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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.

Fog and snow

Nikon D800, 1/250 sec., f/2.8, ISO 100, 200mm

Nikon D800, 1/250 sec., f/2.8, ISO 100, 200mm

Fog and snow at just the right time

On one foggy morning it got so thick that the light changed so dramatically in such a short time. If you look at my post previous to this, you’ll see that it also has fog in it. That was taken shortly before this picture. Look at the dramatic difference fog makes in a matter of minutes. Since the fog hid the skyline, I decided to focus my attention on whatever I could. In the distance there was a couple taking a walk. They made it to the man-made dam so I had to get them in some way. Once they stopped to admire the…whiteness of their view, I framed them to the side so the viewers could get a sense of the emptiness that they were facing.

I loved how the dam fades into the fog in the background. If you look closely, you’ll be able to see the birds flying out from the mist, which is also quite interesting by itself.

As long as you’re prepared, you’ll be able to catch all that comes your way.

Taku’s Top 5 iPhoneography Winter Photography Favourites

Yesterday’s Top 5 post was all about my photography taken with my Nikon D800 camera. Today’s Top 5 is all about my other camera, my iPhone. This year all of my winter iphoneography was done on an iPhone 6 Plus and sure enough, this camera did not disappoint either.

Here are my Top 5 iPhoneography Winter Photography Favourites.

Number 5

This black and white winter photo was really magical. It was a long exposure photo, which enabled me to get the details below the water. I love how the smooth water contrasts with the rough details of the ice. This monochromatic image adds much more drama to this scene than the original colour version.

iPhone 6 Plus, 4 second exposure

iPhone 6 Plus, 4 second exposure

Number 4

Many of you will have seen the square cropped version of this image, as seen on my Instagram feed here, and featured on many other hubs on Instagram. While it works well with the square crop, I do like the full view as well. This was taken at Tiffany Falls in Ancaster one overcast Saturday. I happened to come here without knowing there was going to be a class. By chance, I ran into some other photographers who had been taking ice climbing photos for a long time. I learned a couple things here and there from him, and had a good time trying out different angles and whatnot.

Ice climbing lessons at Tiffany Falls

Ice climbing lessons at Tiffany Falls

Number 3

It was an overcast day that made all photos a little boring to look at. I happened to come across this point in the Hamilton region while out shooting one weekend. That wooden structure caught my eye as I was walking back to my car. I took a quick snap of it with the Toronto skyline visible in the backdrop. The clouds were white and grey, but I liked the texture that I caught with this photo. After a little tweaking using the Mextures app, I came out with this photo which added so much more character and life into it. I really do like that faded purple feel to this. It’s somewhat calming in a sense.

By the shores of Lake Ontario during an overcast day.

By the shores of Lake Ontario during an overcast day.

Number 2

Keeping things simple often works in many cases. And that’s what I did here. I tried to keep things to a minimum by cropping out any extraneous distractions. As the sun rose above the horizon, I grabbed this quick shot, which highlighted the fog over Lake Ontario very well. I love the cold morning feel you get with this shot. It was edited with the LV01 filter in VSCOcam, which gave it that overall faded feel to the photo.

A cold sunrise but I loved the minimalism of this crop. And that fog!

A cold sunrise but I loved the minimalism of this crop. And that fog!

Number 1

You’ve seen this square cropped version on my Instagram feed, but the uncropped version is so much more telling. It gives the wide view of the landscape, including the snowbank on the side, and the vast cloud formation, which further adds drama to the scene. If you read my post yesterday, my number one photo from my Nikon also came from this day. The combination of colours, clouds, and viewpoint just struck me as something only Mother Nature can provide in a beautiful sunrise.

A magical sunrise by Lake Ontario

A magical sunrise by Lake Ontario

Honorable Mention

I have one more shot that I really liked, but didn’t put it in my list because of one technical flaw. This was a long exposure but somehow I managed to blur the subject in the photo. My phone was on a tripod and everything, but I suppose my fat fingers may have done some extra damage to the scene. It may look fine on a mobile screen, but when looked at full size, the CN Tower is actually quite blurry, immediately taking this out of contention. I do really like this scene though, and it was unfortunate that this happened.

Someone is always looking upon us.

Someone is always looking upon us.

So there’s my top five favourite iPhoneography with my iPhone 6 Plus for this winter season. I hope you found the thoughts behind my photos a little enlightening.

Have you taken a favourite winter photo with your mobile device? Let me know what it was in the comments below, and link to it so I can view them as well!

