Top 5 Reasons To Love Winter Photography In Banff National Park

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 

Icefield Parkway Peaks

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 

Mt Rundle from Two Jack Lake

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 

Lake Louise Sunrise

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 

Cascade Snow Peak

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 

Fenlands Trail in Winter

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!

Ready for a winter adventure in Banff? Check out our Abraham Lake and Banff Winter Photo Tour or hire a Private Guide!

About the Author
Mark Unrau is an award winning professional photographer and Director of Photography. Mark's extensive Travel Photography has earned him international acclaim with accolades such as the Grand Prize from National Geographic Traveler's "World in Focus" competition and awards from the Prix de Paris International Photo competition.

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Louise Boese
Louise Boese

What incredible photos Mark! You sure have me convinced Banff looks and sounds like one of the most amazing places to be in winter! Mind you, Muskoka isn’t so bad either….some days are postcard beautiful when the pines and deciduous are snowkissed right down to the small needles or twigs and right at this moment the sky ( at almost 6 pm ) has taken on colours of baby blue, pink and gray….. No mountains though….love those mountains!!