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Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Far Northern Exposure

The rugged mountains, sweeping vistas and sublime auroras are among the subjects waiting for your lens in Canada

Nahanni National Park, Northwest Territories

Photographing in the Far North during the summer is a great advantage because of the extended amount of time you get to spend with that long shadow-casting, low-hanging, sweet, warm light at sunrise and sunset. Mid-August to early September is my favorite time. Autumn colors start early there, mosquitoes and black flies will be on a serious decline, weather is generally more moderate, and the sun can hang near that horizon for an hour or more before finally setting. But that’s not all—the sun can then underlight any lingering clouds and turn the sky crimson for another 15 to 20 minutes of magic. Wait, there’s more! Because the nights start to get darker this time of year, chances for seeing and photographing the Northern Lights greatly increase. Sweet! If you plan a trip here, the most important thing to bring is patience. Roads are few, communities are tiny and distantly scattered, and weather is king. It dictates the schedule. Give your trip extra days to deal with delays, regardless of season. July, August and the first week of September are traditionally the best good-weather times, but severe storms can come up rapidly at any time of year.

Nahanni National Park, Northwest Territories You can’t drive to Nahanni, but if you choose to make a road trip, it’s 250 miles from Enterprise to Fort Simpson. From there, you can charter a floatplane into Nahanni. A floatplane can also be chartered from Fort Liard or Yellowknife, NWT, Fort Nelson or Muncho Lake in British Columbia, or Watson Lake in the Yukon.

One reason Nahanni is a national park is the scenic mountains and canyons that frame the Nahanni River system. The best reason to visit is to canoe and photograph the South Nahanni River. It’s a big, powerful river, but with an experienced guide, almost anyone can canoe or raft it. Most chartered trips are about one to two weeks long. The best time to go is mid-August to the beginning of September, when water levels aren’t as high and the weather is generally better (less rain). The many photographic points of interest along the river include Pulpit Rock, the Sand Blowouts, the Rabbitkettle tufa mounds and four canyons along the river’s length. With names like Funeral Range, Headless Range, Deadmen Valley and Broken Skull River, your photo captions can sound real cool, too! Northwest Territories: www.spectacularnwt.com.

Churchill, ManitobaChurchill, Manitoba
You can reach Churchill by plane, train or boat, but not by car. Fly in from Winnipeg, Manitoba, or drive north from Winnipeg (468 miles) to Thompson and take the 12-hour train ride from there. This open landscape is primarily tundra, dwarf shrubs and glacially polished Canadian Shield region that’s dotted with colorful lichens. For landscape photography, the beginning of July is a good time to visit. The wildflowers will be at their peak and there should still be small icebergs in the harbor, which are great to photograph when stranded at low tide. July and August are prime time for Beluga whales. Churchill is also the self-proclaimed polar bear capital of the world. From October to November, thousands of visitors arrive to see and photograph the bears that congregate there waiting for Hudson Bay to freeze over. There are organized tours to Cape Churchill using specially designed all-terrain buggies. Book early for this popular seasonal event. The Northern Lights are also likely to appear at this time of year. Shoot with an extreme wide-angle lens at the largest sharp aperture you can get and bump up the ISO. Travel Manitoba (Churchill): www.travelmanitoba.com.

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