Finding your way in an ocean of everyone looking the same

•April 19, 2015 • 3 Comments

Alberta prairie

I hope to always be growing. I hope to be forever changing the way my photos look. I hope that I stand apart from the crowd for better or worse.

I belong to a couple of different photo sharing websites, and For me they are a convenient way to see where the world of photography is headed. One of my habits is to view the landscape section of 500px and click on the tag “popular”. What I often see are pages of the very same picture taken in different places around the world. It is almost as if the same photographer were taking all the photos. It is the sameness that ruins it for me. Art whether it be photography, music or painting is about self expression.

Why is it then that 500px and even flickr have more photos that look more alike than different? Is it monkey see, monkey do?

There is a famous landscape photographer that now has photo tours throughout North America. I used to love his work because it was different from the norm. He recently held a winter photo tour in Jasper and Banff National Parks. The results always interest me because I am curious to see how someone else sees the same landscape that I travel through.

The surprising thing from this past winters tour was the photos that his clients had posted on 500px. It was disappointing. It was disappointing because these obviously talented clients had taken photos that were indistinguishable from his from the perspective to the processing. Like I said, disappointed.

Photography for me always has been about searching and pushing the limits of what I see. I too can be a clone of one of the world’s most famous photographers, it isn’t difficult to copy what you see at least after all these years of taking photos it isn’t. There is no challenge in that. The challenge is in trying to find your way in the ocean of sameness that is digital photography.

There is an almost borg like mentality with photos being so accessible on the internet. Good and bad. More bad I sometimes think than good.

Spring is here in central Alberta and instead of waiting until things green up I have found a new challenge. The bare fields and spring skies that surround where I live present opportunities missed in previous years.

I will still continue to shoot colour but I am drawn more and more into this other way of seeing. For better or worse. For richer or poorer (meaning not shooting stock photos anymore because I don’t see a market for these photos).

A simple prairie photo. A new direction for me.

Happy shooting,


My review of Formatt Hitech Firecrest Superslim IRND 4.8 ND filters – JUNK?

•April 11, 2015 • 11 Comments
My first defective Formatt Hitech Firecrest IRND 4.8 Filter. Notice the soft spot on the ridge. Everywhere else is sharp. I could see a bubble or warp on the filter against the sunlight.

My first defective Formatt Hitech Firecrest IRND 4.8 Filter. Notice the soft spot on the ridge. Everywhere else is sharp. I could see a bubble or warp on the filter against the sunlight.

I have always believed that if you are an informed consumer that you could be counted on to make a smart purchase no matter the product.

It was with high expectations that I bought my first Formatt Hitech Firecrest Superslim IRND 4.8 ND filter.

My experience to date has been lousy with both the manufacturer and the product.

My reason for the 16 stop ND filter was to do long exposures. I had a few ND filters kicking around in my camera bag, a Tiffen comes to mind that cost me around sixty dollars. The Firecrest came in at around $170 U.S. quite a jump up from the Tiffen.

Normally I wouldn’t pay so much but I had read a few positive reviews one in particular by Joel Tjintjelaar who happens to have a line of filters named after him. BTW his photos are works of art despite. Worth checking out.

When I found the first filter to be defective I contacted the people at and they graciously and quickly sent me a second filter which was said to be from a new batch that was defect free. When it arrived it was packaged differently than the first and was wrapped in red paper with a seal that said laughingly, Firecrest F214 04 Sep 2014 Quality Control.

Assuming that this filter was a great replacement I never bothered to test it out. Bad decision.

Defective firecrest filter

My second defective Formatt Hitech Firecrest IRND 4.8 Filter from a new batch.The center of the image is sharp. Every where else is fuzzy.

Fast forward five months, winter is over and I am out taking photos of grain silos on the prairies. I got an interesting shot on a windy day. The clouds were moving a lot and things looked wonderful in the camera display. However when I got home I could see that one silo was sharp and the second was blurred. I wrote this off as me being sloppy, camera shake, etc.

Curiosity got the best of me and I went out to my back yard to test the lens. The same thing. Sharp on one side, out of focus on the other. I tried different f-stops. Cleaned the filter. Shot without a filter and shot with a different filter. The Firecrest filter was crap and everything including my sixty dollar Tiffen filter was razor sharp.

