The Banff Springs Hotel

Photo of the Day

Being only an hour’s drive away from my childhood hometown of Calgary, I’ve had the chance to visit Banff numerous times. On my most recent visit to Calgary, I stopped there briefly with my family and I asked them to stop at a place I had never actually visited: a little corner on the edge of town called Surprise View. There, a great view of the Banff Springs Hotel greets anyone with time enough to stop.

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The Canadian Rockies tower over the Banff Springs Hotel in Banff, Alberta, Canada.

Calgary Stampede Fireworks Panorama

Photo of the Day

The view of Calgary and its skyline from Scotsman’s Hill is classic, but when you throw in the fireworks of the Calgary Stampede grandstand show, the sight is even more stellar.

Watching the fireworks from Scotsman’s Hill was a mandatory part of growing up in Calgary, so I had been to this exact spot plenty of times before and I knew roughly what I wanted to try to capture. I got there early, since I know the prime spots fill up fast. After all, you can watch the chuckwagon races from up there for free – crowds start forming hours before the fireworks begin.

So, that leaves plenty of time to watch the chucks, dodge mosquitoes, check out the sunset, set up the tripod and chat with fellow fireworks aficionados.

On this particular night, the threat of rain hung in the air the whole evening. We were mostly spared the drizzle until the fireworks began and the rain made taking photos a bit awkward. Water on the lens wasn’t really the effect I was going for here, so my umbrella was open above my camera and I had a cloth handy to clean my lens when errant drops got through. The result is that I didn’t get quite as many shots to choose from since I spent half my time keeping my gear dry, but I managed to get enough to piece together the panorama below.

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Calgary Stampede Fireworks Panorama

Bow Lake

Photo of the Day

On my recent trip through Banff National Park, the weather left something to be desired. Considering how relentlessly sunny Calgary had been, I had hoped that the trend would continue further west. On this occasion, that wasn’t the case, but there are ways of making some interesting pictures even if the light doesn’t cooperate as you might like.

One of those ways is to give the scene a more mysterious feeling by substantially lengthening the exposure time. Thanks to a trusty 10-stop neutral density filter, exposures become long enough to smear the clouds and turn water into glass.

That’s just what this shot of the blue glacial waters of Bow Lake needed to bring it to life. The brilliant colour of the lake is the star attraction in this shot, but the mountains beyond are nothing to sneeze at either. The mostly overcast day, however, just wasn’t all that flattering, so the ND filter came out of the bag of tricks and the more ethereal result is what you see here.

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Bow Lake

Please visit my Southern Alberta gallery to see more images from this region.

Castle Mountain at Dusk

Photo of the Day

One of my favourite sights in Canada’s Banff National Park is Castle Mountain. The giant, imposing tower of rock looms over the landscape like the fortress of a villain in a fantasy story.

I had hoped to get more help from the sun and clouds for this image, but would have to be satisfied by a sultry glow on the horizon while the blue of dusk descended.

This view was actually overshadowed by the trip back to Lake Louise. While driving along the Trans Canada Highway, we approached one of the wildlife crossings that arch over the road and allow animals access to either side. As we got closer, we saw right at the edge nearest us, a grizzly bear slowly loping across the bridge and we drive directly underneath him!

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Castle Mountain at Dusk

Moraine Lake Panorama

Photo of the Day

Today’s image is from one of my favourite places in the world: Moraine Lake in Banff National Park , Alberta, Canada.

The colour of the water is unrealistically blue and in it are reflected some astonishingly beautiful mountains, the Ten Peaks. If this place doesn’t stir you even a little bit, I feel bad for you and your dead soul. Even if landscapes aren’t your thing, you have to draw a line somewhere and just succumb to that voice inside you that’s trying to get out and say, “Wow.”

Due to this natural beauty, Moraine Lake is a big draw for photographers and the scene has been captured in most imaginable ways. I haven’t however, seen a lot of panoramas that pull back a little bit and frame the grandest part of the scene with the surroundings. The morning I was there didn’t quite yield the sunrise I had hoped for, so I felt I needed to do a bit more than just the standard shot. This place deserves the effort.

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Moraine Lake panorama

Horseshoe Canyon Panorama

Photo of the Day

Today’s image is another from my home province of Alberta and also near Drumheller. This is Horseshoe Canyon. It’s stratified slopes make for interesting textures and the eroded canyon is a fun place for a walk in Dinosaur Country.

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Horseshoe Canyon Panorama

Atlas Coal Mine Panorama

Photo of the Day

Scattered near the site of the Atlas Coal Mine near Drumheller, Alberta are all kinds of fun bits and bobs including these giant wheels. The entrance to the coal mine is visible on the right of this photo.

