On location...

lake louise, alberta, canada

Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

Technical info

Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: Sigma 17-35mm
Focal length: 19mm
Aperture: f11
Shutterspeed: 3.9sec
ISO: 100
Filters: 0.6 ND Grad (soft) and 6 stop ND


Camera was mounted on a tripod with ball head and triggered by a cable release. Mirror was locked up to reduce vibration and the viewfinder blind was in place.

Lake Louise, Canada

If we were to categorise landscapes and locations, to be clear I am not actually suggesting we do, then there would surely have to be a category labelled 'iconic' and I suggest Lake Louise would be a prime candidate for that list. Front and centre on the tourist trail, if you are in this part of the rockies than it would be rude not to drop by and that's fine, it is a beautiful lake and the mountains look great any time of year, but for some reason it troubles me.

I think it might be due to the way nature and people can sometimes come together, particularly at this spot. Allow me to explain. You see, I am a great believer in portraying the natural landscape as it is. Yes I use wide angle lenses to adjust the perspective and filters to balance the light from sky and land or blur moving water. Yes I have been known to use extreme neutral density filters for dramatic effect such as the image of channel markers on Venice lagoon. In general though, I try to capture the natural landscape 'honestly'. I try capture a scene so that what you see on screen or in print is effectively what I saw on that day, at that moment in time. Don't get me wrong, this image is absolutely what was in front of me when I triggered the shutter. There is no merging of a sky from a different image, I never do that, no changing of the colours in photoshop, the water really is that colour, but I still feel a tiny bit dishonest and I think it might be down to what you can't see, rather than what you can.

What you can't see is that I was sat on the concrete kerb of the concrete path behind me. My tripod is resting on those rocks in the foreground, rocks that I suspect are unlikely to have been put there by a glacier as they form the foundations for the previously mentioned path. Behind the path are lovely manicured lawns and shrubs where further concrete paths connect you to the sizeable parking area for cars and coaches that services both the day visitor and those fortunate enough to be staying at the even more sizeable luxury hotel over to my right.

I think my worry is perhaps that this particular image was, how shall I put this, a little 'too easy'? At face value it seems to portray the isolation of wilderness, the brooding sky and mountains, the apparent absence of human intervention (I did have to wait nearly half an hour for a moment when there were no canoes in view), all combining to convey a sense that this place is peaceful, calm, far from the madding crowd and maybe I had to hike for hours or days off the beaten track to find it. In reality I just followed the well placed signposts off the highway, parked up in the most convenient slot, walked a couple of hundred yards on smooth paths and plonked myself down by the water while my ever patient wife found a convenient park bench just behind me. When I was done we drove back into the nearby village for something to eat in one of the very nice local restaurants. I tell you, it's not easy being a landscape photographer!

None of my soul searching changes the image however. As I said before, no computer trickery here, it genuinely looks like that. I hope you enjoy it for what it is, a nice photograph, and if it helps persuade you that you might enjoy a trip to the Rockies one day that's great, I'm sure you will have a wonderful time like I did, but here I wonder if we may have stumbled on to the underlying issue. I absolutely want people to appreciate the world around them and care about it. To do that people have to be able to experience what being in the great outdoors can be like.

Of course the more people want to go there the more developed it becomes and, if we are not careful, we lose the very thing we wanted to experience in the first place. Ansel Adams campaigned over many years against the development of Yosemite and we owe him, and many others like him, a huge debt of gratitude. Were it not for their efforts the Yosemite Valley could well have been turned into a full blown theme park. As with most things in life however, there is a balance to be struck. We want people to appreciate the natural envirnoment but we also have to accept that will mean more people in that environment. To be fair to Lake Louise, the development is pretty much all contained at one end of the lake and has been done with a degree of sensitivity that is not always the case, and I still recommend that you pay it a visit if you can, it is beautiful.

Oh, and if you were thinking that maybe I hadn't had to work too hard on this one, you may take some comfort from the fact that five minutes after I took this image those brooding clouds dumped a not insignificant amount of rain on me. Apparently karma is actually a thing.

Other things to photograph

We were based in Banff for this part of the trip and I would suggest you consider doing the same as it gives you easy access to a good choice of shops and accommodation while being within striking distance of the major photography locations. We stayed at the Rim Rock Hotel, which I am happy to recommend, just outside of Banff town but only 10 minutes walk from the hot springs and the cable car to the top of Sulphur Mountain.

So, other than Lake Louise itself I would suggest Moraine Lake and Peyto Lake are worth a stop, as is Lake Minnewanka. Be prepare to hike a bit for Peyto and Minnewanka to get the best views. These four are probably the most photographed and I would be surprised if you haven't already seen images of them on postcards, in books, as screen savers, place mats, you name it it's probably been done. But don't let that stop you, part of the fun is trying to take an image of a popular location that hasn't been done before.

Further up the Icefields Parkway, heading north from Banff towards Jasper, I suggest you have a look at Bow Lake, it's less of a tourist spot but just as interesting as the more obvious subjects. You might also consider the Athabasca Glacier. You can only access the glacier itself via the off road bus tour but its a hoot and the drivers are very knowledgeable.

If you can take your eyes off the scenery for a while you should keep a look out for the wildlife. We were there in June so the heaviest snow had melted and the black bears were out of hibernation. They are of course wild animals so you really can't predict them but you would be unlucky to not see one at this time of year. The individual I came across for the black bear image on this site was happily sauntering down the side of the road to Moraine Lake looking for dandelions. He was the fourth, or fifth, bear we saw that day, we're still not sure if we saw one bear twice.

Now it should go without saying but, based on some of the behaviours I sadly witnessed it probably needs to be said, these are wild animals. I had the benefit of a 500mm lens and was a good way down the road when I took my photo and I strongly suggest you do the same. Not just for your own wellbeing but more importantly for the wellbeing of the bear. I kid you not, I actually saw someone stop their car no more than 20 yards from an adult black bear that was sniffing around a waste bin, get out of the car, walk towards the bear and then turn their back on it to take a selfie on their phone. Amazingly they got away with it but if that incident had gone bad the chances are the bear would have had to be put down and all because of someone's stupidity.

When to go

As you might expect, it really depends on what you are hoping to photograph. Generally the lakes are frozen up until late may so if you want to see the bright turquoise waters you need to be looking at June when the melt water is at it's highest. Bear in mind that June is also statistically the wettest month, which I can personally confirm, so be prepared to get rained on. First snow tends to be around September so obviously the warmest, and therefore the busiest and most expensive, months will be July and August.

For a really useful summary of the seasons, and how they might impact your photography, have a look at the 'Best time to visit Banff National Park and the Rocky Mountains' article on the Banff and Beyond website.

Getting there

The nearest international aiport is Calgary, about 90 minutes drive from Banff. If you do stay in Banff, Lake Louise is about 45 mins drive away along Highway 1. It's well signposted, as you would expect, so you should have no problem finding it.

There are more things to see and do in the area than I could possibly do justice to here so I suggest you have a look at the Banff and Lake Louise Tourism website which has stacks of information on things to do and see, as well as where to stay and where to eat. They also have details on how to get from Calgary to Banff if you don't have access to your own transport.

About the author: David Stanley is a freelance photographer concentrating on landscape images. For more articles, along with a selection of his work available as prints, please visit his website at www.davidstanleyphotography.com.

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