I love traveling! I can’t wait to take out my camera bag, look through it and get it ready for the upcoming trip! When I do, I make sure my lenses are clean, that I have enough memory cards and batteries and I’ve moved any metal or liquid materials to the luggage so I won’t have trouble getting on the plane. For my photography needs, I love zoom lenses. In the middle of a shot, I don’t want to be thinking about changing lenses. Being able to move easily from one focal point to another centers my vision. It seems that after I’ve taken all the images that first brought me to the spot, a zoom helps me search for the unexpected.
For the trip to Banff, I brought two lenses. The first, the 18-200, I choose for landscapes. It allows me to adjust to the expanse of lakes and mountain ranges in order to capture the full panoramic view but then move in a little closer for a more intimate shot of a mountain peak or tree cluster. For wildlife, I find the 80-400 lens works best. The most important thing to remember when shooting wildlife is to be respectful. I don’t want to get so close to the animal that I frighten it or cause it to become angry which might put me in danger. While maintaining a safe distance, the 80-400 lens allows me to photograph the animal in the beauty of its natural surroundings and move in for a closer portrait.
After I’m sure my lenses are ready, I check my camera. I charge the batteries (I keep 4 on hand), format the memory cards and check the settings for ISO, white balance, mode and exposure compensation. Sometimes when you’re in the field, you get caught up in the moment. It’s exciting to capture images one after another and when you return home, you’re excited again to see the images on the computer. It’s easy to lose track of what settings your camera had on the last time you used it so I try to remember to look at the settings before starting out on a new location.
Taking one last look at my bag, I make sure I have all the necessary paperwork. For a trip to Banff, Jim and I needed passports so I checked the expiration date months before we left so we’d be clear to travel. Next, I printed copies of our airline reservations and timeshare accommodations and put them in a safe place. Now, we needed a car. After carrying photography equipment for years, we learned about having the right car. Our camera bags and tripods are never out of sight for long but it’s important to keep them secure. Also, the right transportation is necessary especially if you’re not sure of the in terrain. Since this trip to Banff was in the late winter, early spring, we decided to rent an SUV. You can get great deals if you book online. Through Avis, we booked a compact GMC with special features like individual seat warmers and a backup screen (I loved this!) for about $250 a week.
Finally, it was time to leave. We flew out of Florida at 6am and got to Calgary around noon. After moving through customs and picking up our rental, we headed toward Banff National Park. Along the hour and thirty minute trip west on the Trans Canadian Highway, snow capped mountains, frozen lakes and sunshine kept us company. Once you get to the park entrance, you have to make a decision. If you don’t plan on stopping along the route, you can continue traveling in the right lane marked ‘through traffic’. However, if you plan on stopping to shoot, shop or lodge, you must first purchase a pass at the entrance. Since Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yahoo National Parks are all considered one area, you only have to purchase one pass.
The value of the pass depends on your length of stay. If you’re only there a short time, you can purchase a one day pass for about $20 but if you’re planning a longer visit, the Discovery Pass is your best bet. We bought a family/group Discovery Pass for $136.00 which is good for a year. (If you are traveling as a single, the cost would be $67.70). In addition to the parks, the Discovery Pass allows you to access historic sites like Banff Museum, Cave and Basin and the Bar U Ranch.
As we continued along the route, we remembered spots we’d visited in summer. One of the first was Banff Village which accesses the Vermillion Lakes. Knowing it was best shot in early morning and looking forward to seeing how the winter might influence the light, we marked it for our first stop the next day. Soon, we came upon two other locations, Tunnel Mountain and Bow Lake Parkway. We had previously photographed these scenics in early morning and late afternoon but since we were successful in also finding wildlife, we added them to our list, as well.
We stopped in Banff Center for a quick lunch along the main street of Banff Avenue. This area is filled with shops, restaurants and places to stay with picturesque mountain views rising from each end. There are inexpensive restaurants like Starbucks and TIm Hortons and hotels like Best Western or you can spend more for higher end locations like the Brewster’s Mountain Lodge or Banff Caribou and Spa. We were pleased to see a familiar eatery, Maple Leaf still open so we ordered salads and the local favorite, a game burger made of bison and elk. Both were spectacular and whet our appetites for future dinner plans.
The Banff townsite was developed near the railway station as a service centre for tourists visiting the park. It was administered by the Government of Canada's national parks system until 1990 when the Town of Banff became the only incorporated municipality within a Canadian national park.
I collected several maps and restaurant guides from the Banff Visitor’s Center but by far the most valuable was the Taste of Banff. The restaurants were rated according to reviews by visitors and the appetizers, entrees and desserts were listed by price. Each business had a website, menu and available services in one location which, when you’re traveling out of the country, makes for a stress free experience. We made dinner reservations for later in the week at the Bison Restaurant and the Maple Leaf and headed back to our accommodations in Canmore.
Before finding our timeshare, we stocked up on some items at the local Safeway on Railway Avenue. The market had an impressive collection of wines, produce and prepared foods that rivaled our best markets at home and after making some hard choices, we checked into the Elkhorn At The Lodges to relax before dinner.
Staying local that night, we chose to eat at the Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company. This was a truly fabulous dinner for the money. One of the reasons for this unique menu is the restaurant uses local meats and organic produce. Jim and I both started with a fig and goat cheese salad with sundried black mission fig dressing. For a main course, Jim had the Farmer’s Market pizza with chard, rhubarb and red onions topped with nut free pesto and goat cheese and I had the daily special with tomato, mozzarella, kalamata olives, artichokes, herbs and basil. With drinks, the bill came to $57.00 which for dinner in any country, is a gift.
Satisfied and full, we returned home to prepare for the next day’s shooting.