As near as I can figure, it has been 50 years since I last camped at Two Jack Lake in Banff National Park. I have been to Banff many times since, and even camped at a couple of different campgrounds when I did the Tour de Canada in 2013. But for the most part I have always “hotelled it” in Banff.
My most vivid recollection of my previous camping experience at Two Jack Lake, with a couple of High School buddies, was renting a row boat on Lake Minnewanka, just down the road. As I recall, we only rented it for an hour or two. While on the lake, and while we were at some distance from the dock, a storm blew up. I recall that it was severe enough that we weren’t sure if we would actually make it safely back to the dock. In any event, we did survive – or I wouldn’t be sharing my teenage angst with you now! But maybe I learned a little bit about perseverance and focusing on the task rather than panicking – important lessons for a 16-year-old.
So 50 years later I spent 3 nights camping at the Two Jack Lake Campground. That lent itself to 4 days of photography, but no boat rentals!
As seems to be my luck, the weather was not the most cooperative on this trip. However, I think this provided a bit of an opportunity for a step forward in my photographic journey. As a result of an online course I was working on (https://nigeldanson.teachable.com/), rather than just write the time off, I really started looking at other opportunities the lack of “perfect” shooting conditions presented. I really think that my journey took a big step forward on this trip. Not everything worked out, but that’s OK. It was the process of seeing things differently that was important. And I think, to some extent, I continued this process on a photo workshop I did in July (more about that in the next post).
So here I will share some of the good. The bad and the ugly I will keep to myself and use as building blocks for the future!
The first afternoon I spent setting up camp and doing some exploring. I didn’t find much to photograph other than some sheep eating by the roadside (and I saw them a lot over 4 days!). For the most part they still seemed to be in the process of losing their winter coats.
The next morning I was up early to try for a sunrise shot. However, with heavy overcast and rain, that wasn’t going to happen. But while I was waiting for something to happen on my intended composition, I noticed some light starting to appear off to my left. Quickly, I picked up my camera and tripod and re-positioned myself a little distance away to get this shot.
I loved how the light seemed to be lighting up the little “tree island” in the lake. The light didn’t last long so I returned to my original location. I composed my shot and waited. When it became abundantly clear that a spectacular sunrise was not going to light up the mountains, I decided to play a bit with long exposures. With very little color in the scene, when I took my photos I was envisioning them in Black and White. I think I ended up with something kind of nice. While the rocks aren’t perfectly placed (and I was not about to wade out and try re-positioning the rocks and my back!), they do lead your eye into the scene. The 13-second exposure really flattens out the water and leads to some nice reflections.
After breakfast it was off to do some more reconnoitering. I ended up at Takakkaw Falls in Yoho National Park in BC, west of Banff. When I first arrived it looked like the overcast conditions would be perfect for shooting the waterfall. Not only was it cloudy but the sun was not high enough to be shining directly on the falls. Direct sunlight is the enemy of shooting waterfalls. With the bright reflection off the water it basically “blows out” the falls relative to the surrounding environment. It is very difficult to get a nice shot of waterfalls in direct sunlight. “Crappy light” is so much better. Anyway, by the time I hiked the short distance into the falls the light was changing rapidly. I did manage to get a 5-shot vertical pano in before the sun became a blazing ball of fire directly overhead. It’s not the greatest shot but was the best I was going to get for several hours at any rate.
I went to bed early that night in anticipation of trying a sunrise shot at Moraine Lake the next morning. The forecast didn’t look promising but it would still be worth the hour’s drive in the morning to at least check out a site that I had never been to before. As it turned out, the rain and heavy overcast did not produce any decent images, but at least I now knew the “lay of the land”. I would try again the next morning.
On the way back from camp I started to think about how I could look at things differently. One of the take-aways from the course I was working on was that if there wasn’t a “big” landscape to shoot, start isolating and looking for little scenes. As I was driving past Two Jack Lake I noticed some interesting meadows in the mountains across the lake peeking through the cloud and fog. I pulled over and with my 400mm lens started trying out several compositions. I ended up with this shot which I quite like.
The next morning it was up again at 3:00 am for the hour-long drive to Moraine Lake. This time I was greeted with heavy fog and cloud. Still, I set up for a possible sunrise shot. As Blue Hour progressed, the fog started to lift revealing parts of the lake. This was my favourite of the fog shots.
I continued to wait past sunrise. It was much too cloudy to get the sun lighting up the peaks across the lake. However, as the sun got higher it did burn off enough cloud to get this shot. Where I was positioned it is a very steep drop-off to the lake. If it was any steeper it would be considered a cliff. As it was, I thought the rocks beneath my feet provided a nice frame for the shot.
And with that it was time to return to camp, pack up and head for home. While maybe I didn’t get the “iconic” shot to hang on the wall, I feel that in some way I grew as a photographer on this trip. So in that respect it was a very successful outing. Sometimes waiting 50 years is worth it! Different times and different lessons but still an important experience.