Whiteout Condition

Nikon D800, 1/500 sec., f/4.0, ISO100, 200mm

Nikon D800, 1/500 sec., f/4.0, ISO100, 200mm

It’s amazing what photographers will do to get that golden shot. Whether it’s waking up at 5 in the morning for that sunrise shot, or precariously balancing on ledges or rocks to get that vantage point, or simply going out in the worst weather possible, we do it all for the sake of taking pictures.

I hate to say it, but it’s almost akin to smokers who brave the cold, freezing weather outside, just so they can take a smoke. Yeah.

The day I took this photo above, there was a rather heavy snowfall. It was so heavy at times that visibility was left to a minimum. I had to run errands that day, so I figured I’d stop by the Scarborough Bluffs anyway since it was one of the places I’ve been meaning to get to this winter season. Little did I know that even though I had no problems getting down here, my car would almost get stuck at the bottom of the hill because of the extreme incline and the amount of snowfall. After some slipping and sliding, I plowed my way up that hill while saying goodbye to those cars who decided to sit it out by the sidelines.

As for my photos of the Scarborough Bluffs? Sadly, with this weather, you could barely see the cliffside, making this shoot almost a complete bust. I’m not sure if this photo above was worth all the trouble, but I did end up getting some interesting shots with my iPhone though. Was it worth almost getting stuck at the bottom of the hill though? Hmm…

Is your gear up to the task?

Camera bag and tripod covered in freezing rain

My Gitzo Explorer tripod and Think TANK Streetwalker Hard Drive camera bag covered in freezing rain.

Many people may underestimate the necessity for your photography gear to be weather-sealed, or properly taken care of. It may not be a necessity for some, but if you love the outdoors, and will take your gear out in sub-par weather, then take good care of your gear, and it will take care of you. Don’t take care of your gear, and it’ll be susceptible to rust, mould, and who knows what else?

While I don’t shoot in many extreme situations myself, there are times when I’m thankful my gear will stand up to the crappy weather that even Toronto brings.

One frozen tripod!

One frozen Gitzo tripod!

The day that I happened to go out by the lakeshore, it started to rain freezing rain. I wasn’t expecting it, so I wasn’t as prepared for it as I should have been. I had no cover for my camera, lens, my camera bag, and tripod so it all got covered in freezing rain, making for some unwelcome cleanup afterwards.

Fortunately, my camera and lens were up for the challenge with its weather-sealed protection and sturdy build, there was no chance any water was getting in…or I hoped it wouldn’t have!

Camera gear after shooting in the freezing rain.

My Nikon gear after shooting in the freezing rain.

Even still, proper care is at the utmost importance after-the-fact. Climatize your equipment when changing from one extreme environment to another, wipe clean any residue, and keep things at their best relative humidity (RH) as possible. Before bringing my equipment from the outdoors into my warm house, I packed it up in a plastic bag and left it sitting by a dehumidifier for a good hour or so. I took it out of the bag, wiped the equipment dry of any residue and let it sit by the dehumidifier for a couple more hours just in case. I brought my camera bag in without opening it for a few hours as well, to protect all of my lenses that were inside.

Camera and lens during a shoot in the freezing rain

Nikon camera and lens during a shoot in the freezing rain.

A quick tip to keep your lenses from getting too wet is to keep some of those silicon gel packs in your camera bag. I always have a few in there just in case, and just take them out when I know I don’t need them. They work well, but maybe not in cases like the above!

Climbing Ice

Nikon D800, 135mm, 1/800 sec., f/6.3, ISO 800

Nikon D800, 135mm, 1/800 sec., f/6.3, ISO 800

A few weeks ago I went to Hamilton to try and take some more photos of waterfalls. I decided to go to Tiffany falls because of its height and accessibility. When I got there, however, I soon realized that I wouldn’t be able to get any photos of the falls at all!

The morning ice climbing session was getting underway and the instructors were waiting for their students to come marching in any minute.

It wasn’t a complete loss though, since I ended up shooting the climbers themselves. Moreover, some people from the Burlington photography club were there, so I was able to get some one-on-one ice climbing photography tips from one, very enthusiastic guy. He was a veteran 30-year photographer who came to the waterfalls to de-stress, so he says. He shared his thoughts on composition, angles, camera settings, and more.

Fortunately I didn’t come totally empty handed. The photo above is a sneak peak of some more photos that I will eventually post somewhere.

Drawing impressions

Edited with Topaz Lab's Impression

Edited with Topaz Lab’s Impression

I used to like drawing a lot when I was a child, so now and then I find it interesting to see when a photo gets converted to a drawing masterpiece at the click of a button.

