The Beauty & Majesty of Banff Shot in Really Crappy Light

(Above: This is what greeted us at Moraine Lake in Banff National Park. Too windy/choppy/raining for canoe rentals. It really inhibited our possibility of recreating Matt’s famous shot).

Hi Gang: Greetings from Vancouver (it’s really late here—our flight was delayed more than 3 hours), and at some point I should probably go to bed seeing as I have a seminar in the morning for 500+ photographers, but I can’t hit the sack without sharing some of the photos and stories from my first trip to Banff.

(Above: 5:15 am at Lake Louise–the only time the water was still there, and it was only still for about 30 minutes. Of course, there was really no sunrise with all the clouds. It was just kinda dark, then after a while it was kinda bright. Then we went for some breakfast. Click on the photo for a MUCH larger view).

First, Banff is a truly amazing place—even in the socked-in, rainy, gray, kinda crappy weather we had, it was still just breathtaking. Brad and I only had one day in Banff (we stayed right near Lake Louise), and we did a sunrise shoot (5:15 am), and I took the advice on where to shoot from some folks on my blog, and a lot of great help from Neil Silverman, who has led many photo workshops there.

(Above: This was a two minute exposure taken in daylight using a 10-stop ND filter. That’s why the clouds and water are so silky. This was taken late in the day when tiny spots of blue sky were fighting to break through. They almost did for a moment).

Invisible Sunrise and Sunset
We came in the night before, but it was so cloudy there wasn’t really a sunset to shoot at all. It just eventually got dark, so we did some scouting for the next morning. It was at that point, that we learned the weather forecast would be more of what it had been for the past three days: rainy and gray. But worse that than…

I forgot my tripod
That’s right! I unpacked from my Maine trip on Monday, then repacked Tuesday morning, and I took my tripod and ballhead and set them right on my office desk at home. They’re still sitting there, so our first stop was a Future Shop (like BestBuy) to pick up a $29.95 tripod and ball head. It made me long for a my real tripod, but at least I had one.

(Above: Matt told me when we got to Moraine Lake we would need to hike up to the top of his nearby hill to get to the shooting position you see here. Brad absolutely loved hiking up there lugging my Think Tank bag with all our gear. He’s still talking about it).

Dealing with Yucky Skies
The skies were so socked in with clouds (see above) that it was really a struggle, especially since all the classic shots of Banff are shot with a clear blue sky, so I could only do two things:

(1) Compose to avoid as much of the sky as possible
(2) When I did have to include the sky, I increased the Recovery Slider in Lightroom (or Camera Raw) all the way to 100, which actually brings back detail in the clouds, and in many cases, like in the photo above), I then went to Photoshop’s Shadows/Highlights and set the Shadows to zero, but increased the Highlights and Highlight Radius to bring back even more detail.

There was a couple of times where the clouds actually looked kinda cool, but then the light was so incredibly flat, there was nothing to shoot. This happened to us at Castle Junction. We drove 45 minutes to get there, but the light was so flat, we didn’t even take out our camera gear.

The Still Water was gone
After lunch we headed back to Lake Louise to see if the sky looked any better, and it actually did (as seen above), but then the water was all choppy, so it was definitely a tradeoff. The sky didn’t look quite as good in person as it does here, but I have the program called Photoshop….

(Above: Here’s another from Lake Louise at dawn. In this case, I didn’t correct the blueish morning light. I like the way half of that canoe is resting in the water, and two are already in the water just sitting there, behind the dock).

(Above: The hills are alive….with the sound of shutters….). Photo by Brad Braddy Moore

Late in the day, we followed one of Neill’s tips and headed up Mt. Norquway, and that’s where Brad took the shot above. In this shot, the weather doesn’t look too bad, but that’s only because Brad put a cone of clear weather around me (he can only do this once or twice a day, and then he’s wiped).

(Above: I mostly shot my 14-24mm lens throughout this trip, but in this case, I switched to my trusty 28-300mm and zoomed in tight on the Fairmont hotel in downtown Banff).

Matt told us to go to the Vermillion Lakes, and late in the day we went there and I got the shot you see above. There was only one little pond in the very back that didn’t have all choppy water, but this pond was fairly still and you could actually see a reflection of the mountains and clouds in it. It is entirely possible, however, that the sky wasn’t quite as blue as what you see here.

(Above: That’s Brad trying to move the canoes into position on Moraine Lake so we could totally rip off Matt’s wonderful shot (link), but the conditions were so bad we gave up. Plus Brad was threatened by a large bear who was a fan of Matt’s).

(Above: I took this iPhone image a few minutes before we kicked-off my seminar in Calgary yesterday. We had over 400 photographers there—a record for us in Calgary).

Teaching in Calgary
I love Canada. Love it! The people here so darn friendly (nothing like Dave Cross [wink]), and I really had a ball at the seminar today (well, yesterday by the time you read it).  My thanks to everyone who came out—-it was so great to have so much support from the local community. Thanks you guys!

You Know I Had to Shoot At Least One HDR Shot, Right?
And I did (it’s shown above). I know it’s over-the-top, but I still kinda like it (don’t hate me). I wasn’t going to post it at all, but Brad and my friend Ryan who are sitting with me in the lobby of the hotel at 1:40 am made me include it. I blame them. ;-)

OK, now I should to go bed
I’m hitting the sack. I hope if you’re at my Vancouver seminar today, you’ll come up and say hi. Thanks for letting me share a few shots and stories from my first and only day in Banff. One thing I learned from this trip: I definitely want to go back (and we’re going to take a family trip out there this coming year). Have a great Weekend everybody.

Wait…wait…One more thing
Don’t forget—-Tomorrow (Saturday) I’m doing that free Light It/Retouch It Live at the Photoshop Store in Downtown San Francisco for Adobe. They have the registration process set-up, so if you want to catch either of my free sessions, you can sign up free right here. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, click here.

I’m really looking forward to it—hope I get to shake your hand there on Saturday in San Francisco.

  1. So, now we have your secret. You really DON’T sleep, do you?

    Thanks for the post; Banff is on my list of “get to” places, sometime soon I hope.

  2. Scott, Thanks for an amazing seminar in Calgary yesterday. Really enjoyed it and got a lot out of it. One quick note for your Vancouver show today – we don’t have Pandora radio here in Canada. No fair teasing us with stuff we can’t use!

  3. HI Scott, all the best of times to you and your crew while visiting Canada. Continuous success in your image making and by the looks of it you don’t really need the best of weather? I love the moodiness of your “grabs”. That part of Canada is quite special. I have a younger brother that lives in Calgary (which I’ve not seen in a while) and you just inspired me not too wait very long for a pleasant family reunion.

  4. Welcome to the northwest, Scott. I was hoping to make the drive up from Seattle for today’s seminar, but this week is one of the few this summer that was booked (BTW, as a teacher, I think summer seminars are awesome). Got a buddy going up today, though, so I’ll chat with him when he gets back! Hope it goes great.

  5. Scott, that’s some awesome CAKB pics, I especially like the 10 stop ND one. What filters do you use (screw in/square and what brand)? You wear me out reading about all you do, that’s amazing! The “Sound of Music” shot is great too. Were you singing the theme? :-)
    Thanks for sharing!

  6. Scott, this is all absolutely breathtaking. I am more of a designer than a photographer, (okay, I suck at photography), but what I think is funny is that your worst shots(or what you consider to be bad) are better than anything I could ever do! You make Banff look absolutely amazing!

  7. Wow those photos are beautiful, I actually like the texture in the water. The HDR is beautiful as well. Reminds me of my trip to the rocky mountains, I love scenery like that!

  8. Beautiful place to be. It’s wonderful that even if without the right light and some great skies, the photographs are very nice. The landscape is too beautiful.

    More work the Lightroom, are you forgetting Photoshop :) My favorite would be the first 2 shots (ofcourse leaving the closed due to weather) shot.

    I guess a great show can always be made once, can it.

    It would be great have a blog post comparing a already famous great shot and a re-creation of it. Is it possible.

    1. We saw people wearing t-shirts with that on it, standing near all the good vantage points for shooting around the lake. I went to lift my camera up to my eye and one of them immediately put their hand in front of my lens and starting shaking their head with a very disapproving “No!” look on their face.


  9. So, despite cool crappy weather, you still manage this? Geez Scott.
    And thanks for the sneak peek of these in Calgary yesterday. Great seminar, great day. And my apologies again for the fences barring your way at Castle Junction. I honestly don’t recall them being there last time I was there. The crappy weather part, I had nothing to do with! ;-)

  10. I so want to go to Banff! Have wanted to for at least 20 years! Can I sneak along with your family? I’ll pretend I’m your brother Jeff. And I’ll shoot family pics for ya…and setup canoes for you to shoot better than Matt…and…;)

  11. Awesome! That’s my word of the day today. I so thoroughly enjoyed your seminar yesterday.

    I may have to gush a bit, but you truly are the same persona that is portrayed on your website/videos and such. So genuine and funny. You kept us laughing all day long but teaching us oh so much. I was captivated the whole day and ready to tromp on anyone who chit-chatted while you taught, but everyone was in awe as well :-).

    Thank you for a fab day. I hope you come back again to teach. Glad you enjoyed Banff, some of my favorite locations and you got beautiful shots (of course!). If you want a less touristy place, visit Jasper, beautiful there too, just a little further up north.

  12. If there was ever a better illustration that you can tease great images out of crappy light, I can’t think of it. As for HDR, I’ve yet to see a subtle HDR that looks ‘right’ to me – I like my HDRs to punch.

  13. Super post, Scott! My wife and I are planning to spend about a day and a half in/around Banff in late August as an anniversary trip, so the timing of your post is spot-on for me; thanks for doing my location scouting! :-D

  14. Dude,

    You don’t need to keep apologising for going “over the top” on HDR pics. It’s art.

    Do you think Picasso felt badly for putting women’s ears where their nose should be?


    All the best,


  15. WOW! fantastic Scott I especially like the HDR shot. tell me is there a class on Kelby Training that goes into depth on creating those killer digital mats and frames?

