Reflections in the Canadian Rockies
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.

Canada Geese

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:


We went from Vermillion to some other spots close to town. Two Jack Lake presented 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.

Two Jack

When I looked at the Two Jack 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.

Lake Minnewanka was kind to us, putting on a show with some terrific clouds below its peak.

Lake Minnewanka

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 scene 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.

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.


Note to The Universe: If I never make another photo, thank you for letting me make this one.

Rob took these shots of us at Moraine with Connie’s point-and-shoot. I’m glad he did, because I can use them for reference in case I think the whole thing was a dream.

Connie   Lance

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.

Valley of the Ten Peaks

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.


Here’s a shot by Rob of two young lovers at Louise.

Connie and Lance

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


Saturday, we headed towards the Columbia Icefield 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.

Bow Mountain

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.

Columbia Icefield

Sunday, Lake Herbert chose to reveal its glory to us, with this reflection of the Bow Range Mountains.

Herbert Lake

We then went to Emerald Lake, which fully lives up to its beautiful name in displaying the hues of the glacial silt.

Emerald Lake

On the way back to town, we encountered a Black Bear that Rob said “only” weighed 400 pounds. Fortunately, the bear was more interested in eating the flowers than in eating me.

Black Bear

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:

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.

Here's one last shot of Moraine, from a different perspective with different light:


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.

These photos can also be viewed at Lance Warley Photography.
Rob Berdan’s excellent work can be seen at Moods of Nature.

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