When I started to learn landscape photography, I was disappointed that Costa Rica did not have any of the impressive mountains and ridges of North America and Europe. I compared the green forests covering a great portion of the natural environment in Costa Rica, to the Rocky Mountains in Canada and thought that in all the green of the country, there were no landscapes worth shooting. How misleading that thought was! In fact, nowadays I think that Costa Rica is exciting for landscape photography precisely due to all that green. The trees and forests take so many shapes and the rivers that go through them create sinuous lines that can only be found here. I still love the Rockies, but I love Costa Rica the most, and I am always searching for more interesting compositions to showcase its beauty.
When the sun is going down and up, Costa Rica’s landscapes transform with color. Sometimes you see purple, sometimes red and orange, other times it is yellow or a combination of them all. Add to that mystical forests shrouded in mist, and plenty of clouds that cover the sky, and you get the most fascinating sunrises and sunsets. Also the country’s geography is unique, in that you can see sunrise from the Caribbean side in the morning, and sunset from the Pacific coast in the evening, to finally be amazed by the stars dotting the dark sky with light. Getting up early and staying late in the night to see these wonders pays off, with the most memorable scenes firmly recorded on your mind, and your camera.
Costa Rica has too many waterfalls to count. Some waterfalls are well known and relatively easy to reach like Rio Celeste and Peace Waterfall Gardens, while others are secluded and take some effort hiking through mountains and forests, like the small waterfall that hides in Yatama Ecolodge. There’s even the Bajo del Toro area, where you find an entrance to a waterfall hike every kilometer or so. The largest might measure 100 meters from head to bottom, while the smallest barely falling from 2 meters high, yet the sight of a waterfall at the end of trail is very rewarding for people. A dip into the water is all people need to forget how sorting obstacles through the rain forest draws away your energy, and fills you with happiness. And the silky water effect is a great addition to any landscape photo.
Kananaskis is a great area between Banff and Canmore, full of scenery and wildlife. Originally, we came in search of potential bear and elk sightings, but no one appeared during our stay. We then reached Upper Kananaskis Lake, and set out for a few pictures of the view, which is amazing. Then we drove to see Castle Mountain, again with Bow River at the foreground. Finally we ended the day at Herbert Lake, where we saw a group of Lesser Scaup, a bird species that feeds by diving into the water. The lake is surrounded by pine forest, bushes that turn to red during autumn, and has a lot of dead logs, either partially or completely submerged into the water, which helps to use lines in our compositions.
Two Jack is a small lake, connected with Minnewanka Lake, which is way bigger. Both provide campsites for people to spend the day or night around the lake. The two lakes are situated very close to Banff Town, so our very first sunrise shoot took place in these two lakes. Minnewanka lake was also the place we chose to watch the incredible northern lights dancing in front of us. The cold that night was almost unbearable, but this was one in a lifetime opportunity, so we took the opportunity to photograph it for almost the two hours that it stayed on. A few other people were also at the lake when we arrived, and as soon as the aurora began to dance, the smell of pot started to creep into the air! That is not exactly the experience I was dreaming of, but I suppose that for them it was quite the kick.
I’ll say it straight: The smell can be as bad as its name suggests, but that does not deter a true nature photographer from admiring its beauty. I would even say the bad smell is part of the beauty of this place, something we could not find anywhere else. One could even think a volcano is nearby! But again as in Johnston Canyon, this is a place of superlatives, but also of little details that deserve contemplation. And I made sure to put those small things on the forefront. Now, to get to the viewpoint, we had to take a Gondola that elevated us a further 2900 feet (according to the official page), that’s 884 meters. I have vertigo, so usually I can’t glimpse from buildings taller than 3 stories without feeling that I am on the verge of falling. But I feared not and just jumped on it. Another step towards conquering my fear of heights has been accomplished. Once there… I’ll let the pictures tell the story.
Columbia Icefield is an enormous glacier that is situated near Athabasca, in Jasper National Park. The tour operator offers a package where you are transported using special vehicles that can climb steep hills of ice, let you walk in the glacier for half an hour, and then transport you to the Skywalk, a platform located at the edge a 280 meters deep canyon, where the floor is made of transparent materials, so you can see all the void below. While the tour itself does not grant you with a lot of photographic material, it can easily be a once in a lifetime experience. There is a different tour where you can hike all the way through the glacier, up to the icefield, but it takes 4 hours and special equipment to walk in the ice.
After the icefield, we headed back and went to Peyto Lake. This is another Turquoise lake, situated around 100 km northwest from Banff Town. We visited it during the afternoon, when the sun is higher up the sky, as it is the time the color of the lake is the most brilliant. A lot of conifers and some mountains serve as the background for this amazingly colored lake. Just as the other lakes, the color is formed due to sediment that comes from the nearby glaciers.
The place that needs no introduction. Moraine Lake is bound to be one of the prettiest lakes in the world. Going also by the name of “Valley of the Ten Peaks”, it helps to augment the mystery surrounding this lake. Sunrise is the best time of the day to observe the lake, as the slowly rising sun illuminates the peaks with golden light, changing also the color of the sky from blue to magenta in a smooth transition. During autumn, it can take up more than an hour for the lighting to change from blue hour to full day, giving plenty of time to snap pictures from different angles and locations. A pity for us was the fact that four buses filled with tourists arrived just before sunrise, which made it difficult to actually grab a good spot. But Earth is a place to be shared with everyone, and if more people can appreciate its beauty firsthand, then that’s ok.
World famous Lake Louise is one of the turquoise lakes that are found in Alberta. A mere 60 kilometers from Banff, it is no wonder why it gets crowded, even during the low season at the start of autumn. There is a trail that goes all the way from the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise to the end of the lake, which runs by its edge for about 2 kilometers. There is a lot to see along the trail, including friendly chipmunks and iconic Clark’s Nutcracker. But the lake takes center stage most of the time. During the winter, the mountains and the lake itself get covered in lots of snow, and even in autumn the peaks on the backdrop accumulate snow during spells of bad weather. We were lucky that it snowed just the week before we arrived, but we got really good weather conditions during our visit.
To get to the falls in Johnston Canyon, you have to walk about 2 km. That sets this part of the workshop apart from the rest. Two kilometers might not sound like a lot, but add the weight of a full package of photography gear, snacks and water, and things start to become more difficult. It is worth though, and as one person that started enjoying nature by hiking, I have nothing to complain about. It also helps you become more aware of the surroundings. Sometimes when photographing the grand scale landscape, we forget about the little details that make it come alive. It also meant it was relatively crowded; many people where hiking through the canyon along ourselves, and when we were photographing the falls from the bridge, the footsteps of those people faintly moved the bridge, not hard enough to ruin long exposures, but still I worried none of my pictures would come out nice. In the end, it all worked fine.