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How I Convinced Two Advancing Adult Grizzly Bears to Stand Down

A Close Call with a Pair of Grizzly Bears

in Banff National Park

     I had an interesting grizzly bear encounter on Thursday, June 27, 2018. My wife, Kazue, and I were backcountry camping at Norman Lake near Sunset Pass in Banff National Park.  Norman Lake is a little South of the Columbia Icefields and a few KMs East of the Icefields Parkway.  It was a nice day in late June in 2018.  Suddenly, as we were finishing up dinner not one, but two grizzly bears appeared in the mountain meadow in front of us about 150m away and began walking straight towards our campsite.  And, the distance between us was closing uncomfortable fast.

Visit this page on the Parks Canada website

for some excellent advice on

what to do when you encounter a bear

 

A grizzly bear walking straight towards me in Jasper National Park. © 2013 www.brianmerry.ca

So, what do you do when two grizzly bears

are walking towards you and they haven’t seen you yet?

 

You yell at the Grizzly Bears, of course!

 

     We kinda didn’t have much of a chance to avoid an encounter with this pair of grizzly bears.  They were heading directly towards the point of trees we were camped in on the edge of the meadow.  So, I decided to confront them because they hadn’t seen us yet and there was still about 150m (500 feet) of distance between us and them.  If we had done nothing they would have been in our camp, or walked right beside it in less than a minute. I really didn’t want to be that close to two grizzlies in the backcountry either…

     I walked out from the edge of the trees where our campsite was so the pair of approaching grizzly bears could clearly see me and I started yelling at them. The big one stood up to investigate.

That was a BIG Grizzly Bear!

     He was BIG! Probably 7 to 9+ feet high. He was a really big boy! The other grizzly was a little smaller, but it was a big bear too.  The smaller grizzly bear was probably a female since Spring is breeding season for grizzlies in the Canadian Rockies.  After seeing the larger bear stand up, the slightly smaller bear took off sprinting to exit the meadow to the left.  She didn’t want to have anything to do with us.

     When the big grizzly saw her leave he decided that he had better follow her too and he took off after her at full speed. Man, grizzly bears can run really fast when they want too.  I estimate they were running at least 3-4 times faster than I can run.

Did I Manage to get a Wildlife Photograph of the Advancing Pair of Grizzly Bears?

     Nope!  I didn’t get a photograph of these bears during this encounter.  I was honestly more concerned about managing the situation well enough so I would see tomorrow’s Sunrise than I was about getting a photograph.  Lol!  Just kidding.  Well, sort of… 

     Luckily the bears were good grizzly bears.  They didn’t really want to have anything to do with us either, and took off once they noticed that we were already in the clump of trees that they were heading directly towards.

 

Banff Grizzly Bear

A cute little grizzly bear near Lake Louise in Banff National Park in 2013. © www.brianmerry.ca

 

     That’s another crisis averted in the backcountry.  I apologize for not having a photo of the big grizzly standing up on his hind legs to take a good look at us.  That was a very impressive sight to see.  But, I was completely focused on managing the situation and didn’t even think about taking a photograph.  The photographs of the bears I’ve included in this post are different bears that I photographed in previous years.

     The lead photograph in this post features another big bear that I encountered in Jasper about five years ago.  The bear I saw last Thursday was larger than the bear in the photograph. 

Living in Banff makes me feel so alive!

     After the encounter I simply went back to drinking my apres supper coffee and chilled out by our campfire.  The tense situation was over as quickly as it had developed.  The bears now knew where we were and I was fairly confident that they weren’t going to come over to investigate our campsite any farther.

Author’s safety note:

     I revealed myself to these two bears because I really didn’t have a safer escape route or an avoidance alternative.  I’m definitely not recommending that people should go out looking for bears to challenge.  That would be, well, stupid.  And, that practice will probably end badly eventually. 

     I’ll say again that I confronted these two bears because I didn’t have another viable escape or avoidance option.  Letting these two grizzly bears know that I was in their path was my best option to avoid a more dangerous encounter.  And, it worked.  I’m convinced that bears don’t want to hurt people, for the most part! 

Enjoy the Canadian Rockies.  They are beautiful.

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Summer is my Slow Season for Photography Tours – But Why?

Summer is my Slow Season for Outdoor Photography Tours…

But why?

 

Peyto Lake is one of the iconic scenes in the Canadian Rockies. © www.brianmerry.ca

 

Most people think that Summer in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, where I base my landscape photography tour business, would be absolutely hopping busy in the Summer.  And, it is.

But, for a small landscape photography tour operator, like me, it’s actually a little slow.  I think that the reason is that small group and independent travelling outdoor photographers tend not to visit during the Summer months.  But, why is that?

