Behind the Lens: A Photography Road Trip Along BC’s Alaska Highway

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Discover BC through the eyes of its locals and visitors! This week, we’re featuringVancouver-based photographers Megan McLellan and Emanuel Smedbol, the duo behind @fieldandforest. They’re sharing photos from their recent hiking and camping road trip adventure along BC’s world-famous Alaska Highway, along with some tips on capturing that perfect BC shot.

A man stops to take in the reflection of a snow-covered mountain in glassy waters.

Megan: “A designated UNESCO world heritage site, Mount Robson is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies and one of those iconic BC places I had been wanting to visit for years. This view of mighty Mount Robson and its glaciers is from the Berg Lake campground, where we tented after a long 22-km (13.7-mi) hike up. While there were a bunch of campgrounds along the way, we were eager to get to up here and pushed the full distance in one day. Next time I I’d like to take a bit longer!”

The shot: “Trying to figure out a way to capture the grandeur of the mountain and the deep turquoise colour of the water, I had been hoping to get a nice mirrored reflection on the lake, except the water was too choppy. But then I noticed a shallow area that was sheltered from the rest of the lake by a narrow sand bar, where the water was much more calm. The pool was maybe only two or three inches deep so you can see a neat gradient and texture of pebbles beneath its surface, but it worked perfectly to get to the reflection I was hoping for of Mount Robson.”

A woman hikes through a lush landscape towards rocky mountains.

Megan: “We initially wanted to do a longer more difficult hike, but after spending the afternoon cooped up in the car listening to a torrential downpour of rain and hail, we opted for the Flower Spring Trail instead since it was already so late in the day. With relative ease, the trail winds its way up into a sprawling alpine meadow and I was reminded that easier hikes don’t always mean less beautiful hikes.” Location: Stone Mountain Provincial Park

The shot: “On our descent the late evening sun burst through the clouds, leaving some mountains illuminated and others in shadow. The trail meanders a bit as it weaves it’s way over and around rolling hills of brush and wildflowers, so I waited at a point where the trail curved in front of me, letting Emanuel walk ahead. Placing the trail off centre and using it to lead the eye to Emanuel and beyond, it conveys a sense of depth and direction, always pulling you forward to wonder what’s behind that next hill.”

A seaplane docked at a beach lined with wood lodges nestled at the base of a rocky mountain range.

Megan: “Nestled on the turquoise shores of the chilly Muncho Lake, the Northern Rockies Lodge offers an incredibly picturesque and wild setting and so many ways to experience it. After tagging along on a floatplane fishing trip and spending a full day exploring a remote lake, we returned back to the lodge where I snapped this photo from the window of the plane.” Location: Muncho Lake Provincial Park

The shot: “We had taken a handful of photos of the lodge and cabins while we were walking around the day before, but this was a perspective you could only get from the water. With my lens pressed right up to the window to try and minimize any reflection from inside the plane I took a few quick shots as we glided to a stop, loving the symmetry of the slopes on either side leading the eye towards the little white floatplane, and the bright red roofs in among the trees.”

A man relaxes in a turquoise hot spring drenched in sunlight.

Megan: “We first arrived at the Liard Hot Springs on a cool overcast summer evening, very much looking forward to submerging our road-weary bodies into the warm waters we had heard so much about. But for all the million recommendations, the hot springs turned out to be even more incredible than we had heard. It’s kind of hard to imagine how a place like this exists in real life, a lush oasis tucked into the boreal forest, where the sense of peace is so palpable that one feels almost obliged to speak in hushed, awed voices.”

The shot: “Just as we were quietly getting ready to sink into the water, the sun suddenly burst through the clouds. As Emanuel relaxed in the water I positioned myself so that the sun was almost entirely blocked by the trees, creating a filter for the light to segment into defined rays as it lit up the steam. A stunning welcome to one of the most anticipated stops of our trip.”

A man floats in a hot spring in the rain.

Megan: “After spending the previous evening at Liard Hot Springs, we decided we hadn’t quite had enough so we got up early the next morning for one last dip before hitting the road again. It was chilly and the sky had some thick storm clouds, so the hot springs felt particularly pleasant.”

The shot: “Then the skies opened up, pounding us with a thick sheet of rain like we hadn’t had in days. Emanuel likes few things more than swimming in the rain, and seeing his joy in the downpour was something I wanted to remember. I jumped out of the water, grabbed my camera, and took a couple shots above from the platform. Deciding I wanted a more intimate, immersive photo, I climbed back into the chest deep water, and leveled the camera to better capture the steam and the fat splashes of thick rain. Employing a shallow depth of field in close quarters, I wanted to capture more than just a moment… I wanted to try and capture the feeling.”

A woman in a yellow rain jacket hikes through a rocky landscape.

Emanuel: “After weeks of hot sunny weather, the clouds started rolling in as we approached Tumbler Ridge. Heading up to the Shipyard Trail on a local tip, we immediately saw some of the rock formations that make this area so interesting. The trail winds its way through the subalpine forest and meadow, passing tumbled towers and rock fields up to a thin wedge of giant boulder that looks a bit like a sinking ship (called the Titanic).”

The shot: “We scrambled out to the tip of the Titanic rock group and I took this shot looking back, angled down slightly to better capture the narrow rock, while also providing a sense of location. Megan’s bright yellow rain jacket provided a good central focus and contrast to the dark wet landscape.”

A rocky landscape flanked by two sheer cliff faces.

The shot: “To get a better sense of the scale and sheer vertical walls of the Titanic rock formation, I climbed down the rocks to shoot it from below. The ground was a maze of rocks and boulders, and I perched on top of a small gravel slope to gain a more natural perspective than merely shooting straight up from the bottom of the cliff. The jumble of rocks and towers lends an almost otherworldly, post-apocalyptic feel which was nicely underscored by the weather.”

