Underwater Photography: Kayaking Glacial Meltwater in Canada

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Hidden high in the Lillooet Range of British Columbia, Canada you’ll find vibrant turquoise streams of glacial meltwater.

This natural phenomenon only happens for a few weeks each year and I have to say, photographing this landscape in is something I’ll never forget.

Melting rapidly as summer creeps in, the streams produce an intense clarity and a brilliant blue hue which provides a striking contrast against the surrounding snow-covered landscape.

During the winter months the glacial lake is completely frozen over with snow covering the lake lying metres below the surface. Once Spring arrives in May, the lake begins to slowly thaw out, revealing colourful meltwater streams around the edges and creating what looks like a watery race track seemingly made for adventurous kayakers.

Every word in the thesaurus relating to beautiful, stunning and awe inspiring is relevant.

Canada adventure kayaking glacial lakes in British Columbia

Above the surface of the meltwater alpine peaks and pines loom amidst rocky outcrops and white slopes. Below the surface a patterned floor of ice dimples ranging from a few centimetres in width to crevices more than 8ft deep in places provides a fascinating canvas to photograph. The conditions for split-level images was perfect.

I’ll be honest in saying that it’s taken me a few weeks to write about this trip because I’ve struggled to find the words to do it justice. I’ve got the photos, a collection of images you’ll find by scrolling down that I’m so proud of and excited to share but words just don’t seem to summarise the frozen landscapes, the silent atmosphere and the feeling of paddling over patterned ice down a meltwater stream.

To give you a little backstory as to why I did this trip, let’s just say I can get a tad obsessive when I see a landscape that looks like it has potential for underwater photos. I first saw footage of this scene about 18months ago when some drone images and video taken by Nick Drader went viral on social media. Nick is the owner of Compass Heli Tours and the sole operator permitted to fly and kayak amongst this incredible scenery. Stumbling upon the meltwater, Nick had an inflatable fishing kayak with him back in 2016 and gave it a test run to see if it could be a viable business offering alongside his heli-fishing tours. Fast forward to now and whoa, I can vouch that this is one seriously, jaw droppingly, crazy cool day outdoors. See, words just don’t work in this case, I’m lost on them.

Canada adventure kayaking blue glacial lake streams in British Columbia

Canada adventure kayaking blue glacial lake streams in British Columbia

“Every word in the thesaurus relating to beautiful, stunning and awe inspiring is relevant.”

From the images I’d seen previously I knew that if I could somehow get to Canada for the few short weeks that this landscape was there, I was ready to freeze my fingers off in order to capture some underwater split-level shots. I’d never seen underwater shots taken in this type of landscape and according to Nick, no one had taken them here either.

Because it’s quite an expensive and weather dependent experience I’d been following the forecast for weeks in advance. I know this isn’t super productive since it usually changes at the last minute but I couldn’t stop myself, my excitement levels were out of control and if you’ve been reading my site for a while, you’ll know my weather geekiness knows no bounds. Accuweather, Weather.com even Norway’s yr.no were on my side saying that May 26th was going to be sunny skies and perfect.

Read my guide to ‘Weather Forecasting for Landscape Photographers

This was an experience that will go down as one of the best of all time.

Canada adventure kayaking blue glacial lake streams in British Columbia

Underwater Photography in Glacial Meltwater

The entire purpose of my trip here was to capture a series of split-level underwater images that showcased the mountain scenery above paired with the patterned ice below.

My personal photography project ‘The World from The Water’ has been ongoing for a number of years and photographing landscapes from lakes, rivers or the ocean is an angle that I can’t get enough of. As I mentioned earlier, having seen the drone images, I was obsessed with photographing these glacial meltwater streams underwater and had dreamt up angles and composition ideas before even seeing them in person.

Of course, those ideas went out the window when all my head could drum up was the word ‘wow’.

Kayaking in individual kayaks meant that I could paddle at my own pace and hang over the edge with my underwater housing without the fear of falling in, or even worse, tipping someone else in the freezing water.

I took my Olympus OM-D E-M1 MkII and within minutes of landing had it set up and ready to go inside the PT-EP14 underwater housing. I opted for the 7-14mm M.Zuiko f/2.8 PRO lens in order to have a wide angle range to capture both above and below in a single shot.

Read more about underwater settings using this camera here – Setting the Scene: Underwater Photography.

Not knowing the exact depth of the water meant that I had to do a rough guess as to how much of the scene would be in the frame but due to the size of the surrounding mountains, I started out by keeping the lens wide open at 7mm to make sure I didn’t crop any peaks! The housing makes it nice and easy to zoom and adjust settings as you go but since I knew I’d be both paddling and photographing, I wanted to keep things simple and restrict the need to change things as I went along.

Also, I didn’t just have my underwater housing with me on the kayak. I couldn’t let the opportunity to take as many photos as possible go missed so I had my other OM-D E-M1 MKII body hung around my neck, my phone in my jacket pocket and yeah…I was ready to take photos. Ha!

