you should be able to fully enjoy the event and take decent shots that you are happy with.

The Moraine Lake Boathouse at Sunrise

The Moraine Lake boathouse, pictured here, houses the canoe rentals for Moraine Lake. It can get quite busy during the day, but during the early hours of the morning, it’s as still as the trees that surround it.

Nikon D800, 30 sec., f/9.0, ISO 100, 48mm, Polarizer, 6-stop ND Filter

Nikon D800, 30 sec., f/9.0, ISO 100, 48mm, Polarizer, 6-stop ND Filter

I’m standing on the rocks by the main walkway of Moraine Lake. But rather than taking the ever so familiar shot of the mountains and the lake, I turned my camera 90 degrees to capture the very familiar but not-so-often photographed, boathouse. I made a 30 second long exposure to get the reflection on the lake, and any loons blurred into oblivion as they crossed through my frame.

I always try and take photos in different ways than what others do in this situation, just to get that different viewpoint. What you don’t see in this photo are the many other photographers that came out to take photos of the sunrise. They were all around me, pointing their cameras to the mountains on the right. While I did my fair share of photos in that direction, I decided to add a few of these shots into the mix too, so that we can see how still this boathouse can be, contrasting it to how busy it will be in a matter of hours.

A little known fact about all the boat rentals in the area of Banff and Jasper National Parks, is that you likely won’t find any kayaks for rental! All rentals are for canoes only. Why? Well, they never said, but I would gather that canoes offer a more relaxing experience in these serene landscapes, and are more picturesque when thinking of the Canadian Rockies. That’s the only explanation I can come up with! If you happen to know the reason, feel free to let me know below in the comments!

Peyto Lake in Banff National Park

Peyto Lake (pronounced pea-toe) has always been on my list of places to visit, and I was finally able to make this happen on my latest trip to Alberta. Located in Banff National Park, this glacial-fed lake is majestic in every way imaginable. The colour of the lake changes depending on how the sun is shining on it, so going back several times in a day will give you a different feel every time.

The lookout to this lake is situated in a high enough place that gives you a fantastic view of the lake and surrounding mountain range. The lookout can be reached by a somewhat steep 10 minute hike from the main parking lot. For tour groups, however, a secondary parking lot higher above allows for immediate access to the viewing platform. The view from here is particularly striking during a sunrise or sunset.

Nikon D800, 1/30 sec., f/9.0, ISO 100, 82mm

Nikon D800, 1/30 sec., f/9.0, ISO 100, 82mm

The sun set behind these mountain ranges, offering a spectacular view with Peyto Lake in the foreground.

Nikon D800, 3-Exposure Lightroom Merge, 1/20 sec., f/90, ISO 100, 14mm

Nikon D800, 3-Exposure Lightroom Merge, 1/20 sec., f/90, ISO 100, 14mm

This platform (seen above), however, is often crowded with tourists always trying to get the best vantage point within a confined area. A little known fact is, that if you hike a little longer along the pathway and onto the side of the mountain (about a 500m walk further up), you’ll get to an open space that will bring you an even better view of this lake, as seen below.

Nikon D800, 1/250 sec., f/10, ISO 100, 24mm

Nikon D800, 1/250 sec., f/10, ISO 100, 24mm

This vantage point is not as well known as the platform so at most you’ll find one or two others milling in the area. But since this area is open with no barriers, you’re free to walk around anywhere, allowing you that perfect vantage point you’re after. You may find this regular vying for attention though. He seems to be quite popular amongst photographers coming here.

Nikon D800, 1/250 sec., f/9.0, ISO 100, 110mm

Nikon D800, 1/250 sec., f/9.0, ISO 100, 110mm

How to get to the secondary viewing area

This secondary view is highly recommended and only adds an extra 20-30min (roundtrip) hike from the platform. If you keep to the trails, you’ll encounter this sign below.

Nikon D800,

Nikon D800,

When you’re on the loop trail beyond the viewing platform, follow the trail to your right. After about a 5-7 minute hike, just before the loop hooks to the left, look for this sign below.

This sign is at the entrance to the hike to the open viewing area of Peyto Lake

This sign is at the entrance to the hike to the open viewing area of Peyto Lake

Follow the path that leads you into the mountainside. Eventually you will come out to an open area. The first open area you encounter offers great views, but walk a few steps more and you’ll come out to a completely open and rocky area that offers the best views of Peyto Lake, as seen here.

Nikon D800, 1/160 sec., f/14, ISO 100, 15mm

Nikon D800, 1/160 sec., f/14, ISO 100, 15mm

More Peyto Lake

Once you’ve exhausted your stay here by the rocks, you can continue on to the trail for a few more minutes where you’ll be able to get a glimpse of the end of Peyto Lake. This is something you won’t be able to see from that platform, but is quite striking in its own way.

A closeup with my telephoto lens at 200mm shows the details of the sand spilling through to Peyto Lake. I love how painterly this looked while I was standing there.

Nikon D800, 1/320 sec., f/6.3, ISO 100, 200mm

Nikon D800, 1/320 sec., f/6.3, ISO 100, 200mm

Peyto Lake will always be a must-see in my books, no matter what time of day you’re able to get there. It’s a popular destination so pick your times wisely. Whether you take pictures from the platform or the open area, you won’t be disappointed with the results. It’s one of Banff National Park’s wonderful glacial-fed lakes and is highly recommended.

