“With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!”
(Note: Click on any photograph to see a larger version.)
I can hear the national anthem of Canada as I stare at the morning light across a pond near Banff. “With glowing hearts . . .” indeed!
For years I have wanted to visit Banff and Jasper National Parks in Canada. My great
friend, Darwin Wiggett made the area famous, and for good reason. It is perhaps the most
beautiful place I have visited on earth, with the exception of my beloved Scotland.
I flew into Calgary, rented a car and drove west to Banff. In stark contrast to the rolling
grass lands of Calgary, the “gentle” Rockies rise from the plain and one is left in utter awe
at the beauty of what lies ahead.
One is transformed immediately. Peace overtakes one’s soul as the beauty and grandeur of Alberta fills one’s eyes.
My journey was not alone. I had booked a tour with Greg Downing and E. J. Peiker, two outstanding photographers who together founded NatureScapes.net – E. J., in particular was intimately familiar with the areas we would visit. Nine other photographers joined me in the tour, all very nice people who added to the joy of the journey.
Yes, it was cold. My lips were soon chapped, my hands frozen against the camera body, but the fresh air and lack of humidity soon took hold. I had forgotten what it was like to breathe clean air. I felt alive and at peace with the earth.
It was the colors that astounded me. If there is a color saturated place on earth, it can be found in Alberta. Cyan waters and incredible blue skies soon enraptured me as I caught one photograph after another. The golden light of each morning is as impossible to describe as it is to capture, even with the best equipment made.
I had brought two cameras, the Nikon D800 for wildlife shots, and the D800e for landscapes. Most of my landscape shots were done with the fabulous Zeiss 21mm T* – for wildlife I used the Nikon 80-400mm VR. The combination proved to be well suited for what appeared before me.
Indeed, at times I found myself using the 80-400mm to do landscapes!
I must admit, when it comes to quality, there is nothing made that can compare with the Zeiss 21mm T* despite the fact that it is a manual focus lens. But frankly, in many ways, I appreciate the manual focus because it forces me to think about stuff like DOF and what I want to be in focus BEFORE I take the shot.
Each day began well before sunrise. There was lots of driving to do. On some mornings, it took as much as an hour to reach a special place. Our team leaders would find a spot for a late breakfast or early lunch, then we would return to our lodging for a nap and a chance to offload our shots. Then, around 3:00 PM we would set out again, looking for light, always returning to our lodging well past sunset. It made for long days, but one slept well after the one-half mile walks it took to reach some locations.
One evening we spent two hours doing celestial shots. This is something I have not done in the past, but it was well worth the time. E. J. was particularly helpful in setting up equipment for the shots–a sturdy tripod, camera set at ISO 3200, 30 second exposures, and white balance at 4200 degrees Kelvin.
One result was interesting. It seems that some folks were having a party across the lake from where we were working, but the light from their campfire succeeded in adding interest to the shot.
Some of the morning walks led to unexpected places and finding a spot to get the shot was often difficult. Here I was perched on a rock at the water’s edge. Distractors were found in my wide-angle lens. But, somehow I managed to get the shot and not drop my camera in the water, something that I saw happen to another photographer while shooting at a location. He was not a member of our group, but I felt sorry for him. It hurts when you drop $4,000 worth of equipment in a cold lake first thing in the morning!
We had hoped to find wildlife in Jasper National Park. We were not disappointed. Although, I was admonished by the Team Leaders because I tend to get too close to animals. What can I say? I grew up with animals and know their behaviors. Having such knowledge allowed me to get the following shot with a 24-120mm lens, set to 24 mm.
Actually, the bull elks we encountered seemed more interested in a nap than in the gaggle of folks who surrounded them.
Part of my problem was that the elk were so close I was having difficulty framing shots with the 80-400mm lens!
There were other critters around. Bighorn sheep were plentiful. One large herd was a joy to photograph.
I especially liked having the chance to see them move. Here, the ram and one of his wives were moving away from a group of onlookers behind them. I was fortunate to be in the right place for the shot.
But there were other critters around. Big Horn Sheep were plentiful. One large herd was a joy to photograph.
My visit with the bighorn sheep occurred on my last day in Canada. I can’t think of anything more thrilling than to see a gentle creature free in God’s magnificent land!
It was a fitting end to a wonderful trip. Yes, I will be back. Canada has captured my imagination. Its incredible beauty, its delightful people, its warm and inviting culture, all lure me back.
I leave you with one of my favorite shots from the trip, a Big Horn Lamb.