Winter in Canmore, Alberta

I never gave Canmore a chance before. It was always just a small area I stopped in to fill up the gas tank on my way to Banff. A couple weekends ago, I decided there had to be more to it. I booked an affordable last minute hotel in Canmore on booking.com deciding it was close enough to Banff to be a base for a long weekend photo trip/getaway for my wife and me. I was surprised to find that beyond the Trans-Canada Highway and behind the trees was a nice little mountain town nestled along the Bow River with all the necessities, and even a few good restaurants and decent shopping.

It was bloody cold. We had been experiencing an extended deep freeze up in Edmonton with high temps hovering around 0°F and below. The Rockies southwest of Edmonton are actually a bit warmer on average, but this weekend the temps in the Banff/Canmore areas dropped significantly below average. Each morning we went out for sunrise at -20°F or below with mid-day highs not much warmer. The sky was 100% cloudless the whole time. That might seem nice to most, but for photographers, it means almost colourless skies for sunrise and sunset. Of course, the temps rose back up into the 20s and 30s just after we left. My fingers froze with two pairs of insulated gloves on. My wife faired a bit better- she doesn’t have to take her hands out of the pockets of her parka to fiddle with cameras like I do. No frost-bite developed, though, I’m sure it came close.

The Problem with Canmore

I had a few locations I wanted to visit in and around town. Scouting them out on the first day, I found that, though Canmore is surrounded by beautiful dramatic mountain scenery (and has several large parks and lakes with mountain views), town planners had no interest in preserving the views. Every view of iconic peaks like Three Sisters and Ha Ling Peak along Canmore’s trails was blocked by crisscrossing power lines. It was frustrating; Banff and Jasper don’t really have this issue. I assume that’s why I don’t really see much landscape photography from the Canmore area despite it’s dramatic setting. Thankfully, you don’t have to go that far outside of the town’s boundaries to get to pristine natural areas.

One of the few views of Three Sisters (two of the three) in Canmore free of power lines. Shot from a bridge in town centre.

One of the few views of Three Sisters (two of the three) in Canmore free of power lines. Shot from a bridge in town centre.

Photographing Three Sisters

The best spot to shoot Canmore’s well-known mountains unobstructed is along Policeman Creek. It’s no secret. Though, it’s not the easiest location to get to, especially in deep winter in a couple feet of snow. This location is so frequented by photographers, however, that several trails had been worn into the snow already. Because most of the creeks and streams were frozen, it may have actually have been a bit easier to hike around in late winter than spring and summer.

The Peaks of Three Sisters at Sunrise, Canmore, Alberta

The Peaks of Three Sisters at Sunrise, Canmore, Alberta

This is not an official area with any sort of infrastructure for pedestrians. It’s not an official trail. You have to park at the small gravel lot for the off-leash dog area on the Bow Valley Trail (1A), walk across the road (often there’s lots of traffic), and then walk underneath the railroad tracks following the stream until you get to Policeman Creek and eventually the Bow River. The reward is unobstructed views of Three Sisters in a natural willow and evergreen forest. In winter at really low temps, mist rises off the Bow River and frosts the trees. It’s magical, but bitterly cold.

Mist rising from the Bow River at -30°F, Canmore, Alberta

Mist rising from the Bow River at -30°F, Canmore, Alberta

The snow was so tracked out it was difficult to find good foreground compositions, so I did my best framing tighter compositions to exclude human footprints. Had there been fresh snow, this would have been less of an issue.

Ha Ling Peak and the Bow River at Sunrise, Canmore, Alberta

Ha Ling Peak and the Bow River at Sunrise, Canmore, Alberta

Outside Canmore: Castle Mountain and Grotto Canyon

During our weekend in the Rockies the Bow Valley Parkway was closed for maintenance. It is one of my favourite drives in the Canadian Rockies, so it was unfortunate, but we were still able to visit Castle Junction near Banff for a sunset shoot. The light was good, but it was very windy on the Bow River. This was the coldest I’ve ever felt in my life! My hands have still not fully recovered.

