Creating your own reality

•November 22, 2014 • 1 Comment

Dan Jurak, black and white, fine art, fineart, long exposure, prairie, winter

One of the things that I find wildly different shooting black and white instead of color is the freedom I find in manipulating or post-processing. With color I have always strived for a look that closely resembled the original scene. I would enhance colors changing them slightly to alter the intensity or mood. Parts of the scene might be darkened or lightened subtly to draw the eye into one area or away from another. That was as far as I would go in changing things.

Black and white right is a different beast. I could shoot and process the same way in black and white  but instead it is so tempting to completely alter what I saw and create something from my imagination.

Today’s photo is an example of that.

I was driving the back roads of Alberta in an area that was unfamiliar to me looking for any unusual old buildings, stands of trees or fields that looked suitable for photography. It was at an intersection that I came upon this old and abandoned house. Next to it was a very photogenic wooden barn. The sky was drab and uninteresting. It was a sky that would photograph as a wash of gray or white. Sometimes that might work but with this subject matter the foreground was too busy for that. I photographed it anyway and stored it on my hard drive until I felt it time to re-visit and see what could be made of it.


The sky. That was the problem. Another problem was that the horizon was busy and jagged. Had it been a smooth horizon it would have taken me all of a few minutes to cut it out and paste a different sky over the house. As it was I spent two weeks working on a bit of the horizon, putting it away and coming back to it the next day.

Finally the horizon was cut out. For the sky I chose a photo that had a sky in it that involved a seven minute long exposure. The sky was a mix of blue and a smattering of clouds. My limited experience has shown me that too many clouds and the sky becomes too white when blurred. Too few clouds and there is too much dark and not enough white space.

I then pasted the new sky on top of my black and white converted image.

More white was needed in a few areas so the black and white image was processed in Silver Efex to make the whites pop out and be contrasty. That image was placed UNDER my black and white. Using an image mask in layers in Photoshop with a black brush areas were selectively removed in the mask revealing the brighter whites underneath.

Areas of the roof on the house were also treated the same to add interest and modeling to it.

The layers were flattened and a few areas of the house again were then treated to the burn tool to darken corners and such.

The result is something that only barely resembles the scene that I came upon.

There you go. My reality.

Happy shooting,


Visualizing black and white winter images

•November 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

landscape, Dan jurak, travel Alberta, long exposure, minimalist, fine art, fineart, black and white, winter, snow, banff, rockies, moutains,


“If you go as far as you can see, you will then see enough to go even farther.” -   John Wooden 


I am having a blast trying to visualize my world in black and white. When the conditions for a great color image present themselves as they did in my previous blog post at Bow Lake in Banff national park, I can’t ignore them because color images still move me. Seeing in color comes naturally to me or maybe it’s because I have been shooting color for so long, over forty years that I have learned what works for me and what doesn’t. This increases the chances of taking a photo that I will keep and process.

Black and white is different from color but it is also in many ways the same. The same rules of composition apply. Colors in an image carry weight in the same way that tones do in black and white. A large wash of blue can balance an image the same as a large area of black or dark gray.

When I “see” in color during the winter the snow is an integral part of the image. Shooting during the early or late parts of the day give me broad washes of color on the snow. The snow isn’t actually colored but is reflecting that color from what is overhead in the sky.

When I “see” in black and white I am looking not at colors but at shapes. Unless you are doing high key photos where white or very light shades of gray predominate I try to minimize the amount of white that is in the final image.

Landscapes force the photographer to work with what is in front of them. You are to a great degree at the mercy of the elements. The weather has the final say on how I take pictures. Give me a foggy and overcast day and my images will probably be very bright or high key. Give me a sunny day and I will be looking at dark or low key photos.

One of the major differences for me between black and white and color is that with black and whites there is greater freedom in manipulating the image. For example, the foreground in the above image was too bright for me. Way too bright. Maybe because we have been conditioned from an early age to accept visible burning and dodging in black and whites that I could darken the snow field and not make the image seem contrived. How bright was the snow? If you look at the strip of white separating the dark trees from the foreground, that is how bright it was. Again most of my “visualization” with black and whites occurs in the post processing. I experiment going lighter then darker and taking direction from how the image feels. It is seldom that I have a concrete idea in mind as to how the final image will look when I release the shutter. So the visualization really happens twice, shooting and then post-processing.

When visualizing a scene before I shoot I don’t make a conscious effort to think about the rules or decide that this area can go light or this dark. Instead, I see the scene and simply go by the feel of the image. Is it balanced? Does it lead the eye around the frame? This happens very fast. In the blink of an eye I will know if I want to shoot or not. I never over think this process. When I get home and later edit images in camera they often look different again and photos that I thought would be keepers are deleted, some iffy images are kept and end up being favorited.

