It’s about time…

•January 16, 2018 • Leave a Comment

photography workshops, national parks, groups, workshops, landscape, Dan Jurak, Alberta,

A running joke in the house is that I always say that I am heading out to the mountains to take pictures but never actually go.

I had been planning this for a few days. Picked a spot. Waited for the right temperatures and skies. All packed and ready to go and guess what? I might end up going tomorrow now. Sigh.

Checking the weather forecasts this morning things looked great until the actual drive back and then freezing rain is forecast for this evening/tonight. There was no way that I was going to take a chance and drive for four hours in the dark on icy highways. Not winter ice but freezing rain over dry pavement ice. Taking pictures is my passion but it isn’t worth more than having a serious accident and ending up in the ditch or worse. So, the plan is now to leave tomorrow morning when the rain will have passed.

As I was browsing a few websites, AFTER getting the bad weather forecast I came upon this article in a Facebook group,

https://fstoppers.com/originals/no-tripods-allowed-zion-national-parks-new-rules-photography-workshops-212558

Zion National Park in Utah has issued a rule where no tripods are allowed on any trails in the park IN PHOTO WORKSHOPS. You or I can take all the pictures that we want with our cameras on tripods there but if you are in a workshop that is now forbidden.

Finally some common sense when it comes to workshops.

Zion is a very small park. It can easily become crowded and a group of a dozen people all hogging a spot with cameras on tripods listening to an instructor ruin the national park experience for anyone not in the group.

I did my photo thesis on Zion about forty years ago for my second year school project. Zion is a lovely, tiny park and with how the population and tourism keeps growing, I can see how that creates problems.

I have come across groups in Banff and Jasper over the years and it really does ruin it for others  when a cluster of people all being led by an instructor have their tripods planted and are either listening to him/her or taking pictures. Don’t even try to take pictures while they are in that spot. People get in the way or stay in one place for a time only to be replaced by the next person in the group who wants the same viewpoint.

Please Parks Canada can we get some restrictions on photo groups in our national parks?

Happy shooting,

Dan

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When old is new

•January 14, 2018 • Leave a Comment

landscape, long exposure, black and white, monochrome, Jasper, mountains, rivers, rockies, Dan Jurak, clouds, sky, reflection,

Usually when I am out taking photos my mind is on what I am doing or what I am about to do. That is followed very quickly by editing and processing the pics that I consider my best and then they are forgotten.

During times when it is too cold to go outdoors or the skies aren’t right I sometimes attach a backup drive with all of my old RAW images and go through them. Because I take so many photos and process so few the rejects can often look fresh. It is almost like seeing that image for the first time and that is the case with the pics posted today.

The only rules that there are in landscape photography are the ones that you set for yourself. That means that almost anything goes in Photoshop as long as a certain amount of realism is kept.

To my tastes I like what could best be called imaginary realism. It is much the same as reading a fiction novel or watching  movie. How much disbelief are you willing to suspend before the novel or movie is ruined for you and it seems just plain hokey.

Playing with old photos on the computer for is very much like sketching. I try this, don’t like it. Go back. Try something different, repeat, wash, rinse, etc. until things start to look interesting and then the only limits are your imagination. Too light? Too dark?  Reality pushed too far or just right?

Really any photograph that we take is not an accurate representation of what the actual scene looked like. Cameras and lenses see differently than the eye so everything that is captured by the camera is only your representation of what you saw and that is what is fun about shooting landscapes.

I have long had an idea on my bucket list that has not worked out in the past. The weather this week across Alberta is looking more and more like I might make the four hour drive to give it another try. No pressures. No worries because if the conditions aren’t like I envision then something far better might present itself.

Landscape shooting is not like taking pictures in the studio. To a degree the photographer outdoors is at the mercy of the weather. A mixed martial arts fighter who at one time was one of the best in the world was asked why he was so consistently dominant over his competition and he simply stated that he was like water. He would take the shape of whatever vessel he was in. That in essence describes landscape photography, be the water and the earth is your vessel.

