Symbolism in Photos

•November 11, 2013 • 11 Comments

aurora, aurora borealis, northern lights, winter, night, night sky, Dan Jurak,

Wow! What a night it was last night.

The aurora borealis put on a dazzling light show for all to see, that is if you were up late enough.

I was keeping an eye on the aurora watch website all day yesterday waiting for a spike in auroral activity. At 10:30 pm the graph jumped and so did I, into the Rav, camera gear and a thermos filled with hot cappuccino. I didn’t get to bed until 4:00 am. Boy did time fly.

Even though I got to bed late my internal alarm clock still woke me up a couple of hours later at 6:00 am. Sheesh! I forced myself to try and sleep until 8:30. Nights like this are few and far between. The aurora have to be strong and the skies clear for it to come together.

At times I stood at the roadside in awe. The northern lights were skipping across the sky like a stone across a pond. The speed at which they crossed the sky was incredible. Occasionally a hint of red or magenta would show up.

There are so many more photos to process. Many, many more.

Today in Canada is Remembrance Day. It’s a day when Canada as a nation remembers its fallen heroes, those who sacrificed themselves for their country.

For me November 11 has had special significance. 51 years ago today my father died. I was only seven years old and in grade two. How well can you know your father when you are only seven? I have some memories but not many. One of his hobbies was photography. I remember dad on a Saturday night in the bathroom converted to a temporary black and white darkroom and the smell of fixer, developer and stop bath. Prints were hung to try across the bath tub. Memories. A few.

I guess that it’s not much of a coincidence that I fell into photography for a major part of my life.

Last night felt special, like my father was with me while I was shooting aurora and when I saw this picture, it reminded me of him looking down on me. Hi Dad.

BTW, he was also named Dan Jurak

I’m not much on symbolism in photos but for this one, yeah.

Happy shooting,


No Sun? No Problem

•November 9, 2013 • 6 Comments

The days are so much shorter now than a few weeks ago. Less sunlight doesn’t mean less photography.

One of the benefits of short days at higher latitudes is that the sun hovers close to the horizon for a longer time. For me that translates to more good light.

winter, snow, Alberta, Dan Jurak,

I remember a few wonderful mornings a couple of years ago where I kept taking photos until almost noon. The combination of ice fog and a low sun made for perfect conditions. Thank goodness for large memory cards. :)

There is a time of day before the sun rises that is equally sweet. It’s light enough to reveal parts of the landscape and at the same time hide parts. Compare that to the middle of the day when the sun reveals everything. What shadows there are hold little to no detail and are tight to the subject.

The photo above was taken half an hour before sunrise. What can present a problem at that time of the day is the color of the light. It is very cyanish, ie, blue/green with a shift more towards blue. There was a little bit of warms from the sun that was just barely visible in the RAW image. So why is the sky such a brilliant magenta? It didn’t look that when when I snapped the shot. The color is a result of something that I have written many times before about, color matching.

Color matching is one of my favorite tools for changing colors in the landscape closer to what I visualize and not what the eye or camera sees.

For me the final image is not so much about what the scene actually looked like. It’s about how I envision the landscape before me.

Happy shooting,


The Beautiful Season is Upon Us

•November 5, 2013 • 12 Comments

winter, landscape, frost, Alberta, snow, fog, Dan Jurak, Travel Alberta,

It was -18 Celsius this morning and I was loving it!

This morning felt like the first real day of photography in I don’t know how long. It’s so good to get back to doing what I know and love best, shooting landscapes in frosty wintery fantasy land.

I almost didn’t make it out today. Checking the provincial highway webcams only one looked like it had promise and I wasn’t feeling like going for a long drive. The weather forecast had all the ingredients for a perfect morning. High humidity. Cold temperatures. No wind and lastly clear blue skies. The perfect recipe for winter photography.

Every day now there is less sunlight. The days are getting progressively shorter. Before we switched back to Mountain Standard Time sunrise in this part of the world was 8:45 am. Even moving the clock by an hour means that it’s not necessary to get up at some unholy hour to see the sun rise.

I was home and pulling up the driveway before 9:00 am. Just in time to drive my oldest daughter to the LRT for university.

