Seeing what others fail to appreciate…

•July 30, 2014 • 2 Comments

Pasture Fantasy

I have written before that wherever I lived would be where I would be taking pictures. When I was just out of my teens and serious about photography I had considered applying to the Banff School of Fine Arts to take their photography course. Had I done that I probably wouldn’t be living in Edmonton and would definitely NOT be photographing the prairies.

Banff National Park like it’s northern sister Jasper National Park is one of the most beautiful and photogenic places on earth. Had I spent my two years in Banff I no doubt would have found a way to live there and make a career. I also would probably NOT be the photographer that I am today. You’ve heard the old saying that it takes steel to sharpen steel? I think that applies to photography and life in general.

A long time ago I used to shoot fashion. I worked with all kinds of talent. From those who got their first editorial photo assignment ever to those who came back home for a few weeks to say hi to family and fly off again to Europe or Asia.

I learned to photograph people by working with those also starting out in the business. There was a lot of trial and error. Lots more of teaching or coaxing models into poses to get over their nervousness or awkwardness. It was challenging and the results weren’t always the greatest but I tried to learn from my mistakes and move forward. Then one day my editor told me about the shoot for the day and the very well traveled model that was returning from overseas. She’s only be in town for a few days and we had a chance to work with her while she was still in town.

Her name was Sara or Sarah and when we arrived together at the old mansion with the stylist I was not sure what to expect. Camera in hand and model styled and dressed I quickly mentioned the idea I had for the mood of the shoot. Camera to eye and the magic happened.

Sara was chameleon like. Instantly her body, her face and her eyes fluidly moved from one pose to the next. I went through roll after roll of film amazed that fashion photography could be so easy. Getting back to the lab and going through the proofs my eyes did not deceive me. Everything looked fantastic. Wow! Was I ever a great photographer!

Nope. I was the same photographer that was working with great talent.

It’s like that when photographing the national parks here in Canada or the US. It’s easy to get addicted to the magnificent vistas but those vistas don’t need much in the way of help and we get fooled into thinking that we’re farther along in our photographic learning than we really are. We are only fooling ourselves when all that we capture are the stunning landscapes that we see regularly on photo websites.

Maybe I’m too lazy to make the four hour drive to take pictures every time I get the urge? I’ve become enamored with photographing close to home and then being home to edit my pictures before most of us are getting out of bed.

There is a special beauty where you live. It doesn’t matter where it is on earth but you do have the ability to capture those magic moments that few ever see or appreciate. Don’t make that mistake. There are too many good photos only minutes from you.

Happy shooting,


Steal photos online and you just might get caught

•July 29, 2014 • 1 Comment

Barley and grain bins

I’ve been out a few times since I last posted on here. That’s quite a change in pace from having not taken any photos for over half a year. I just might be getting back into the swing of things. The skies seem more interesting the weather more promising.

You probably know that weather is the icing on the cake when it comes to landscapes. Landscapes might be the wrong term for the kind of photos that I take, weatherscapes might be more accurate. When you live in a part of Alberta that isn’t the first place that comes to mind when thinking scenery, it is the weather and not the features of the landscape that are prominent.

A few days ago we had almost a month’s worth of rain in a couple of days. Now we’re experiencing hot and cloudless days. With clear skies at night and very little wind all of that humidity starts to appear in the atmosphere. That means fog. This morning it was more hazy than foggy and that isn’t a bad thing. The foggy/haze actually diffuses the light making things look more painterly than usual.

I got up at 4:30 a.m. again to make sure I was in a fair place for photos when the sun rose at 5:45 a.m.  Fifteen minutes before sunrise things weren’t looking good and I started driving in the direction of home a half an hour away. Just as I was about to get onto the highway the sun broke above the horizon and a barley to my left caught my eye. Near the side of the road next to the field were a couple of metal grain bins. In a few seconds I was hopping out of the Rav and framing my shot. The next fifteen or so minutes provided a few other photo opportunities before the sun got too high in the sky and I was soon at home drinking the rest of the coffee that I had brewed a few hours earlier. Another day on the Alberta prairie!

Theft of photos, music, movies and anything digital is common on the internet. Some people download intellectual property for personal use. Others steal for financial gain.

Over the years I’ve had people write to me online to tell me where they saw some of my photos. Some of them were used with permission and some others not. It isn’t only private individuals that recognize stolen or possibly stolen photos on the net. There are companies like Picscout that scan the internet and match photos against a database of rights managed images. When the computer gets a possible match the image is flagged for a human being to follow up and sometimes the perpetrator of the theft gets a nice legal notice not only demanding that the photo get taken down but a hefty bill and the threat of legal action if the bill for illegal infringement isn’t paid.

