Photo Excursion with Olympus Visionary Peter Baumgarten

In 2010, while preparing to travel Around the World in 21 Days, we upgraded our camera gear. Mr. GeoK migrated to an Olympus EVOLT E-510 while I needed the more serious image stabilization in the micro four-thirds (MFT) format Olympus PEN E-PL1.

Sorting through and processing photos after our trip, we soon concluded that the trade-off between image quality and camera/weight the MFT format came out ahead. So Mr. GeoK’s next camera was an Olympus EP-3. Since then, we’ve upgraded to newer models when we’ve seen compelling evidence of significant sensor improvements and features/functionality. The light weight of Olympus weatherproof, interchangeable lens cameras are ideal for hiking, biking and other outdoor adventures. 🙂

Last month, one of my infrequent visits to Facebook brought up an event organized by The Camera Store that was basically a day of nature photography in Canmore and Banff with Olympus Visionary Peter Baumgarten. We registered that day!

We met Peter, representatives from Olympus and staff from The Camera Store at the store parking lot on a Sunday afternoon in July. We joined 12 other registrants (mostly carrying Olympus cameras) and climbed aboard a Discover Banff Tours bus to head west.

Before our first stop, Peter moved around and spoke to about half the people on the bus, answering questions, walking through menu options and helping set up custom function buttons or customize features. Mr. GeoK talked with him about the advantages/disadvantages of shooting with a (really) wide lens vs shooting multiple images to create a panorama via processing. They also talked nature/landscape photography locations in the Banff area.

At the same time, Olympus reps were doling out gear they brought along for us to try. Mr. GeoK opted to test drive the EM-1 Mark II (the latest flagship Olympus camera body) fitted with the wide-angle 7-14 mm f 2.8 PRO lens (14-28 equivalent for Canon/Nikon shooters). I put my hand up to borrow an 8 mm f 1.8 Fisheye PRO lens for something much different from I usually use and mainly for fun!

Lac des Arcs

Our first stop was a short one, just around the corner from the main pull-out at Lac des Arcs. I usually shoot with the 12-100 f 4.0 PRO lens, so 8 mm – combined with the fisheye effect – seemed remarkably wide. I was glad I walked a bit along the pullout to photograph the bus and some of the participants, because that sun angle made it very evident there was a lot of dust on the back element of my loaner lens. 🙂

lac-des-arcs

lens-flare

Canmore Visitor Centre

Driver Ed made a quick stop at the visitor centre, where I took a few more quick shots to check that I’d brushed the worst of the dust off the lens and to help me better get a better handle on the fisheye effect.

fisheye-bench

Smith-Dorrien Trail

From downtown Canmore, Ed drove past the Nordic Centre onto Spray Lakes Road (which transitions into Smith-Dorrien Trail). Driving “highway” 742 is challenging in a car/SUV, and Ed did a great job navigating the bus up the gravel switchbacks. As we approached Whiteman’s Gap, a beeping noise started coming from the dashboard every few seconds, which we later learned was a warning that the engine was working a little too hard.

So we stopped at Whiteman’s Gap for 15 or 20 minutes. That fisheye lens made it possible for one frame to include the very edge of Ha Ling, which looms above the tiny TransAlta control gate, the Rundle Forebay down below and a stretch of Spray Lakes Road where it hugs the east end of Mount Rundle on the left.

ha-ling-bow-valley

The fisheye distortion is a little more obvious in this one, thanks to the Dr. Seuss effect on the steel tower topping TransAlta’s penstock.

rundle-forebay

We made one more stop, a little further along Smith-Dorrien Trail, at the north end of Goat Pond. Wildflowers, water and mountains made for ample subject matter. My attention went to the alternating reflections/clear water ripples in a small bay. For this shot, I swapped out the fisheye for my everyday-carry 12-100 mm f 4.0 PRO lens.

spray-lake

Surprise Corner

After a unanimous vote in favour of heading for Banff, we had time for two quick stops before our 6 pm group reservation for supper. First up was Surprise Corner, with its lovely view of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel across the Bow River/Bow Falls. As I was heading for a better angle on Bow Falls, I looked up and took a quick photo of most of the group.

surprise-corner

Thanks to the fisheye’s extremely wide angle, I was able to get the rapids above Bow Falls in the same frame as the Banff Springs. And the sun flare in the upper right is nicely sharp at a high aperture. A polarizing filter would have helped control the highlights in this one.

banff-springs-bow-falls

Heading back to the bus, I wondered to myself if it would be possible to get all of the recently upgraded Surprise Corner lookout in one frame…

surprise-corner

Bow Falls

No tour of the Banff townsite would be complete without a stop at Bow Falls. I was distracted by thoughts of supper, and didn’t come away with anything I’d like to share. Fortunately, Mr. GeoK’s Bow Falls photo is a classic composition and well executed. I like how the early evening sun angle creates a mix of light and shadow across the falls.

banff-bow-falls

Supper Break

I have no photos from our family-style supper at Park Distillery, Restaurant and Bar. But it was really good and we were in and out in 75 minutes – a remarkably quick turnaround for a group of 20. Kudos to The Camera Store for handling the supper logistics so well.

Two Jack Lake

We enjoyed our desert-to-go on the bus ride to Two Jack Lake, where subject matter included the always awesome scenery, geese and goslings, Richardson’s ground squirrels (aka prairie gophers), Parks Canada’s red share-the-chairs and much more.

mount-rundle-two-jack-lake

Vermillion Lakes

We saved one of favourite Banff-area photo stops for last. Unfortunately, safety regulations regarding how many continuous hours Ed could drive meant we had to leave slightly too early for the orange, red and pink sunset colours that we could see in the sky behind us as we rolled along the TransCanada highway back towards Calgary.

mount-rundle-vermillion-lake

Final Thoughts

Two recommendations to improve a similar outing next time:

  1. Shift the time slot to include the golden hour after sunset; and
  2. Fewer stops with more time to work each location.

The most valuable aspect of the experience was the opportunity to meet, talk with and learn from the Olympus reps and Peter Baumgarten. You’ll find Peter’s a blog post about the trip, including photographs from other participants, here.

We appreciate comments, questions & suggestions. If we're slow to respond, please be patient. We're probably out adventuring!

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