Living in an area entirely unknown for landscape photography is an interesting challenge. Of course, any location has beauty, although there are some that seem to be more elevated in a literal sense when it comes to aesthetic appeal. I frequently find myself in a landscape photography slump and part of that could be due to weather conditions being grey, uninteresting skies, or the fact that this is home and having a fresh perspective is exceedingly difficult. Combining all those excuses forces me to realize that similar problems can be experienced wherever you live. There will always be moments where an area lacks inspiration but increasingly I’m admiring people who photograph a similar location repeatedly; opposed to those who travel all over just to get the same image as thousands before them. Even while planning our trip to Ireland and the U.K. this spring I’m curious as to how much drive I’ll have to make images of someone else’s homeland. Regardless, I’ll take photos but there seems to be something special when images of home and the intimate insights into a place are captured well by a local. I’m not saying I do that proficiently or even that I won't travel or potentially move but accepting the significance of putting down roots seems ever more inescapable.
After an arduous day and night at Spirit Island, we decided to get one more view in at Athabasca Falls before heading home. The only problem was that we were back in Jasper around 10am that same morning and didn’t want to photograph the falls without pristine sunset light. At this point we had two options, get a campsite or hotel and try to sleep, or rough it and attempt to once again sleep in the vehicle. The differences from the night before consisted of it being in the middle of the day, 30 degrees Celsius, in the middle of Jasper, and did I mention how hot it was? We checked out a few potential refuges but they were either too expensive or far away to make it worthwhile so we sweatily tried to sleep in the hot box called a vehicle. Needless to say, this was exorbitantly uncomfortable and after maybe the hour of sleep I accomplished there was a serious risk of drowning in the amount of sweat I perspired. Anyways, I woke up to Elliot in an equal amount of discomfort so we decided to walk around for a bit and eat lunch at the Indian restaurant in town.
Somehow we managed to pass the minutes until it was time to head to Athabasca falls. We made some KD in the parking lot and ate a nice, quiet meal on the far side of the parking lot away from the tourists. I had never been there so we meandered along the pathways scouting out where some potential photo spots were. Basically, the best spot for the iconic images is on the bridge. With that being said, the random stone formations are quite mesmerizing and shouldn't be ignored. We set up our tripods, made some images when the light was optimal and then packed up and started the walk back to the vehicle. Just as we approached the vehicle a cougar walked around the back end and locked eyes with us...
Which is exactly what I would say if this was a fictional style blog. Fortunately, there wasn't a cougar or any other dangers waiting for us. We began the long journey home with a stunning orange glow painting the mountainsides. Thank you all for following along with this adventure and looking forward to sharing the next one.
I just wanted to make a quick post letting you know that I’m now booking weddings for 2019. If you’re interested or know someone who is getting married, feel free to email me from my contact page. I only take on a few each year because I want to be able to focus on the highest quality for each couple. Enjoy the photos from past wedding days and feel free to share this post!
We stood semi-paralyzed watching the bear only a few meters away. Both of us were on the verge of pushing away from the dock to watch the bear peruse our goods. As it glanced towards us in somewhat of a contemplative manner it merely swayed its head back to the earth and meandered onwards. Relief riffled through me as our undesired company made it welcomingly clear we were uninteresting hosts on our humble dock. We stood there and watched the bear stroll up to a log about 20 meters away and effortlessly flip it over to start eating what I assumed were insects. I’m sure after all these cliffhangers you're just waiting for something catastrophic to occur and I feel as though it would be a disservice not to write about one. With that being said, I think this might be one of those stories that ends exceptionally well.
While we watched the bear, the sun still rising, calm ripples in the water and the looming mountains I couldn’t help feel connected to our Creator. Not only were we safe, comfortable and in awe of the view but to direct the admiration and thankfulness to our divine Creator is something I think people from a strict materialist view miss out on. Our ability to acknowledge creativity is something I find fascinating and of course, sceptics could simply say creativity is a human assigned attribute yet I’m doubtful. The scope of what people find beautiful seems so diverse that if it were just humanly assigned there should be something that is undeniably the most creative object in existence and testable by science. My desire with each trip is to frame up images that enable people to enter into the awareness of something greater than the material and recognise how they feel when viewing the photo. Reflecting on the significance of things outside of the material world is something our modernist minds desire to remove and alternatively rely solely on soulless, scientific systems.
Patiently, we waited for the light to brush along the treetops of Spirit Island but the angle and clouds were in opposition to our aesthetic yearnings. The final image we made was a panoramic from the dock where arching clouds bridged the gap between mountains. It was the perfect scene to conclude with and begin our arduous paddle back. Exhausted, we monotonously moved through the water with each stroke feeling like we were still stationary. The benefit of starting at night is you couldn't see how slowly you were moving. At one point we saw a rock on top of a mountain and used that as a marker but it wasn't until an hour or more we finally passed it. Each time we looked up that dang ominous rock seemed to taunt us with its' motionless form. Three or four hours passed when we finally reached the shore where we kicked off from 8 hours earlier. Once again thankfulness flooded my body as I stepped onto solid ground, knowing my lungs wouldn't be flooded due to capsizing and that we had just embraced the mercy and majesty presented to us in nature.