As a last resort I brought the camera and filter inside and photographed a calendar on the wall. No wind. No camera movement. The result? All of  the letters on the right side of the frame are ghosted, haloed or whatever you would call it. It is like having a lighter out of aligned version of the original in back of the first. Complete garbage. This is quality control?

My dilemna? I wrote Firecrest TWICE with no reply.

My advice? Until Formatt Hitech acknowledges their awful quality control and makes good avoid them like the plague.



EDIT: I was contacted by a representative from Formatt-Hitech this morning (Tuesday, April 14). Stay tuned.

An otherwise good image ruined because of the defect on my second Formatt Hitech Firecrest Superslim IRND 4.8 filter.

An otherwise good image ruined because of the defect on my second Formatt Hitech Firecrest Superslim IRND 4.8 filter.

Infrared Landscape Photography Part 1- Focus

•January 18, 2015 • Leave a Comment

landscape, black and white, fineart, fine art, infrared, Dan Jurak, Alberta, storm, clouds, summer,

The range of the electromagnetic spectrum that our eyes and brains can recognize is very small. We in fact only see a tiny percentage of what is around us. From television and radio signals to xrays and even heat we are blind to them all.

There is an exciting world that lies just beyond our visual senses and that is the realm of the infrared. We can feel heat to varying degrees no pun intended but there is much more to the infrared than what we can feel. Growing leaves and grasses for example emit or reflect more infrared than their surroundings. Cloudless skies are the opposite they have less relative heat. To the unaided eye things appear normal. To a camera which has been modified to record portions of the infrared spectrum things are more obvious. Living that is warmer things appear lighter in tone and the opposite for that which is cooler.

I had a 10 megapixel Canon Rebel modified many years ago. It was great fun shooting landscapes during the middle of the day a time when I would normally not be taking pictures. As my color cameras became better in quality the little Canon seemed less and less interesting. The fact that I was now shooting with a Nikon body only made things more complicated. I didn’t want to have two sets of bodies and lenses in my bag.

Fast forward to this past December when I purchased a used Nikon D800. I use a Nikon D800E today for most of my photos. Because I am more interested in shooting black and white I had toyed with the idea of getting back into infrared photography so I had the used Nikon body converted for infrared use. In doing so the camera is useless for conventional photography. An untouched image comes out of the camera looking pink. The pink can be removed revealing shades of black and white recording the infrared.

This is the first in a series which will span the course of a few months explaining how I shoot and process IR. Because winter will be here for a few more months the opportunities to shoot IR are less than in the warmer months although I suspect that I will experiment photographing winter scenes with the new body.

One of the most important things to realize when shooting infrared is that when we focus our cameras we are focusing visible light. Infrared being of a longer wavelength focuses beyond the sensor. My camera is modified so that the correct focus is shown on the preview display on the back of my camera. That means that instead of focusing through the viewfinder I must turn on the preview and focus with it. A small inconvenience.

Infrared focus

I was just out in the backyard with the modified camera and took two photos. The top image is with the camera via live view on the camera back. The bottom image is with the image focused through the viewfinder.

Normally I wouldn’t photos at a wide aperture because I want as much in focus as possible but this time I did so as to demonstrate the difference in focus for you.  An aside, the sky is clear and cloudless here but goes black without the use of a polarizer and the needles on the spruce tree which are dark green in color photograph as white.


Happy shooting,


Canon misses the boat… again

•January 15, 2015 • 6 Comments

Canon 11-24, lens, Canon, zoom, horrible lens, photography,

My first slr was a Canon back in the early 1970’s. That was my jump from an instamatic rangefinder to something that would enable me more control over my picture taking.

When I started shooting professionally I continued using Canon equipment. Why Canon and not Nikon? Where I worked Canon Canada would bend over backwards to give special pricing and camera service to professionals. The price was not a little lower. It was A LOT LOWER!

I had been using Canon equipment for over thirty years and saw no reason to switch even when digital arrived. When I started seriously shooting landscapes that changed. You see I love wide lenses for landscapes. I had at the time a state of the art Canon 16-35 f2.8 lens that cost a pretty penny. It was when I started submitting images for stock where they were very picky about image quality that I started seeing the shortcomings of the Canon lens.