Landscapes are so accessible to almost anyone. Everywhere. Don’t become a slave to your photography. It should bring you joy and peace of mind.

I read about a photographer who would stay for days at a single location until everything was perfect. On mornings like this one there were a million photos to be had and each one of them was different one from the other.

The days continue to shorten. The sun stays lower to the horizon as we approach December 21. That’s great for those of us who live at higher latitudes. It means beautiful, two hour long sunrise and sunsets and with the season of the northern lights here who could complain about winter? Not I!

Happy shooting,


On a cold winters night near Cadomin…

•November 1, 2013 • 14 Comments

Luscar Mine, Teck, Teck Resources, winter, stars, elk, Alberta, Cadomin, Luscar

Taking landscape photos for me is more than selling photos for stock. It’s more than becoming the most flavor of the moment on 500px or Flickr. It’s never been a popularity contest. God knows how many times I have purposely gone against the grain striving to be the antithesis of popularity.

Sometimes I glimpse in the mirror and am surprised by the old man I see looking back at me. When I took a trip by myself to Cadomin last week the source of many childhood memories my life was just beginning, a young boy full of dreams and hope and all of those other things that the young are blessed with.

I returned fifty some years later with a greying beard and thinning hair. I need glasses to see the controls on my camera. My body is so very different from when I used to visit here but inside. That has changed.

What hasn’t changed is the sense of wonder and awe and imagination. Everything was fresh and new and exciting back than and still is today.  Whether I am driving twenty kilometers from home to greet the morning sun or four hundred to see the mountains that little boy still gets excited by witnessing nature unfold before him.

There was a show on television a few weeks ago about how human beings are in one way different from all other animals on this planet. The ability to create and appreciate art, music sets us apart from our neighbors on earth or does it?

I was near the Luscar mine site on this winter night trying a few different things. The Luscar mine is interesting because it is nestled against Jasper National Park. Strip mines are not the prettiest things in the world especially when contrasted with a beautiful national park. The mine is owned by Teck Resources a large multinational resource company. There have been mines in this area since before I was born.

One of the first places I visited back in the fifties was a place called Mountain Park. The only thing that remains today is a cemetery. Reading the grave markers tells you something about the area from the early nineteen hundreds. There were immigrants that had moved from Europe to live, work and raise families. People that were born across the sea in the 1850′s died and were buried in Mountain Park. People got married and had children. Many of them lived and moved on. The number of grave markers of newborns is staggering compared to today.

Mountain Park disappeared many years ago. It’s just a memory now. Where the town once was is now a strip mine that in a few years will be reclaimed by nature.

Damn, I get carried away so easily, back to taking photos near Luscar and how mankind is different from the rest of our animal neighbors.

The photo at the top of this post is part of a panorama. What you see is a crop of the panorama.

The mountains are bordering Jasper National Park and are lit by the mine. The sky was amazing that night. The air crisp and cool.

I looked up at the sky to see the vastness of the universe the starts twinkling in the cool winter air and I wasn’t alone.

If you look closely on the edge of the dark slope which is reclaimed land from a previous mine you can see a few silhouetted against the horizon.

Where they like me taken in by the beauty of the universe? Maybe we are the only beings on earth that are creative but there are times like a few nights ago I have to wonder. Could those elk truly appreciate how beautiful it was?

Happy dreaming,


It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas :)

•October 30, 2013 • 4 Comments

Alberta, snow, highway, foothills, winter, landscape, Dan jurak,

Winter! My favorite time of year. Autumn and winter are easily my two favorite seasons for photography.

When you live in a part of the world where snow can be on the ground for almost five months it doesn’t hurt to love the white stuff.

I don’t seem to have favorite photos. I take them. Process them. Forget them. And then it’s always on to the next image. There may come a time when I am unable to drive or get around that I’ll start thinking about the photos that I’ve taken but I’m not there yet. :)

I just returned from the place of some of my fondest childhood memories in the foothills of western Alberta. I can’t remember the first time that I slept in a tent in the mountains I was that young. It doesn’t seem like there was a first time only that there were many times growing up. My father was an ardent flyfisherman and hunter. In the summer time the family would go out together to where tiny, remote streams teemed with brookies and rainbows. In fact when we barbecued salmon last week and one of the kids moaned about her favorite part being taken, the thin and crispy edges, I told her about eating rainbow trout just caught in a small stream and pan fried in butter, salt and pepper in a cast iron skillet over an open fire.