This trip happened a little while ago and only now did I feel like I was removed enough to be able to sufficiently write about it. Retelling stories like this is part of completing the photographic narrative that I enjoy sharing so much with all of you. I'd love to hear your comments, see some of your favourite images from the series or even hear about your wild experiences. Thank you for reading and come back next time to find out where we headed next!
Engulfed in nearly complete darkness, I lifted the canoe onto the shore to simply drain it out with the internal plea that this wouldn't be foreshadowing to how the trip would go. Somewhat miffed about the sandy, wet seats, we uncomfortably got situated and kicked off from shore to begin paddling toward Spirit Island.
Overall the canoe ride was quite peaceful. We slowly zig-zagged our way along the perfectly calm water in hopes of not tipping over with our cameras. Since I was in the back, I had the responsibility of steering and all I could do to navigate was keep the faintly lit mountains to our right and left in those general directions. It was probably an hour or two into our ride when we started to notice flashes of light above us. We knew there was a chance for a storm in Jasper but after looking at a few sources we concluded it wouldn’t hit us. Another peculiar characteristic of this lighting is that it was silent and seemingly launching from cloud to cloud rather than towards earth. The flashes would momentarily illuminate our desired path but really just created a more eerie ambience. Total silence, complete darkness, motionless water, and aimless navigation all contributed to the sensory deprivation that could have calmed us to sleep if it weren’t for our monotonous paddling.
We eventually arrived at where we thought Spirit Island should be but really had no idea due to the lack of photons. Partially relieved and entirely exhausted we realized about 1.5 hours remained before sunrise. Unsure of what the area offered in terms of terrain or wildlife we decided to attempt sleeping in the canoe for a while. With ease, I managed to fall asleep as we lulled along in the water. If it wasn’t for the gentle knocking occurring from the canoe nudging the shore I could have slept a while longer. The first time it happened I paddled us out again and fell right back to sleep. Apparently, Elliot had to do the same thing but the third time it was just bright enough for us to see the outline of the trees and a dock. As soon as we glided into the dock I was internally ecstatic, knowing that the light was soon to come and I was about to get the image we put in all the work for.
It quickly grew brighter, which allowed us to start scouting out different compositions in hopes of finding something unique. Considering this is a location with millions of photos acquired while standing on the observation platform it wasn't likely that we were going to achieve anything groundbreaking but the pursuit is my favourite adrenaline rush. The light seemed to be optimal as it lit up the cliff faces in the background. In the one image I found a few rocks with intriguing cracks and used those as a foreground but what I really wanted was some of the warped driftwood off to the right. Unfortunately, the angles just didn't line up even after attempting to make it work for at least 45 minutes. Regardless of the light, we shot an abundance of images and I was just hoping that in my exhaustion I remembered to focus and use acceptable settings. I guess that's for you to judge by looking at the technical aspects of the images, yet I doubt many people actually care about that part and mostly focus on how the photos make them feel.
Feeling is an integral piece of photography and far too often ignored by the photographer in this somewhat technical art form. The magical, nostalgic, nuance, atmospheric sensation you are able to portray in a single frame is only half of the experience. Often photographers miss being aware of the emotions they feel while creating an image. Spirit Island is one of those places where I was nearly brought to tears by how wonderful the scene and experience as a whole was. Increasingly I force myself to make a mental note of how I felt at a location, whether I'm pulled over on the side of the road or have hiked multiple kilometres to a mountain pass, the image should erupt emotion from the viewer. This comes into play immensely when editing because it's at that point I can decide to punch you in the face with excess vibrancy and clarity or decide to have a more muted, soft presentation.
I've somewhat strayed away from the riveting story and fallen into photography philosophy so let's resume. After a certain amount of time you can only shoot so many images of the same tree island so I was looking around for different scenes. While Eliot and I were both walking down the path, in search of a new angle, I saw something emerge from the trees. Usually, I'm stoked to see wildlife but the common trend is that whenever I have my long lens I see nothing and when I don't everything seems to present itself. However, in this situation, I was immediately filled with trepidation because it was a bear! We slowly walked back to the dock where our bear spray was as it sauntered down the path towards us. Our gear was scattered all over so we didn't have time to pack it up but we managed to get the bear spray out and a leg in the canoe right as it reached the front of the dock.
Of course, I have to end it there this week. Thank you so much for reading and come back for the third and final part of our time at Spirit Island. If you're enjoying this story and images it would mean a lot if you could share it to social media or just with a friend. Have a great week!