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Winter 2014-5 Photography Tour in the Canadian Rockies

May 28, 2014

In January 2015 I ran my first two official official winter events based at Aurum Lodge in David Thompson Country. The second was a photo tour where we guided a small group of photographers around a series of locations based on our favourites and the group’s interests. This wasn’t a workshop with formal learning goals; but since the days were short we also spent some hands-on “lab time” back at the lodge during the events, looking at various digital workflow topics.

Ironically, the weather we experienced on this winter tour was barely like winter at all. While the preceding B&W printing masterclass had seen nearly ideal outdoor conditions, by the time of this tour temperatures were dramatically warmer than usual, accompanied by winds that at times actually felt warm. The lake surface had begun to melt, covered some days almost completely in wind-driven sheets of water & spray, while parts of the shoreline became rotten enough to pose safety hazards to the careless or unwary. At times the winds that brought the temperature were so strong, I quite literally couldn’t stand upright.

Well, it’s the outdoors, and outdoor photographers have to roll with the punches. Rather than get annoyed that things weren’t as we envisioned, instead we were able to capitalize on the conditions and do a few different things than we otherwise would have done.

In the future I’ll share some of my personal favourite images from the tour here, and/or in the galleries on my main web site. Some are already online at my Facebook page. You can also see some favorite photo results from our tour group in the following guest blog posts:

If photographing and learning with a small group in great locations appeals to you, check my events page here on the blog for information about future events. Or contact me directly to inquire about new events that may be in the works. I also do 1-on-1 photography guiding and instruction as schedules permit.


Co-leaders: Royce Howland & Alan Ernst
Group size: 7 participants maximum, intermediate to advanced photography experience
Dates: January 24 – 28, 2015
Highlights: 5 days / 4 nights at Aurum Lodge, covering Abraham Lake, David Thompson Country & the Icefields Parkway
Travel on location: Car-pooling with the group
Fee: $1,695 CDN plus 5% GST
Group size: 6 participants maximum; only 1 space left!
Included: All accommodations & meals; not including travel to the lodge
Registration info: Contact Alan at Aurum Lodge
Contact: Royce Howland (royce at vividaspect dot com) or Alan Ernst (info at aurumlodge dot com)

The Sun Is Shining… But the Ice Is Slippery, Preacher's Point

I’ve been planning towards this for a couple of years, and today I’m pleased to announce my first winter photography tour at Aurum Lodge. I love the Canadian Rockies, and especially the front range territory of David Thompson Country. This is one of the most beautiful regions in the world, and there is no bad time of year to visit and photograph. But truly the winter season is one of the most spectacular times to explore the area.

Secrets of the Ice World, Abraham Lake

Why go out with the camera in winter? Wouldn’t a sensible person stay indoors where it’s warm, perhaps with a fire going, a hot drink and a good book? Perhaps. But intrepid photographers know that nothing beats a compelling subject in beautiful light. Light is one of the things that sets apart winter in the Rockies. The days are shorter, which means blue hour and the potential for colour around sunrise and sunset occur at a little more civilized time than normal. Throughout the day, the light is often possessed of a remarkable crystal clarity. It’s well-matched to the subject matter — leaves have fallen from deciduous trees, while snow and ice are prevalent. This adds highlights and contrast to the land, while the snow and ice often take shapes that are interesting in their own right. The combination of light, snow and ice reveals more of the bones and structure of the surroundings. It’s great for both colour and black-and-white photography, and this is why I love winter up here.

This is winter in the mountains, so weather is always a variable and can add tremendously to the compelling subjects at hand — clear blue skies, storm fronts, snowfall, wind, and temperatures from comfortably chilly to downright deep-freeze. While great for photography, winter also demands that we be prepared to work with it. So proper winter gear is very important; we can advise group members accordingly.

For 4 nights and 5 days, the base for our small group tour will be Aurum Lodge. I’ve described the lodge previously; it’s one of my favorite places to stay anywhere in the Rockies. The lodge is ideally set up to allow our group to make the most of our photography opportunities each day, and our hosts Madeleine and Alan Ernst create a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. From the lodge, we’ll cover locations along Highway 11, also known as the David Thompson Highway. This is front range territory and includes frozen Abraham Lake, pictured above. It also includes mountain views, forest stands, river outlets, smaller ponds, canyons, icefalls and more. We’ll also reach into the main Rockies along the world-famous Icefields Parkway, traveling reasonable distances to reach spots north or south of Saskatchewan River Crossing. This will bring us to many more landscape opportunities, both grand and intimate.

Blue Light Special, Abraham LakeWe call this a photo tour which means our primary goal is field-intensive photography. We’ll be in the field using any & all available light each day, giving everyone the best chances to build out a great portfolio of images. Even though this is a tour, rather than a full-on workshop with specific teaching or learning goals, we will provide hands-on “learning by doing” in the field, focused on any participant’s needs. If the event leaders photograph for themselves while in the field, it will only be as a #2 priority after first ensuring that the group is firing on all cylinders.

Added to this, since the daylight hours are short during winter, we will have the opportunity to cover some topics each evening, back at the lodge. These can range from photo critique or general processing work, to specific techniques such as HDR, black-and-white or tilt-shift lens use. We do expect everyone to be suitably equipped and to know the basics of using their camera gear, but we can cover a range of topics for anyone who’d like to pick up extra approaches to highly productive field photography.

We will also provide site orientations as we hit each new or different type of location, because part of getting good photographs is always improving how to see and respond to the unique opportunities at each location based on the subject material, weather, light and other conditions. Landscapes will include both grand and intimate views of mountains, frozen lakes & ponds, rivers & icefalls, canyons, plains, aspen & pine forests, and more. We’ll cover a spectrum of subjects and locations that tell the story of a region as diverse as the Canadian Rockies.

Fresh Snow in Bright Sun 2, Mistaya CanyonAs on every tour, for the most part we don’t have a fixed, clock-driven itinerary each day. Instead, we’ll be very dynamic in arranging where we go after considering locations, weather, local conditions, and participant interests. Transportation to locations will be based on car-pooling amongst the group. We avoid excessive road miles whenever possible, since the purpose is to photograph, not drive. Still, time in the vehicles (as well as our daily meals together) is a great chance to chat with tour leaders and other group members about anything & everything photography!

There you have it. Next winter, a small group will get to experience guided access and photography in some great locations. This will be a bracing taste of the real Canadian Rockies — the Rockies in winter. It should satisfy anyone with a taste for working outdoors with a camera. If you’re looking for a great winter photography experience, I hope you’ll join us!

Registration is now open, and spaces are available. Please see the event page at the Aurum Lodge web site (coming soon) for registration details. Also see the Vivid Aspect blog Workshops & Events page for information including links to past tour announcements and participant photo results. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me (royce at vividaspect dot com) or Alan Ernst at Aurum Lodge (info at aurumlodge dot com).

Stormy Winter Sundown, Abraham Lake

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