I admit I used to hate winter.
As a photographer, I am already loaded down with gear and time-consuming preparations before going out on a shoot. The last thing I want to do is worry about surviving a winter gale with temperatures making a head-dive to subarctic, turning your breath to icicles. Also, since I don’t ski, many people have asked me;
“Mark, why do you live in Banff if you don’t ski or like the cold?”
Well, this is one question I have no trouble answering. Here are the top 5 reasons why I love winter photography in Banff National Park:
1. The sun is at a low angle throughout the day
As photographers know, when that sun in the summertime hangs in the middle of the sky, it creates harsh shadows and destroys colour saturation. As beautiful as Banff is in any light, often by noon I have put my camera down and will wait until later in the evening for the light to improve.
In the winter the sun in Banff stays at a fairly low angle for the entire day; making for great shooting conditions with light all day long so there is no downtime and no waiting around until sunset to pick up my camera again.
2. The air is crystal clear
The winter air in Banff makes for very clear skies right from sunrise to sunset showing even distant mountains in full detail. You rarely see any blue haze that diminishes detail in the distance requiring a polarizing filter to try and cut through it.
Summer in Banff is our forest fire season. From the end of July to the end of August fires are often ablaze in the Rocky Mountains filling the atmosphere with smoke, making for hazy days.
3.Late sunrises and early sunsets
I love shooting sunrises and sunsets. In the summer this would mean sometimes getting up at 4:00 am for sunrises and waiting as late as 10:00 pm for sunsets. I am at least lucky to live in the town of Banff, so no matter where I go, it is a shorter distance than most who want to capture this incredible scenery.
Not a fan of early mornings? Winter to the rescue! Sunrise is as late as 8:45 AM, so no pounding back that litre and a half of coffee to get the brain kickstarted at 4:00 AM.
4. Snow is a wonderful white canvas for light
Snow is a beautiful white canvas taking on any colour the sun throws at it. From mountaintops to wide open fields, if you are out taking pictures at sunrise and sunset, glorious colour awaits your camera sensor!
5. Spruce trees become interesting
Banff and the Canadian Rockies are full of spruce trees. These trees grow densely and are officially black holes for light; they are dark (around -3EV) and offer up minimal formations to include in a composition.
In winter, snow changes everything. The darkness is broken up with fresh dumps of snow that cling to their branches creating beautiful contrasts, details and shape!