You can never over shoot a scene during the winter. It is better to have an abundance of photos to work with and later delete than to be super critical in the field and come home with one or two shots.

Fresh snow is forecast for the weekend. Maybe it will be time for a few high key images?

Happy shooting,


Shooting fish in a barrel or the easy way to take nice photos

•November 19, 2014 • 2 Comments

Dan jurak, Banff, Bow Lake, winter, travel alberta, landscape, ice, cold, sunrise, reflection,

I returned last night after having spent two days in the mountains.

My plan was to try my hand at seeing the mountains in black and white during the white season, winter. More on that in a later post.

My first day was uneventful. The light was terrible and the snow looked old. I snapped off a few frames out of curiosity. You never know for sure until you see the image on your monitor and once I did I promptly deleted them.

The thing about photographing landscapes is that to a great degree you are at the mercy of the elements. You can improve upon the scene in shooting and manipulation but if the bare bones of a good image isn’t there it isn’t there.

Monday night I didn’t sleep well. At 3:00 a.m. a car alarm went off in the parking lot of the lodge I was staying at. I beeped and beeped and beeped and beeped. It beeped for so long that I was seriously contemplating getting up, checking out of the lodge and trying my hand at shooting the winter milky way. Before I got up the alarm suddenly turned off. By then I was almost awake and pretty much lay in bed until 6:00 a.m. rolled around and I got out at the time I originally had planned.

The stars were twinkling as I made my way out of town and drove the icy road toward the lake I had visited the evening before. By the time I pulled into the parking lot next to the lake the eastern horizon was lightening and the once bright stars were quickly fading. I made a thermos full of “instant” cappuccino in my room an hour earlier and poured myself a cup as I watched the sky gradually brighten.

I am not sure how long I sat watching the scenery slowly change before I grabbed my camera gear and made my way to the lake shore. My truck thermometer read -12 Celsius and there was no wind so it wasn’t terribly cold. Not if you are properly dressed and having lived in Alberta all my life, I know how to dress properly for our winters.

Long story short, the sun rose and a thousand pictures were to be had. My only concern was that there weren’t enough clouds. I would have liked them over the mountain and that the ice was too thin to get near the edge of the water safely which made more a messy foreground. Anyway, I shot a gazillion photos. So many that even I found it difficult to pick one over the others.

Ladies and gentlemen this is why you see landscape photographers  ONLY photograph places like this, because it is so easy. Very little to no talent is required. I could take a group of beginners to this spot and make them all look like artists and make a lot of money to boot. LOL

This is fun. This is easy. This is NOT what I envision when I see myself outdoors. I will always take photos like this. It’s kind of like when you eat healthy you once in a while sneak a box of potato chips and a few chocolate bars. I like it but not a steady diet of it.

If you are interested I will be offering photo tours in the new year. You can sign up on the form to the left of this post.

Happy shooting,


Diggin’ the blues

•November 12, 2014 • 6 Comments

Dan Jurak, landscape, black and white, fineart, fine art, minimalist, scenic, foggy, summer, Alberta, prairie, Photoshop

Lately I can’t help myself from looking through images shot expressly to be displayed in color and visualizing them as black and white. The feeling, the atmosphere, the tone of the photograph changes completely. I converted this to black and white and massaged it only to have it feeling a little flat. With just a touch of blue the image seemed to come to life for me.

With a heavy frost forecast for where I live tomorrow (Thursday) morning, I am anxious to get out with my camera to experiment again. I’ve also been closely watching the weather in the mountains in the hopes of getting away before winter finally locks everything frozen for the next six months.

This photo is more of a quick sketch in Photoshop instead of an earnest effort to create something lasting. I know that I’ll come back to it in a few days and re-work it completely. No biggy. I am doing this purely to amuse myself and see what results. After a year of being bored by photography I am feeling more excited about the possibilities ahead.

Happy shooting,


Photograph what you know

•November 11, 2014 • 9 Comments

landscape, fineart, fine art, black and white, black & white, landscape, Alberta, Dan Jurak, gravel road, moody, foggy, dark, minimalist

They say that familiarity breeds contempt. Maybe it does but familiarity also offers insight.

Maybe I am too lazy to make the trip to the mountains every weekend like I did when I was in my early twenties? Maybe I am making the most of my time when I photograph what is close to me? I’ve been watching the forecast for the past few days deciding on the right time to take a trip to the mountains. I’ve got a few ideas that I am interested in trying out now that I am in this phase of trying to see things differently.