Castle Mountain Sunset, Banff, Alberta

Castle Mountain Sunset, Banff, Alberta

Grotto Canyon is located along the Bow Valley Trail south of Canmore. It was a beautiful hike through dense snow covered evergreens that eventually opened up into a deep canyon with high vertical walls. The only issue is that there’s a magnesite plant located right next to the trail. For the first 1/2 hour of the hike, it’s loud and annoying. Once you reach the canyon, you can’t hear anything but nature- thank goodness. The best part of this hike for me was seeing the 500-1000 year old pictographs painted on the canyon walls. They’re eroding away with time and most aren’t easy to make out (people also like to rub them for good luck, or to posses shamanistic powers, or because they’re gluten free…I don’t know why people need to touch them…). A few are still pretty visible. Being alone in the canyon by the pictographs is like stepping back in time.

Pictographs in Grotto Canyon, Alberta

Pictographs in Grotto Canyon, Alberta

Close-up of 500-1000 year-old Pictograph, Grotto Canyon, Alberta

Close-up of 500-1000 year-old Pictograph, Grotto Canyon, Alberta

On our way farther down the Bow Valley Trail, we came across bighorn sheep grazing on a hillside with a dramatic mountain backdrop. There are few places to pull over on this road. We found a trailhead parking lot and managed to get close enough photograph the sheep (all female) with a long lens without disturbing them. I’m always hoping for a good wildlife encounter on these trips, so I’m glad I at least got to spend time watching these sheep.

Rocky Mountain Bighorns, Canmore, Alberta

Rocky Mountain Bighorns, Canmore, Alberta

A Photographer’s Gotta Eat

Despite nearly freezing to death each day, we did eat well and warm ourselves in some very cozy restaurants. My favourite thing about Canmore is actually the food. I’ve never been impressed with Banff’s pricey restaurants, and Jasper practically has none (I’m exaggerating…it has very few). We ate at the Famous Chinese Restaurant twice because it’s the best (American-style) Chinese we’ve had since moving to Canada. There are things on their menu I haven’t eaten since leaving the U.S. We loved it, and it’s cheap. We also enjoyed amazing bagel sandwiches and coffee at Rocky Mountain Bagel Co. After our frigid sunrise hike around Policeman Creek, we stuffed ourselves with a nice hot breakfast at Craig’s Way Station. Those pancakes sure hit the spot!

Overall it was an excellent weekend, and I came away with few decent images and ideas for summer and fall shoots. I plan on staying in Canmore again as an alternative to pricey and touristy Banff, if not for the nature, then for my new favourite restaurants.

B-Roll:

Thanks for reading and happy shooting!

Fine Art Prints Are Now Available!

I’m happy to announce that I finally have a selection of my work in the Saatchi Art store. Fine art prints of my photographs are now available in various canvas and print sizes. There are framing options available as well. I will be updating the portfolio frequently. Please take a moment to browse the current selection of images by clicking below!

Nikon 200-500 f5.6 VR Lens One Year Later

It’s been just over a year since I got my hands on what has become an essential part of my lens arsenal. The Nikon 200-500mm f5.6 VR is probably my favourite lens for wildlife. It’s so versatile. Though the newer 500mm f5.6E PF is tempting me, it lacks the versatile zoom range of the 200-500mm (and it’s twice the price). I’ve used the 200-500mm f5.6 VR for the vast majority of my wildlife shots (and a lot of landscapes as well) over the last year. I’d like to celebrate this anniversary by sharing a few of my favourite shots that I’ve made using this lens. You can read my full review by clicking here.
Thanks for reading and happy shooting!

Grizzly grazing in the estuary, Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia (Nikon D750, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 500mm, f6.3, 1/800 sec, ISO 4000)

Grizzly grazing in the estuary, Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia (Nikon D750, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 500mm, f6.3, 1/800 sec, ISO 4000)

Grizzly cub resting by the estuary in low tide, Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia (Nikon D750, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 500mm, f6.3, 1/800 sec, ISO 2500)

Grizzly cub resting by the estuary in low tide, Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia (Nikon D750, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 500mm, f6.3, 1/800 sec, ISO 2500)

Mountain goat nanny and kid looking over the Athabasca River, Jasper National Park (Nikon D7200, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 500mm, f.8, 1/2500 sec, ISO 500)

Mountain goat nanny and kid looking over the Athabasca River, Jasper National Park (Nikon D7200, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 500mm, f.8, 1/2500 sec, ISO 500)

Bison shaking off snow, Elk Island National Park (Nikon D750, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 290mm, f8, 1/400 sec, ISO 800)

