Banff in Winter: Lessons From a Perfectionistic Photographer

The tip of a snow-capped mountain is bathed in morning sun, while pink clouds float through a blue sky

The Canadian Rockies have always felt legendary, as if brought into this world by some higher power who just wanted to brag about their massive strength.  I had heard such magnificent things about these particular mountains that, by the time Alex and I made it there, I feared they would not live up to the desperately high expectations.

Thankfully, that was not the case: they. Were. MAGICAL. Every bit as magnificent and dreamy as I had hoped. From the day we arrived at Banff, I knew that a mere week would not be nearly enough time to explore all that this wondrous mountain range had to offer. But, since that is the time we had on this trip, we would do our best to see everything.

And so began a week of pre-dawn wake-ups, long drives on windy mountain roads, and pure, unfiltered joy. On my part, at least. I am always happy to wake before the rest of the world, especially if it means I will get to experience a mind-blowing sunrise in a beautiful place. Alex, on the other hand, appreciates nature’s beauty but would rather not have to sacrifice sleep and a cozy bed for chilly air and mountain serenity. I am very grateful that he woke up early anyways.

Some of the highlights of the trip include hiking to the frozen Johnston Canyon upper falls, sunrise on an icy Abraham Lake, and driving the Icefields Parkway from Lake Louise to the Columbia Icefield and back.

Our trip, as beautiful and lovely and magical as it was, was not without its learning opportunities. As I frequently am in photography situations where light changes rapidly and time is of the essence, I was reminded throughout the week of the inner chaos that is always lurking just underneath the surface of my mind. During our morning on Abraham Lake, I was so awed by the sunrise beaming light in every direction that I became temporarily overwhelmed, not knowing where I wanted to point my camera and feeling immensely stressed about getting the perfect shot. This, of course, is not the environment I wish to create during my photoshoots. Environmental portraiture, whether of myself or others, is meant to be a peaceful experience, rather than one fraught with tension.

So what did I do, surrounded by beauty in all directions and paralyzed by indecision? I am proud to say I chose a composition, positioned my camera, and danced in front of it until I felt satisfied. I then pivoted to face the camera another way, reset the interval timer, and went back out for more self portraits. This pattern continued until the sun was nearly peeking out above the mountain, at which point we finally walked back to the car to change into street clothes and eat breakfast.

Simple as it may sound, making a decision without knowing whether it’s the right one is challenging for me. And that’s one of the reasons why I love photography: it allows me the opportunity to practice finding ease, and to act even when it feels hard. And you know what? I am incredibly pleased with the photos I took on Abraham Lake that morning. They reflect not only the beauty of the location, but the intention behind my work, and for that I am truly proud.

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