Banff by Moonlight, a 25-Year Challenge


Selfie at Lake Louise in Moonlight

For two magical nights I was able to capture the Rockies by moonlight, with the brilliant stars of winter setting behind the mountains.

I’ve been waiting for nights like these for many years! I consider this my “25-Year Challenge!”

Back during my early years of shooting nightscapes I was able to capture the scene of Orion setting over Lake Louise and the peaks of the Continental Divide, with the landscape lit by the Moon.

Such a scene is possible only in late winter, before Orion sets out of sight and, in March, with a waxing gibbous Moon to the east to light the scene but not appear in the scene. There are only a few nights each year the photograph is possible. Most are clouded out!

Orion Over Lake Louise, 1995
Orion over Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta March 1995 at Full Moon 28mm lens at f/2.8 Ektachrome 400 slide film

Above is the scene in March 1995, in one of my favourite captures on film. What a night that was!

But it has taken 24 years for my schedule, the weather, and the Moon phase to all align to allow me to repeat the shoot in the digital age. Thus the Challenge.

Here’s the result.

Orion Setting over Victoria Glacier
Orion setting over the iconic Victoria Glacier at Lake Louise, with the scene lit by the light of the waxing Moon, on March 19, 2019. This is a panorama of 3 segments stitched with Adobe Camera Raw, each segment 8 seconds at f/3.5 with the Sigma 24mm Art lens and Nikon D750 at ISO 800.

Unlike with film, digital images make it so much easier to stitch multiple photos into a panorama.

In the film days I often shot long single exposures to produce star trails, though the correct exposure was an educated guess factoring in variables like film reciprocity failure and strength of the moonlight.

Below is an example from that same shoot in March 1995. Again, one of my favourite film images.

Orion Setting Over Mt Temple
Orion setting over Mount Temple, near Lake Louise, Banff National park, Alberta. March 1995. On Ektachrome 100 slide film, with a 28mm lens at f/8 for a roughly 20 minute exposure. Full moonlight provides the illumination

This year, time didn’t allow me to shoot enough images for a star trail. In the digital age, we generally shoot lots of short exposures to stack them for a trail.

Instead, I shot this single image of Orion setting over Mt. Temple.

Orion and Canis Major over Mt. Temple
The winter stars of Orion (centre), Canis Major (left) and Taurus (upper right) over Mt. Temple in Banff National Park. This is from the Morant’s Curve viewpoint on the Bow Valley Parkway, on March 19, 2019. Illumination is from moonlight from the waxing gibbous Moon off frame to the left. This is a single 8-second exposure at f/3.2 with the 24mm Sigma Art lens and Nikon D750 at ISO 800.

Plus I shot the panorama below, both taken at Morant’s Curve, a viewpoint named for the famed CPR photographer Nicholas Morant who often shot from here with large format film cameras. Kevin Keefe of Trains magazine wrote a nice blog about Morant.

Night Train in the Moonlight at Morant's Curve
A panorama of Morant’s Curve, on the Bow River in Banff National Park, with an eastbound train on the CPR tracks under the stars of the winter sky. Illumination is from the 13-day gibbous Moon off frame at left. Each segment is 8 seconds at f/3.2 and ISO 800 with the 24mm Sigma Art lens and Nikon D750 in portrait orientation.

I was shooting multi-segment panoramas when a whistle in the distance to the west alerted me to the oncoming train. I started the panorama segment shooting at the left, and just by good luck the train was in front of me at centre when I hit the central segment. I continued to the right to catch the blurred rest of the train snaking around Morant’s Curve. I was very pleased with the result.

The night before I was at another favourite spot, Two Jack Lake near Banff, to again shoot panoramas of the moonlit scene below the bright stars of the winter sky.

Parks Canada Red Chairs under the Winter Sky at Two Jack Lake
These are the iconic red chairs of Parks Canada, here at frozen Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park, and under the moonlit winter sky. This was March 18, 2019, with the scene illuminated by the gibbous Moon just at the frame edge here. This is a panorama of 11-segments, each 10 seconds at f/4 with the Sigma 24mm Art lens and Nikon D750 at ISO 800.

A run up to the end of the Vermilion Lakes road at the end of that night allowed me to capture Orion and Siris reflected in the open water of the upper lake.

Orion Setting in the Moonlight at Vermilion Lakes
The winter stars setting at Vermilion Lakes in Banff National Park, on March 18, 2019. This is a panorama cropped from a set of 11 images, all with the 24mm Sigma Art lens at f/3.2 for 10 seconds each and the Nikon D750 at ISO 800, in portrait orientation.

