How to make the ordinary landscape look extraordinary

I don’t live in the most photographed part of Canada. From horizon to horizon the land looks pretty much the same. Flat. Uninteresting. Boring. No elegant oaks or elms. No rolling hills. No waterfalls, mountains or glaciers. It’s flat, prairie farm land.

I’ve never seen that as a disadvantage. It’s quite the opposite in fact. Shooting where I live has made me a better photographer. I like analogies because they often times make a concept more understandable so here goes with my analogy.

I shot fashion for almost fifteen years. During that time I photographed everyone from youngsters in front of the camera for the first time earning a pay cheque to models on the tail ends of their careers who had graced the covers of fashion magazines around the world. If you were fortunate enough to get one of the experienced, old timers and by that I mean models in their late twenties, you could almost close your eyes, depress the shutter and let the motor drive go as fast as it could while the talent in front of the camera did everything. I’d look like the most accomplished fashion shooter in the world. Now switch that model with someone just starting out. They don’t know how to pose or which angle is their best. Expressions don’t come easy without coaxing it out of them. You could do your best and sometimes the results looked very ordinary.

I was the same photographer but got two completely different results. It’s the same way with shooting landscapes. Shooting on the prairies I have to earn every photograph that I get. Not many come without all the stars and planets aligning. I believe that has made me a better photographer, a better artist.

So how do you make the ordinary look extraordinary? The photo accompanying the blog has all the answers in it.

The subject matter is oh so ordinary. Taken from the side of the road just a few minutes outside of Edmonton, this is typical Alberta prairie land. It’s late autumn and all the grasses and brush of the year has gone dormant. By themselves, these branches and grasses would have no shape or texture. A thick covering of frost gives them a magical appearance but that’s just the start.

The sun is low in the sky. By itself that isn’t enough. I’ve photographed enough clear morning skies and heavily overcast ones. It takes a special kind of cloud cover to photograph well. Kind of Goldilocks like. Not too heavy and not too light but just right.

Throw in just the right amount of fog to diffuse the morning light, create a glow and hide the horizon from the camera.

Put all of these elements together and boring becomes special. It’s so simple and so obvious.

What I think confuses beginning photographers is distinguishing between a photograph of a pretty place and taking a good picture in a boring place.  It’s easy to not see past the pretty scenery and realize that you’ve got a really boring photo of a nice place. Have you learned anything by shooting the pretty place? You tell me.

The most difficult part of this easy solution is finding the times that all the right things happen for you. It does take perseverance. Great shots don’t happen everyday and you can only force things in post processing so far before the result looks phoney.

A few minutes after I took this, I pointed the car home and got ready for work. Oh yeah, that was before I retired. :)

Happy shooting,


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~ by Dan Jurak on April 5, 2012.

10 Responses to “How to make the ordinary landscape look extraordinary”

  1. An excellent post as ever…

  2. Stunning …

  3. Your posts are so inspiring. Wonderfully said, Dan!

  4. Perfect combo of photo and words!

  5. @ Dscally, thank you. More to come soon I hope as we get into spring/summer.

  6. Thanks for the image and the article behind it. It takes time to develop what I call “The Art of Seeing.” There are very view photographers that from the begin have the ability to produce eye-popping images. One has to take on the practice of shooting images weekly or more.

  7. I’ve nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award ( Feel free to participate or just simply enjoy the nomination.

  8. Dan, great work here! You have a great blog. I wanted to let you know that I have nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award.

  9. @ Joanne, thank you. :)

  10. great explanation and example of an ordinary landscape turned into an awesome one

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