Bison shaking off snow, Elk Island National Park (Nikon D750, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 290mm, f8, 1/400 sec, ISO 800)

Canada goose goslings, Elk Island National Park (Nikon D7200, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 500mm, f8, 1/800 sec, ISO 400)

Canada goose goslings, Elk Island National Park (Nikon D7200, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 500mm, f8, 1/800 sec, ISO 400)

White-tailed Jackrabbits, Alberta, Canada (Nikon D7200, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 290mm, f7.1, 1/1600 sec, ISO 400)

White-tailed Jackrabbits, Alberta, Canada (Nikon D7200, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 290mm, f7.1, 1/1600 sec, ISO 400)

Elk in snow, Banff National Park (Nikon D750, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 500mm, f5.6, 1/800 sec, ISO 1800)

Elk in snow, Banff National Park (Nikon D750, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 500mm, f5.6, 1/800 sec, ISO 1800)

My Top Travel Tips...

My Top Travel Tips (For All Types of Travellers)

I just started breaking ground on my next ebook on travel photography. It got me thinking about some things I’ve learned, not only about photography, but about travel in general over the last several years. I’d like to share a few of those tips with you; these are practical and apply to everyone. They’ll not only make your travel experience better, but also make you a more efficient image maker. You’ve spent a lot of time planning and a bit of money getting to your destination, this is how you get the most out it.

Spend More Time, Less Money.

It’s easier than ever to go on amazing trips on a budget using sites like Airbnb.com and Booking.com. Make sure you’re spending enough time at your destination to soak it all in. Don’t rush around from one site to the next trying to pack in a lot on a tight schedule. I like to book enough time to really get to know a place; greater understanding of your destination enhances your experience and increases your chances of getting meaningful and unique images (instead of forgettable snap shots).

The less money you spend on your day-to-day, the longer you can stay. Set a reasonable, yet lean, budget for your trip. Research the best local (and cheap) eateries like hell before you go. I (almost) always book Airbnbs with kitchens so that I can cook most of my meals instead of eating out two or three times a day. Shopping at grocery stores and markets like the locals will save you money, and give you a better understanding of what it’s like to live there. Make sure you’re centrally located too, so you don’t have to travel far and spend a lot money on transit. Paying a few bucks more per night in that downtown Airbnb might be cheaper than cabs, Ubers, and public transit from the big chain hotel on the edge of town.

Click here for my post on How to Afford to Travel.

Pack Less.

For the love of everything you hold holy take less crap with you! I carry one 35L backpack with everything I need, including camera gear, for up to two weeks on the road. It doesn’t matter if I’m going to the Canadian Rockies just 3 hours from my home or if I’m flying to Europe and visiting multiple countries, I only take one bag. I know what you’re thinking…“That’s easy for you! You’re a young dude willing to rough it for good pictures!” My wife only takes one 34L backpack and her purse as a personal item. That’s it. She always looks good! We never check anything when flying.

I find that minimalist packing relieves some of the stress of being in transit. Despite my love of visiting new places, I hate being in transit. With me, it’s the destination, not the journey. By packing one carry-on bag, I have less to keep up with and can get around airports and train stations more efficiently: no waiting for my checked luggage to be rechecked and risk missing a flight; no worrying that luggage will be lost or damaged (which happened to me in past before I knew better).

Click here to see my Travel Photographer’s Master Packing List.

Wear Good Shoes.

Sturdy, practical, and comfortable walking/hiking shoes are essential. Break them in before you go. Say you’re spending a week in Paris or Prague: those cobblestone streets are gonna tear your tootsies up if you’re not wearing the right footwear. Make sure to start walking in your main pair (especially if they’re new) several days to a couple weeks before your trip to make sure you break them in and to know in advance if they’re going to cause blisters. Blisters can ruin a trip.
Pro Tip: Pack a little coconut oil to rub in between your toes each day. It’ll help relieve friction and help prevent blisters.

I have a couple different foot issues I battle with about every time I travel. It’s frustrating. Being a photographer means I have to be mobile and need the ability to walk several miles a day. Gradually, I’m learning how to deal with these issues. You can save yourself a huge amount of woe and discomfort simply by picking the right shoes. I’d recommend a good hiking shoe brand; trail runners that are breathable are great for summer. Whatever you choose, make sure they’re not gonna hold you back. Accept function over fashion and save yourself some serious aches and pains.

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