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Behind the image: 'Vermilion's Guardian'

Vermilion's Guardian

From the Print Of The Week feature of 23/11/20 - 29/11/20


Vermilion's Guardian' was captured during a long-service leave holiday with my family in the summer of 2019 and 2020. After a week of mission in India, we skied and enjoyed fresh powder snow in the Canadian Rockies as much of Australia burned like it never had before. It was a joyful yet melancholy experience to build a snowman outside our accommodation and ski on snow-laden mountains, then later hear of how the devastation was spreading back home. Nonetheless, we made the most of our time there, which included me dragging my dad out of bed to drive me to some of Banff's iconic landmarks for sunrise.


Naturally, as a landscape photographer, I had seen dozens of takes on the renowned Vermilion Lakes and Mt Rundle's imposing dominance of the skyline, with that unmistakable triangular slope. With the lake frozen over, I was determined to capture an image with a foreground of fascinating ice formations and the sun rising behind the mountain.


We arrived well before the sunrise to ensure I had found a composition I was happy with before the sun came up. This was much harder going than I expected it would be, as much of the ice was now covered in snow and hoar frost. To make matters more difficult, a bus of photography tourists from China rocked up about 15 minutes later and peppered the 50 metres of shoreline I was exploring, settling don o what little compositional options I thought I had left before I could do so myself. The stress began to rise in my chest. It was getting towards sunrise and I hadn't found anything I was particularly sold on. 


As my strolls along the shore turned into a panicked power walk, I noticed a curving section of cleared ice near another miniature pond I had had my eye on, which was claimed by two of the tour bus photographers. However, the curving ice was a few metres out from the solid ground of the shoreline, and the ice was not thick enough to walk on. After tossing up my options,. I decided to go for it. I scrambled along on my backside to spread out my weight distribution, and after much careful movement, set up my tripod and camera in place without falling through the ice. The composition worked out exactly as I hoped it would, the curving smooth ice acting as the perfect leading line towards the focal point of Mt Rundle. 


The morning's events didn't end there though - by the time the sun had risen I had managed to plunge both my feet through into the icy cold below, and with no option of leaving my composition, had to sit with my feet slowly freezing inside my wet hiking boots. Not long after this, one of the tour bus photographers liked my composition enough to come walking over on the ice without any regard for its fragility and fell straight through it, nearly faceplanting in the water - and dropping her camera in it too - had I not caught her whilst sitting down. Despite all this, everything was well in the end, and the sun rose perfectly through the valley and cast its warm glow over the whole landscape. 


Technical information

This image utilises a focus stack, exposure blend and focal length blend to overcome the wide depth of field between near foreground and far background, the extreme difference in exposure between the bright sky ad land, and to offset the 'pincushion' effect of a wide-angle lens. 


Foreground Exposures (3-image focus stack):

Focal length - 16mm

Aperture - f/11

Shutter speed - 1/50

ISO - 100


Mountain exposure (single image focal length blend):

Focal length - 22mm

Aperture - f/11

Shutter speed - 1/80

ISO - 100


Sky exposures (two image exposure blend):

Focal length - 22mm

Aperture - f/11

Shutter speed - 1/160

ISO - 100


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