If you’ve been on Instagram lately, you surely will have seen photos of Abraham Lake. The iconic photo depicts surreal frozen bubbles through transparent ice, in the gorgeous mountain setting at sunrise. It’s a classic Alberta Rocky Mountain image that will take your breath away. It’s not for the faint of heart to capture, however.
A group of my amazing photo-friends and I decided that we needed to take our own versions of the famous frozen bubbles shot, so we planned an overnight stay and early morning adventure to Abraham Lake. The lake is over 3 hours drive from Calgary, so we opted to stay in Rocky Mountain House which is just over an hour from the lake and much cheaper than staying in a lodge on the Icefields Parkway.
Anyone who knows me knows mornings aren’t my ‘thing’ but we were determined to get the sunrise shot, so we had to get up at 5am to prepare for the adventure. About 6 cups of coffee later, we left the hotel and drove from Rocky Mountain House to Abraham Lake via highway AB-11. The timing was perfect as we had lots of time to scout a good spot and get set up and ready for the sunrise.
We drove down the lake looking for a clear patch of ice and had read blog posts saying that ‘Windy Point’ was typically a good spot, and we weren’t disappointed. The wind is so fierce in this spot that the ice remains clear of snow and perfectly polished. In some spots, you could see the bottom of the lake because the ice is so clear. Absolutely gorgeous!
To reach the ice you need to park just off the road and walk down. There aren’t a lot of turnoffs, so be careful where you pull off the road. Crampons are a must as the shoreline can be quite steep in some spots and is treacherous with ice. Combined with 70km an hour winds, it made for a challenging decent onto the frozen lake. Hiking poles are also helpful to help keep your footing if carrying a lot of heavy gear.
Abraham Lake is famous for its frozen methane bubbles, which are a result of decaying organic matter under the surface of the water. The bubbles didn’t cover the entire lake, so we had to scout around looking for them. They seemed to concentrate around the shoreline, but there are also other beautiful ice cracks and huge chunks of polished ice scattered around the lake which make for other interesting photo opportunities as well.
The best time to photograph the bubbles is from late December until mid-January or early February when the ice is still clear. Later in the season, it can begin to get cloudy and the ice will get more permanently covered in snow.
As soon as sunrise hits, the entire area becomes photogenic. Every direction you look has an amazing mountain vista, so plan to stay and photograph for a while. We stayed about 2 hours on the lake and wandered the shoreline taking photos. Using a polarizing filter helps cut the glare on the ice, and you definitely need a heavy tripod for stability. It was a fantastic day out and I was very happy with my images.
If you are planning a trip to photograph the Abraham Lake bubbles, make sure you bring adequate gear and plan your trip well. Photographing in winter, in Canada, is going to require some serious warm weather gear, as well as endurance. The winds are extreme on the lake and it knocked me off my feet more than once and both my gloves blew away!
The trip was a definite group effort, so make sure to check out my photo-friends sites/social. They are incredible photographers and super fun to shoot with! What a great weekend.
Here are some tips for getting the most out of your photo adventure:
Plan Getting There
- Book a Hotel in Rocky Mountain House and take highway AB-11 west to Abraham Lake or at the Aurum Lodge at Abraham Lake
- Plan to be there at least 45 mins before sunrise, taking into account driving time
- Pre-pack your camera gear and bring a thermos of hot coffee!
Cold Weather Gear You Need
- Snow Pants and Jacket
- Thermal Base Layers
- Fleece or other warm layers (depending on weather)
- Winter Boots
- Warm Socks
- Gloves (‘touch’ under gloves help too)
- Toque and Neck Warmer (better than scarf)
Camera Gear You Need
- Camera body – weather sealed is best (I used a Canon 5D mark 3)
- Ultra wide lens (I used a Canon 16-35mm f4)
- Shutter release cable
- A polarizer (cut glare on ice)
Have fun and take lots of photos!