This is What Winter Looks Like in Alberta and Saskatchewan

By embracing the challenges of winter photography, Saskatoon's Dean McLeod captures frozen landscapes of breathtaking beauty.

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Sunset in winter Season by mountains.
A colourful sunrise caught in front The Three Sisters Mountain.

For the love of nature

Growing up in Saskatchewan where I have lived my entire life, summers are short while winters can be long and cold. The seasons are very distinct in this part of Canada and we are lucky to experience the beauty of such dramatic changes in the landscape every year. Countless camping trips during the summers of my childhood sparked my love for nature at a very young age. The fresh smell of the trees and damp ground of the nature trails in northern Saskatchewan brought me absolute joy, while cross-country skiing and sledding kept me outside in the wintertime. I have also loved creating art for as long as I can remember. While many of my school friends played sports year-round, I was the quiet kid who was perfectly happy sitting for hours drawing pictures or building models; anything that I could dream up in my head and somehow manage to manifest with my own hands into something tangible.

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Snow mountains in Canada.
This stunning shot was taken at sunrise on the banks of the Bow River after a night of snowfall.

The camera that started it all

Every meticulous little project I finished brought me such great satisfaction—I could stand back and say, “I made that!” While Christmas shopping a few years ago, I found myself standing in our local camera store and it brought back memories of the fun I had learning photography in high school. On a whim, I selfishly decided to buy a new camera for myself with absolutely no clue how to use it or where it would take me. To say that landscape and nature photography has become an obsession since that day would be an understatement. I quickly became fascinated by how I could create art with this new tool while renewing my relationship with the outdoors. It magically combines everything I love into a single craft that allows me to pursue art while enjoying the outdoors in every season.

Don’t miss this gallery of Canadians enjoying the winter season.

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Snowy trees morning sunrise.
A sunrise shot of a sundog taken in freezing temps at Crowsnest Pass, Alta.

Winter’s beauty  

Although winter photography can provide many challenges, such as protecting your gear or simply keeping warm, it has become one of my favourite times of the year to explore the Prairies in Saskatchewan, and the majestic mountains of Alberta. The air is purer in the cold, while snow-capped peaks or hoar frost clinging to the trees create images that are uniquely beautiful. When you train yourself to slow down and become more keenly aware of your surroundings, the opportunities are everywhere to discover intimate scenes or grand vistas to capture with your camera.

Take a look at some of Canada’s most inspiring natural wonders.

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Three Sister Mountains reflecting in water.
While walking along the Bow River, Dean hung his camera upside down from his tripod, inches from the water, to capture this intimate scene.

Picture perfect

Creating a photograph of particular atmospheric conditions can be a lot of fun. It is not uncommon to have to return to a specific location multiple times in order to find the image that I have been visualizing in my mind’s eye, and I have learned that carefully planning an image beforehand can often lead to a higher degree of success. One such photograph of Mount Chephren in Banff National Park is an example of much planning and a little bit of luck. I had driven past this peak many times and thought of how beautiful it would look in the wintertime at night, side-lit by the moon which would highlight the rocky textures of the face of the mountain. After researching the moon phases, I chose a night when I calculated that the moon should be lighting the mountain at just the right angle between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. I travelled to the area in the afternoon beforehand and timed how long it took me to snowshoe from my vehicle down to the edge of the small creek where I chose my intended composition for the night ahead.

Check out some fascinating facts about the Canadian Rockies that most people don’t know.

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Moon lit Banff rocky mountains.
Snapped in the early morning hours, the mighty Mount Chephren in Banff National Park is side lit by the moon, highlighting the beautiful textures of the face of the mountain.

Dark side of the moon

As it became dark early in the evening, I set my alarm for 12:30 a.m. and bundled up in my winter sleeping bag in the back of my vehicle parked in a pullout on the side of the highway. When the alarm sounded hours later, I became excited as the sky was clear and the conditions were perfect. I quickly dressed in my snow gear, grabbed my camera pack and snowshoed into the darkness with my trusty headlamp to guide the way. I arrived safely at the exact spot I had chosen hours before, and the moon lit up that beautiful mountain exactly as I had envisioned. I was proud that I had put forth the effort to make a memorable photograph, while feeling grateful to experience a scene before me that most people will never have a chance to witness. There are other times when unexpected weather can create a short window of opportunity. Thick fog will sometimes pass through the Prairies in winter, leaving some stunning hoar frost clinging to the trees. On one such morning when the fog was still thick in the air, I grabbed my gear and headed to a local area near the riverbank where there are many beautiful cottonwood trees. I was able to capture a unique image that morning, which remains a personal favourite.

Don’t miss this gorgeous gallery of moon photography.

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Sunset setting by small Ukrainain Church.
Dean captured this pic of a small Ukrainian church at sunrise along Pike Lake highway, south of Saskatoon.

Happy to call Canada home

It is few years now since that fateful day at the camera store, and after much encouragement from my wonderful wife, family and friends, a new career path in photography excitingly lies ahead. I will never take it for granted, as I know that the inspiration for it all lies in the beauty of this great country that we are so lucky to call home. We owe it to ourselves to venture outside as much as we can in any season, as no matter our age, ethnic background or gender, everyone loves nature and Canada is the best place in the world to experience it all.

Next, check out 50+ stunning photos of the Canadian winter.

Originally Published in Our Canada

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