  16. Just got a chance to see your post today, Scott, and color me impressed! You took crappy weather and made something out of it. Sort of making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear….

    I had a good laugh at your comment about Brad schlepping your Think Tank bag up the hill with all your gear. I have the image of the dog in the cartoon “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” trying to pull the sleigh stuck in my head now! :) Poor Brad…buy him a beer, won’t you?

    Have a great weekend in San Francisco! I’m going there in August for work and can’t wait!


  17. It was great having you visit Calgary, Scott, and to meet you in person at the “Light It. Shoot It. Retouch It. LIVE! Tour” event. The neighbor down the street who introduced me to your expertise and books will be jealous, I’m sure.

    When my wife passed away a year and a half ago, I reawakened a long latent photography interest and your seminar yesterday encouraged me even more to embrace digital photography (as a long time film holdout) and post-production software, such as Photoshop and Lightroom.

    Your constant goal of simplifying, and your exceptional talent (as a photographer and retoucher) combined with your great humor made it a most memorable session. Please come back soon (for a sunny day in Banff…super blog by the way)!

    P.S. Did you ever figure out the slight compositing hitch (hair) in Lightroom in the final tutorial?

    To you, Brad, Hope and all your crew, safe trip home eventually to Florida!

  18. Hi Scott, thanks for posting this i spent three months working in Canmore, teaching. Banff is one of my favourite places and the sheer scale and beauty of the place is outstanding. Lake Louise blue waters are spectacular. Have many friends there and the place is so friendly, there is a exotic animal restaurant in Banff which for a carnivore is nirvana.

    Great post, slightly dissapointed that I could not join you as I am back in the UK.


  19. Great images Scott!
    As a SF native, and living within 10 minutes from where you’re teaching tomorrow (Saturday), wish I could see ya! Instead I’ll be down at Laguna Seca for MotoGP! I think you should do a Shoot it, Retouch it, race edition! Haha

  20. Hey Scott,

    Absolutely great photos for crappy light. I wish you had been with me when my wife and I were there in Banff in late May this year. I good have used your expertise! Lake Louise still had ice on the lake and the glacier was in a cloud. Did you try shooting some Hoodoos? I did get a good canoe shot on Lac Beauvert at Jasper Park Lodge. I posted it on my NAPP portfolio. Got the idea from Matt, but doesn’t come close to his.:-)

    Thanks for sharing your awesome work! Keeps me inspired!


  21. You know, I think too much is made of “good light”, “bad light.”

    I live in the Great Northwest and skies and clouds are just part of the landscape. I love shooting with the clouds in the picture.

    When I was growing up in Connecticut there was a well known oil painter, (Eric Sloane) who made a career painting skies with clouds, sometimes only the sky.

    Your images are so much more dramatic than they would have been with cloudless skies, you got some great shots, so the light was not so “bad” after all.

  22. Hey in one of the older Photoshop for Photographers books you wrote It had how to make the frame you used on your pictures in this post. I have given the book away to someone that could really use it and now I dont have the instructions on how to make it any more. ( I didnt notice it in the newer books you wrote that I have) Do you have how to make those frames on line anywhere for free??

  23. Stephen, or anyone else really, please let me know some of the best locations to shoot. I’m heading over there on Saturday for a week. 3 days in lake louise, 5 in Banff at the Fairmont. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    1. You did not leave a website or email Cliff to contact you so I’m concerned this may come across as spamming but here goes. Darwin Wiggett has been exploring the Canadian Rockies for 25 years and has taken the time to write out in detail a long list of his favorite locations, sample images, seasonal tips and gps coordinates. He’s providing the information as a downloadable eBook for $10 per park so while it’s unfortunately not free – I can’t recommend these almost 200 page guide books enough.

      Disclaimer: I helped Darwin create the website and design the books but the content is all his. I agreed to help him after my first trip to Banff last year and seeing how valuable his old paperback edition of this guide was.

      Apologies to Scott for the comment spamming but I hope this helps you Cliff.

    2. I have no way to contact you Cliff and I’m concerned this may come across as spamming but here goes. Darwin Wiggett has been exploring the Canadian Rockies for 25 years and has taken the time to write out in detail a long list of his favorite locations, sample images, seasonal tips and gps coordinates. He’s providing the information as a downloadable eBook so while it’s unfortunately not free – I can’t recommend these almost 200 page guide books enough.

      Disclaimer: I helped Darwin create the website and design the books but the content is all his. I agreed to help him after my first trip to Banff last year and seeing how valuable his old paperback edition of this guide was.

      Apologies to Scott for the comment spamming but I hope this helps you Cliff. I think this site eats comments with urls so my name is linked to the details.

  24. Hey Scott, love the images (as usual). Any chance that you can direct me to a post that shows how to make the frames that you put around your images ? I have a feeling that you have written about it before. Also, do you have it as an action and always import the same size/resolution images to make it work? Thanks!

  25. Hey I want to know the same thing……this is more than cool! Howd he do that. No answer yet but maybe if they see enough comments on it they will tell us. I want mine to look just like this!!

    Scott, how did you do this….or maybe I should say RC, how did you set this up for Scott? Please Please let all of us know your secret.

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