Unlike in the film days, today we also have some wonderful digital planning tools to help us pick the right sites and times to capture the scene as we envision it.

This is a screen shot of the PhotoPills app in its “augmented reality” mode, taken by day during a scouting session at Two Jack, but showing where the Milky Way will be later that night in relation to the real “live” scene shot with the phone’s camera.

PhotoPills
PhotoPills

The app I like for planning before the trip is The Photographer’s Ephemeris. This is a shot of the plan for the Lake Louise shoot. The yellow lines are the sunrise and sunset points. The thin blue line at lower right is the angle toward the gibbous Moon at about 10 p.m. on March 19.

TPE
The Photographer’s Ephemeris

Even better than TPE is its companion program TPE 3D, which allows you to preview the scene with the mountain peaks, sky, and illumination all accurately simulated for your chosen location. I am impressed!

TPE 3D
TPE 3D

Compare the simulation above to the real thing below, in a wide 180° panorama.

Lake Louise Panorama by Winter Moonlight
A panorama of Lake Louise in winter, in Banff National Park, Alberta, taken under the light of the waxing gibbous Moon, off frame here to the left. This was March 19, 2019. This is a crop from the original 16-segment panorama, each segment with the 24mm Sigma Art lens and Nikon D750, oriented “portrait.” Each segment was 8 seconds at f/3.2 and ISO 800.

These sort of moonlit nightscapes are what I started with 25 years ago, as they were what film could do well.

These days, everyone chases after dark sky scenes with the Milky Way, and they do look wonderful, beyond anything film could do. I shoot many myself. And I include an entire chapter in my ebook above about shooting the Milky Way.

But … there’s still a beauty in a contrasty moonlit scene with a deep blue sky from moonlight, especially with the winter sky and its population of bright stars and constellations.

Parks Canada Red Chairs under the Winter Stars at Mount Rundle
These are the iconic red chairs of Parks Canada, here on the Tunnel Mountain Drive viewpoint overlooking the Bow River and Mount Rundle, in Banff National Park, and under the moonlit winter sky. This is a panorama cropped from the original 12-segments, each 15 seconds at f/4 with the Sigma 24mm Art lens and Nikon D750 at ISO 800.

I’m glad the weather and Moon finally cooperated at the right time to allow me to capture these magical moonlit panoramas.

— Alan, March 26, 2019 / © 2019 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com

 

Time-Lapse – Alberta Skies 2013


 

It was a good year for time-lapse photography at home. Here’s my compilation of Alberta time-lapses in a 3-minute music video.

For a year-end look back at 2013 I assembled these highlights of my year of shooting time-lapse movies of the Alberta sky, by day and night. 

I’ve included clips shot around home in rural southern Alberta, and further afield at popular photo spots around the province such as Waterton Lakes National Park, Banff, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, and Cypress Hills Provincial Park. 

I hope you enjoy it! Be sure to maximize the video screen and select HD.  Or for a better grade version check out my Vimeo channel.

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Some technical background:

I shot all the frames for the movies (150 to 300 frames for each clip) with either a Canon 5D MkII or a Canon 60Da camera, equipped with various lenses from 8mm to 200mm. For many of the clips the cameras were on motion control devices: the Radian azimuth panning unit, an Orion TeleTrack mount, or a Dynamic Perception Stage Zero dolly unit. You see the latter in action behind the credits. 

For image processing and movie assembly I used Adobe Camera Raw, Photoshop, LRTimeLapse, Sequence, Panolapse/RawBlend utility, and for some of the star trails either StarStax or Star Circle Academy’s Advanced Stacker Actions.

I demonstrate all these in my Nightscapes workshops. The next one is in Edmonton, January 25!

To edit the movie I used the new OS10 Mavericks iMovie. 

– Alan, December 29, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Star Trail Reflections


The stars of the southern sky arc over the peaks of the Lake Louise Range in this half-hour’s worth of exposures.

For this shot I took 35 frames from a 200-frame time-lapse movie and stacked them to create star trails moving over about 25 minutes time when the sky was dark and moonless. I also layered in the moonlit landscape from a frame taken at the very end of the time-lapse sequence when the Moon has risen and was lighting the mountains and trees. So this scene is a bit of a Photoshop fake, but only so far as to merge exposures taken a couple of hours apart from the same fixed camera to combine the sky and stars from when the Moon was not in the sky with the ground from when it was, so the ground isn’t too dark and featureless.