Nikon had a lens a 14-24 f2.8 that absolutely blew my Canon lens away in terms of quality. It wasn’t only at 1:1 magnification that it was noticeable but at smaller sizes there was a visible difference.

Rather than switch systems I got an adapter that allowed me to use the Nikon lens on my Canon digital body. Autofocus was lost as was automatic aperture control but any inconvenience was overcome by the exceptional image quality.

Fast forward a few years and I have sold all my Canon equipment and now use Nikon lenses and bodies the exception being the Samyang/Bower/Rokinon lenses that I use for aurora or milky way pictures. Those cheap Korean lenses are a third the price of Nikon or Canon lenses and at wide open apertures equal or exceed image quality.

So now you might be asking yourself how did Canon miss the boat?

For half a dozen years at least Nikon has been head and shoulders better than Canon at least for the lenses that I use. They had been teasing for ages that they would offer a similar lens to the Nikon super wide angle and it has been finally announced.

Firstly the lens is way too expensive for what it is and I don’t care how good the quality of it is. It is suggested to be around $3000 US over a thousand dollars more than the Nikon. I think that I bought mine for $1500 Canadian.

Secondly and most importantly it is a F4 aperture. Huh? F4? Now you might ask what the big deal is. No biggy if you shoot in the studio or if you usually take your pictures in bright sunlight but at night time one stop makes a HUGE difference in exposure times. F2.8 to f4 is much greater than you think at night.

Thirdly I have an f4 medium zoom and at f4 before the sun rises the lens is a bugger to try and focus. Compare that to f2.8 and it is literally night and day.

So Canon you blew it again (no high megapixel body yet) with an overpriced, slow lens that I would never buy even if it cost the same as my Nikon.

Happy shooting,


Finding order in chaos

•January 8, 2015 • 9 Comments

Dan Jurak, praire, wheat, summer, landscape, colour, storm, Alberta, Travel Alberta, rural, farm, agriculture, crops

One of the most difficult things for new photographers is knowing where to point the camera.

That might sound a bit crazy since you seemingly point the camera to where you are looking but it isn’t as simple as that.

When we look at a landscape our brain quickly decides what to include and what to discard. We concentrate on that which interests us ignoring all the other little things that add clutter to your prized image. Your camera doesn’t have a brain to selectively exclude all the distractions that we see in the final image. It slavishly see and records all.

If you are in the mountains or in the prairies, if you are anywhere outside there is chaos. The landscape isn’t assembled in an orderly fashion at least not one that always lends itself to picture taking. I have never understood the “art” photographers who have made careers of photographing landscape clutter. Looking at one of those pictures all I see is clutter. All I see is a disorganized collection of trees, water, clouds and grasses. Those photographs don’t work for me because there is no “order” to them.

What do I mean by order? Without sounding too much like an art professor because I’m sure not one, your photograph needs a central area of interest and it needs a way to draw your eye into it.

Imagine if you will for a moment that the curving lines of wheat in the foreground was NOT curving but instead ran in straight lines left to right. The image would be one more of chaos than order. Your eye would be drawn left to right or vice versa leading it out of the frame.

For reasons that I truly do not understand our eyes are drawn into the lightest parts of a picture. Know that and make it another tool in your quiver to use when framing and then processing images. The four corners of this prairie scene were ever so slightly darkened in an effort to keep the eye inside the frame and leading it towards the bright horizon.

Is it the bright horizon or wheat or clouds that are the focus of the image? The idea is to draw the eye into the scene and then move it around the frame in an orderly fashion.

Order is your friend in the world of landscape photography.

Happy shooting,


Happy New Year and Happy Weather!

•December 30, 2014 • 21 Comments

Dan Jurak, black and white, landscape, fineart, fine art, prairie, Dan Jurak, landscape, storm, badlands, Travel Alberta,

Happy New Year to all my WordPress friends around the world!

The arts are a funny thing. Even though we may speak different languages, live in different cultures and even have different religious and political beliefs, art can bring us all together.

Long ago when the first ancestor to ancient man drew a face in the sand to more modern times 35,000 years ago when he painted the world around him on the walls of caves, we have had the urge to express ourselves, to interpret visually all that surrounds us.