Happy shooting,

Dan

ps. the before image of the one posted above

landscape, long exposure, black and white, monochrome, Jasper, mountains, rivers, rockies, Dan Jurak, clouds, sky, reflection,

 

 

When it gets really, really, really cold…

•January 11, 2018 • 9 Comments

cold weather, cold photography, winter, snow, thirty below celsius, Alberta, Canada, arctic, frost, Dan Jurak, landscape, photography,

This winter came in like a lamb. There were many days in December when the temperatures were well above freezing and my best buddy Cooper (a six year old Weimaraner) and I would spend an hour to an hour and a half every day. It was so warm that I would wear a light fleece and windbreaker and still have them both unzipped before the walk was over. So warm.

We in central Alberta were spoiled. Over the holidays a cold snap slid in from the arctic and made things seem Christmasy. Lots of winter weather followed by more unseasonably warm weather and now once again we are in the throes of arctic temperatures.

My girls usually drive to university preferring that over public transportation which to those unfamiliar with real winters means plugging in their vehicle overnight. We have a thing in Canada for automobiles called “block heaters”. It is a heater that is affixed to the block of the engine and when plugged into an electrical outlet keeps the engine oil warm and viscous because at temperatures -20 Celsius and lower regular engine oil takes on the thickness of molasses. Engines don’t turn over easily when the temperatures get really cold. Of course dad has been plugging in their vehicle before they go to bed so that their engine block is a little warmer for when they leave for school in the morning.

The forecasted temperature for tonight is -32 Celsius with wind chills around -42 Celsius and at those temperatures the atmosphere can look dream like. Mornings when it is that cold can have the surrounding country glazed in a heavy frost, that is if there is no wind.

For me, what makes a landscape photo special is not so much were it is but what the weather conditions and light are. Many are the mornings when I filled my thermos to the top with extra hot coffee and loaded my gear into the Rav bundled up like when I was a toddler.

Much is made about taking photos in the extreme cold but it is very safe if done properly.

Dressing is simple. Lots of layers. That means long  underwear followed by pants and shirt, a light sweater, a fleece jacket a parka, snow pants, snow boots a heavy toque and oversized mittens that allow  me to wear a pair of ultralight gloves underneath. The gloves allow me to pull my hands from the mittens to use the camera controls longer than if I had my bare skin exposed.

The reason for the snow pants is simple. Not only does the extra layer keep you warmer but snow pants are usually water proof and if you have knelt in snow with trousers or jeans you have found out very quickly how fast the snow melts and you become even colder. The snow pants help keep you dry. Dry equals warm in the snow usually.

If I get too warm I open up a few layers. Conversely I am never far away from my vehicle so if I get too cold it is into the Rav and turn the heater to high for a few minutes.

Many people have written about having an extra battery handy as batter life is reduced when it is very cold. I have never had a battery die on me while outdoors. Lucky? I dunno but I always  make sure that whatever I have is fully charged before leaving home.

One advantage of digital over film is that back in the day when it got to thirty below motor drives on cameras could and would tear film as it became ultra brittle. No such problem when you aren’t shooting film. LOL

Because I am very fast when taking photos there isn’t any long time that I am standing still and waiting for things to get right. You don’t want to be standing in one place for too long.

The cold temperatures are predicted to ease up over the weekend which might mean that our American neighbours to the south get another blast of arctic temps. Just sharing the love. 🙂

I do love winter.

Happy shooting,

Dan

The National Parks will be here for a long, long time, not so disappearing rural Alberta

•January 2, 2018 • 7 Comments

landscape, Alberta, Edmonton, frost, winter, snow, landscape, Dan Jurak, rural, farm, barbed wire, fence, sunrise,

I spend a fair amount of my time browsing web pages on the internet looking at landscape photos. I love to see different parts of the world through the eyes of strangers.

The same goes for photos of the province of Alberta where I live. I can almost guarantee that for every ten photos that I see of Banff or Jasper National Parks there might be one of rural Alberta and that is a shame.

Alberta is a huge province and has a diverse set of ecosystems and geographies but if you were to poll people they would probably tell you about Banff and Jasper. That too is a shame.

When I first started getting serious about landscape photography back in the early 1970’s I would make the four hour drive to Jasper almost every weekend of the year when the road allowed it. Why did I drive four hours there and four hours back so often? The scenery was drop dead gorgeous. That was a mistake. It is easy to be in awe of Albertas mountain landscapes and just as easy to photograph them. That too was a mistake.

It took me many years before I realized that my photography was improving only incrementally because I was depending on the drop dead looks of the rockies to get pretty pictures.