What most people find surprising about star trail shots is the range of colours displayed. Some of the magenta trails come from a little chromatic aberration in the lens. But nevertheless, stars do exhibit lots of colours, but usually only in time exposures like this. As a bonus one frame captures either a meteor or an Iridium satellite flare at right above Mount Victoria.

I took the images for this scene on Friday, September 7, on a shoot at Herbert Lake in Banff.

– Alan, September 14, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Orion Over Our Fence of Mountains


For us in the northern hemisphere, Orion is the very symbol of a winter night, as he stands over snowy landscapes. I took this photo from Lake Louise, in the Rocky Mountains on a chill February night.

Robert Frost, the American poet, describes the inspiring scene of Orion climbing into a winter sky:

“You know Orion always comes up sideways.

Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains,

And rising on his hands, he looks in on me

Busy outdoors by lantern-light with something

I should have done by daylight, and indeed,

After the ground is frozen, I should have done

Before it froze, and a gust flings a handful

Of waste leaves at my smoky lantern chimney

To make fun of my way of doing things,

Or else fun of Orion’s having caught me.”

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— Alan, February 15, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Trails of Orion Over Fairview


I love the lighting in this shot from Saturday night. I took this by standing out on Lake Louise, from a spot you couldn’t be in summer without getting wet!

Moonlight grazes the east and north slopes of Mount Fairview, while spill from a skating rink flood lamp lights the trees. The sky is deep blue from moonlight making this look like a day scene.

But this is actually a 4-minute exposure, purposely long to allow the stars of Orion and the bright star Sirius at left to trail across the heavens over Fairview.

Unlike most nightscape shots, of necessity taken at high ISO speeds to grab lots of light in a short exposure, I took this shot at ISO 100. Even with the blog’s low resolution images, I think you can see the difference here – this slow-speed shot looks richer and smoother, lacking the fine noise that is inevitable in high ISO shots. It’s just like using slow speed film – in the old days I’d always carry two types of film for trips like this: slow Velvia 50 for long star trail shots, and fast Fuji or Ektachrome 400 for the untrailed nightscapes. I always loved the Velvia shots – they were indeed like smooth velvet.

Now with digital cameras you can switch settings as you like. And see the results instantly. How did we ever manage to get any results with film?

— Alan, February 6, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Lake Louise by Moonlight – in Winter


Moments before taking the photo featured in the previous blog I captured this scene, from the footbridge over Louise Creek flowing out of Lake Louise.

This is one of the world’s great photo spots, but here the scene is lit by moonlight and by the Chateau’s and skating rink lights. Jupiter is the bright object above Mt. St. Piran at right.

This was a magical night. Just step away from the artificial lights, let your eyes adjust and a stunning nightscape appeared. Compare this scene to the one I shot from a few steps away but in August and featured in my blog Lake Louise by Moonlight. The blue glacial waters of the summer scene are here replaced by snow and ice.

— Alan, February 5, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Lake Louise by Moonlight — The Movie


Here is the time-lapse movie I took last Saturday night at Lake Louise, Alberta, under the light of the Full Moon. My previous blog featured a still frame from the beginning of this sequence.

The night starts clear, but as often happens, clouds move in, blowing off the cold icefields of the continental divide. It does make for a nice effect in time-lapse, one of few instances in astronomy where some clouds can be useful!

Also notice how the reflection disappears as the lake breaks up into waves briefly, as wind blows in now and then through the night. The Full Moon is rising behind the camera, causing the lake to light up as moonlight illuminates more of the lake’s surface. Shadows move across the mountainsides. Arcturus is the bright star setting at right. The red object at left is a moored canoe, moving about on the lake.

I took this movie over 4 hours from 10:30 pm to 2:30 am, taking 477 frames with the Canon 7D and 10mm lens. For time-lapse movies like this, I process the full-size RAW files in Adobe Camera Raw and Bridge, then use Photoshop’s Image Processor to export them all to smaller size JPGs. From that set, I use Photoshop CS5 Extended’s “Motion” feature to assemble the folder of JPGs into a movie, in this case at 24 frames per second, a little fast perhaps for this sequence, but it’s easy to change if needed. Photoshop then renders that image file out as a Quicktime movie. What you see here is a tiny version of the final HD-sized video.

— Alan, August 16, 2011 / Movie © 2011 Alan Dyer