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Your guide to getting the best shot in Banff National Park

Published Date
Jul 14, 2017
Winter Banff Gondola Noel Hendrickson

Whether you’re an amateur photographer or professional looking for tips on capturing the best of Banff and Lake Louise, there are plenty of subjects to choose from. Here are some tips on three of our more famous natural attractions: The Northern Lights, wildlife photography, and aerial shots. While within the park boundaries, if you intend on using any of your photos for commercial use, you will need to obtain a photography permit from Parks Canada.

Be sure to hashtag #mybanff to share your experiences with your friends, family, and other visitors.

Northern Lights

The Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis, is one of the main natural attractions of Banff National Park. The visibility of the lights largely depends on weather, so make sure you keep an eye out for clear night skies.

To find you best vantage point, you’ll want to wander further from town, where darker skies are abundant. Locals favour Lake Minnewanka and Bow Lake for prime viewing spots accessed by car. You can also plan your day around a hike to the summit of Mt. St. Piran or Big Beehive in Lake Louise, Sulphur Mountain in Banff, or Sentinel Pass in Larch Valley for an uninterrupted view of the lights. To make the most of your viewing, sign up for aurora watch emails that notify you on particularly active nights. Try to get out between dusk and midnight, but remember, patience is key.

In order to capture the lights you’ll want to tinker with your camera settings. A steady tripod is a must, and a cable release or a self-timer are ideal to avoid a shaky photo. Most cameras perform well with a low shutter speed between 15 and 30 seconds, an aperture between f/2.8 and f/5.6, with an ISO between 800 and 3200. Keep in mind with higher ISO settings the more grain, so compliment it with a longer shutter speed instead. Follow these guidelines and you’ll end up with magazine-worthy photos.

For more amazing Aurora inspiration, check out the work of local photographer Paul Zizka.

A man watches the Northern Lights above the skies of Banff and Lake LouiseA man watches the Northern Lights above the skies of Banff and Lake LouiseA man watches the Northern Lights above the skies of Banff and Lake Louise

Wildlife Photography

Many people come to Banff and Lake Louise each year for animal sightings. Wildlife is an important park of Banff National Park's ecosystem. It's not uncommon to see wildlife roam around the park, but please remember not to approach them or feed them and to keep your distance.

A popular route to take is the Bow Valley Parkway, also known as Highway 1A. This road runs alongside the Trans-Canada between Banff and Lake Louise and is well known for animal sightings. Some of the animals that live in Banff National Park are black bears and grizzly bears, elk, deer, coyotes, wolves, mountian goats, and big horn sheep. If you see an animal on the road, slow down, stay in your vehicle, respect their space and keep moving.

Animals can be unpredictable in nature and can make your work as a photographer tricky. To take an optimal photograph, consider using a tripod to help sturdy your shot. A telephoto lens will allow you to get that close-up shot without endangering yourself or the animal. A 400mm lens is a great place to start; faster shutter speeds above 1/60 seconds, will capture their movement; and depending on the amount of light available you may consider a lower aperture like f/5.6. For an interesting take, consider their habitat as part of your composition.

Aerial Shots

Some of the best views of the mountains are from above. While we all want to capture the best aerial shot of the mountains there are some things to keep in mind.

Drones of any sort (including UAV or any aerial cameras) require a Parks Canada permit and are illegal within the park boundaries. Drones and/or UAVs create a stressful environment for animals and can also affect search and rescue airspace. Don’t fret! You can still capture that perfect image by scheduling a helicopter tour or booking a ticket to one of our four gondolas: Banff Gondola, Banff Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift, Sunshine Village Gondola, and Lake Louise Sightseeing Lift,Gondola and Interpretive Centre.

Several local companies offer you the opportunity to view the Rockies from above and you even have the option of adding an exploration offer. Add hiking, skiing or mountaintop yoga to your helicopter itinerary and enjoy another perspective of the mountains. Consider checking the weather report before booking to reserve a clear-sky day.

Capturing the best photo from above can require some of the diligence wildlife photography does. A faster shutter speed will give you the clarity needed and a higher aperture, upwards of f/11 will give you more depth of field. You’ll not only have steady mountains but they will all be within focus.

Banff seen from above in a summers hazeBanff seen from above in a summers hazeBanff seen from above in a summers haze
Banff & Lake Louise Tourism

Banff & Lake Louise Tourism

Real Banff is an inside look at the events and activities around the park, brought to you by Banff & Lake Louise Tourism. Our mission is to have a post on pretty much everything that is available for you to do in Banff, Lake Louise and beyond.