Photographing the glacial lakes of Canada and British Columbia

Camera Settings:

ISO 200



-0.7 exp

The settings noted above were used to capture the split-level images. Having an aperture of f/10 – f/16 allows for a sharpness both above and below the water level, anything larger would mean only one of the other would be in total focus. For some of the photos you may notice however that I have actually captured them this way, in which case I was shooting with an aperture of f/2.8 to really blur out the mountains above and focus on the detail beneath the water.

Because I couldn’t get in the water, these images were all taken by feeling the camera and hanging over the side of the kayak. I didn’t look through the viewfinder or the back screen, but after a while of shooting with the same gear you come to learn how your camera feels and can line it up without really looking. And of course, you can take, take, then take some more photos if it doesn’t line up the first time!

Canada adventure kayaking blue glacial lake streams in British Columbia

Where to Kayak on Glacial Lake Meltwater? British Columbia, Canada!

I’m sure most people reading this article just want to know one thing – how the heck can I do this too!?

Head over to the Compass Heli Tours website for all the tour information and pricing details. Nick operates out of Abbottsford which is about 45mins drive east of Vancouver.

This particular activity is seasonal with the glacial meltwater only appearing this blue from late May through to late June. So get on it for next year!

Otherwise, you can kayak in these lakes throughout the summer but the water just won’t be this vibrant. As the lake melts you can go fishing in kayaks, paddling past glaciers…it’s crazy the outdoor adventures that are now possible, right!?

One thing this trip has inspired me to do is to get myself an inflatable kayak or paddle board! To be able to jump in for a paddle in any water body you find, yippee!? Watch out because there might be a whole lot more of ‘The World from The Water’ coming soon!

Canada adventure kayaking blue glacial lake streams in British Columbia

Underwater Images of Glacial Lake Meltwater

So since my words have run out, all I want to do is share these photos. I’ve been bursting to share them and really hope you love them as much as I do.

Sometimes I find that with so much content online it’s hard to find adventures that remain unique but this for me felt so special and from a photographic perspective, I hope they inspire at least one person to get outdoors with their camera and find some new angles…

Enjoy and feel free to leave a comment below with any questions you’ve got! x

Kayaking in Canada on Glacial Lakes meltwater, British Columbia Kayaking in Canada on Glacial Lakes meltwater, British Columbia Incredible Outdoor Adventures - Kayaking Glacial Lakes in Canada

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Blog Comments

Wow, the location is really impressive and you managed to capture so many great photos!
Never before I have seen such rivers, the turquise water, all the snow around (why is it no freezing again?!) and the river is still calm for paddeling.
It must have been so great to paddle there. 🙂

Thanks so much! It was really such a special experience, and it was still cold haha the water was freezing and outside it was about 7degrees 🙂

Loss of words is an understatement for this adventure. How lucky to have such cooperative weather in this environment too, a perfect non-storm. All just beautiful.

A perfect non-storm! Love it 🙂

Oh my God! This seems like such an amazing adventure! I would totally love to try kayaking on a glacier one day! Thanks for sharing!

Every photo is more beautiful than the next! And that water…just wow. I love that you shared your camera settings. I’m not sure I could ever take photos as beautiful as you do, but at least now I can try 😉

This looks like such a cool experience. I miss Canada

I’m drooling over these photos! Exploring Canada’s adventurous side is very high on my bucket list, and now I’m ready to book a ticket!!

Your photography work is stunning! I’m so sad to have never seen this as a Canadian. Must be amazing to witness in person!

Wow, this is too incredible! I never even knew rivers formed over snow like this. Your photography is absolutely stunning!

Canada is on my list for travel in 2019, and I have now added Kayaking on Glacier Lake to my ever-growing list of things to do. Hopefully I can travel at the right time of year for this. Thank you for the idea.

Wow these photos are incredible! That water is so clear and blue! What a cool experience!

These photos are mind blowing! Wow. I didn’t even know Glacier Kayaking was a thing.

Wow! This looks incredible. I wouldnt want to fall in though!!

Your images are amazing! The turquoise water and white icy landscape make the perfect color combination- almost fantasy-like. Isn’t this planet incredible? What an neat trip!

This is absolutely amazing! I’ve only seen those videos of people doing this… but this is something else. Your captures are stunning. THIS is what adventure is all about. Thanks so much for sharing 😀

Wow. I really want to do this. Great photos and helpful photography tips. Was just in Antarctica Kayaking and this is definitely going on my list.

This looks like such an incredible experience!! I didn’t even know you could do this, and I’m living in Vancouver! Thanks for sharing.

Wow! These photos are incredible! And this is something I never had even thought about beforehand. Thanks for sharing!

Wow. This looks like a dream. I would so love to do it. On my bucket list 🙂

This is amazing. I’ve wanted to visit Alaska for its lights but this gives me another thing to go there for; the beautiful snow and ice like in Canada!

Hello Lisa,
What an amazing place! Love your photos. Your adventure there is great. And congrats on getting yourself an inflatable kayak. I’ve been paddling in inflatables for almost 10 years now. My place is the Patagonian lakes and rives, but your adventure got me very interested in going there soon!
thanks for sharing your pictures!

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