2014 was especially interesting for me as a part that I hadn’t known existed before emerged. Breaking away from what I knew well and had done for many years, colour landscapes, I found myself intrigued, fascinated and drawn into the world of black and white. It is a journey that I hope you will follow with me as it promises to be exciting and new!

Black and white or color, landscapes are more than just the land. It is the weather that is the glue that pulls everything together. The light and the land become greater than the sum of their parts if a healthy helping of weather is included in the mix. Landscapes really should be called weatherscapes. Without that magic ingredient spectacular can look very plain. With the weather even the plain can look spectacular.

All the best in the New Year to my WordPress friends and thank you for your comments and view they do not go unnoticed.

Happy shooting,



Where do I go to get my refund?

•December 23, 2014 • 7 Comments

landscape, snow, drift,, praire, Alberta, Dan Jurak, foggy,

It wasn’t what I was promised. I paid to see the headliner but they never showed up. Instead all I got was the warmup act.

Before I had wiped this blog of my old posts I think that I had over 700 various postings over the years.

Aristotle made famous the quote, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” With regards to landscape photography this is especially true.

I will use our famous rocky mountains here in Alberta as an example. Banff and Jasper are two national parks here in Canada that are renowned for their “wild” beauty. Many of the photos that you see of these parks are not exactly wild. On the photo sharing website if you do a search of those two places probably close to 100% of the photos that show up in the results were taken within a five minute walk of the highway. Not a tiny four wheel drive kind of highway but a highway that is modern enough to allow motor homes and Greyhound buses roar behind you as you practice your wilderness arts. So you see, it is really easy to find and get to many of the very photogenic places.

Back to Aristotle. I have been traveling to Jasper and Banff on weekend trips and holidays for most of my sixty years. I have seen them through all seasons and conditions. Sometimes you can see the mountains and other times either blowing snow or rainy weather blocks them from view. They aren’t always pretty and they aren’t always great subject matter for photographs. If you are after stunning landscapes one or two days out of ten might be in order. The rest of the days it doesn’t matter how good a photographer you are you will end up with very middle of the road, average looking photos of spectacular places. That’s like doing a fashion shoot ten times and only twice do the makeup, hair and clothing stylists show up. How do you think the other eight sessions will look?

No matter what your subject matter is you need ALL of the ingredients of the recipe for it to turn out. Bake a cake and leave out one of the major ingredients. What is the result?

I write this for a reason. I have long known how important how variable the weather is. If I travel to the mountains for photographs if the forecast doesn’t have the right ingredients, I know from years of experience, I will have a nice trip but I won’t get any keeper photos.

We’ve had an incredible winter so far this year. A few weeks ago I thought that before our winter had ended we would have shoulder high snow lining our driveway. Today most of the early snow we had has shrunk and melted down to small mounds of hardened snow and ice. It looks more like late spring here than early winter.

In Jasper and Banff about three and a half weeks ago they had so much snow that the highway between Jasper and Banff towns was closed for almost two days because of clearing and avalanche concerns. Picture in your mind the mountains with over a meter of freshly fallen snow sparkling and shining under a crisp winter sunrise. Everything is covered with the white stuff. Tree branches are pushed downwards because the snow is so heavy. Distant mountains are white from bottom to top.

Conditions like that are when I would love to be in the mountains. I might even pay for that privilege. In fact some people do pay for that privilege, almost two thousand dollars a week, no lodging, just being led down the highway to a few choice locations that are accessible to anyone with a pair of eyes.

The following weeks in the mountains were much like what we had here in Edmonton with all of the snow in the lower areas, the areas next to the highways flattening into mounds of ice. The trees sluffed their winter covering making it look more like summer than winter. A drive through the mountains would be nice but not worth the trip for photos.

There was indeed a trip similar to the one I described in our Canadian rockies that ended a week ago and with curiosity I was watching to see what kinds of photos resulted. Slowly they are being posted and the result? If I had paid my two thousand dollars I might be asking for a partial refund. You don’t always get what you pay for in the world of landscape photo tours.

Merry Christmas to all and a happy New Year,



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 787 other followers