Today the area where we camped looks much different than it used to. That’s to be expected as there is resource development in the area. Where there were only horse and game trails, quad and motorcycle tracks cut through the rich peat in the forest.

What is better today than fifty years ago are the roads.

On my last day before leaving for home I was treated to a most wonderful sight. The foothills recently had a huge dump of snow. Early snowfalls are always the best for photos. If you see enough snow for months and years on end you begin to see how every snowfall is different. If one is lucky enough to have a windless day the snow stays piled on the spruce and pine tree branches.

That was the case as I was making my way home. It looked so pretty from the road that I got out and squeezed off a few frames.

Christmas is how many more days away? I think that I already have my Christmas present for this year.

Happy memories and happy shooting,


Product endorsing photographers and assorted things

•October 25, 2013 • 2 Comments

It’s been a busy few weeks but there is no photo to go with this post. I make a habit of turning down photography offers. Being retired I take photos because I enjoy doing so. Any money made is icing on the cake.

When a well known company with an international profile contacts you with an assignment that involves complete artistic freedom and photographing something that you love how can you turn that down? Stay true to your vision and good things will come your way. ‘Nuff said.

I hadn’t planned on posting a blog until I came across a post on a Mac website. The post was actually sidebar headline linking to the story on another website. Here’s a link to the story, click here.

The gist of the story was that Taiwan’s Fair Trade Commission has fined Samsung $340,000 after finding it guilty of paying bloggers and staff to post fake product reviews on forums, praising Samsung products and criticizing competitor ones. Why did that ring a bell with me?

Over the last few weeks I’ve been looking for a tripod to replace the heavy Manfrotto that I have been using for a few years. When I bought it I wasn’t serious about shooting landscapes. I just wanted a tripod to haul around in the car to practice my HDRs with. HDRs are what got me interested in pursuing landscapes after a long hiatus.

The Manfrotto was good. It was on the heavy side and after years of being banged up and taken outside during all kinds of weather it was showing its age. Of course one of the top landscape tripods these days are the Gitzo carbon fiber models. At around $700 without a tripod head that seemed like too much money so I decided to search the internet to see what was out there and what people had to say about them.

A week before I bought my new tripod I came across a photography blog that had a review of a tripod that I was interested in. Expecting to see the author say that they had “bought” this model and were or were not happy with it instead the author stated that the tripod manufacturer sent the tripod for review. Hmmm? That didn’t raise suspicions so much as the fact that the author got to “keep” the tripod. The writer never said that the tripod was paid for or a gift. My guess is that the tripod was a freebie. The comments on the tripod were glowing. It was the best tripod ever! Maybe it is? I don’t know. But this I do know.

Does anyone really believe that we would get an honest assessment of the product if the reviewer keeps it. It is worth a few hundred dollars. I don’t.

I personally knew someone that for years did product reviews for a national publication. They received tens of thousands of dollars of things to review over the years. Much, no lots of it was never returned and the supplier would seldom ask for it back. There seems to be an unwritten understanding between many bloggers/writers about things like that. I’m not saying that all reviewers are like that but you have to question reviews that come off to much like an advertisement instead of a review.

Other Things

The world is changing. I used to work for a newspaper. They’re dying. The internet is killing them. They struggle to remain profitable and relevant in an age when news can is ever more accessible and free.

Camera manufacturers are also feeling the pinch. How many people take photos with their smart phones instead of dedicated cameras these days? A huge majority. Hardly anyone hauls a camera around unless they’re serious about their photography. As a result major camera manufacturers are losing sales to smart phones. They have to adapt to the change or they’ll become as irrelevant as newspapers.

An area in which Canon and Nikon are getting left behind is in the manufacture and sale of lenses. Since I became interested in astrophotography landscapes I have been looking for fast, wide lenses that are well corrected. If you take a star photo with a poor lens you can end up with purple fringing on stars, stars that appear oblong, etc. Canon and Nikon are getting absolutely killed in this regard. Samyang also known as Bower or Rokinon make very well corrected, fast and inexpensive lenses often at a quarter of the cost of Nikon and Canon’s.