I’ve been on the grounds of the coal mine before (see my previous images here), but never done an underground visit. Next time I’m going that way, I should plan time for a stop.

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Atlas Coal Mine Panorama

The Hoodoos near Drumheller

Photo of the Day

One of my favourite day trips from Calgary when I was growing up was a visit to the Alberta Badlands. It’s dinosaur country after all – what kid isn’t going to get excited at the idea of hunting for T-Rex bones?

And of course, one of my favourite spots there is the hoodoos. This area shaped by eons of erosion always resembled an alien landscape and captured my imagination.

When I visited a couple months ago, I was a bit disappointed to find that construction had begun on a stairway and path leading around the hoodoos. I understand the need for protecting the fragile formations from the erosion that tourists can cause, it’s just sad to see that it’s necessary.

So, a shot like today’s photo of the day is a bit special in that it captures the hoodoos before the view changes.

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A Year in the Life of a Remote Camera

It’s amazing all the critters you can spot with a remote camera in Banff National Park in Canada. This video shows the animal and human traffic through a clearing for 365 days in under five minutes.

Calgary Skyline Panorama

Photo of the Day

Here’s another HDR panorama, this time from my hometown of Calgary. On a recent visit, I made a point of getting a few shots of the skyline. Since moving to Manchester, I hadn’t shot Calgary’s skyline and my catalogue of images was in need of a bit of updating. That Encana building changes the view in a big way.

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Photos of the Day – Rivers

On a quiet Saturday where I have little to do, I bring you a few peaceful images to help bring about some tranquility.

These were all shot on one of my trips home to Canada in the Rocky Mountains. Banff National Park and its surrounding areas may host a lot of tourists, but it remains wild. It’s not just the wildlife that occasionally will cross your path for either a welcome photo opportunity and connection with nature or a terrifying reminder of the dangers one can face in the forest if not cautious. There’s more than that. There’s a sense that if you walked just a little too far and didn’t pay attention to the way home, these wide lands could swallow you up, for better or worse.

Somehow, to me that wild, untamed nature is visible even just ordinary stretches of river. These are waters that haven’t been dammed or overfished or harnessed in any way.

Click the thumbnail to see three at once:

Or see each of them individually on flickr here, here, and here.

Briefly Home in Manchester

I’m back from my trip to the Baltics and I had a blast. My backlog of photos to be processed just got that much bigger…

But of course, I’m not here in Manchester for long. Tomorrow, I’m heading off to Calgary, my former home. I have a week there where I anticipate a much more relaxed than my trip to the Baltics. A lot of putting my feet up and visiting with family and friends is on the agenda.

In between heavy doses of relaxing, I probably won’t be able to resist the lure of my new photos and I’ll start working on them. Hopefully, they’ll start trickling onto the site sooner than later.

Just wish my ailing back luck on the long trip over the ocean! It was bad enough today to keep me off work, so I’m a little bit angry with it and it has to do some kissing up to me. I’ve asked it to play nicely while I go on holiday and I will reward it by not lifting anything heavy for a week (except large quantities of food into my mouth).

Presentation at the Foothills Camera Club

On February 20th, I have the privilege of addressing the Foothills Camera Club. I will be discussing travel photography in Asia and all the challenges and rewards of living and working in foreign locales like Japan, Vietnam, Thailand and more. I’ve been given a blank slate for my talk, so I’m still working out the details of what I will cover, but I expect it will be an informative and fun ride through some fascinating cultures while making images in faraway lands.

If you are interested in attending and you are not a member of the FCC, you can still come along. Non-members’ first two visits to the club are free and additional visits are $4. If you’re not a member, I hope you might also take this opportunity to see if perhaps you would like to join the club. It’s a worthwhile organization for photographers of varying levels with a mandate of education and fellowship. Before I embarked on my travels to Asia, I was a member and I would have happily continued my membership if I had not been moving around so much in the last couple years.

I will post a reminder or two here closer to the date of the event. See you there!

Fort Calgary
Main Auditorium
750 – 9th Avenue SE
Calgary, Alberta

Tuesday, February 20th
7:30 – 10:00 pm

Photos of the Calgary Zombie Walk 2006

I’ve gone through a bunch of my photos from the Calgary Zombie Walk this year and They are now available here. Limp, don’t run to check out the photos!

This year’s turnout was equal to or possibly greater than last year’s and a number of people were intent on outdoing their costumes from the previous year. That meant more gore, more blood, more guts and more fun. Some personal favourites included the zombie whose face was wrapped in barbed wire, the biohazard zombie who carried four litres of fake blood in a pack beneath his clothes to spurt on command, and the golfer zombies pinned back to back having been impaled by a stick.

