Canadian Rockies in Winter (Black & White Panoramas)

Canadian Rockies are my all-time favorite subject for photography. Winter there may be very cold but offers a fascinating landscape. One of the most fascinating things there I always want to take photos of is the famous frozen bubbles in Abraham Lake on the eastern side of the mountains. Two weeks ago I saw people posting stunning photos of the bubble lake and my Calgary-based photographer friend Victor Liu told me that the bubbles looked very good this winter. I then decided to make a trip there, with a friend who has the right type of car for winter driving in the Rockies.

The weather in the Rockies is always fast changing, and weather forecast can never be fully trusted. The day (January 25) we drove into the mountains, it was raining heavily. Raining in deep winter in Canadian Rockies! Incredible. The rain water on the roads became ice the next day, and we could barely make an exit from the ice-covered Icefield Parkway, which was closed immediately after we drove out. The rain ruined our plan; and ruined the bubbles! When we took a detour (via Rocky Mountain House) to get to the lake on January 27, we saw the lake was partially covered by water (rain and melt ice).

Weather changed again the next day, January 28. Temperature dropped below zero and it was sunny! Icefield Parkway was open again. So we made a second trip. The lake was frozen up again and many bubbles were still there but in really really bad shapes. It seems we have to come again next year.

But all the driving was not in vain. We at least had a rare crystal clear sunny day in the mountains. While my friend had little interest in the harsh light landscape, I found it very suitable for winter black and white photography. Some people may find my photos below too contrasty, but I believe the strong contrast fits well with the rugged peaks of Canadian Rockies.

All the photos below are panoramas stitched with several full-frame shots. I use PTGui Pro 10.0 to do the stitching. For black and white conversion, I use Photoshop. While there are many ways to do the conversion, I find it handy to use the Calculation function in Photoshop. Try the following steps if anyone is interested:

1. Choose the most contrasty channel, which usually is the red, and use Calculation with multiply blend mode to turn it into a strong black and white alpha channel.

2. Choose the above (red) channel again, and repeat the Calculation action with soft light blend mode, to turn it into a less strong alpha channel.

3. Copy and paste both of the above alpha channels on top of the original (background layer).

4. Add a mask to the new layers and use gradient tool or brush to touch up the image to your taste. I use the multiply blend mode layer for dark sky and snow-covered mountain tops, and the other layer for trees and other parts.

5. Merge the two new layers and save the final layer as a copy.

Share your thoughts on this method of conversion.

_MG_4507 Panorama bw 2

_MG_4589 Panorama bw

_MG_4570 Panorama bw

_MG_4561 Panorama bw

_MG_4554 Panorama bw

 

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