Banff and Jasper are World renown for their amazing landscape photography

Well, just about everybody around the World knows that Banff and Jasper National Parks are THE place to visit when you want to experience and photograph spectacular scenic landscapes highlighted by glaciated mountains with relatively easy drive up access.  But, so do the big tour companies and they buy up all of the hotel rooms early…

The World has discovered that the Canadian Rockies are worth visiting

And therein lies the problem.  Outdoor photographers and millions of other travellers from around the World want to come to the Rockies to feel, and photograph, the spiritually inspiring landscapes.  And by default, the big tour companies end up buying up most of the accommodations.

What ends up happening here in Banff and Jasper is that the big tour companies book most of the available accommodations 6-9 months in advance, or more.  This leaves few hotel rooms for the small Family and independent travellers to book.  But, all is not lost.

How to guarantee your accommodations in the Mountains

Two words… Plan early!

Plan Early, and book a year in advance to beat the big tour companies annual planning meetings and subsequent room blocks.

This does involve a little bit of a commitment on your part  You need to plan this year for next year’s vacation.  There’s no spontaneity in that!  But, if you decide that you’d like to visit the Canadian Rockies, and you should because it’s one of the most Naturally beautiful places in the World, you should plan right now for next year.  That is, plan your 2019 summer vacation in Summer 2018.

Or… Call up a day or two before you want to arrive.

Often guests will cancel room reservations a few days before they are due to arrive.  Tour companies also release a few rooms as well because their numbers have decreased on short notice.  If you’re persistent in checking for vacancies then you’ll usually find a room for a few nights.  Be relentless!

Employing this strategy will pretty well guarantee that you’ll find hotel accommodations in Banff, Canmore and in Jasper.  Sometime you can find accommodations 4-6 months in advance, but, the selection for hotels will be decreased.  Plan your trip early for the best selection at reasonable prices!

Why am I writing this helpful post?

Well, I’m writing this post for you, the small independent travelling photographer, because you are my customer.  You’ve helped me to earn a living over the years and to eventually to buy my own own home here in the Town of Banff.  And, I want to help you to see and photograph one of the beautiful places in the World, my home, the Canadian Rockies!

In short you are the reason why my outdoor photography business has become successful.  I’m able to make a living when many of you book my private landscape photography tours or one of my other travel photography tours Worldwide.  And, to return the favour, I want to help you to be successful in planning your own landscape photography trip to the Canadian Rockies.

Where are the best Photo locations in the Rockies?

Yeah, I know you want to know this!  And I tell you in my blog.

If you’re researching the potential for wildlife and landscape photography in the Canadian Rockies then please google my name along with the places that you want to photograph.  I have a ton of “location profile” blog posts describing the iconic landscape photography locations in the Canadian Rockies.  And, I tell you how and when to shoot them too.

A few times of the year I write detailed landscape photography location profile explaining how and when to photograph the Famous locations Banff and the Canadian Rockies are known for.  You should check ’em out.  I truly want to help you to have an amazing outdoor photography trip to my home in the incredible Canadian Rockies.

Book a Private tour if you don’t have the time to find the classics on your own

Are you pressed for time when you’re here?  Do you want to, or do you need to maximize your landscape photography in the Rockies?  If you do, then consider hiring me for a private landscape photography tour.  I’ll show you all of the best locations given the weather that we’ll have on your tour.  And, I’ll give you lots of tips during on our tour to help you during the rest of your trip.  Bring a map.  I’ll circle some hotspots on it that you should photograph throughout the Rockies.

So what are you waiting for?

Explore my blog and trip advisor to start researching your trip to the Canadian Rockies today.  I want to help you to succeed!

I hope to see you here in the near Future!

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Does Wearing Camouflage Help Wildlife Photographers to get the Shot?… “Ask Brian…” Vol. 1 No. 1

 Does wearing camouflage help

wildlife photographers to “get the shot,”

and, do I use blinds?

This is a great question From Kevan that I received via the contact form on my website. 

And, it’s a good question to discuss here.

 

An example of a camouflaged photographer. Photo: © www.PixaBay.com

 

What is the “Ask Brian…” blog series anyways?

     In an effort to make myself more accessible to photographers who follow my photography I started a blog category titled “Ask Brian…”  In this blog series I’m going to be answering as many of your questions about landscape and wildlife photography as I can. 

     I should warn you ahead of time that I’m probably not going to have enough time to answer all of the questions I receive.  However, I am going to do my best to answer as many as possible.  If I miss somebody’s question I want to apologize to you in advance.

     I am pleased to report to you that within a few hours of announcing that I was going to start taking individual questions I received this great question:

Ask Brian… – Question #1

Kevan wanted to know:

     “…how important [do] you find [wearing] camouflage [is] when photographing wildlife. Do you often use blinds and photograph from a distance, or do you try to close the gap on foot to get better angles and such? Thanks for taking the time to answer questions from the community!”

     Nice one Kevan!  And, you’re welcome.  This is  great question too.  And the answer is a pretty easy one for me.  I don’t use blinds or camouflage in wildlife photography.

BUT,…

     I think that wearing camouflage and using blinds in wildlife photography is a excellent thing to consider if you want to get really serious about that genera of outdoor photography.  And, it is practically the only way to get really close to some animals in the Wild.  Let me explain why I very rarely use camouflage.

My background in using camouflage to approach wildlife

     When I was about 16-26 years old, I used to frequently hunt recreationally in the Canadian province where I grew up, Nova Scotia.  Early on in my youth I naturally gravitated towards outdoor sports including camping, hiking, climbing, and seasonally hunting and trapping.  Fast forward to the present and I don’t hunt or trap anymore with a gun, but I do with my camera.

     The valuable lessons I learned, and the skills I developed around wildlife behaviour while I was an active hunter and trapper have proven to be valuable in wildlife photography.  The stalking and concealment skills I learned when I used to hunt have transferred over well into my outdoor photography seamlessly.  I believe I’m a better wildlife photographer today because I grew up hunting and trapping.

My advice on wearing camouflage

     What I learned from stalking animals in the past is that when animals can see you and keep an eye an you, they tend to gradually accept you and relax a little more.  This is relative to stalking them and jumping up to snap a few photographs.  After they relax their true Natural behaviour starts to shine through.  This is when you can get some excellent behavioural photographs that tell a great story.

     But, when I wore camouflage while duck hunting I was a little shocked at just how close I could creep up on the animals that I hunted. 

     Now, fast forward ten years from when I was a duck hunter and I was now working for Ducks Unlimited.  Part of my job with Ducks Unlimited as a waterfowl biologist was to get a “visual” on female Mallard ducks with their clutch of ducklings before they fledged.  This was sometimes hard to do because some of the female Mallards where very wary. 

     When my bosses found a duck that was really hard to get a visual on they always sent me in with a telemetry kit and my camouflage.  And, I always came back successful.  I could creep up very very close to the wary ducks to get an accurate visual and clutch count using my camouflage.  This definitely applies to wildlife photographers as well.

 

Camouflage works amazingly well to help you to

close the distance between you and your subjects! 

 

     If you want to give camouflage a try then buy some and give it a go.  You can find a wide variety of camouflage gear for sale at Bass Pro Shops or at Canadian Tire Corporation.  Better yet, visit your local small outdoorsman supply shop and ask for advice.  The small local guys will be eager to help you.  And, the local experts might give you the best tips on where to find the best wildlife viewing spots too.

Do I use Blinds?:

Generally, I don’t use blinds in wildlife photography.  I live in the Canadian Rockies where the wildlife in the National Mountain Parks here are habituated towards people.  People can simply drive up to the wildlife and photograph them from safely inside of their car.  I don’t use blinds anymore because the locations where I photograph wildlife.

     However, outside of parks wildlife is often wary and difficult to get close too.  In situation like this I have used blinds in combination with camouflage in the past and I’ll consider using it to photograph wary wildlife in the future too.  The problem with using blinds is that you have to construct them or find a suitable nature blind.  Then you have to sit in it motionless for long periods of time.  

     My wildlife shooting style tends to centre around covering a lot of ground in my car and finding the wildlife, rather than waiting in a blind in a good spot and waiting.  

     So Kevan, I hope that this answers your question adequately.  Thanks for submitting this excellent question.  I hope our paths cross again in the future!

Good luck and happy shooting!

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What is the “Ask Brian…” Question and Answer Blog Series?

Do you have a Question about outdoor photography?  If you do, then

Ask Brian…

In an effort to make myself more accessible to photographers who follow my photography I’ve started a fun new way for you to communicate with me.  I’m going to start answering questions submitted by other outdoor photographers, like you!  This new blog series simply called  “Ask Brian…”

 

Ask me a question! Submit your questions to me answer about once a month!

 

Click here to submit your question

Ask me a Question?

In this “Ask Brian…” blog series I’m going to be answering your questions about landscape and wildlife photography.  I’m not going to be picking what question to ask, you are!  Oh boy.  I think I’m in for one heck of a ride!

I’ve been a professional outdoor photographer since 1997 traveling around the World for photography.  I’m also the President of the International Landscape Photographers association hosting an annual conference on Landscape photography each year called The ILPA Summit.  I feel that I’ve learned a few things worth sharing.

In the decades that I’ve been in the industry I’ve seen a lot of changes.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have the foresight to frequently see change coming. I’ve learned a lot during my career.  And I still have a lot to learn too!

But, now I want to share what I know with the amazing outdoor photography community that has given me my 2+ decade career, and counting…  I want to give back to the community.

How to ask me a question:

Please submit your questions to me via the contact form on this website.  I’ll take the time to answer the questions that I think will help the most people.  I should warn you ahead of time though that I’m probably not going to have enough time to answer everybody’s questions.  But, I am going to do my best to answer as many as possible.  If I miss anybody I want to apologize to you in advance.

