Sunrise sensation

Sunrise sensation

The Vermilion Lake of Banff national park is probably the most popular photo spot in the Canadian Rockies, especially in winter, when ice, snow and water got blended under a spectacular sky. As an Alberta based photographer, I can’t remember how many times I have been to this lake, and how many successful pictures I have captured from here, but to be honest, every time I visit Vermilion Lake, I always find something that I have never seen before.
This image was captured on a cloudy morning in November when winter just started in Banff national park. In this time of year, the Canadian Rockies is cold at night, and warm during daytime, so I put on warm cloth and gloves. The particular spot is behind the bush and requires some hiking in the snow, which I had explored a few times before. In the previous day before I went on the photo journey, I checked the weather forecast, and it predicted partly cloudy with sunny breaks. To an experienced photographer based in the Calgary-Banff area, this means a great possibility of dramatic and colourful sky over the Vermilion Lakes.

I arrived one hour before sunrise, and went directly to the spot I chose in my mind. The colours usually showed up half hour before sunrise for a cloudy sky, but just in case it might present earlier, I left some buffer time. At first sight, I felt a little disappointed, because the clouds looked quite thick and not a chance of breaks. I decided to wait a little longer, and then while the clock was ticking, the clouds started to give breaks, and the sun just magically showed up and painted the sky with beautiful red and yellow colours. The choice of foreground was crucial in creating this image. I tried different angles and eventually ended up with this triangle-hole foreground, which I believed best balanced with the dramatic sky. I set aperture 11 for large depth-of-field, shutter 0.62 sec and ISO 200 to blur the water a bit, white balance at cloudy to make the ice look bluer and the sun look yellower. I used aperture priority mode and took 4 photos 1 stop apart using different shutter speed in order to blend exposures in post-processing.

Post-Processing

I use Adobe Photoshop CS6 to edit my photographs. For this particular image, the result I achieved is almost everything I desired. The following adjustments are what I did as post-processing:
1. Exposure Blending: for exposure blending, I used a technique called luminosity mask, which allows me to blend lightness from different images. I’ll publish a video tutorial on how to do this step by step.
2. Straighten the horizon: select the ruler tool and drag across the image to straighten the horizontal line
3. Add a curve adjustment layer to form an S shape to bump up contrast, and press the B key to bring out the brush tool, set the foreground colour to black and brush on the layer mask created together to mask the areas that are not properly adjusted.
4. Go to filter -> Nik Software -> Color Efex Pro 4 to add skylight filter effect with strength 20% and add a layer mask to show the effect only on the sky and the reflection colours.
5. Go to filter -> Nik Software -> Color Efex Pro 4 to add classic soft focus with strength at 50% and add a layer mask to show the effect only on the reflection to blur the water a bit.
6. Add a photo filter adjustment layer and select cooling filter density at 25%, and turn its adjacent layer mask to be black by Alt + Backspace, and then use a white brush to bring out the area desired, in this case, it is the foreground ice that I need to add blue in.
7. Sharpen the image by using Unsharpen mask.

Hints

1. Always pay attention to the weather forecast in the area you want to photograph. Check it hourly and frequently, especially at the last minute before your trip, this will help you keep the whole picture in mind and predict unexpected conditions.
2. Always take multiple exposures if possible. This is not only good for exposure blending at post-processing, but also helpful in increasing the chance to get the best rendition of the subject you photograph.
3. Always look hard for foreground, pay attention to the low angle. There could be hundreds of combinations and there is always a perfect one.
4. Never give up due to bad weathers, wait until the last minute, the sun could come out at any minute.

Biography

Based in Calgary, AB, Canada, Victor Liu is a professional photographer, visual artist, and poet, who is specialized in fine art landscape photography. He began his journey of photography with the love of nature and outdoor activities, including every hiking, mountain climbing and kayak trip he went on. Victor’s unique vision as a photographer is borne from his love of literature, painting and music, which makes for the artistic and poetic elements in many of his works. He is a recipient of numerous national and international photography awards, and has been constantly publishing with magazines such as Canadian Geographic, Outdoor Photography Canada, Photo Life, National Geographic and Canadian Wildlife. Victor holds a master degree in Computer Science and works as a part time software programmer, which greatly contributes to his skills of photo editing and post processing.

Abraham lake in the morning

Abraham lake in the morning

Abraham Lake is an artificial lake that lies in between of Banff national park and Jasper national park in Alberta, Canada. In winter, millions of bubbles frozen underneath the water dress the lake in a unique fashion and draw thousands of photographers from around the world each year. I have been to Abraham Lake many times over many years, but in my previous trips, the lighting conditions were disappointing. It was either overcast or super clear. In January 2014, I decided to pay a visit to the lake again. The weather forecast showed partly cloudy skies in this area for 3 days straight with a few flurries and 6 hours of sunshine each day, which is ideal for landscape photography.
I booked a hotel for 3 nights in Nordegg, a small town 40km away from Abraham Lake. There is a lodge closer to the lake, but I preferred to stay at a cheaper place. This image was captured on the second morning of my trip. In the previous day, I checked different spots along the lake for the next day’s morning shoot, and preacher’s point jumped out of them quite easily for its beautiful bubbles and cracks, as well as its easy-to-compose background mountains. The night before I went on the journey, I checked the weather forecast for the last time, and it predicted 80% of flurries, and clear sky one hour after sunrise. To an experienced photographer like me, this means a possibility of sunburst and dramatic clouds formations.
I got up one hour before sunrise, a little late than I usually did for a morning shoot, as I was aware there wouldn’t be any breaks in the sky until one hour after sunrise, but I did leave enough time to look for the best composition on site. There were heavy snowfall when I arrived at preacher’s point, and everything was covered by a thick layer of frost, to be honest, if I didn’t check the weather on previous night, I wouldn’t believe the sky could soon clear up. To better walk on the ice, I put on a pair of crampons, and also I wore thick cloth, hat, and gloves to keep myself warm. It didn’t take me long time to find the spot with beautiful bubbles and cracks thanks to my previous day’s research in this area, and then I set up my tripod on the ice, making sure all the legs were on hard, non-slippery surface to keep the support steady. I took several test shots under twilight, changed a few positions, and eventually settled down with my favourite angle and camera settings, aperture 11 for large depth-of-field, shutter 1/200 sec and ISO 1000 for a relatively faster speed as the wind kept shaking my tripod, white balance at cloudy to make the ice look bluer and the sun look yellower. I also predicted the direction of the sunrise and composed the foreground ice cracks and bubbles to be on diagonal line towards the sun. One hour after sunrise, exactly like the weather forecast said, the sun came out, bursting rays of light out of the clouds, adding the last bit of magic to my photograph. I used aperture priority mode and took 5 photos 1 stop apart using different shutter speed in order to blend exposures in post-processing.

Hints:

1. Always pay attention to the weather forecast in the area you want to photograph. Check it hourly and frequently, especially at the last minute before your trip, this will help you keep the whole picture in mind and predict unexpected conditions.
2. Always take multiple exposures if possible. This is not only good for exposure blending at post-processing, but also helpful in increasing the chance to get the best rendition of the subject you photograph.
3. Always look for interesting colours and shapes both in the sky and on the ground, sometimes the shapes of clouds match perfectly with the foreground diagonal line or the sunshine colours become complimentary of the foreground colours.
4. Always research on the previous day and arrive early. It’s never a good idea to look for best composition in the dark, and knowing the area in advance is a key thing to achieve the ideal result.

Into the sky

Into the sky

Milky way over frozen Abraham lake