Get your shutter ready for Jasper
Location is a photographer’s paradise
Here’s the bad news: many of my Jasper pictures were not postcard worthy. Some of the most painfully obvious “trash bin” shots featured dramatic underexposure, wonky horizon lines, and, of course, blown-out skies. But now the good news: of the four hundred photos, or so, I took on my photo safari, a handful turned out just fine. And I feel good about that. After all, some people say that a monkey could take a nice photo in Jasper.
Without a doubt, Jasper is one of the most photogenic places in North America. Here soaring, shark-tooth peaks explode into pure blue skies and a string of turquoise lakes shimmer in the pine-coated valleys. The area is peppered with postcard-pretty scenes and is, unquestionably, a bucket-list locale for landscape photographers.
I’ve had a photo-focused journey to Jasper on my radar for years. Finally, the timing was right and the plan came together. I felt like a kid in a candy store putting all my gear together and planning the itinerary.
Some of the most striking “shots” — images I’ve eyeballed for years — are taken at idyllic locations such as Maligne Lake, Pyramid Lake, the Jasper Skytram, and, of course, Spirit Island. Chances are, if you’ve seen a great image of Jasper, it was taken at one of these spots.
Unquestionably, the trump card, the crème de la crème, of all these locations is the worldrenowned photo op at Spirit Island. The scene here — a small lone island covered with a cluster of pines and back-dropped by serrated peaks that hang into the glacier-fed lake behind — is legendary. The shot — first made famous in the early 1960s when Kodak plastered the image on the east wall of Grand Central Station — requires a half-hour boat ride to reach.
On my first morning, after hitting snooze 17 times, I grabbed a coffee and made my way to the rocky shores of Pyramid Lake. With misty fog and ethereal light painting the peaks, it was time well spent. A smattering of colourful canoes made for an interesting foreground and I shuttered a few shots that managed to do some justice (let’s be honest, it’s always better with the naked eye!) to the beauty.
One of the toughest things about being a “serious” landscape photographer is getting oneself upright before the roosters start crowing. However, to get a winning shot, you’ve simply got to pay the price and take advantage of that special golden light of dawn. While evenings can also be spectacular, the early mornings — when many of the locations are quiet and void of people — are almost always better.
The next day, with low hanging cloud and intermittent showers dousing the valley, things didn’t look nearly as good. But, hoping for the best, I took the last car up on the Jasper Skytram and took my chances. The gamble paid off. At the summit, shortly before sunset, the clouds parted and warm, pink light washed over the townsite and the towering ramparts beyond.
The Jasper Skytram ($35 for adults) is Canada’s highest and longest aerial tramway. It whisks you up near the top of Whistlers Mountain, 2,300 metres, and an alpine setting unlike anything else in Canada. The panoramic views and photo ops, including Mount Robson, which is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, are simply gorgeous.
On the docket for Day 3 was the boat ride to Spirit Island. After shelling over the $40 fee I hopped on-board and was happy to watch the valley fog melt away to reveal a brilliant blue sky splattered with a few high, cotton-ball clouds. Things were looking good! And, when I got there, Spirit Island did not disappoint.
Although the 30-minute ride down Maligne Lake felt short, the mere 10-minutes we had on shore was even shorter. Ask any photographer, that’s not a lot of time to paint your masterpiece.
However, ask any photographer, regardless of how much time you have at a location, being prepared is always half the battle. Carrying multiple lenses (including a wide-angle lens as well as a longer telephoto for wildlife encounters) is critical. Also, polarizing filters (to deepen blue skies and cut through haze) and neutral density filters (to tone down bright skies and even out the exposure in a scene) are key accessories to pack. Micro-fibre cleaning cloths, extra batteries, extra memory cards, and a lightweight tripod for lowlight situa- tions are also essentials.
On the gorgeous drive back to Calgary on the Icefields Parkway — one of the most scenic highways in the world — I couldn’t resist a few more photo stops. Sunwapta Falls, the Athabasca Glacier, and Peyto Lake, even though they’re typically teeming with trigger-happy tourists, are must stops for shutterbugs.
Fortunately, at Peyto Lake, a location that often works well with mid-day light, I was able to fire off a few more frames I could work with. Were they postcard worthy? Probably not. But when I boosted the colours and tweaked the horizon line, I definitely had something a camera-wielding monkey would be quite pleased with.
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