The Three Sisters in Alberta are the most unmistakable mountain peaks in the front ranges of the Canadian Rockies, known as Kananaskis Country. The Three Sisters are located due south of the beautiful mountain town of Canmore, where the trio of summits are visible from almost anywhere in the immediate Bow Valley vicinity and are proudly cherished by the locals.
The Three Sisters are also known by other names due to their increasing elevation from northeast to southwest. The shortest north peak, or 'Little Sister' stands at 2,694 metres. The middle peak, or 'Middle Sister' is 2,769 metres tall, while the southernmost and tallest peak 'Big Sister' towers at 2,936 metres. In the same order, they are also known as Charity, Hope, and Faith.
In the mid to late 1800's when geologists and land surveyors were scouting the Bow River valley, it was Albert Rogers (the nephew of Major A.B. Rogers, discoverer of Rogers Pass in the Selkirk Mountains) who first named the unique mountain.
As the story goes, he awoke in the morning after a heavy snowstorm and looked out of his tent, only to see each of the three peaks with a veil of snow on their northern sides. He said to the boys, "Look at the Three Nuns". The name only stuck for a short time, as Canadian scientist George Dawson created a new map of the area in 1886 where the peaks were named the 'Three Sisters'.
Whatever you wish to call them, the peaks are adored by photographers, painters, and artists alike who come from around the world to capture their distinctive charm. In any season from an endless variety of vantage points, the Three Sisters never disappoint.
Fine Art Photography
In the last decade, I have been fortunate enough to visit Canmore on countless occasions as a home away from home, to photograph the amazing mountains, lakes, valleys, and wildlife that surround the area in every direction. One could spend a lifetime exploring the endless beauty, but one of my favourite subjects is surprisingly close by, and can be accessed very easily... by simply looking up.
The Three Sisters peaks tower over the town like protective siblings, admired by all and begging to be photographed. A trip to Canmore is not complete without a walk around town and through the forest trails to discover new vantage points in hopes of an extraordinary photograph.
The following fine art photographs of these beautiful peaks highlight their dramatic change in appearance when captured from different locations in varying weather conditions.
After heavy rain events, it is common to see thick fog and clouds enveloping the mountains, and with some patience and a lot of luck, the rising sun can break through for a dramatic portrait of the peaks.
On this particular morning, the thick clouds obscured Faith, the tallest peak, so I adjusted my composition to capture Charity and Hope in a multi-shot panoramic composition with my telephoto lens, resulting in a high resolution image that can be printed as wide as ten feet.
Void of discernable colour, the image was an excellent candidate for a black and white conversion, which perfectly compliments the breathtaking cloud formations. Above, a custom framed 'Charity Edition' print of 'The Rising' is a beautiful focal point in this master bedroom.
Although it has become a popular vantage point, Policeman's Creek is a short five minute walk down a dry creek bed to the water and is always worth a visit. The creek is a calm, meandering offshoot of the Bow River and routinely makes for perfect crystal clear reflections of the mountain.
Night turned to day on this early morning, as the sun kissed the peaks with some colourful alpenglow while the moon passed by in the distance. Nothing compares to witnessing magical scenes like this.
With the changing of the seasons, winter offers new compositional opportunities when the creek freezes, allowing further exploration of the area. An overnight snowfall hangs in the branches of the larch and spruce trees, while the tracks of critters big and small are still visible beneath the fresh snow. The intricate patterns of hoar frost form on the pebbly surface of the ice in the foreground.
Patience is a virtue in landscape photography, as I sat in a snowbank for an hour waiting for a sunrise that almost did not happen. The clouds were thick in the east, blocking the sun as it began to break the horizon. Almost ready to pack my gear, the clouds suddenly broke and lit up the sky in one one of the most beautiful sunrises I had ever seen.
The orange, pink, and purple colours reflected between sky and snow for only a few short minutes before it all disappeared as quickly as it began. A picture says a thousand words.
