November 10, 2015
Editors note: Here at Real Banff, we have been admiring the photography of Amar Athwal for a long time now. We asked him to share not only some of his favourite shots, but also the stories behind them. All descriptions and photographs by Amar Athwal.
While living in Banff National Park it's hard not be inspired by the mountains. The list is endless of the wonders they hold. When I’m not working for Parks Canada, where I get to share the history of Banff National Park and Parks Canada, I am busy exploring the many trails found in the park-always with a camera. For me, photography is not just about taking pictures, it's also about learning and engaging with nature. I don’t always come back from an outing with pictures, but I do always come back with better understanding of nature.
1. For a few winters I had been trying to get this picture, but something was always missing. The light, the clouds, the water was not calm, or no snow had fallen. Then few years back it all came together.
A Castle Mountain view from the Bow River.
2. I find it difficult to sleep in, just wondering what I might be missing gets me up and gets me outside. It always feels better just to get out there, and since I enjoy taking pictures of everything that falls under nature, I rarely come home empty handed but always come back feeling better. A few months back I was taking pictures of Northern Lights most of the night and instead of coming home afterwards I decided to stay out there to catch the sunrise at one of the most beautiful places in the world; Peyto Lake.
3. The end of the daylight was approaching when I came across a small area where some prairie crocuses were found. When I am shooting flowers, I like to get as close to them as possible for the picture. In this case I used the lens to get close and lowered myself to the ground, getting the picture with just enough light before the sun set for a another day.
4. The colours of summer are everywhere in the mountains and the western wood lilies play a big role in that. But only for about a month their beauty is on display, which is well worth stopping for (and for me well worth fighting the mosquitoes to get few good pictures). A quick picture is not good enough, I will walk around until I find the right flower with the right background. And if you don’t come back with dirt on your knees and elbows, then you did not try hard enough to get the best picture possible.
Western wood lily.
5. It was day two for the heavy smoke covering the Bow Valley from the historic wildfires in Washington State. I could have stayed home when the valley was full of smoke but I decided to take it as a challenge for my photography addiction. I was looking at this osprey nest and thinking how to incorporate the sun in the picture. Moving into position I soon realized the trees were in my way. But the sun was moving through the sky and soon I had my opening, I just needed the osprey to stay front of the nest. I got the pictures I envisioned, but instead of leaving afterward, I decided to wait. It paid off, getting an even better picture when the female took to the air.
Osprey in flight.
6. It's not everyday one gets to see a performance of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake in the mountains, in this case it help having a wild imagination. The performance was provided by two tundra swans, 12 Canada geese and about 40 to 50 Bohemian waxwings. Viewed by two curious muskrats, passing by American robins, various chickadees and me, sitting on my butt. The waxwings provided the aerial performances, catching insects in the air. It goes without saying, some of the more aggressive dance movements and vocals were provided by the geese. If I did not know better I think they were trying to steal the show. The swans in this production played a supporting role, except when one ran on the water and took flight for few seconds. Three hours well spent.
7. On the day of this picture I had my zoom lens looking right at this large male grizzly (bear #122) from the comfort of my car, as he was slowly walking on an animal trail toward me. This beast was and still is the head bear of his domain. What do you do when you see someone who is on the top of their game, you take their picture and if possible get their autograph. I skipped the autograph part.
Bear #122, aka The Boss.
8. My favourite time to watch the elk is during the rut season. There is so much drama, all the elk are affected during this time. The dominant males are centre of attention, all the females get attention from just about all the males. The young males who just want to just stay close to the harem for their safety are pushed away to fend for themselves until the rut season is over.
A rutting elk.
9. It was a good thing I had the following day off after this shoot, because the northern lights did not become visible until well after midnight when many of us got to see a beautiful light show in the sky. One of the memorable moments was seeing a very bright shooting star. I did not get a picture of it, but it is something my brain will never let me forget. Once I was finished shooting the lights, I got some rest before getting pictures of the sunrise.
Northern lights over Peyto Lake.
10. One time or another we all looked up toward the dark sky and tried to count the stars. Growing up in the city you would not think there are that many, the city lights making it difficult to see them. Here in the Banff National Park all that changed and there seems to be no end to how many stars can be seen on a clear dark night. A conservative estimate is that there are at least 100 billion stars just in our galaxy, the Milky Way. Beyond the Milky Way there are at least a hundred billion more galaxies. That's lot of fingers needed to count them all.
A starry night view from Vermilion Lakes.
About the Author
After growing up in Toronto it was big change when I moved to Banff National Park. After being here for over twenty-two years there is no better place I could call home. I worked in retail for most of my time in Banff, until 2005, when I started to work for Parks Canada at the Cave & Basin National Historic Site and at the Banff Park Museum. It's pretty special to work at Cave & Basin, the birth place of our national parks. I'm a supervisor there and with the team we get to share the great history of Parks Canada with visitors from across the country and around the world. Along the way I started to carry my camera to record the hiking and scrambling throughout Banff, and about six years ago my photography hobby became my creative outlet. www.banffmoments.com Facebook: Banff Moments Instagram: Banff_Moments