The Elvis Zombies entertained and the doctor zombie carrying an animatronic baby (with slightly too realistic movements) disturbed. A zombie slayer dressed as Ash from the Evil Dead series (he only needed Bruce Campbell’s chin to complete the look) and a Shaun of the Dead zombie added some star power to the event as well.

It made for a great, early Halloween treat. Here are some samples of the horror awaiting you in the gallery:

New Photos of Calgary

In celebration of my return home, I have just posted some images of Calgary, my hometown. Included in these photos are updates to the following galleries: Calgary Skyline, Downtown Calgary, and the Centre Street Bridge.

In addition to the new photos posted in those galleries, I have also posted a couple of new sets of images: photos of the Calgary Tower and photos of the Board of Education Family of Man Sculpture.

Travel Photography at Home

Freshly home after travelling for months? Feeling a little bit bored by the offerings your home town has to offer? Wishing you could fill up your day with culture and spectacle?

Yesterday, I answered yes to all of those questions. But since a quick hop over to Asia wasn’t on the agenda, I had to make due with Calgary’s offerings. Fortunately, Calgary’s offerings were a bit more interesting than usual.

My afternoon was occupied by a trip into Chinatown where I was able to feed my addiction to Asia. I’ve had the chance to visit that area a few times since being home and each time has offered me a glimpse of that part of the world that has become my second home. I’ve become comfortable in the oddities of Asia and I miss being bombarded by its endless surprises.

But yesterday, Chinatown was even more appealing than usual. A Street festival took over the area with a market hawking Asian wares and a stage featuring performances from the area. Karate, Thai dance, Chinese Opera and more entertained the sun-baked crowds and of course, I was there in the front row, snapping away.

After spending a couple hours in Chinatown, I wandered downtown for a while where a host of wedding photographers and their subjects were swarming around the Hudson’s Bay building. Brides and grooms mingled and I could hardly figure out who had married whom.

I then headed over to Mark and Kara’s where they and James were getting ready for our evening of fireworks. Calgary’s Globalfest was wrapping up its final night and the final night of the fireworks competition was the main draw.

The four of us headed in the direction of Elliston Park but not before stopping for some fantastic Indian food (there’s another country I’ll have to visit).

At the park, we claimed our spot in front of the lake and waited for darkness to fall while the mosquitoes hovered over my head. Kara, James and I all had our cameras propped up on our tripods leaving Mark as the only one of us that probably maximized his enjoyment of the show.

I have to admit that I have been a bit spoiled by some of the fireworks extravaganzas I’ve witnessed in Japan. They seem to have a surplus of explosive material in that country which leads them to draw out their displays for a good 90 minutes or more. This finale at Globalfest lasted around 20 minutes, but it was an impressive 20 minutes. A good diversity of colourful blasts and bursts were well coordinated with the music and made for a fine spectacle.

A day like that was just what I needed. After some of the adventures I’ve had this year, it’s certainly an adjustment to be back home, back in a world where everything seems familiar and sometimes even predictable. Maybe I just need to look a little harder to find adventure, trouble, and fun – it’s not always going to fine me as seems to happen when travelling.

Thai Dancer

Chinese Opera Singer

Downtown Wedding

Globalfest Fireworks

Planes, Some Including Snakes

Last night, my friend Kara told me that for as many hours time difference as you have changed, it will take as many days to recover from the jet lag. That means I should have another week or so of this lethargy.

Fortunately, it’s not hampering me too much. I can crank up a burst of energy when I need it for, say, a job interview or the first chance I have had to see some of my Calgary friends in more than seven months, or of course, for some snakes, on planes.

But first, my journey here, because it involves planes as well. And considering how miserable one of my flights was, I would have probably preferred to have some pissed-off venomous snakes on board.

My flight to Singapore was uneventful. My time in Singapore’s Changi airport was as good a time as one can have in an airport. With an early check-in under my belt, I got to wander the busy terminal to browse the stores, taste plenty of food and even watch a free movie in a small theatre. The flight to London was as pleasant as an 11-and-a-half hour flight can be with a good selection of movies to choose from on the Qantas flight.

I stopped in Frankfurt for a transfer of planes and then touched down in London where I promptly squirted through the overwhelmed Heathrow airport and into Chelsea to see Caroline for a day. We mostly lunged the day away and went for a wander in her neighbourhood where my fondness for London and the UK burned bright and bid me to return to the country as soon as I was able.

The next morning, I headed off early to Gatwick where a flood of people stood shoulder to shoulder waiting in endless cues and sharing in a collective exasperation at the scene. Though no one was moving any faster than a tectonic plate, everyone seemed to be in decent spirits and we were all able to laugh at the absurdity of the situation.