So go ahead and, “Ask Brian…!”

 

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The Banff National Park Landscape Photography Day Tour, June 3, 2018 Edition is Almost Sold OUT!

The Banff National Park

Group Landscape Photography Tour

on June 3, 2018

 

     Yep.  It’s probably going to sell out again.  The Banff National Park Day Tour only has a few spots left on it as of 12 days before the departure.  If you’ve been thinking about coming on this edition of the tour series then I would join the tour sooner rather than later in case it sells out.  You can buy your ticket here if you’d like to come on the tour.

 

Peyto Lake is one of the iconic scenes in the Canadian Rockies. © www.brianmerry.ca

 

I’ve been hosting these tours for well over a decade now about 4 times a year.  Once in each season.  And their continued popularity is a testament to the quality of the Banff Day Tour.

There where only 3 tickets left on May 21st, and there are still twelve days before the tour.  If you want to find out exactly how many tickets are left right now then go to the Ticket page on Eventbrite and check it out.  I think this tour will sell out once again.  Maybe before next weekend.  I honestly wouldn’t wait to get a ticket if you want to come.  If you wait, you might end up missing this edition of the tour.

Where do we go on the tour?…

That’s a good question and I get it often.  What is the tour itinerary?  And, to be truthful, I don’t follow an itinerary.

We start the tour in the town of Banff, have our Included Lunch in Lake Louise, and then finish shooting close to Banff again.  However, I don’t have a set itinerary.  What I have is an intimate knowledge of the Mountain Parks and all of the best places to photograph the landscapes around Banff, Lake Louise and all points in between.  I hope that you’re interested and you choose to sign up using the link near the top of this page! 

Have a great Summer everybody!

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Polar Bear at Sunset in Churchill Manitoba

Polar Bear

Polar Bear Photography at Sunset

in Churchill, Manitoba

 

Polar Bear

I’m grateful to get this photograph while leading polar bear photo tours in Churchill in 2017.  © www.brianmerry.ca

 

Last Fall I was graciously given the opportunity to help lead the Polar Bear Photography Specialty tours in Churchill, Manitoba for Frontiers North Adventures.  It was a great a experience.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to photograph about 60 beautiful polar bears in about 130 different encounters.  They are so beautiful and curious.  I dare say that they are even cute.  But that cuteness is only my own anthropomorphic impression.  Polar bears would happily have me for lunch if they were given the opportunity.

My First time Photographing Polar Bears in Churchill

I photographed this particular individual early in early November 2017.  He was quite a beautiful bear and I remember this particular session very well.  I had been up in Churchill for a few weeks already and I had already photographed dozens of bears.  I started to think about what I could do to fill up my “hit list” of Polar Bear Wildlife Photography images.  One of the iconic photos that I decided that I wanted to capture was two polar bears sparing, aka “the dance of the polar bears.”  Polar bears sometimes spar, or box each other to establish and reenforce their dominance.  I wanted capture “the dance of the polar bears” at Sunset.  Sunset at this high latitude lights up the landscape and is composed of a yellowish orange light.  That would help to create a beautiful photograph.

But, time was running out.  I had a limited amount of time to photograph polar bears last Fall.  I was feeling that time was running out for me to get “the shot.”  After all, I was flying back to my home in Banff in a week after being on the road hosting and leading photography tours across the country for nearly two months.  Fall is a busy time for me.  But, luck was moving in my direction.

And, the capture!

As this beautiful bear walked across the frozen tundra pond above I knew that I was witnessing a beautiful scene.  I had my shutter speed set high to avoid camera shake and my “image stabilization” turned off to maximize my chances for a sharp image.  In this photograph I wanted to communicate the feeling of the cool isolation and the hungry patience of these bears.  I wanted to communicate the lonely isolation in the beautiful landscape in this photograph.  This is why I choose to crop it 16:9 to accentuate the lonely journey of this bear.

However, just out of the frame in this photograph is another bear.  After a while they met and stood up to spar for a moment.  And, I got some shots as they sparred with each other for a few seconds.  But, the Sunset light had past and I got them sparing in cool blue hour light instead.  I didn’t get the exact photograph that I was looking for so, I guess I’ll just have to go back!

 

Rim light on a Polar Bear at Sunset near Churchill, Manitoba, 2017 © www.brianmerry.ca

 

If you’d like to learn more about the plight of Polar bears  and what populations are doing well, and what ones are threatened, then explore the Polar Bears International, PBI, website.   PBI is the public outreach group researching polar bears and the challenges that the species faces moving forward .  Learn from the scientists!

