Smokin’ Hot Photography

Moon rise in smoky conditions, Saskatchewan
Moon rise through smoke
The rising full moon this July had a pinkish tinge as it shone through smoke haze, Thickwood Hills, Saskatchewan.

For many of us, especially if you’re in western Canada or parts of the western USA and beyond, a huge factor affecting our photography this summer has been forest fire smoke, usually with a big dose of sizzling hot temperatures and devastating drought to boot. Those clear blue skies and green landscapes that we are used to in our neck of the woods have been hard to find. Instead, we have smoke haze that ranges from a nuisance to air so thick that you’re hard pressed to see more than a kilometre away. The land is parched and colours are drab. Sometimes the sky seems reasonably clear but the setting sun often disappears into a smoke bank near the horizon.

Smoky sunset
The sun struggling to set behind a smoke bank near the horizon. Thickwood Hills, Saskatchewan.

So what’s a poor photographer to do? Pack up the camera and wait until next year or try to make the best of a challenging situation? While forest fire smoke is the last thing we want to see, it does present some interesting photo possibilities and opportunities for creativity. Smoke sometimes appears similar to fog, so you can often achieve a similar look as in fog photography.

Smoke, Wood Lake, SK
Forest fire smoke shrouding the shoreline of Wood Lake, Saskatchewan.

Perhaps the most promising potential is photographing the sun, which often has a surreal appearance as smoke dims the bright glare. If there’s no clouds on the horizon, you might catch a brilliant sky as the sun slowly sets. Similarly, the moon, especially when it is low in the sky near moonrise and moonset, can have some unexpected colours when it peeks through the smoke.

Sunset during smoky conditions
Sunset amidst the haze and smoke banks. Thickwood Hills, Saskatchewan.

The moral of the story is not to stop photographing. No one wants forest fires, but why not make the best of a bad situation by trying to capture the unusual and sometimes even attractive aspects of this phenomenon? The following are a few images that we were able to get both this summer and at other times when faced with fires and smoke.

Smoke, Wood Lake, SK
Smoky conditions Wood Lake, Saskatchewan
Smoke, Drinking Lake, SK
A strange-looking smoke plume during the early stages of a forest fire, Drinking Lake, Saskatchewan.
Wood Lake, SK
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Wood Lake, Saskatchewan.
Smoke, Lake Athabasca, SK
Sun setting into a smoke bank on Lake Athabasca, Saskatchewan.
Smoke, Lake Athabasca, SK
The sun barely shining through the smoke on Lake Athabasca.
Smoky conditions, Lake Athabasca
Float plane coming in for a landing on a smoky and surreal looking Lake Athabasca.
Full moon, smoke bank.
The recent full moon in July, 2021 amidst the smoke haze.

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