Since I couldn’t take all my camera gear and laptop onto the plane with me as I would normally do, I headed over to the oversize and fragile luggage line and said goodbye to my precious cargo. When I asked the attendant if he was going to slap a ‘fragile’ sticker on my bag, he reassured me that everything would be taken care of. I worriedly left it behind and headed through security and to my plane.

On board, I soon discovered that there was a misbehaved infant convention soon taking place in Calgary and all the delegates happened to be sitting in the rows ahead of me. A lot of moaning, crying and stomping filled up the next nine or ten hours of the transatlantic flight. Combine that with having coffee spilled on my by a flight attendant (who promptly wiped my seat then scurried away), and the flight wasn’t the happiest way to return home.

When I arrived in the baggage claim area, I immediately began my search for my camera bag. When I couldn’t find it at the oversize carousel, I hoped that it was yet to arrive and headed over to the normal carousel to retrieve my other bag. There, to my horror, I witnessed my camera back tumbling down the ramp towards the carousel. In a panic I charged towards it through the crowd to catch it before it went slamming to the base of the conveyor belt. Fortunately, everything in it seems to be functional.

The final absurdity came when, having exited the plane, all passengers had to clear immigration. But since no pens were allowed on the flight, there was a sizable bottleneck as we all lined up for the use of the three available pens to be able to fill out our immigration cards.

Since then, I have mostly been unsuccessfully trying to get into a sensible sleep pattern while reacquainting myself with Calgary (and overcoming a bit of reverse culture shock).

But yesterday was a bit more interesting since I had my first job interview for the position that drew me home. I thought it went well and the job seemed like something that would keep me more than content. I really have my fingers crossed for one and I’ll be pretty disappointed if I don’t get it. I did, after all traverse a few continents to get here for this job. It really is perfect for me, so if anyone out there happens to have any good luck they aren’t currently using it, I will happily accept it. Thanks!

After the interview, I wandered downtown and found myself soon gravitating towards Chinatown. I miss Asia. As I wandered the Calgary streets, no tuk-tuk drivers offered me a ride. No sleezy suit salesmen suggested I might look better if I was wearing their wares. No durian smell met my nose. And yes, I actually missed all that.

But Chinatown here has a fantastic little restaurant called Veggie House that caters very much to both my vegetarian side and that part of me that pines for the Far East.

With some veggie dumplings happily swirling in my stomach, I decided to walk across downtown to pay a surprise visit to Mark and Kara. I like surprises (both giving and receiving), so I reveled in the confused look on Mark’s face when he opened the door. Few people knew I was going to be home, so the word had not spread to Mark’s ears yet.

We went for a drink then hopped over to Brian and Janice’s place for a barbecue. Later, Kara showed up after a CPR course and I got the chance to surprise her too before we set off to see Snakes on a Plane.

And despite the astronomical Internet-fuelled hype, it did not disappoint. Though I suspect, if you don’t see it on opening in a busy theatre, you may miss out on a lot of the fun. Our Friday-night trip to the film included plenty of patrons donning plush snakes on their heads and a large group of rowdies tossing out rubber snakes to every member of the audience.

With every ludicrous death scene we waived our snakes above our heads in salute to the makes of this magical film and when Jackson uttered the film’s climactic line, we all shouted along to the line that we, the citizen’s of the Internet, helped to pen.

I giggled all the way home reminiscing about cobras, anacondas, chihuahuas, the mile high club, the rest of the totally ridiculous spectacle I had just witnessed. I only wish my flight from London had been so entertaining.

Evolving Away from Darwin

In my writings, I have been unfair to Darwin. It’s not that I have criticized this city, it’s that I haven’t written about it. But I have the somewhat legitimate excuse of being rather busy.

During my first week here, I hunted for jobs. That was pretty much all I did. Tracking down leads here and there, visiting temp agencies and tracking down more leads was my introduction to the Northern Territory’s capital. And all that had us get off on the wrong foot. (Although the offer I got to work on a fishing boat for a couple months was intriguing.)

When I arrived, I was staying with some generous residents whom I met online and their place was a good half hour walk out of town along the Stuart Highway. Each morning, I woke and ambled into town along a long stretch of road that keenly reminded me of the smaller cities of Alberta, and that’s not exactly a compliment. Used car lot after used car lot lined the highway and drilled a heavy message into my mind as I passed: “You are no longer in Asia.”