This morning when checking my royalty statements I noticed a nice bonus, not from a sale but from, you guessed it, a thief that stole one of my photos. I no longer get upset when I find a stolen photo because I know that there is probably another nice royalty payment on the way. The amount that the offender has to pay to the agency is always much much more than if they had gotten the image legally. So I guess you could say crime does pay, for the victim sometimes. :)

Happy shooting,


What a difference five minutes makes

•July 24, 2014 • 3 Comments

Alberta, fog, prairie, landscape, dan jurak,

The best photos are usually the ones that exist only for moments. Miss the opportunity when conditions are rapidly changing and what seemed incredible can very quickly seem mundane.

Photographing at sunrise or sunset is an example of how quickly things can change. During mid day a field or a tree will often look the same for hours on end. Not so during the tail ends of the day.

The photo at the top of this post is an example of how much things can change in five minutes. Taken just after sunrise the sun is still hidden behind a wall of low lying fog. The mood of the photo is sombre, quiet and peaceful.

Re-visit my previous post and you can see the difference light can make to the same scene. You can actually see the same area that I photographed inside the top photo. Light can make all the difference to a photo.

Happy shooting,


(remember to breathe)

•July 22, 2014 • 33 Comments


242 days! Wow. Has it really been that long since I last posted on here?

According to my favorite Alberta weather blog, Alberta Foothills Weather, it has.

The past winter was one of the worst I remember for light, snow and photographic weather. I went out a few times and always came back empty handed. Photography had lost it’s shine but I’m back. Not sure how often I’ll be posting to here but I promise that the next one won’t be in 242 days. :)

Even though I wasn’t taking pictures I still browsed my favorite photo haunts on the web almost daily. The level of photography has been steadily rising. The difference between amateur and professional is negligible and in some, make that most cases I find the amateurs more creative and technically proficient.

Some things never change though. I still get emails from a company here in western Canada and always included are the “workshops”. A new selling point is workshops given by “masters”. I don’t know who appointed these sales people masters because as far as I know there isn’t such a thing. LOL Maybe you’ll be more tempted to buy into these things if they are being taught by a “master”? Anyway my advice always is to avoid these things like the plague unless you don’t mind throwing your money away.

Geez that felt good. I haven’t had a semi rant for ages.

Back to the pleasant things in life like this mornings excursion out of town. Weather is the single most important element, no pun intended in my landscapes. With the right light and weather an old place on earth can look photogenic and that is the case here. Alberta is crisscrossed with thousands of kilometers of rural back country roads. During the majority of the day they look uninspiring.

Today was a great morning. Up at 4:00 a.m. Brew a pot of coffee for the thermos. Out the door by 4:30 a.m. and home editing photos in camera by 7:00 a.m.

BTW, the title of my first post this year is in reference to Travel Alberta’s great ad campaign. Their television spots are great.  love them. Their print spots are, well, less than inspiring. It seems that they can’t avoid cherry picking the more photographic places in Alberta to the exclusion of the lesser known but equally beautiful places. Too bad whoever is in charge of the campaign isn’t a bit more imaginative.

BTW, thank you so much to all of you who wrote to the the past several months asking if I was healthy and okay. I appreciate your thoughts and concerns.

In the mean time, happy shooting!


Canon & Nikon, want my money? Listen to me

•November 22, 2013 • 24 Comments

frost, hoar frost, snow, winter, Alberta, landscape,

Change is a constant in our lives. I’ll be turning 60 next year and in my life I remember two television channels, a milkman delivering to our house with a horse and carriage, rotary phones, flash bulbs for cameras, abacus, slide rulers, etc., etc.

In business and in life you adapt or you become irrelevant. Camera manufacturers like Canon and Nikon, two of the largest in the world are teetering on the brink. It was only ten or twelve years ago that everybody had a camera and or a video camera. Those were two items that almost every family had.

Camera manufacturers are where newspapers were thirteen years ago. The internet was still in it’s infancy. Classified ads were the bread and butter of the papers and they lost one of their largest revenue producers to something that didn’t exist twenty years ago. Websites like Kijiji here in Canada are where people go today to buy or sell items. Why place an expensive ad in a newspaper that almost nobody reads when you can go online for free? Over the last two years I have been selling off all my Canon gear. Not once did I think to put it in the newspaper.

Where does that leave companies like Canon and Nikon? Smartphones are doing to still and video cameras what the internet did to newspapers. In what seems to me to be the ultimate in either stupidity or not listening to their customers Canon for example seems more interested in producing high end video cameras. All of the major manufacturers are losing sight of what their customers want and are losing customers.

When I bought my latest camera body it came with all kinds of stuff that I will never in my lifetime use. That raised the price of the body significantly I would guess. I don’t want the ability to shoot video but I am forced to pay for that feature if I want the body and sensor that comes with it.

The first thing I did when unboxing my new camera body was to crack open the four hundred page manual to figure out how to use only the features that I wanted. All the others will go unused yet I paid for them.

