Canon 5D Mark II, 17-40mm F4 L, Singh-Ray 4-stop hard GND.
Pyteo Lake in Banff National Park is one of the most beautiful lakes in the Canadian Rockies and is popular with photographers. Most photos of this location were taken in daytime, particularly around noon, because by that time the entire valley and the lake are nicely illuminated by sunshine. The place is also very crowed.
We landscape photographers are obsessed with capturing our own vision, even in such an iconic location. It is not very often to see a panorama picture from this spot, so I decided to create one. Moreover, I wanted to avoid another daytime rendition of this icon. I wanted something less commonly done. Finally I decided to shoot early in the morning when the first ray of sunshine hits the nearby peaks.
So I got up around 4:00am on a chilly July morning (No joking here. The temperate was below the freezing point and you could see a thin layer of ice on the lake) and drove to here. The parking lot was empty so I thought I would be the only one to witness the sunrise. To my surprise, there were already three brave young ladies, who camped in nearby Waterfowl Lake the previous night, waiting there. Other than them, for the next hour or so there were no other people around. Not a single tripod visible, except mine.
Boy, I was not disappointed! The show was epic. The warm early morning sunshine lit up these peaks. The glacial lake, still in the deep shadow and reflecting the colors of the sky, showed very rich and pleasant blue, green and purple tones. The contrast between the warm and cool colors was simply striking.
This panorama picture is a stitch of five single-exposure photos. One of the technical challenges with this kind of early morning shot is the extreme contrast between the very bright sky and the deep shadowed valley. Most digital sensors and films cannot hold the tone values for both areas. Many digital shooters nowadays prefer to use exposure-blending to address this issue — you shoot two frames, one exposes for the sky and the other for the valley, and blend them together in post-processing. However, blending is a very tedious and time consuming job. While I do use this method often, I still prefer the old way whenever possible — using a Graduated Neutral Density (GND) filter. I would rather get it right in field than spend time doing post-processing in front of my computer. Besides, for a panorama like this, I would have to shoot five more exposures and manually blend them in the computer five times! More work and more storage overhead. By using a GND and shoot five correctly exposed frames, all I needed to do in the post was to open them into Photoshop, and the program automatically stitched them together.