Trip Report: Banff National Park

In December 2015, I traveled to Banff National Park in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, located in the province of Alberta (just outside of Calgary). Banff contains some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in North America, and winter is an especially photogenic time to visit. Most of the tourists are gone, leaving you with over 2500 square miles of wintry wonderland—virtually to yourself.

Scouting is vitally important when exploring Banff in winter, as snow and ice closes access to many photo opportunities easily available during the summer. I spotted some open water on a frozen lake from the road, and snowshoed out to take a closer look. Carefully probing the ice with an ice axe (used by professional mountaineers to check ice strength when crossing glaciers), I found a safe spot on the ice to stand, using some interesting hoar frost patterns as my foreground as I captured sunrise light on the background peak. Always be exceptionally careful when venturing near or on ice; in this case, the water was only a foot deep under the ice, so if I broke through, I’d have wet cold feet but nothing worse.


Canon 5DIII, Canon 11-24mm f/4 lens, ISO 100, f/11, 1/8 second.

One day when scouting a promising location, this interesting pattern of ice caught my eye. The ice looked like frosted overlapping ferns, so I got close and zoomed in to capture a macro view. Because I shot the ice when it was in shadow on a clear day, it was illuminated primarily by light reflecting from the blue sky above; I choose a white balance of 5950 to retain the blue cast and add some color to the composition.


Canon 5DIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 100, f/16, 1/15 second.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t cooperative, and I didn’t really get the stunning sunrise and sunset skies I’m usually after. One sunrise was better than all the others, giving me some decent color in the sky. I selected a foreground with an appealing shape—a curve in a small stream with some interesting ice formations—to create a composition that would lead the viewer’s eye deeper into the scene.


Canon 5DIII, Canon 11-24mm f/4 lens, ISO 100, f/11, 1/8 second.

One day, I took a break from chasing bad light to chase some trains instead. I used my compact Panasonic camera, which is my general “carry-around” camera, to capture the train coming around a scenic bend of the Bow River.


Panasonic DMC-FZ1000, ISO 125, f/5.6, 1/640 second.

Banff is a wonderful park, and winter is a wonderful time to be there. Although the photographic challenges are more significant than in the summer, the opportunities are more unique and personal. With equal parts patience, perseverance, and good weather luck, the rewards can be quite satisfying.


About the author: World-renowned professional photographer and Tamron Image Master Ian Plant is a frequent contributor to several leading photo magazines and the author of numerous books and instructional videos. You can see more of Ian’s work at

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7 Responses to “Trip Report: Banff National Park”

  1. Dee

    I've long been a fan of everything nature and your beautiful captures of the most captivating scenery. Also appreciate tips on creating great photos.

  2. Frank Laursen

    You only touch the tip of the iceberg there's a place called 2 Jack lake lake minawanka Lake Louise in the back country I don't know if they still have the tea house up there but those are some of the most beautiful places on the planet I grew up there Also a little closer to Calgary there's a place called the Kannakaskis (spelling) country around Bragg Creek Seebe Dam and the rock face the Ski resorts offer incredible mountain top views and all time favorite Sulfer mountain gondola tea house and hot springs

  3. Kathy Galli

    Would love some recommendations for Banff and area

  4. Lisa Neville

    Love the pictures in Banff. I’ve been to Lake Louise, Jasper National Park, Quebec City, and Vancouver to Whistler. Such beauty all around. Check out some of my photos on the website attached.

  5. Rose

    I love the ferns. I never thought of changing my white balance. I will be trying that. Beautiful work and scenery.

  6. Kishore Seegobin

    Hi Ian. Your images are awesome.I visited Banff in summer 2016 and decided to visit again in winter. That’s what I’ll be doing next month. I wish to have advice on how to protect camera/lenses against condensation.

  7. Tom Kostes

    Fabulous images, Ian. I have been to Banff/Lake Louise in the summer, but these images are quite wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing.