• Andrea LaRayne Etzel

A (Retro) Roadtrip down the Columbia Icefield Parkway

Sometimes when traveling, no matter how you plan, you'll find yourself with less than optimal shooting conditions. Weather conditions change, you get to a destination only to realize you're going to be shooting opposite of where the light is hitting or due to schedules you can't photograph during the "golden hour."

Still, as a photographer, it's our job to find the shot and make it work

When visiting Banff National Park, I packed as much as I could into my three-day schedule. Before heading to Canada, I had done my research and scouted (using Instagram and Google Earth) the locations I wanted to capture. High on my list was driving the Columbia Icefield Parkway. A 143 mile (230 kilometers) stretch of highway - that cuts through the heart of the Canadia Rockies - connecting Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, filled with clusters of unbelievably-breathtaking landscapes.

Endless mountain views, turquoise-colored glacial lakes, waterfalls, and canyons can all be explored with a short (or long in some cases) hike off the main road.

The night before and morning of my planned excursion, the area was doused in snow. Now, living in the Midwest I'm no stranger to driving in the snow. But, when you're in a different country, add in unknown roads, a rental car (without all-weather tires), plus mountains and snow, it made me question if it was a good idea. After an internal debate, I ultimately went with my "you-only-live-once" gut. And, if it turned out the roads were too bad, I could always turn around - knowing I had at least tried.

Long story short... I'm glad I went with my gut.

Snow capped mountains behind Bow Lake, Banff, Alberta, Canada

The drive was a breeze and hiking the trails not a hardship - what did end up being a challenge was capturing just how awe-inspiring these spots are. It seemed like it should be easy - mother nature had done the hard part - I just needed to show up, right? Well, between my late start and the early winter mountain weather system, the light turned out to be my biggest obstacle. It was either too harsh or too flat and then combined with the snow it seemed every image was under or overexposed, and nothing in between.

I'm not a purist photographer, I will edit my photos so they best represent what I experienced or to enhance its visual qualities. I've erased many telephone lines or poles and don't lose any sleep over it. Having said that, normally I tend to shy away from using Lightroom Presets or filters. For my style, they can make an image look overprocessed. That's not to say they're all like that - and it's all a matter of preference. From experimenting though, I have found presets/filters can offer some forgiveness (and interesting aesthetics) for poor exposure.

When I started going through post-production in Lightroom, I just wasn't "feeling" a number of the photos. Particularly those shot late morning to noon with a lot of snow. Either the foreground was too dark or the sky was blown out. Not ready to give up, I dipped into Lightroom's bag of ready-made presets gravitating towards the retro vibe of "Red Lift Matte" - with a few tweaks here and there.

Winter shore at Waterfowl Lakes, Banff, Alberta, Canada

The warmth softened the light up, and the earth tones complimented the landscapes nicely. It didn't fix all the problems. there's no helping an overexposed stark white sky unless you completely replace it altogether. I do love how the grain and tonality offer a nostalgic feel.

While this group of photographs may not look and feel like my portfolios, I enjoy the process of experimenting and exploring the craft. Do you have a go-to preset or filter you like to use? I would love to know - share it in the comments below.

- Andrea

Mistaya Canyon, dusted by snow

Sunwapta Falls near Jasper National Park

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1300 Block SW Medford Ave,  Topeka, KS 66604

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