Have you been to Peyto Lake before? What was your first impression?

The Columbia Icefield is quite impressive

When you pass by the Columbia Icefield on Highway 93, at first sight I didn’t think much of it. It was plainly put, a large chunk of ice! We stopped by the main centre (pictured below) and looked around, took some snaps and then went back on to Highway 93 to continue on our journey to Jasper.

Nikon D800, 1/1000 sec., f/13, ISO 400, 14mm

Nikon D800, 1/1000 sec., f/13, ISO 400, 14mm

It wasn’t until we passed by the icefields again on our way back to Banff, that we went a little further into the icefield and actually got closer to the ice. It was then that we realized how grand of a chunk of icefield was, and that’s what left a lasting impression. We didn’t take the tour to actually walk on the icefield, but we went a close as we were allowed to go by ourselves. It’s a simple walk around the foot of the icefield, but it gives you a great view of the entire area that is much more impressive to see than from far away.

Nikon D800, 1/800 sec., f/13, ISO 400, 200m

Nikon D800, 1/800 sec., f/13, ISO 400, 200m

If you look at the photo above, you’ll see the tour busses that go up the icefield, allowing you to get off and walk on the ice. We didn’t sign up for this, so I simply took a picture of it. You can get an idea of how large this field is in comparison to these tiny busses. Perhaps next time if we were to go one step further and go on these busses, it will change my impression of these icefields once again.

Until then, I will be in awe of this natural icefield from the photos that I took that day.

Annette Lake in Jasper National Park

We arrived in Jasper National Park in the evening, after a long drive from Calgary. The weather was a mix of rain,  cloud, and some sky trying to peek out. We didn’t know where to go for the first sunset in Alberta so we drove around looking for a great vantage point. By googling around the vicinity that we were in, we noticed a fairly large lake by the name of Edith Lake. We headed to the point as quickly as we could, as darkness was quickly approaching and we still had a few kms to go in a place we were unfamiliar in, and bears no doubt wandering around.

We drove into a park and came upon gravel road. We were on that road for wha seemed like a long time until we saw a lake come upon us on our right. We stopped into the parking lot, conveniently located right by the gravel road and noticed a boat launching deck right by the waterside. I hurried out of the car with my camera in hand and marvelled at the tranquility of the area. No one was in sight, there weren’t any sounds except for those of mother nature, the lake was so calm that the reflection was like looking at a mirror.

Nikon D800, 1/60 sec., f/11, ISO 800, 14mm

Nikon D800, 1/60 sec., f/11, ISO 800, 14mm

It was a beautiful first lake to come upon in Jasper National Park. The sun was setting in the opposite direction unfortunately so we didn’t get any beautiful colours. However, the pristine nature of this scenery really took us aback.

I loved how you can see right through the water in the foreground while you can see the full reflection of the mountains and trees in the distance. The only thing that was bugging me (literally speaking) about this moment were those pesty bugs you see flying on the top right of this frame. Yes, those are bugs (not mosquitos, thankfully) that are not afraid of you!

This view we had on our first night in Alberta was great, and we couldn’t be more excited as it was only going to get better by the day.

4 reasons to travel during non-peak season

Here’s a little secret for when you travel. The next time you’re thinking of travelling somewhere, travel during non-peak season and you’ll likely get the most bang for your buck wherever you are heading. Here’s four reasons why I always like to travel when the roads are clear, the weather is just as nice, and the people are still as welcoming as ever.

Nikon D800, 1/250 sec., f/8.0, ISO 100, 38mm

Nikon D800, 1/250 sec., f/8.0, ISO 100, 38mm

This is something my wife and I have done for the last several years now. When we book our getaways, we always try to coordinate it so we can go during the destination’s non-peak season. Why do we do this? There are several reasons:

  1. Transportation costs are much cheaper during non-peak season. Flights often have seat sales and other perks as they try and fill their planes during non-peak season so take advantage of this! There’s no sense in paying hundreds more for the same flight if you’re able to go just a few weeks prior to peak season.
  2. Hotels also have similar perks and sales during non-peak season as they try their best to fill their occupancy. Better yet, you’ll find that their services are much more pleasant as they aren’t stressed out from all the busyness of the peak season. During one of our stays at a resort, one of the staff members gave us a private snorkelling trip since it was so slow for them! Staff members can be much more accommodating to your requests, which makes your stay that much more exciting.
  3. No traffic! You have to love driving where there’s no traffic. In this photo above, there were absolutely no traffic in front or behind me. I stopped on the side of the road, got out of my car and crouched down in the middle of the road to take this picture! You won’t be able to do this during peak season, that’s for sure!
  4. Tourist spots are less crowded. If you’re big on doing all the touristy things in your travels, go during non-peak season and you’ll save yourself the hassle of lining up for hours, and you’ll get the best views around since you won’t have to fight for that golden spot.

If you travel right before peak season starts, you’ll likely get the best of both worlds since they will be gearing up for the peak season, ready to attend to your needs, yet the number of tourists will still be on the low side.

If it’s a particular season at a destination that you’re eyeing, then there’s not a whole lot you can do, and that’s just about the only disadvantage there is to travelling during non-peak season. If you can live without seeing the Spring days of the Rockie Mountains, and can forego the summer months of the Rockies where there’s more wildflowers, then why not? In my opinion, it’s worth being able to de-stress on your trip because after all, isn’t that why you’re on holidays to begin with?!