How to learn photography… or how I learn to take pictures

ukrainian church, aurora, aurora borealis, northern lights, Alberta, winter, snow, Dan Jurak,

I learn by doing. I always have. Explain something to me verbally or let me read it and I get some of it. Let me DO it and voila. Learned. Stamped onto my brain. Forever in memory.

The learning curve starts out steep and after a period levels out. It becomes more about refining what you already know.

A fine example of that has been the aurora photography that I’ve been recently doing. Many of the same things that apply to daytime landscape photography also apply to shooting the aurora.

Something that’s often overlooked when shooting the northern lights is composition. Yeah, you’re photographing the sky but that usually makes for a boring, uninteresting pic.

Choosing your foreground can make or break your photo. Stand on the edge a snow covered field, point the camera upwards and shoot away and blah. Find a foreground that compliments your sky and voila. The same aurora look better. Your photo has improved one hundred percent. Google aurora borealis images and see for yourself which photos stand out from the rest.

Here’s a valuable little lesson that I learned this past weekend. The moon is a powerful light source. So powerful in fact that if you try to photograph the milky way while there is a moon high above the horizon and moonlight will overpower the dimmer stars. Same exposure sans moon and the milky way practically jumps out at you.

Not only does the moon affect the stars in the sky it also affects the landscape around you.

When I headed out on Sunday night to take these photos the moon was still high in the sky. 72% of it was visible according to the moon calendar I consulted. I photographed the church at the top of this post without any extra lighting. The church is totally lit by a combination of star and moonlight. It was about an hour from setting below the horizon and still added a considerable amount of light. By the way, the church is actually painted a pale yellow color. It isn’t white.

The photo of the barn below this paragraph was taken an hour after the moon had dropped below the horizon. In both instances the camera is pointed eastward. Notice how dark the barn is? Compare that with the photo of the church and you can see how moonlight affects the night landscape below the horizon.

barn, winter, aurora borealis, aurora, northern lights, Alberta, landscape, Dan Jurak,

This wasn’t so obvious to me while taking the pictures but when editing RAWs it was immediately apparent.

A small building block for me. Note to self, if the moon is in the sky, your foregrounds will be brighter. Take advantage of it.

Happy shooting,


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~ by Dan Jurak on November 14, 2013.

13 Responses to “How to learn photography… or how I learn to take pictures”

  1. Thank you.. Educative one.. Reblogging :)

  2. Reblogged this on PROPEL STEPS and commented:
    Learn Photography

  3. And thanks for sharing your learning….I love that first shot of the yellow moonlit church.

  4. Dan it is a true pleasure to read your blog. I always look forward to both your comments and your photos. Keep up the awesome work. Rod Heeney from Winfield Alberta

    Date: Thu, 14 Nov 2013 18:06:20 +0000 To:

  5. Thank you Rodney. You live in a beautiful part of the province. I did one of my first fashion shoots, it was lingerie, in an old hotel in Winfield. Fond memories. LOL


  6. That is very Informative and as an Amateur i found it very helpful..

  7. Thank you Harsha. As an amateur the best times are ahead for you. Learning is as much fun as doing.

    Thank you for visiting and commenting,


  8. Indeed Dan–Learning is so much fun and right now I am enjoying Photography.. :D
    If you can visit my Blog and see how my work is,and I am using Point an Shoot camera for now.. :D

  9. I’ve never seen the aurora borealis in person. I feel like a kid reading your blog as you learn! I can’t wait to come up there and see them sometime. Thanks as always!!

  10. Eric, even this far north I know many people who surprisingly have never seen the aurora either.

    Learning can be a lot of fun.

    Maybe one day you’ll be lucky enough to see and capture them.


  11. Stunning images Dan

  12. Thank you very much.

  13. Fantastic beautiful photos!

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