There are numerous ways to create images: Some involve extensive planning, utilizing photo apps, organizing the shoot around weather and seasonal conditions. Alternatively, we can find joy in choosing an unplanned approach, going with whatever nature and the landscape sends our way on the day. Both methods can be both fun and rewarding. Monika Deviat and Viktoria Haack illustrate these alternative approaches within the diverse beauty of Waterton National Park.
Monika Deviat – Single Exposure. Nikon d850, Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 – ISO6400, f2.8, 18mm, 15s
Waterton Lakes National Park is an International Dark Sky Park and a fantastic location for night photography. The Milky Way is a great night sky subject to capture in Waterton during all of the Milky Way core season, from March to October. There are many compositions to work with, especially if you are shooting from any of the beaches around Upper or Middle Waterton Lakes. The views from Middle Waterton Lakes will likely include the Prince of Wales Hotel, which is actually very bright at night and in your high ISO images.
Waterton is one of those places where you can show up and with little to no scouting figure out a composition with the Milky Way. But, if you want to refine ideas or get something unique, it is worth putting some thought and time into figuring out your shots. Night photography always takes planning, regardless of how well you know the area, though. I spend a lot of time watching weather forecasts for windows and I always know when the new moon window happens during the month. I have waited years to get shots that I had planned out in advance to get the month and weather window necessary. To help me visualize ahead of time I use apps like Photopills (there is a Night AR module).
For this shot, I lined up the Milky Way with the angle of the mountains in the background. In the summer the galaxy reaches a point where it stands fully straight in the night. In the spring the galaxy is arced lower to the horizon. There are many compositional options depending on the month and time of night. Since the Milky Way was nearing vertical, I used a portrait-oriented composition to show it towering over the landscape. A wide-angle lens lets me include a lot of the scene, and the arm of the galaxy and helps with having longer exposure times and minimal star trails (PhotoPills has a calculator for exposure times and pinpoint or “close enough” stars). I used Lightroom and Photoshop to enhance the details in the Milky Way galaxy and make it stand out in the sky.
Once I have shots set up, or the camera is running in sequence, I always take a moment to myself and look out into the darkness. Standing under a dark sky full of stars is one of the best escapes for me. I absolutely love being alone in the dark and immersed in capturing a night photo. I’d say I love the stillness as well, but in Waterton, the wind does not allow for that.
Viktoria Haack – Nikon Z7, Nikkor Z MC 105mm f2.8 VR S lens, ISO 200, 105 macro, F3, 1/500 sec
After sunrise I explored stretches of the Red Rock Parkway in Waterton National Park. There are so many different possibilities when it comes to photography here, from abundant wildlife to the mountainous trees and landscape, and on the ground; wonderful patches of wildflowers blooming throughout the valley.
I had no pre-visualization in my mind for any images I might capture that morning, my intention was only to explore and to have my camera ready in case something caught my eye. These beautiful flowers stood out because of their soft pink tones against the Spring greens, and I also enjoyed how their hairy stems caught the morning sunlight when I moved position and allowed it to backlight them. I took out my camera and chose my 105 macro lens to allow me to move in closer to the plants. I love the bokeh of that lens and was keen to keep the depth of field quite shallow to make the most of that and to help create a somewhat dreamy mood.
When I’m faced with a potentially complicated subject like this one, it can be hard to choose a focal point and decide where I would like the viewer’s eye to land. In this case, I chose to allow the depth of field and my point of focus to determine what my main subject area would be. Another way to simplify and add mood to an image like this is to shoot through things, in this case, other foliage. This softens the frame and helps remove potentially distracting elements that would take my eye away from the subject. I placed my Z7 onto the ground and flipped the articulating back screen outwards so that I could get the camera down low. I chose manual focus and gently rotated the barrel of the lens, allowing the focus to shift throughout the image (the focus peaking highlights in the Z7 showing how much and where my focus was). This is another way I will often find an interesting element in the scene that I may not otherwise have noticed.
I edited my image in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. My starting point was trying to establish the kind of mood I wanted the viewer to experience. This image was about softness for me: The soft morning light, the soft hairs rimming the stems of the plant, the out of focus elements framing the scene. I reduced clarity in some areas, reduced some of the vibrancy of the greens and softened any elements that might be distracting and might pull the viewer’s eye away from the subject.
This image remains amongst some of my favorites, not only because it captures a beautiful clump of Prairie Smoke flowers, but also because it brings back the experience of quietly wandering through the beauty of Waterton with no agenda and no expectations in the early Spring sunshine.
Monika and Viktoria will be kicking off their photography workshop series Escape to Nature in Waterton Lakes National Park this year. The purpose of the series is to inspire people to be creative in nature while learning various photography techniques and taking the time to enjoy the escape and immersion in intimate details as well as grand landscapes. Learn how they both plan for shoots and adapt to whatever nature provides. There are only a few spots left for the May 29 – Jun 1 workshop in Waterton. If you can’t make it then, you can join them in the Fall in Iceland, Nov 23 – Dec 1!
For more information on Escape to Nature Waterton Photography Workshop, click here!
For more information on Escape to Nature Iceland Photography Workshop, click here!