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Mountain sunset under heavy clouds

The last light of the sun setting behind rugged peaks shines below a sky of heavy clouds

Sun­set under heavy clouds

If you’ve signed up for my newslet­ter you’ll rec­og­nize these past few images that I’ve shared—this one is from a trip to Jasper Nation­al Park that I took this spring. I was lucky enough to dri­ve into the moun­tains just as the sun dipped below the clouds for a few min­utes before sink­ing behind the moun­tain peaks. I don’t recall my cam­era set­tings for this par­tic­u­lar image, but I was def­i­nite­ly think­ing of the gold­en rule for land­scape photography—“f/8 and be there”.

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Golden sunrise on boreal lake

The first golden yellow rays of sunrise light up the far shore of a small boreal lake closely surrounded by dense spruce forest

Gold­en sun­light on spruce shore­line

This pho­to­graph is from a gor­geous morn­ing that I spent in the Obed Lake Provin­cial Park in west­ern Alber­ta. This is not actu­al­ly Obed Lake itself, but one of the small­er lakes in the park. There were loons swim­ming around, spar­rows and war­blers singing, and it was too chilly still for the mos­qui­toes to be flying—perfect.

The yel­low colour in the image is actu­al­ly toned down a lit­tle from what it looked like straight out the camera—it was real­ly yel­low. (I guess that’s why they call dawn and dusk the “gold­en hour”.)

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Early spring dogwood colour

The last light as the sun sets catches a patch of red-osier dogwood behind several thin bare aspen saplings already in the evening shadow

Glow­ing dog­wood behind bare aspen saplings

Anoth­er sun­set pho­to­graph tak­en while doing owl sur­veys, this one was tak­en on a clear evening which made for less inter­est­ing skies as the pre­vi­ous night but allowed for more pre­dictably pro­gress­ing, steady light on the ground.

This time of year, my eyes ache for colour after the long win­ter and the red-osier dog­wood shrubs are often the first real glimpses of spring colour as they flush red in the very ear­ly spring—even before the snow has melt­ed. In this image, I like how the intense red of the wil­lows in the last, warm rays of sun­light con­trast with the cool blues of the aspen saplings that are already in the evening’s shad­ow.

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Fiery cirrus clouds at sunset

The days last sunlight illuminates high icy clouds behind a clean horizon of fresh snow

Fiery sun­set over snowy hori­zon

I’ve been out con­duct­ing noc­tur­nal owl sur­veys in south-cen­tral Alber­ta for the past few weeks, which has giv­en me the chance to take some great sun­set pho­tographs, and to try out pho­tograph­ing at night—lots of fun (but lots to learn too!)

This pho­to came after a whole day of cloud that final­ly broke at just the right time to allow the set­ting sun to peek through. If they coop­er­ate, a sky full of clouds sure makes for more inter­est­ing pho­tog­ra­phy than a “per­fect­ly” clear sky.

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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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Flock of waterfowl at Ministik

A flock of ducks flies up from Oliver Lake on an autumn evening at the Ministik Lake Bird Sanctuary

Water­fowl ris­ing from Min­is­tik Lake

Here’s anoth­er pho­to­graph I made last week, along Oliv­er Lake out at the Min­is­tik Lake Game­bird Sanc­tu­ary. As the sun was set­ting, hun­dreds (if not thou­sands) of ducks were set­tling on the lake, ris­ing in large flocks if unnamed pho­tog­ra­phers (or their dog) moved too quick­ly. I nor­mal­ly try hard when pro­cess­ing a pho­to­graph to make sure that there is detail in both the high­lights and shad­ow. In this case how­ev­er, I found that push­ing the bright­ness up real­ly did a bet­ter job of cap­tur­ing the mood of look­ing west across the lake into the sun, watch­ing the birds against the bril­liant, back­lit fall colours. They say the rules are there to be bro­ken, right?

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Boreal colours at their autumn finest

Aspen, birch, reeds and grasses all glow golden in evening light along the shore of Oliver Lake at the Ministik Lake Game Bird Sanctuary

Gold­en autumn aspen shore­line

If you’re in the Edmon­ton area, and haven’t been out enjoy­ing (and pho­tograph­ing) the fall colours this week, I have one word for you—go! I’ll let this pho­to­graph speak the thou­sand words’ encour­age­ment.

I’ve been explor­ing the south-west cor­ner of Min­is­tik Lake Sanc­tu­ary, fol­low­ing game trails along the shore of Oliv­er Lake and com­ing across views like this one. This is one of my favourite autumn combinations—yellow aspen & birch, bright dried grass­es, all against a blue sky reflect­ed in a still lake, and with just a few dark spruce thrown in for accent. Gor­geous.

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