The two lenses that I have 24mm f1.4 and a 35mm f1.4 have better image quality wide open than their counterparts made by the camera giants. They’ve very constructed too. They lack autofocus which for me is fine because doing night photography autofocus is useless.

Lens manufacturers are nipping at the heels of the major camera companies. I don’t care about what brand my equipment is only that it does a good job.

Today’s modern digital SLRs have so much bloat. I don’t need 80% of the stuff that is on there but I still have to pay for it. I used to shoot landscapes with a wooden view camera that had only the most basic of controls. The photos taken with it match up well with any taken with the semi-computer with a lens that I use today.

Do you think that one day a company like Samyang will come up with a simple camera body that JUST TAKES PHOTOS and that it’s a third of the price that Nikons and Canons are? I think so.

Computer Stuff

A couple of years ago I bought what was then the fastest iMac out there. The fastest processor. The most ram. The biggest hard drives. It’s still a rocket. Over the last couple of weeks my secondary hard drive where I keep photos before archiving them was getting slower and slower. At first I thought that it was because the folder the photos were in held so many photos. That’s what I thought.

It turns out that the S.M.A.R.T. hardware monitoring system said the drive was failing. For the last 24 hours I’ve been backing up the contents of that drive to four other drives before I replace it. Hard drive failure is more usual than most people know. I’ve had a computer in the house since the early nineties and over the years I’ve accumulated a little pile of failed drives. Backup your data. Back it up not on a different partition of the same drive but on a different physical drive or two or three. 2TB external drives are cheap enough to buy a couple. Keep them apart from your computer. Your photos are valuable if not monetarily then for the memories.

Lots to do. Lots. Be back with photos next time.

Happy shooting,


Finally a night with decent aurora :)

•October 15, 2013 • 13 Comments

aurora, aurora borealis, northern lights, Dan Jurak, prairie, landscape, Alberta, reflection,

The planets and stars finally aligned for photographing aurora borealis in central/northern Alberta last night.

I watched in frustration the great aurora photos that have been posted over the last two weeks from latitudes much farther south than where I am. Aren’t you supposed to see better and more aurora the closer you are to the north pole?

I thought so but good old mother nature got in the way. On October 1 and then October 8 the website showed that the high atmosphere was abuzz. In the short time that I’ve been observing their aurora charts I had never seen so much activity. While most of the northern hemisphere, it seemed was getting great green and pink auroras most of Alberta was covered in thick cloud. Pfffft.

Yesterday afternoon was predicting auroral activity might reach the earth later in the evening. I checked the weather forecast and it was perfect. Not a cloud was to be seen so around 11:00 pm I loaded up the Rav and headed out of town away from the bright city lights of Edmonton. It wasn’t long before I saw my first wave of northern lights washing across the sky but it wasn’t long lasting. It was so bright, the first one that it was easily seen from inside my vehicle. I pulled over and set the camera up. As quickly as the aurora appeared it subsided. All that remained was a faint green glow across the northern horizon.

I continued on always looking at the sky and for any suitable foreground should a brighter aurora appear. Over the course of the next hour or so I stopped at an old church by the side of the road for pictures. The moon behind me was so bright that when viewing the preview on my camera back it looked as bright as daylight. I hung around for twenty minutes or so photographing the church from different angles and moved on down the highway to a long abandoned homestead. The old buildings sat on a hill in the middle of what is now a pasture for cattle. More photos and moved on. No spectacular aurora were to be seen.

I knew that a kilometer or two from where I was there was a small grove of trees and dugout that might make for a good foreground. A few minutes later I was standing at the side of the road framing my shot. As I started exposing frames the aurora increased in intensity and frequency. Very quickly in the matter of a minute or two the whole sky was swirling in green. It was magical.

And then it was over! I stayed at that spot for twenty more minutes hoping for a repeat but it didn’t come.

By 1:30 am I was at home and hitting the sleep button on the radio. Sleep came quickly as did the morning. LOL

Great conditions are forecast for tonight, even better than last and the weather forecast is… you guessed it. Heavy clouds. LOL

Oh well, like the Stones song says, “you can’t always get what you want”.

Happy shooting,



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