That’s only camera bodies. Lenses are a whole other story.

Samyang is killing Nikon and Canon with their lenses. My $400 lens is better wide open than what Nikon and Canon offer for five times the cost. Sure the build quality is better but I haven’t had any problems with the two Samyangs that I have. They also don’t have auto focus and for me that isn’t a problem. Why don’t Canon or Nikon cater to the growing number of shooters who could care less about auto focus and want to shoot wide open. Zeiss recently released a $4000 lens that is supposedly the best lens of its kind but the difference between that and a lens for a quarter of the cost is not noticeable to most.

Camera manufacturers start listening to your customers. If you don’t you will go the way of newspapers and horse drawn carriages. I want a SIMPLE camera with a great image quality. I want a SIMPLE lens with great image quality. Did you notice what the constant was in those two sentences? Image quality. That’s what it’s all about.

Happy shooting,


The single most important thing to landscape photography

•November 16, 2013 • 9 Comments

willows, trees, winter, hoar frost, frost, snow, Alberta, prairie, landscape,

How to take consistently good and unique landscape photographs? What do you need or what do you need to know?

It isn’t cameras or lenses or spectacular locations. It’s nothing that you can buy. I certainly can’t sell you any.

I think that the most important thing that you can have/understand/possess is understanding the weather.

Some people obviously think that it’s location because I see many people driving long distances to photograph spectacular places but often in less than stellar light and weather. The result is a landscape of a very pretty place but it’s not  unlike the millions of photos taken from Lake Louise by tourists piling out of their buses for half an hour only to be stopping an hour later at an equally pretty place under the same unremarkable light/weather conditions.

When I mention weather I am at the same time talking about the quality of light. Weather affects light. The kind of weather that you will be looking for changes the light that illuminates your subject.

I learned a long time ago that I could get better landscapes close to home. I wrote recently about a well known landscape shooter who told about camping at the same spot for a week or at least until the conditions were right for a great and unusual image. Not everyone is as dedicated or obsessed about their photos. I think that like in all things a happy balance can be found. For me, shooting near home allows me access to the best weather. It’s only minutes away. The same applies to where you live.

I used to depend on local weather forecasts to help me to decide if or when to go out and then I stumbled upon the Clear Sky Charts that are used by astronomers to determine what the atmosphere will be like for astronomy. The charts are only ever 48 hours in advance and they are updated a few times a day.

In it you can view the things that are important to landscape shooters or astro photographers. Humidity. Wind. Percentage of cloud cover and especially for night photography how dark it will be depending upon sunrise/sunset and moonrise/moonset.

I check this website daily. Cleardarksky

Give it a look if you live in North America and see if it doesn’t improve your landscapes.

Happy shooting,


Master printer… master photographer… mastur… wha?

•November 15, 2013 • 4 Comments

night sky, aurora, Alberta, stars, Dan Jurak, landscape, I want to know how to get on the committee that proclaims photographers master printers or master photographers or well, no need to go any further.

I know that the PPOC, Professional Photographers of Canada have some kind process where if you paint within the lines you are deemed a master something or other. In a way it’s not a bad thing. Customers at least have some sort of assurance, I think, that they aren’t paying a total ninkompoop to take their photos for them.

For almost every profession, doctor, lawyer, teacher, music teacher, they need to pass some kind of accredited course to be recognized.

I am lucky that I can call myself a MASTER LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHER in Alberta. Sounds impressive doesn’t it? The only drawback is that anyone else here in Alberta can call themselves the same thing even if they don’t have a camera.

I’m not impressed with titles and neither should you. If you see a photographer with a title here in Canada unless it’s from the PPOC, take it with a giant grain of salt. Enough of that.

I am learning something new everyday. I hope to never stop learning.

Sometimes it’s learning something that knew before but had forgotten like what I am about to describe.

Today is about having an open mind when you are seeing your surroundings. Always have a look over your shoulder to see if maybe that looks better than what you originally thought.

There is an old saying about the best picture being the one behind you and sometimes it is. I have a rough idea of what I want to photograph when shooting landscapes. I am always looking for shapes and colors that interest me. Having said that I might be looking into the sun or in the case of the photo above I was focused on the aurora to the north and east of me. So, when I stopped on this tree lined country road I was looking north. I took a few pictures and then when I head back to the vehicle I was pointed south. Hmmm? That looks interesting I thought.

The bright city lights of Edmonton were illuminating the horizon. The aurora were so strong that they were even in the southern sky. You can see them faintly in the photo.

I ended up liking this view better than the one that I stopped for. Remember, always turn around at least once. Especially when it’s dark out and you’re all alone in the middle of nowhere. Muhahahahaahha. LOL

Happy shooting,

Dan aka Master Landscape Photographer emeritus, BSc, PhD, MBa, etc, etc. etc.

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