Let me make an analogy to put some perspective on this. I photographed editorial fashion for our local newspaper for many years. During that time I had the pleasure of working with models for whom some them were having their first professional photo shoot to others who fresh from living in Europe or Asia were photographed by the best fashion shooters of the day.

I learned a valuable lesson during that time. If I had a very talented and polished model literally all that was needed by me was to maintain focus and keep film in the camera but if I was photographing a new model a lot more effort was required to get a keeper. It was up to me to direct, figure out the best angles, etc.

Taking pictures in the mountains is very much like that. Go to the less photographed areas of the province and you actually have to think about what you are doing at least more so than in the national parks.

For many years I took pictures only around Edmonton where I live. It is there that I really learned how to “look” at the landscape with a different eye and to choose angles or light that added to the scene.

Looking back on my archives I find it hard to believe that I went out so often while keeping a full time day job at the local newspaper.

Looking back on those archives it occurred to me that  so many of my favourite places no longer exist. The photo at the top of this post was taken along a one lane gravel road at -30 Celsius with an ice fog hanging in the air. That was over ten years ago.

Today there is a brand new housing development where the snow covered pasture is and a giant freeway to picture left with a non-picturesque concrete overpass over the freeway.

So many of my favourite places are now being devoured by urban sprawl. My favourite rustic farm buildings will be history in a few years but Maligne Lake and Athabasca Falls will still look the same one hundred years from now.

We will have millions of photos of the mountains and very few of our disappearing heritage. Sad.

Happy shooting,

Dan

Bringing in the New Year… between heaven and earth

•December 30, 2017 • 2 Comments

aurora, aurora borealis, fog, night, heaven earth, landscape, summer, dan jurak, alberta, travel alberta, surreal, long exposure, milky way,

As I write this 2017 is drawing to a close. On the new iMac that I bought a few weeks ago a bunch of old tunes is playing on youtube. It’s an eclectic mix. From Boney James to Chris Rea and Cat Stevens to Live from Daryl’s House. It’s music that brings back memories and puts me in a good place.

Music can do that. I don’t get drunk or do drugs but I only imagine that the feeling is similar.  It’s a warm and comfortable feeling. Familiar.

If our souls revisit earth after we pass and have a choice of what I am, I want to be a musician.  A saxophonist playing jazz or a pianist tinkling the ivories in a lounge. Was the path that I took in this life chosen before I arrived? I don’t know but it has always been fun for me to speculate.

The arts are somehow tied to the soul I believe. Music, art and food can all transport us to a magical place and I have no explanation for that. It is like love, I know what it is but I cannot explain it.

My life like everyone else has had obstacles and disappointments. My biggest disappointment is never really knowing my father who died when I was six years old. I knew him as well as a small child. I always envied my friends who could tell stories of doing things with their fathers. For me, there were only foggy memories.

The upside of that is that I was blessed to have a mother who was strong, independent and loved us all dearly. From her I learned that I could accomplish anything if I applied myself.  I also learned from her that problems are put in front of us to overcome. They are never meant to defeat us. My younger sister once told me that God never gives you more than you can handle and she is right.

At the age of 63 I think more often of my mortality. My time on earth is more than half over but it doesn’t make me sad because I have accepted that everyone dies or passes on. It’s the natural course of life. It is a part of our journey both yours and mine. Both of my parents have long since left this place and one day I will too as will you.

What will the new year bring? As the years start to tick down there is a sense of urgency to accomplish things that are yet achieved.

The past few years have been more about discovery than anything else when it comes to photography. We never know it all and that certainly is the case with me. Both knowledge and life experience are a big part of why we are here. Can we ever know it all?

In a way photography is a metaphor for my life. It stopped being about earning an income or impressing people long ago. No longer do I need to have my hair styled or dress in what is deemed fashionable. A clean t-shirt and  pressed jeans are what feels right. The time to worry about what others think of me or my photography is past.

I know that this post is a bit off topic but I promise next year to write more about photography. Really I do. Every time I stop to do that my mind jumps elsewhere and for that I apologize. Instead of writing about photography I write about what moves me. Is that a curse or a blessing? I dunno but that is who I am.

Happy New Year to all and happy shooting,

Dan

Twas the night before Christmas

•December 24, 2017 • 15 Comments

Merry Christmas, landscape, long exposure, milky way, mountains, jasper, travel alberta, landscape, stars, winter, mountains, rockies, rockys, Dan Jurak

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house…

So many fine memories as a child of Christmas Eve. I remember like it was yesterday visiting my grandparents as a toddler on Christmas Eve and bringing home a huge haul of toys and gifts. Christmas is always the most special for the very young.