Whatever the answer I am sometimes pleasantly surprised by how the plain and ordinary can look different with some inspiration, perspiration and motivation.

In the province that I live, Alberta there are thousands upon thousands of nondescript gravel roads. These are roads that hardly anyone ever looks twice at. They are taken for granted and on occasion look like an eyesore.

Here is my take on one of those places that with a little work can look different and isn’t that really what all of us are trying to do? We all want to separate ourselves from the crowd to varying degrees. It’s a statement about who we are.

Happy shooting,



Black & White: Film or digital?

•November 9, 2014 • 15 Comments

long exposure, black and white, fineart, fine art, landscape, Alberta, Dan Jurak, clouds, farm, prairie, silo,

What to choose when shooting black and white? Digital or film?

Let me preface this by saying that not only did I spend two years in photo school stuck in the darkroom back in the seventies but when I graduated I spent thousands of hours, yes that is THOUSANDs of hours working in a color and black and white darkroom while trying to establish myself as a photographer.

I am NOT tied to any sense of nostalgia because after hand processing thousands of black and white prints it was the final image that was important not the craft of black and white developing and printing.

In my short foray into the world of black and white after a thirty year absence I can say without hesitation that if I never ever saw another enlarger and wet darkroom I wouldn’t miss them one little bit.

It’s simple for me. The results are far superior today to what I would achieve in the darkroom. No contest hands down to my way of seeing the black and white wet darkroom is relegated to the same place that a ’57 Chevy is today. It’s fun to drive but if I want to do any serious driving I am going to drive a vehicle today that is better at everything than the old ’57 was.

From reading the opinions of those who are enamored with the old fashioned way of thinking it seems to me that they probably grew up shooting digital and for them the wet darkroom is a novelty. Those that I have read praising digital over the old way seem to be like me, people who grew up with film and for them and me there is no sense of the good old days.

In the good old days we were always looking for better films and better papers to get the tones that we were after. With a good knowledge of Photoshop and a decent printer I can easily come up with better prints than when I was shooting with my wooden sheet film cameras. Those old or rather new versions of old cameras were good at what they did but they in no way offer me the creative freedom that a good DSLR does today.

If you like to drive old cars, wash your clothes on a scrub board and cook your meals over an open fire and read by candle light then film cameras are probably for you. LOL Me? I’d rather throw something into the microwave and then watch a movie on a big screen HDTV. To each their own, I guess. ;)

Happy shooting,


Having new eyes…

•November 5, 2014 • 4 Comments

Dan Jurak, landscape, fine art, fineart, long exposure, minimalist, black and white, Alberta, crops, field, clouds, moody, dark,

 “The real voyage of discovery consists of not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

-   Marcel Proust, French novelist, critic, and essayist (10 July 1871 – 18 November 1922)


I usually don’t travel very far to shoot landscapes. For the past several years aside from the occasional trip to Jasper my photographic forays have usually been no farther than a twenty minute drive from my driveway.

The countryside that I photograph has become like my back yard. When the light is changing fast or the clouds are moving to a different location I know what lies over the next hill or around the next corner.

The changing of the seasons and even more quickly the changing of light and weather during the early part of the day can greatly influence how differently the same place can look from minute to minute, day to day and month to month.

My color photography had become too predictable over the past two years. My interest in it had waned to the point of not having any interest in getting out with camera in hand but that has changed.

Now when I lie in bed at night before sleep comes I will go over familiar places and imagine how differently the possibilities might be in black and white. Thinking in black and white has made the old suddenly become new.

Buildings and fields that I would never have given a second thought to now have potential. Seeing in black and white is for me very different from seeing in color. Doing both a certain amount of pre-visualization is necessary. Seeing in color I can within limits see how far I can take the landscape. Seeing in black and white the possibilities are greatly expanded.

One of the biggest differences that I have noticed is the color quality of light. Where it was ultra important to me in color it is a distraction in black and white. Instead of paying close attention to color it is only the direction and strength of it that matters. So much more can be done in post processing for black and whites.

The photo at the top of this post is something that I would never have attempted in color because I know that it would have lacked the impact that the black and white has. That is not to say that I have given up on color because that won’t happen. There is no way that I would pass up on a great color scene if I came across one but with the need to be up before sunrise not necessary to shoot black and whites that probably won’t happen often.

It’s all about having new eyes.  Marcel Proust said it almost one hundred years ago and today it’s as relevant as ever.

Happy shooting,


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