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.

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

•November 14, 2013 • 13 Comments

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,


Photography Magazines… Separating the BS from the Baloney

•November 12, 2013 • 7 Comments

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

And they say the internet is bad. Supposedly when you read something in print on paper it’s going to be more accurate than what you read on the internet. After all, everyone can have a voice on the net. Look at me. LOL

I just read the latest copy of my favourite outdoor photographer magazine. I won’t name it but you can probably guess which one it is. It doesn’t matter because I see the same thing repeated over and over in various publications.

Magazines might seem like they are there for your education or entertainment and to a point they are but they exist primarily to drive revenue. That means attracting advertisers. By comparison to most magazines, how many advertisements do you see in Consumer Reports? Yeah. That many.

Many articles in photography magazines exist to attract advertisers. Seldom do you see a critical word put to ink. By comparison, bloggers who tend not to be mainstream media types usually but not always have nothing to lose by being honest and by that I mean being critical of a product. Print is losing ground to electronic media. I find more interesting and insightful information on the net than I do in the magazine store.

Want an example of an advertorial or editorial that is meant to sell product and that is to my way of thinking a complete waste of money? In the magazine I mention above is a spread on how to protect your camera from the snow? Huh? There is a picture accompanying the article of some sort of apparatus with a glove like back for you to stick your hand in. The premise of the protective cover is this, fine snow is like sand that can get into your camera or lens and ruin it? Absolute BS. I spend half of my life lying in snow drifts waist deep and have never had any kind of problem with the dreaded SNOW DAMAGE. Maybe my snow is different than what they have in California where this magazine was published? If so, I take back what I said. Another thing? The size of hole in the back of the cover for your hand looks only big enough for a bare hand. Right. -20 Celsius and you have a bare hand to operate your camera? No way. I call BS on that.

Same magazine, front cover. Snow it seems is a palette for the photographer. Snow reflects the color of what is above it. That is one hundred percent true. Snow can be all sorts of shades of blue or orange or pink. I have no problem with that.

What I do have a problem with is that they say the purple of the snow is a result of the early morning purple sky above it. Again BS! How do I know that? A year ago I was browsing a fellows blog. In it he had a photo that was taken only seconds and  a meter away from when and where this magazine cover photo was taken. The blogger even mentions being with the owner of the cover pic. You know what his morning photo looks like. Blue skies. White snow with a slight blue cast to it.

The cover photo was heavily and I mean heavily Photoshopped. It has no physical resemblance to what color the sky was at the time. I have nothing against Photoshopping to get the look you want but someone, probably the caption writer used a little imagination when writing the description.

Here’s my problem with that. Many novice photographers will think themselves failures because they can’t get the same look to their photo. They’re being led to believe by the magazine that this is how it looked when photographed. Again, I call BS.

The old saying caveat emptor applies more today than ever when it comes to anything printed on paper. Magazines and newspapers are desperate to keep advertisers. Sometimes it appears at the cost of their readers. Don’t always believe what you read if whoever is writing has something to sell to you.

Happy shooting,


ps. The photo above demonstrates the premise that snow DOES reflect the color above it. Everything was bathed in a bright green from the aurora on this particular night.

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,



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 648 other followers