Having parents of Ukrainian background we opened our gifts before Christmas Day. On Christmas morning we still all got up really early, not to open gifts but to play with our new toys gotten the night before. My late brother Dave and I would build forts and playhouses in our rumpus room letting our imaginations go wild.

It’s funny how our perspectives change. I had always heard that it is better to give than to receive and today that is true.  The real joy is in the giving.

Photography in many ways has always been like Christmas Eve. There is an anticipation and an eagerness in making my next trip to the country and like on Christmas Eve not knowing what awaits me but eagerly anticipating my surprise.

Taking pictures has played a major role in my life. Some of my earliest memories are of my father developing film and prints in the bathroom/darkroom on Saturday evenings.  I was probably three or four years old at the time.

A camera of one sort or another was always in our home. An aside, I took photography in industrial arts class in junior high and HATED it and now I know why. It was too structured and that is not how the creative arts should be.

Photography helped raise my family, pay off our mortgage and all that boring stuff but most importantly it allowed me to get in touch with that inner me, my soul, my creative spirit and for that I am eternally grateful for when I turn to dust and ashes a part of that will always exist and isn’t that what its all about?

I will never be famous nor do I want popularity and fame because that is not who I am. Those who seek it are on a different journey. Mine is a quiet path of self discovery and learning.  Give me the choice of one hundred followers on the internet or to quietly discover who I am in anonymity and I will always choose the latter.

Every day brings new possibilities. Where will it take me? What will I learn? What new doors will be presented to me?

Photography is my Christmas eve and I am lucky to have it happen all through the year.

The next sunrise or sunset is my present but with a giant bow and tag with my name on it. What’s will be inside when I open it? I never know except that it will bring a smile to my face and make my heart a little brighter.

The beauty of photography is that it is a reflection of your mind, your imagination and who you are deep down inside. It isn’t a conscious revelation about who you are but is instead something that naturally flows from within. It is you.

To all who have been reading and following this blog for so many years and stuck through the words and thoughts of a boring old man thank you for your many comments and visits. Those are also my special Christmas gifts and I cherish your words and thoughts.

All the best and happy shooting.

May each and every one of you experience a thousand wonderful Christmas eves,

Dan

 

Companies like this deserve a good word…

•December 22, 2017 • 4 Comments

photopills

First off, I have absolutely NO affiliation with the company that I am about to name. I paid in full for this product a year ago and love it. This company isn’t aware that I am writing about them and I expect nothing in return. Having gotten that out of the way let’s begin.

I HATE HATE HATE HATE photographers that use the internet as their own personal platform to monetize every thing that they do. If you are a professional photographer, act like one and quit using every chance that you get to put in your promo to make a few bucks.

From weekend photoshop seminars for a thousand dollars a day to people who will take you to beautiful places and charge YOU for it to show you where to take pics, it seems that too many “aspiring” professional photographers are trying to eek out a living on the naiveté of beginners with a few hard earned dollars in their pockets.

THERE ARE NO SECRETS to taking great landscapes. You can’t train someone to become a great composer or painter. That comes from hard work and a gift that we all have. We only need to find out what that gift is and how to express it.

A year ago I read about a program for IOS that helped you plan your night photography. There are a ton of them out there and most of them fall far short of the mark. Photopills did so much more. Pick a location, a time of year and a time of day and the night sky will accurately be presented on your screen. Go to your planned location, turn on Photopills, dial in a time and you can see the night sky along with your phones camera displaying the landscape.

Not only is the program the absolute best in my opinion at what it does, the developers have been sending me regular FREE tutorials which are not about selling their program but about how to discover so much in the program that is deep below the surface.

What really motivated me to write this was the email I received this morning. In the email they sent a link to a FREE 458 page guide on exposing for night photos. The guide is very detailed and easily worth as much as I paid for the Photopills app.

This is a company that I admire. They aren’t out to reach deep into your pockets and pull out your last few hard earned pennies. Merry Christmas and Happy New Years to the great people at Photopills.

If you aren’t familiar with the program you really need to at least check them out if you plan on photographing the night skies.

The program is available for both IOS and Android.

https://www.photopills.com/

Happy shooting,

Dan