No, I didn’t draw this picture above, but I did take the original picture it was based on (seen below). I brought the photo into Topaz Lab’s Impression app to see what it could do. It’s a pretty fun app to play with, producing quite a variety of looks. With complete customization of how your end product will look like, you can hack away at your photos for literally hours.

I don’t believe I tweaked this photo at all after I brought it through one of the default presets, and I think it looks great. The program managed to keep the subtle (faded) tones that I liked about the original photo. If you like these kind of edits or transformations, go give the app a try. You can download and play with it for free during the trial period.

The original picture is below, taken at the Devil’s Punchbowl lookout in Hamilton. Pretty neat, eh?!

Nikon D800, 15mm, 1/500 sec., f/8.0, ISO 250

Nikon D800, 15mm, 1/500 sec., f/8.0, ISO 250

Snow and sun

Edited in Lightroom and Topaz Lab's Star Effects

Edited in Lightroom and Topaz Lab’s Star Effects

Two very difficult things to photograph, all in one frame!

As much as we love photographs with the warmth of the sun in there, the sun itself is never a flattering thing to get, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing.

The sun being so bright, basically over-exposes in most photographs, yielding in an unsightly white blotch in your photo. People may know that it’s the sun, but your eye is immediately attracted to it, rather than the intended subject of your photo, making it an unnecessary evil.

As for snow, that is well known for throwing your camera’s metering off. The pure white fluffiness that we all love in the wintertime fools the camera sensor in thinking that it must make it a neutral grey to prevent over-exposure, yielding in an under-exposed picture.

So, while it may not seem like it, this photo went through a number of edits to make it look more natural-looking. The original image straight out of my Nikon D800 is below—reduced to size.

I exposed the photo just enough so that I wouldn’t blow out the details surrounding the sun too much. Otherwise, there would be too large a white spot in the middle of my frame. This in turn under-exposed the snow in my foreground, but retained all the details that I wanted, like the shadows of the bumps throughout.

I did a large part of the post in Lightroom because I was able to edit non-destructively on my image. I have to admit, I shot this in JPG rather than in RAW—the latter being the better way to go as it allows you to maintain your image quality with a non-destructive editing process. I bumped up the saturation of the blue, and the orange bands using gradients, and increased my exposure to brighten the snow. The snow took on a very blue hue since I shot this in JPG and had it on auto white-balance. To fix this, I painted over just the snow areas with my paint brush in Lightroom, and changed the temperature of it to reduce the blue and increase the yellow, in addition to slightly desaturating it, which removed any colour casts that were remaining.

Then, with the clever use of Topaz Lab’s Star Effects, I added in those sun spikes, emitting from the white blob I had from overexposing the sun. At the very least, the unsightly blown out spot looks a little cleaner and more representative of an actual sun. I made sure to balance the colour of those sun spikes with the orange band in my photo.

That’s pretty much all there is to this image. What was a rather bland image (shown below) that I originally didn’t even bother to rate, now looks more like a usable winter wonderscape.

Nikon D800, 24mm, f/9.0, 0.5 sec., ISO 100 on a tripod

Nikon D800, 24mm, f/9.0, 0.5 sec., ISO 100 on a tripod

This time last year

Nikon D800, 1/400 sec., f/7.1, 24mm, ISO 250

Nikon D800, 1/400 sec., f/7.1, 24mm, ISO 250

This time last year, I went to Lakefront Promenade Park in Toronto to see what it was like. It was white, frozen, and cold. But that’s no surprise given last year’s winter in Toronto.

This year, however, isn’t fairing much better as the cold temperatures just keep sticking around, giving us more snow day after day.

I think it’s about time I visit this park again sometime in the near future to see how different it can be from one winter to another.

Stay tuned.

Sunday Selfie?

Photo taken straight out of the iPhone 5s camera with no editing

Photo taken straight out of the iPhone 5s camera with no editing

I’m not the one to take photos of myself, but now and then, when my wife is with me, she candidly takes photos while I’m doing my thing.

Here’s one that she took of me during one of our early morning sunrise “walks” where we went to the park to take pictures and then walk around the shores of the park.

This is straight out of the iPhone 5s with no editing done to it. It’s great how it still manages to get the sunrise and some of the details in the shadow areas too.

You can see my iPhone on the bottom left of the frame perched on a tripod. I don’t remember exactly what it was doing, but perhaps it was doing a timeless of the sunrise.