'Three Sisters', An Original
Sometimes the search for a unique composition of an iconic location can be difficult, so it is necessary to think outside of the box. Most of the images of the Three Sisters are photographed from the same relative area, so if I could find an attractive foreground element to use, I could capture something new.
I love waterfalls, and tried to conceptualize how amazing it would be to have a waterfall in the foreground with the trio of peaks towering overhead at sunrise with some soft, colourful light. The problem was, to my knowledge, there were no waterfalls in the area. Or were there?
Through the optic design of camera lenses, I knew it was possible to make relatively small objects appear larger in a photograph by getting in extremely close to the subject, inches away, with a wide angle lens. Mountain slopes always have areas where they collect and shed water from snow and rain, so I set off on foot to see if I could find a creek anywhere with a visible line of sight to the peaks.
After many hours of trudging through the muddy terrain at the base of the mountain, I found a long, rocky creek bed with a light trickle of water. As I followed the creek, I discovered a very small section where natural erosion had created some 'steps' in the rocks, almost like a miniature multi-tiered waterfall.
Although the current flow of water was minimal, I knew that the location had potential if the volume of water were to increase. If I was to come away with a new composition of the Three Sisters, I knew it worth a shot to return another day.
For the next four mornings in a row, I rose early before sunrise and slogged my way over the hills, muddy from the early spring rains and snowmelt. On day one, to my surprise, the overnight drizzle of rain had made a big impact on the water flow in the creek.
The flow was perfect for the shot I had envisioned, the only problem being that it was overcast, and the peaks and sky above were very dull. Although I set up my gear and tested my composition and focal length, the sky was the missing element. Even so, at least I knew the exact equipment setup positioning so that I could repeat it on the next try.
On day two, setup was much quicker, but the opposite problem occurred. It was a bluebird sky with zero clouds, and the water flow had receded slightly. Images are always more compelling with colourful clouds, so I was skunked again.
But a golden rule landscape photographers understand is that often, we have to return to a location multiple times to achieve the shot we are looking for. And even then, there are no guarantees that the stars will align like we hope them to.
Day three revealed new conditions as a heavy, wet snow had fallen overnight. This made for some very interesting ice formations and snow around the rocks, which I liked. However, the sky was overcast once again. Nonetheless, I set up my equipment and worked through a different capture technique which seemed to be working well. My goal is to achieve the highest quality image files in the field, and this alternate method enabled me to capture the scene in ultra high resolution to enable print making with striking detail.
Finally, on day four the conditions looked promising. Soft clouds were passing by the peaks in a light breeze which I knew could lead to some nice colour once the sun approached the horizon. Arriving once again in the same spot, I was excited to see that the previous day's snowmelt had significantly increased the flow of water in the creek.
With sunrise approaching, I captured the lower third of the vertical scene with my camera in a horizontal position, using multiple focus points to capture sharp detail and different shutter speeds to render the desired effect on the moving water. Then, tilting my camera up slightly to the middle third of the scene, I repeated the process.
And at last, a third tilt of the camera upward focused on the peaks as the rising sun created some beautiful alpenglow, while the clouds radiated gorgeous pastel shades of orange. It is hard to express the exhilaration I feel when an image that starts as a concept finally comes to fruition. My perseverance had paid off.
The final image, 'Three Sisters' is a 'vertorama', consisting of three horizontal images combined together to form a vertical image in ultra high resolution. This camera capture technique results in a photograph that can be printed under a single sheet of acrylic as big as 60x80 inches while still holding razor sharp detail when viewed only inches away.
Limited Edition Prints
I hope that you enjoyed the brief history of the famous Three Sisters Canmore, along with the stories behind my collection of images. I extend an invitation to reach out to me at any time if you are intrigued by a Limited Edition fine art photography print of these famous peaks as a showpiece for your home.
The addition of a museum quality print adds a focal point to any room, giving your home a gallery feel. Your image choice reflects the atmosphere you wish to communicate, while making your home calming to live in and inviting to your guests.
Anyone can become a nature photography print collector, and the magic starts with your first piece.