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Marble Canyon in the Canadian Rockies in Kootenay National Park – Landscape Photography Location Profile

 

Marble Canyon in Kootenay National Park

Location Profile

 

Marble Canyon is an easy objective to photograph in both the Summer and in the Winter.  Visit this location on a heavy overcast or snowy or rainy day.  However, this little gem of a landscape photography location is often overlooked landscape photography even though it right next door to Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies.  I can understand why it gets overlooked though.  Banff and Lake Louise are it’s World Famous next door neighbors.  If Marble Canyon wasn’t a 10 minute detour from the drive between Banff and lake Louise it would be an extremely popular destination.

The entire loop trail around Marble Canyon is only 1.1 km long.  The trail also crosses back and forth across the canyon on 7 study metal frame and wooden deck bridges.  It is from these bridges that a landscape photographer can photograph deep inside of the 35 meter deep and 3-6 meter wide, 120′ deep 10′-20′, wide canyon.  The best bridges from which to compose photographs are:

1/  The First Bridge

While standing on the first bridge above the water about 3 meters below a photographer can shoot up the canyon to create a nice composition.  The brilliantly turquoise blue water is flowing softly out of the canyon at this point.  This first bridge is only about 75 meters from the parking lot and the trail drops about 4 or 5 meters as you walk there from your car.

2/  The Third Bridge:

Looking up river from the third bridge is about the deepest part of the Canyon.  Shoot this location on a heavy overcast or rainy day as previously mentioned.  This shot doesn’t really work on a bright sunny day because of the strong highlights and shadows created in the deep canyon.  There is about 8-9 stops of variation in dynamic range at this location on a bright and sunny Summer day.

 

Marble canyon in Kootenay national Park, just 5 minutes over Vermillion Pass from Banff National Park. © www.brianmerry.ca

3/  The Fifth Bridge:

This is where the ice climbs form almost each Winter and the frozen waterfalls are the highlight of the canyon in the Winter.  The photograph below was taken on the fifth bridge looking upstream and angling the camera nearly straight down.  And, the photograph at the end of this post was taken at the bottom of the Canyon at the base of the frozen waterfalls when yours truly was leading an ice climb out of the canyon.  Yep I sure do love ice climbing!

From January to Mid-March there are ice climbers here most afternoons when the frozen waterfall forms.  At the time I wrote this post in March of 2018, the Ice climbs were not formed.  Me had an extremely dry Summer last year which probably the reason the frozen icefalls didn’t form this year.  And, they won’t form this late in the season either.  Let’s hope for a normal or wet summer in 2018 so the ice can form in the Winter of 2018-19!

 

A unknown ice climber climbing a frozen waterfall in Marble Canyon, Kootenay National Park. Unknown climber on Tokkum Pole, 35m, WI5+. © www.brianmerry.ca

 

Summary:

Marble Canyon is just a 40 minute drive from either Lake Louise or Banff.  It is a good destination to include during your photography vacation to Canadian Rockies.  But, if you are pressed for time it would be OK to consider cutting this location out.  Visiting here will take about 3-4 hours return from either Banff or from Lake Louise.  It’s worth the visit if you can fit it in.  Have fun in the Rockies!

 

Ice Climbing out of Marble Canyon in Winter. This ice climb that rarely forms is called Swine Dive, 35m, WI 5+.  The bottom of Tokkum Pole is also seen in the left foreground.  Ice climbing and rappelling skills are required to get down to this location, and to then get back out again.  Access to this location is not possible by walking.  Climber – Brian Merry : Belayer;  Megan Beaumont. 

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Use Emotional Communication and Photographic Excellence in Landscape Photography to Express Yourself Completely

What is Emotional Communication

and  Photographic Excellence

in Landscape Photography?

 

Emotional communication through a digital RGB to Infrared digital conversion

When I created this photograph 5 years ago I felt my way through the process to create an Infrared interpretation of an RGB image. I now see this technique is starting to pop up in different places around the World,  six years after I created this photograph. © www.brianmerry.ca

 

Photography workshops are great to help you to find new ways to photographically express yourself.  I try to tak one somewhere in the World every couple of years.  Usually I take a workshop from a leading photographer who I think has some teaching ability.  That last point is an important one.  Not all leading photographers with huge social media followings have a teaching background and can teach.  So, I do my research before committing to a workshop.

A great workshop close to my home in Banff!

A few years ago I saw that a local photographer in the Canadian Rockies was hosting a weekend workshop at his home. Kristian Bogner was teaching one of his “Photographic Rock Star” workshops.  He’s a Nikon ambassador so I attended even though I’m primarily a landscape photographer.  A venue in someone’s home is not usually something that I go for.  But, the registration wasn’t expensive at just under $1000 CDN for the 2 day, 14 hour event, so I took a chance and went.  I think it’s a good to develop completely as a photographer so I have lots of different skills to choose from when I set out to express myself.  I thought that I would be able to learn something from him.  And, I did.

