To continue in the same vein as the last post I’d like to suggest that making a good photograph requires, commitment, and perseverance, to succeed. Sure there’s the odd occasion when you get lucky but more times than not luck doesn’t go your way. For example on a recent shoot I ended up falling through the ice on a local lake after losing my footing on the bank and sliding down on to thin ice in an undignified style. Said event occurred within moments of my arrival and I returned home cold and wet without having gotten my camera out of the pack! As it turned out the sunrise was a dud anyway and the day ended up being flat and gray so I didn’t miss much. For my next outing I planned more carefully (and would watch where I was walking) and hit a window in the weather just perfectly.

During the winter months I like to get out early enough to get some night shots, and catch the sunrise, in hopes of getting more usable images from one trip. The holiday season weather hadn’t been real cooperative with a lot of chinook conditions resulting in overcast conditions with high winds in the mountains and dry, windy, conditions in the foothills. I was watching the weather forecasts closely and noted a clear night and partly cloudy daybreak being predicted for the Banff area. I put the batteries on charge and headed off to bed early.

Even after an early night three AM comes up way to soon! I dragged myself out of bed, fixed a quick breakfast, packed my gear and headed off to Banff.  As I neared Banff I noted the temperatures were dropping further and I decided to alter my plan of going to Lake Minnewanka and opted instead to head down along the Bow River where I knew there’d be ice fog rising off the river. Heading along highway one towards Lake Louise I stopped at a viewpoint just before Castle Junction to have a look around. I noted plenty of ice fog roiling off the Bow River and clear skies over Castle Mountain area. That would be my new destination. 

Approaching Castle Mountain parking area at five thirty AM I noted the temperature had dropped to minus twenty five degrees celsius. This was going to be cold night! I made my way through the wildlife fence gates and headed down to the Bow. The half moon was creating some interesting shadow as it broke through the trees and lighting Castle Mountain nicely. The swirling clouds of ice fog added some welcome mood to the scene. I walked upstream till I located an area I thought might make for an interesting composition and setup my gear. One of the big problems in night shooting is setting up a composition, and focusing, in the low light. Since you can’t see anything through the viewfinder you need to setup a likely composition take your best shot at getting focus on the stars, shoot, then view the image on the display. After a bit of trial and error I had a good composition and confirmed my focus was optimized for the starry sky, and Castle Mountain. 

While changing locations I saw the moonlight was creating some intriguing light beams in the ice fog that was constantly being pushed around by the light breeze coming down the river valley. I speculated that I might get some interesting shots with Venus in the night sky over the river and the tantalizing patterns being created with the moonlight streaming through the trees and highlighting the ice fog. I set up some potential compositions and added some more good shots to the memory card. After an hour or so of shooting I noticed two things; I was out of hot coffee, and I could no longer feel my toes! A trip back to the car to warm up for a bit before sunrise was definitely in order.

After I thawed out a bit I headed back down to the river to get some blue hour shots before sunrise. I photographed a few likely compositions and headed downstream a bit for a better view of Castle Mountain and staked out a spot to catch the sunrise before the other photographers arrived. With Castle Junction being a very accessible, iconic, location I knew there would be several photographers in the area by the time sunrise arrived. In popular locations you need to set up somewhere that won’t ruin everyone else’s shots and be in a location where other photographers can’t set up in front of you to ruin your shot. With my claim staked out I visited with newly arriving photographers as we waited for the sunrise and flapped around, looking like a flock of birds, as we tried to stay warm. At last the first rays of sun started to light the peak and we all began shooting. 

As the sunrise colour faded so did the quantity of photographers. I find with most of the iconic locations photographers arrive for sunrise/sunset light and after the colour dwindles most move on. Some of my best shots have been taken after the sunrise colour is over. Arriving early and staying late allows me to get more in synch with a place and increases the odds of getting good images. Getting out of bed at three Am and heading out into a cold night requires a high level of commitment (for me at least). Even though I have been to Castle Mountain dozens of times I have yet to get the shot I have envisioned. I shall return…