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Birch tree along rocky shore

A small birch tree stands in full autumn colours among the rocks and reeds along the lake shore at the Ministik Game Bird Sanctuary near Edmonton, Alberta.

Paper Birch along rocky Ministik shoreline

It is unusual to find exposed rock along the shores of the lakes in this part of Alberta, but this beautiful shoreline along Oliver Lake in the Ministik Game Bird Sanctuary just east of Edmonton had several hundred meters of this gorgeous blue-grey stone typical of the Beaver Hills/Cooking Lake moraine landform. Tall reeds and grasses, all dried up by this time, grew from between the stones and above the high water mark there were aspen, birch, and spruce. And then there was this tree—growing near the water in a little clearing.

My timing was just right—all the tree’s leaves had turned to this reddish yellow, with a few fallen to the ground to contrast the colour of the rocks (the next few days were quite windy, stripping most of these leaves for the season). When I first arrived at this spot, the sun was reasonably low in the sky, but the white bark of the birch tree was still reflecting too much light and the contrast was more than my camera could capture. Sometimes, bracketing exposures and combining them to an HDR image for processing can reign in such high-contrast scenes, but in this case a slight breeze was rustling the leaves and grass stems, which makes it very difficult to blend multiple exposures successfully.

Looking to the west however, I noticed that a bank of high stratus clouds rose a few degrees above the horizon in the otherwise perfectly clear sky. Normally, this is bad news if you’re trying to photograph dramatic late-day sidelighting and sunset colours (which I was trying to do). In this case though, I waited until the sun had just dipped behind the thin leading edge of the clouds, causing the light to dim a little and to diffuse ever so slightly—reducing the contrast in the scene, but still lighting the brilliant fall colours. I hurried to capture a few compositions that I’d determined while waiting for the light, and far too quickly—the light was gone. I walked back to the truck as the lacklustre sky simply grew darker with the sun hidden behind the advancing clouds—but I couldn’t possibly have been any happier.

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