One of the most important things that I got out of the workshop occured during an exercise on emotion exploration.  He asked the class a simply question.  Then he gave us a few minutes to think about our answer and write it down.  The question that he asked kind of caught me off guard.   The simply question that he asked was:

“What is Photographic Excellence?”

I tipped my head and looked down at my knees for a bit while doing my best to calm myself.  I opened up emotionally and practiced a bit of internal reflection.

My thoughts defaulted to the technical side of photography at first.  Way back in  1989 I started in landscape photography as a serious amateur, and haven’t really looked back since.  I remembered struggling through the years of trial and error experiments.  Learning the fundamentals of the exposure triangle, flash photography and refining my technical skill helped me to become a better photographer, technically.  I thought about the 3 core filters for landscape photography that I used then, the circular polarizer and a 2 and 3 stop graduated neutral density filter.  But, these didn’t give me an answer to his question either. 

I thought about the colour intensifying filters like the sign-ray golden’ blue polarizer and the cokin blue/yellow polarizer.  But the camera gear that I owned and used couldn’t provide me with a complete answer to his question.

Is editing the path to Photographic Excellence?

I thought about HDR and my raw workflow through Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.  I thought about working my way up in lens quality to the professional core collection that I now carry standard in my backpack.  I’ve also added a few other key speciality lens, two full frame camera bodies and a pro cropped sensor body to round out my pro kit.

Briefly considering my editing workflow gave me a bit of insight into my answer to his inquisitive question.  I thought about the in camera editing that I do before I shoot with Canon’s custom picture styles.  Then I thought about my workflow to import the images and then how I edited them using a somewhat standard workflow.  I pay close attention to contrast control and colour theory as I work through my editing process in an effort to send a clear emotional message through my photographs to my viewers.

After a while I realized that becoming technically proficient in photography and owning good gear isn’t photographic excellence at all.  I think that being a skilled craftsman with top quality tools for the trade is a prerequisite for photographic excellence.  It is fundamentally necessary to become technically proficient with your gear so that you don’t think it about anymore.   I felt that this was part of the answer, but wasn’t a direct or complete answer.  We’ve all heard of the popular saying,

“It’s not the camera, it’s the photographer.”

Breaking through to the next level:

After a while I could feel my emotional perception broadening.  I felt the muscles in my face relaxing.  I began to open up emotionally and dreamt about how I truly felt about his question.  Then it came to me like I’d known the answer for years but never before consciously realized it.  Emotional communication was the answer to obtaining photographic excellence.

Emotional Communication defined:

For me, photographic excellence means becoming fluent with the connection between the technical aspects of photography and our deep emotional reaction to all beautiful things so that pure, raw emotion can be captured in the camera, cared for in the editing process and communicated through the photograph later with ease to the viewer as a pure and uninterrupted extension of our personal expression through pure emotional communication.

 

For me, this is photographic excellence and this is what I set out to do every time I pick up the camera, teach a workshop or lead a tour.

 

Never. Stop. Learning.

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Pre Visualize the Perfect Landscape Photograph, then wait 22 years…

Rainbow over the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

An example of the classic technique:  Pre Visualize the Perfect Landscape Photograph
and then relentlessly pursue it until you get it, Photographic Excellence achieved!

Rainbow over the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, © 2017 www.brianmerry.ca

Finding paradise

I moved to Banff a few weeks after completing my BScH with Honours in Biology from Acadia University. That was WAAAYY back in 1996 and I had only been photographing for about 5 years at that point. And, I was completely knew to the Canadian Rockies. The Rockies completely blew me away as I drove into them for the first time on April 18, 1996. I instantly knew that this new paradise I found was going to be an important part of my life forever!  And, I was eager to get out and explore, which I did in ernest taking a lot of photographs in the process!  

The Inspiration and the Legend

To keep my expenses low in the busy little tourist town where I lived was to get a part time job at my local camera store.  I was able to start buying film and developing it at a discount.  Working at the the local camera store also gave me the opportunity to connect with all of the leading local pro photographers in the industry.  One local pro landscape photographer that I looked up, and still do today, was Douglas Leighton. His book photographed and wrote the best selling book called “The Canadian Rockies” in the early 1990s. His book was the strongest selling landscape photography book in the Canadian Rockies. And, it still holds a commanding spot on the souvenir coffee table bookshelves in bookstores today.

The Research

I scouted out the side of Mount Norquay and determined exactly where Doug stood when he captured his iconic photograph.  I researched the correct angle of incidence of sunlight striking passing summer rain showers and used that information to determine approximately where I had to stand across the valley from the Town of Banff to capture the photography that I wanted.  I discovered that to reproduce Doug’s photograph I had to be on somewhere on the switchback road leading up to the Mount Norquay Viewpoint high above Banff.  With further research I discovered the exact gravel pull out that Doug had used when he photographed his classic composition.