A woman hikes through a lush, green valley at the base of a mountain range.

Emanuel: “Waiting out the afternoon’s biting hailstorms, we started up the Flower Springs Trail in Stone Mountain Provincial Park by early evening. The trail quickly ascends through the sparse spruce forests into wide open alpine meadows, with low brush and layers of grey sloping stone mountains almost as far as the eyes could see. Stone Mountain is the highest point on the Alaska Highway, so its ready access to the alpine made it easily one of the most rewarding hikes I’ve ever done. And that was before we saw the caribou.

The shot: “When we’re out hiking, I sometimes like to keep a bit of distance from Megan so I can capture her in the elements, dwarfed by the landscape. It adds a sense of scale, making the mountains feel almost as large and grand as they do in real life. Here, a slightly out of focus foreground adds a bit of extra depth, and Megan’s gaze is following that line to a gap in the mountains, hinting at where we’re heading next.”

A small log cabin in the middle of the forest.

Emanuel: “The Northern Rockies Lodge at Muncho Lake is the best accommodations we saw on the Alaska Highway. The main lodge is a giant modern log chalet with all manner of comforts and amenities, but we were most taken with the older more rustic cabins scattered around the property and on the lake. We loved the way the years of weather has stained their exteriors, lending the photo a neat texture.

The shot: I usually prefer more of a 3/4 view of buildings so you can see a bit of their side as well as the front, but I loved the squat shape of this cabin, its gently sloping roof, and the way it was nestled in the spindly northern trees and thought a more structured, balanced composition mirrored its shape and circumstance pretty well.”

A highway winds through the dense wilderness, and past a lake nestled at the bottom of a mountain range.

Emanuel: “Leaving the Northern Rockies behind, the Alaska Highway returns to rolling boreal with endless trees and occasional bison herds dotting the roadside. But then you round a bend and a full view of the Liard Valley opens up and spreads out below you.”

The shot:Northern BC is mostly trackless wilderness, with only a couple roads and very few towns. Wanting to capture the full sense of the little road in the vast landscape, I often look for steep roadside slopes I can scramble up to gain a higher vantage. I loved the way the road mirrors the curve of the meandering river here.”

Q&A:

Where is your favourite place to shoot in BC, and why?

Megan: I’m not sure I could choose any one favourite place to shoot in BC, as each evokes such a different feeling. I love the dry rolling grasslands and ponderosa country of the Cariboo Chilcotin and the rugged rocky mountains and lakes of the interior,  just as much as I love the damp towering spruce and cedar forests that grow along our coastline. Saying that, I am a definite sucker for a foggy day in a wet west coast forest. There’s a kind of haunting beauty and eerie peacefulness to it that I find so humbling to capture.

Emanuel: It really is hard to choose! But maybe the coast… there are so many great places all over BC, but the coast just feels special. I love the dark forests and steep sloping inlets, the little fishing towns, the muted salty wind-worn colours, the varied terrain from pounding rugged coastline to old-growth cedar hemlock rainforest to mighty mountains with endless alpine. In one day you can see so much variety.

What are your ideal shooting conditions?

Megan: I’ll take whatever the weather sends me! Except maybe harsh afternoon sunlight, but even that can give you really neat striking shadows. The thing I really like about shooting outdoors is that you can never really know what you are going get. You work on the fly and make the most of what is there. It challenges you to change up your approach to the images you thought earlier in the day you might have been making, had the conditions been different.

Emanuel: I really like heading out on overcast afternoons, when the clouds are heavy and hanging low. If you’re lucky you can hike up into the fog, with giant trees looming before you, dim and ghostly, half seen. More often than not we end up cold and wet, but every now and then the clouds part just enough to reveal a very moody and dramatic landscape. I love these half-veiled landscapes. Living in BC, the outdoors often feels very wild and untamed, and moody weather really underscores this for me.

What gear do you shoot with?

We both shoot with little Fuji cameras and a handful of lenses. They have great image quality and are small and light enough that we don’t mind carrying them around the mountains all day. Our other gear just stays at home most of the time.

How does living in BC inspire you as a photographer?

Megan: Living in BC inspires me both as a photographer and as a resident to continue to be curious and not take this beautiful place we live in for granted. There is such a diverse expanse of wilderness to explore, and as much as I want to see it all, I’m also keenly aware of its fragility and limits.

Emanuel: BC really makes it easy to be a landscape or outdoor photographer. There is a raw, untamed wildness to the province that really speaks to me. And with beautiful vistas in every corner of the province, there’s always a new place we’re itching to check out and explore. With such a wide variety of landscapes, activities, and things to see, there’s always something new to try out and test yourself against, always something new to learn.

About @fieldandforest:

Megan and Emanuel are from Vancouver BC, and they like going on trips.

They started Field & Forest as a little celebration of adventure and discovery. They wanted to share the joys of being out in the world and in the wild and to show that you don’t need to be an extreme athlete or wealthy or whatever to have a good time outdoors. All you need is a weekend or evening off and the curiosity to see something new.

Megan learned to love travel and the outdoors from a young age, doing regular family trips both around the world and up into the local mountains. While she was born and raised in Vancouver, she is most at home on the road heading on her next adventure. When she’s not taking photos, she is completing a degree in communications from Simon Fraser University.

Growing up in quiet valley in BC’s mountainous interior, Emanuel has always felt pretty at home in the wild. He moved to the coast for school, earning degrees in both cultural anthropology and graphic design, and loves living in Vancouver. But he’s always looking for an excuse to get back out into the fields and forests…

For more of Megan and Emanuel’s work, visit fieldandforest.co and follow them on Instagram at @fieldandforest.

Plan your own road trip along BC’s Alaska Highway.