At the time, that was not a reality I was eager to face. I’ve grown accustomed to Asia and its many weird ways. The first world now sometimes feels like a second home. But, being that I was in Australia and not my real home, it was all the more confusing. “This is a lot like home. Canada home. But then again, what’s with all the didgeridoos?” Job hunting, used car lots, tourist-marketed didgeridoos, and a wee bit of culture shock welcomed me to Australia.

While job hunting, however, I happened to make a strange discovery: back in Calgary, my true, first home, there was a job opening that would be perfect for me. When I passed along the web page to Sarah to note the irony of having to come to Australia to find a great job in Calgary, she remarked, “You could do that in your sleep.” But the thing was, I wouldn’t want to sleep through this job – if I did, I would be missing out on a lot of fun and education.

I won’t go into the specifics of the job here, but I genuinely thing that it was made for me and I for it. The mutual benefits of uniting the two of us would be almost obscene. So, I decided, why not? Let’s throw a resume their way and see what happens.

Strangely enough, the next day I was offered a job in Australia. A much less interesting job to be sure, but a job nonetheless. Given the emaciated state of my wallet and a potentially long-term stay in the land down under, I jumped at the opportunity.

By this point I had moved through a couple hostels. I happened to be homeless in Darwin on the busiest weekend of the year and finding a bed for a night proved to be a challenge. Finding one for consecutive nights proved to be just plain silly. Anyone making such demands had to have been the product of an upbringing that neglected to instill the dangers of greed. But my avarice for sleep pushed me on and I was fortunate enough to find a place that would house me and keep me well fed on a diet of feet stink (one of the main food groups of the dorm resident).

During the nights, I fought the snorers, but the days started to pick up. I got to explore the Mindil beach market and enjoy some genuinely refreshing air. Compared to my previous destination, Bangkok, the air of Darwin is a lot less brown. Darwin is to happily flowing blood as Bangkok is to malignant, festering tumors in your lungs. I wish I had the opportunity to explore further afield of Darwin to see the Kakadu and Lichfield, but I will just use that as a fantastic excuse to come back.

I did get to explore the city a little but not nearly as much as I would have liked. The hopping Mitchell Street and the quiet Esplanade both made for a decent walk. I headed up to the East Point Reserve in the hopes of sighting a wallaby, but they remained elusive. But that stroll took me along the comically named (for Brits anyway) Fannie Bay. Oh, and sunsets on the beach that would make even Dick Cheney weep (engine oil of some kind I’m sure).

And I met a few fine folks and had a few good chats. I played pool with a couple of charming girls from Japan. I got in on Australia’s national sport of teasing with my roommates. And I whiled away the workdays with some fun co-workers.

Speaking of co-workers, they were the only genuinely enjoyable part of my temporary job. I was doing data entry for a call centre that was busy taking technical support requests for the telecommunications troubles all over the Northern Territory. My role was to make sure each job was logged properly after it had been resolved. Make sure this box is filled out and that box is checked. And so on. Forever. Until the end of time. And the forever again.

But I made the best of the stultifying work and very much appreciated the chance to make some cash.

Interestingly enough, midway through the week, I received an email from the potential employer in Calgary that I mentioned before. The one with the job I would step over dying old ladies for. They were interested in chatting with me and wanted to know when I would be back in Canada.

Well, I had already been considering making my way back home, so I pretty much told them it would be as soon as I was able to book a ticket. And off I went to sort out my way back.

With all the possible routes back home, it turned out to be going the long way around the world that was the most economical and that would get me back in Calgary the earliest. Busy, expensive flights prevented me from going the more direct route over the Pacific. Instead, I am now headed through Singapore, then London, then home. Yes, London.

Had I only known that at the very time I was booking my ticket, terrorists were being arrested in the UK, I would have happily paid more to steer clear of a trip through England. But as you travel, you get behind on the news. Tragically behind.

And so, with a London-bound itinerary in my pocket, I now sit in the overly-airconditioned Darwin airport waiting for my 3:30 am flight to Singapore. And I’m feeling remarkably cogent for this time of night (considering how bad the snoring has been in my dorm). I have no idea for exactly how long I will be travelling. It’s Friday night here. It will be Monday afternoon when I get home. Factor in some time zones and I think it comes out to way too bloody long.

If there happened to be a chicken I could sacrifice or some nearby idol I could supplicate, I would do it in the hopes that I will have such peaceful flights that they lull me to sleep for their duration. Thankfully, my stop in London includes a visit with Caroline whose home will provide me with a much-needed rest stop before I embark on the final leg of my trip.

A fellow traveler recently reminded me of a dear, old poem by Robert Frost whose conclusion reads, “And miles to go before I sleep…” Both its literal and metaphorical meanings seem appropriate right now as a begin another journey. Look it up, it’s a good one.