Now, I just had to wait for a rainbow in the landscape and practice “f8 and be there…”

The waiting game…

I was still waiting for my pre visualized composition 20 years after I first worked out it out.  I knew how to get the right combination of sunlight, rain shower, and rainbow, all happening at around 5:00pm in a late July or Early August afternoon.   The years went by and they turned into decades.  And I continued waiting. 

Never. Give. Up!

Then, Summer 2017 Arrived, 22 years after I arrived pre visualized this photograph in Banff…

Last Summer I happened to be driving back from a 4 day trip into Berg Lake in Mount Robson Provincial Park when I started to encounter rain showers in Lake Louise. As I continued driving past Castle Mountain heading home to Banff I could see another rainstorm coming over the Continental Divide near Sunshine Village. I was seeing the conditions developing for the shot.  And, I started to get excited.

The Pursuit

I put the car on cruise control so I wouldn’t get too excited and get a speeding ticket. As I drove beside Vermillion Lakes close to Banff I knew the timing was going to be very tight.  It wasn’t a guarantee that I was going to make it before the rainbow disappeared, but I wasn’t going to speed. I wasn’t going to let a lapse in good judgement and a speeding ticket rob of the perfect shot!  I drove responsibly to ensure I would arrive in Banff as quickly and efficiently as possible. 

When I exited the highway and turned left towards Mount Norquay I could see that I wasn’t going to have enough time to drive up to the same location Doug had been when he captured his iconic photograph. I quickly determined that I had to keep the angle of incidence to the rainbow the same and I decided to stand on the embankment beside the Juniper Hotel.  That was less than a minutes drive from where I exited the highway.  I should get there on time, maybe. 

THE RAINBOW WAS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW!!!!

I drove up to the driveway to the Juniper Hotel and parked my car in the parking lot.  Without missing a beat I jumped out of the car with my camera bag it tow.  I sprinted over and behind the East side of the Juniper Hotel past the outdoor hot tub full of hotel guests. I heard some comments about why the rush, but I couldn’t stop to chat.  My shot of a lifetime was very close to slipping away.

I hastily put my camera backpack down on the ground and reached for my Canon 5D Mark IV.  I paused briefly when considering to put on my 16-35mm f/4L IS Canon lens, my 24-105mm f/4 Canon or my beautiful 24mm f/1.4L lens.  From previous scouting trips I knew that 30mm was about the focal length that I needed to frame the composition the I wanted it framed.  Humm, But I hadn’t worked out which lens I was going to use yet.

  Oooops…

Slapping the 24mm f/1.4L on my 30MP 5D Mark IV I stood up to face what was developing to be a significant point in my photographic life.  I decided in a snap that I was going to use the absolute best glass in my camera bag.  I would slightly crop the image coming out of my 30mp Dslr camera to get the composition that I needed. The super high quality of the 24 f/1.4L was going to give me the best quality image possible with the least amount of lens flare, and I knew it.  I needed that rainbow to be sharp!  I understand my equipment completely so I don’t have to think about it when I use it.  My camera becomes an extension of my own personal expression.  My camera isn’t a tool.  It’s an emotional sensory and communication organ.  

My camera is my sixth sense that I use to perceive and feel my environment without thinking. 

My Camera is a part of who I am.

As I raised my camera I was trembling a little from the excitment.  I paused to check my camera settings and opened up my aperture a little bit to increase the shutter speed while shooting in aperture priority.  I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to stand perfectly still so I had to compensate with a faster shutter speed. As I trembled from the excitement I fired off a shot.

I knew in that instance when the mirror slapped that I got it.  I knew that I had just captured one of the strongest photographs of my career.  In just 1/250th of a second, 22 years of relentless pursuit was over!

I got a “once in a lifetime” landscape photograph.

Nailed it!

I still admire Douglas Leighton’s photography.  He was locally the clear leader in landscape photography for over a decade.  The greatest contribution Doug gave to me was to me was to be open and willing to help others to become better photographers. This lesson has become a personal standard for myself.  Sharing has become an underlying principle in just about every part of my professional outdoor photography business.

I need to give back to the industry that has given me my exciting and long professional career in outdoor photography.  And, I feel like I’m just getting started.  I feel that I still have a lot to give back.  I’m looking forward to my next growth spurt as an artist.  My sharing is about to hit high gear!!!

I still practice previsualization in my landscape photography, and I still admire the Douglas Leighton’s book, “The Canadian Rockies.”  You can find and buy Doug’s book from Rocky Mountain books here.  And, I hope that you do.

Honour your mentors. 

Thank you Doug Leighton!

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It’s an Honour to Win the 5th Most Read Outdoor Photography Blog award in Canada

This Blog Won an Award for Placing Fifth Overall for the

Most Read Outdoor Photography Blog in Canada!

 

This week the blog on my website won an award for being “the 5th Most Read Outdoor Photography Blog in Canada.”  Click this link to see who else made the list!   I was ranked 35th overall amongst all genres of Canadian professional photographer websites and professional photography retailer websites listed on google.  Making the top 5 most read outdoor photography specific blogs in Canada is a nice achievement.  The criteria they used to rank, and award websites involved ranking a photographer’s social following on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in addition to their website page rank on google.  They used these factors to compile the list.

My blog was ranked the 5th most read outdoor photography blog in Canada, and 35th overall amongst all Canadian photography blogs.  Check out the complete list here.

I blog to help the average outdoor photographer:

Most of you who read my blog have noticed that I like to share my photography secrets, at least some of them.  My goal is to help you to become a better photographer overall while concurrently promoting my business.  I sincerely hope my self promotion doesn’t bother you.  I’m a full time landscape photographer and I do need to make a living at this so, I do have to promote myself at least a little bit.  I believe that I can help people for free, and have some of you help me in return to sustain my business by buying my products at the same time.  Everybody does win in the business model I’m following!

The importance of earning a Top 5 Award:

I’ve always had the goal to be one of the top 10 landscape photographers.  I never really had a desire to be #1 though honestly.  I’ve always believed that when someone is amongst the best, they are the best.  Picking a truly decisive winner in this genre of photography is a little too specific for anyone to do accurately in my opinion.  Defining a clear “winner” is variable at best and depending on the subjective metrics that are used to “measure” the best.  One photographer might be #1 by one measure, and he/she might be #10 by another measure.  The inherent variability in measuring “the best” implies that any list should be taken with a grain of salt.  It is truly a top honour to be named “Amongst the Best.”  And, this week I was named amongst the best!

The ILPA Landscape and Wildlife Weekly:

Some of the ways that I think that I’ve growth the following on my social media channels and website is by editing and publishing “The ILPA Landscape and Wildlife Weekly newsletter.”  I think that The ILPA Weekly has become an industry leading ‘inclusive’ outdoor photography newsletter.  In The ILPA Weekly I showcase other leading outdoor photographers.  I like to keep my immediate content in the newsletter between 10%-25% of the overall content.  

Read the latest edition of the ILPA Weekly by clicking here

I believe that it’s important to keep to keep the ILPA Weekly biased towards the broader and diverse outdoor photography community.  It’s important to prevent the newsletter from turning into purely a promotional vehicle for ILPA, or for my own outdoor photography business website.  All professional and Industry members of ILPA will have their relevant content showcased in the newsletter too.  The weighting of content will remain balanced to support Professional Members of ILPA and the non-ILPA members alongside the others in the broader outdoor photography community. 

Make no mistake, I believe that the newsletter has to remain a valuable resource to it’s subscribers and **it must not** evolve into a blatant advertising vehicle for ILPA or for myself.  I’ve see this happen in the majority of other newsletters that I subscribe to that are produced by other professional photographers.  And, that doesn’t reflect on those businesses. 

I believe that being altruistic when selecting content for The ILPA Weekly is a key to it’s success.  Plenty of other photographers are highlighted in The ILPA Weekly helping it to represent the broader industry.  And, honestly, I feel pretty good about myself when I help other photographers to succeed as I follow this principle.

I want to thank you

I want to thank you for reading my blog and sharing my posts on social media and on your websites too.  All of you have helped me to win this award.  And, I hope to continue producing top notch outdoor photography posts for you to continue reading in the future.  My secret to continue doing that is to be genuine.  I feel that it’s important to write about the things that I like, and to share the knowledge that has taken me years to compile.  After all, I’m a landscape photographer too.  And, I believe that my willingness to share is why my blog made the list.  I promise you that I’ll continue to try hard to produce engaging posts for you to read.

The ILPA Landscape and Wildlife Photography Community;

One of the best and most interactive

Worldwide network of outdoor photographers online today

The network of 34 regional ILPA Landscape and Wildlife Photography Facebook Worldwide groups  has become an important place for outdoor photographers Worldwide to socialize online with each other.  These groups are about outdoor photography and outdoor photographers. 

These groups have become very popular when measuring both the number of people in the groups, and the engagement in them.  They are one of ILPA’s biggest sharing success stories.  I recommend joining the World regional group representing the region in which you live.  Then, also join the other groups representing the different parts of the World that you’re interested in learning more about, or interested in traveling to in the future. 

This network of ILPA regional landscape and wildlife photography groups is emerging as a leading sharing and learning resource for outdoor photographers Worldwide.  I hope you agree and you choose top join some the ILPA regional groups.  I also hope to see you at one of the ILPA Landscape and Wildlife Photography Summits, in the future too.  The next conference called The 2018 ILPA Summit  is Nov. 30-Dec.2, 2018 in Banff, Alberta, Canada.  I hope to see you there!

I wish you all the best in your photography, and in all of life’s endeavors moving forward.

 

Sincerely yours,

Brian Merry,

ILPA President, and first and foremost, an outdoor photographer!

 

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