Finding your niche in landscape photography

•December 12, 2017 • 2 Comments

impressionism

As with food, music or any of the arts there is no right or wrong. What you like is what is right for you.

I started a group on Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/groups/landscape_exhibition/) eleven years ago because many of the landscape groups there were either not to my taste or were more about being the most clicked upon photographer.

The group many years later has over 24,000 members and over 40,000 photos of which I have moderated each and every one. During a normal day the group will receive from 400 to 800 submissions of which only a half dozen or so are admitted. Does that mean that the other 99% are bad? Nope, not at all. It means that the photos not accepted are not to my taste and it is as simple as that.

Your photographs whatever they might be of should strike a chord deep within you. That is what is important. What isn’t important is what I or anyone else thinks about your photos.

Your value is your uniqueness. Nobody on this planet has the same experiences and feelings as you. It is those experiences and feelings that contribute to how you see the world around you.

Back in the late sixties and early seventies when I was just becoming interested in photography I would visit our local library and check out the books that I found most interesting. The first photographer that resonated with me was a large format colour photographer named Elliot Porter. He would dutifully drag a large format camera across the American southwest and faithfully document what HE saw. The important word in the preceding sentence is “he” because you or I might visit the same place and come away with completely different images.

I loved Porters use of colour, his tack sharp photos and realistic details. Porter influenced me more than any other photographer early on but as we change our tastes change.

From the ultra realistic images of Porter I became a fan of David Muench who also used large format cameras to photograph the American southwest in colour. The difference between the two photographers was stark. Porter was very much the realist while Muench almost hammered you over the head with bright colours and wide angle images contrasting near/far.

Neither photographer is better than the other.

We all have an evolution in our art. I am almost embarrassed to admit that early on in my second try and landscape images I over processed many HDRs to the point that I cringe when I look at them today. They are all on Flickr but hidden from public view. For me they are a reminder of how I am changing.

I hope that what I have photographed this year will look very different ten years from now.

Looking back on the past few years of my images there is a constant in the ones that I like the best, if I could put a word to them it would be impressionistic. I know what I like when I see it or when I start to process and image and many times what is in camera looks very different than the final image.

Impressionism from Google is, “a literary or artistic style that seeks to capture a feeling or experience rather than to achieve accurate depiction.”

A feeling. That is what is most important to me when I photograph. It isn’t about the most  realistic representation of what I saw it is about what I feel when looking at my subject.

For me there needs to be a connection based in reality. For example it can’t be so exaggerated that there is no way that it is possible to have existed but through processing I get the feeling or look that I want.

Sometimes these images are broad sweeping views of the prairies or other times like the image above they are small vignettes of what I see.

The landscapes that you capture and create should touch a part of your soul. If they don’t then continue to move forward and explore and experiment.

Moderating a large group like I do on Flickr serves a purpose. It exposes me to the possibilities that are out there. Maybe something that I see today will open a door for me to create in a way that I never would have thought of.

Landscape photography is so much more than bringing back photos to sell or hang on your wall and it is up to you to find out what that is.

Happy shooting,

Dan

 

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The joy of being… yourself

•December 10, 2017 • 4 Comments

drifts

Like “they” say, if only I had known then what I now know.

When I was young and single, I had a much different view of the world and myself than I do now.

I spent too much money on haircuts or styles (you can charge more for a style than a cut) and clothes and spent far too much time worrying about what others thought about me.

There is both good and bad to that. Bad because I wasn’t impressing anyone by caring too much about what others thought and good because any mistakes you make in life are good mistakes if you can learn from them and learn I did.

Looking back on  myself I lacked self confidence. Too much time was spent thinking about what others thought. Did anyone really care that I was wearing expensive clothes or that my hair was “styled”, I doubt it. When we were small kids and without much money with no extra money to by clothes for Sunday school my mother used to say that God only looks on the inside and doesn’t care what you are wearing.

She was a wise woman telling me something that took me years to learn for myself.

I see so many of us photographers trying so hard to get the attention and praise of others and wonder to myself if all of those people are just as insecure as I was about myself.

Even the most “successful” photographers are guilty of that. I recently received an email from a world famous photographer who was touting his winter photo workshops in the Canadian rockies and he made a point of mentioning how well known he was for his winter photos. It kind of reminded me of Donald Trump having to mention in every speech that he gives how successful/rich/famous, etc. he is. If you are confident in yourself you don’t need to tell everyone about your successes. Mentioning or bragging about them does in fact the opposite.

Mom also used to say that if you got a really high grade in school not to brag to the world about it because the world doesn’t really care. Tell your mother, your wife, etc. and leave it at that.

Winter this year in Alberta started out very, very cold and the last week has been anything but. With temperatures well above freezing what little snow we have is quickly melting away. Have no fear though because the coldest days are head and they will come as sure as the sun rises every morning.

The photo above is from a cold, cold winter morning in 2011. I remember it well. The temps were in the low minus twenties Celsius and the sky wasn’t looking promising for my sunrise shot.

I was near the town of Fort Saskatchewan that morning and  was desperately looking for anything that would make an interesting foreground. No interesting buildings or trees were near only the long, long drifts of snow that tailed into the ditches.

As a last resort I hopped out of my vehicle into the cold winter air, dropped my tripod close to the ground and as I lay in the snow clicked off a series of bracketed shot.

These photos to me bring back long forgotten memories. Maybe yours also do the same for you? Remembering the steam rising out of my thermos as I poured my hot coffee into the thermos cup, frozen toes, wet pants, fingers that throbbed with pain because they were so cold. All of those experiences come back upon viewing the old photos. To others they are just pictures that someone else took.

So many memories…

Happy shooting,

Dan

Twas the night before Christmas…

•November 11, 2017 • 3 Comments

northern lights, aurora borealis, winter, spruce threes, Christmas, Dan Jurak, landscape, snow, winter, stars, long exposure,

There are three things in life that have the amazing ability to bring back long forgotten memories. Music, smell and for me, photographs.

A song can take you back to the days of high school in an instant. When I think of the British band Yes, all of the high school parties that I attended seem like they were only yesterday.
Last week I went grocery shopping to a local Asian food market and the smells of the bakery, produce and deli sections had me reminiscing grocery shopping with my parents when I was four or five years old. I took deep, lung filling breaths as I walked through the store. The memories rushed through me. Things that I had not thought of for fifty or so years came to the fore. What an amazing feeling!

As I have been doing the last few weeks today I was browsing through some of my thousands of RAW images on one of my drives. Some of the photos, the ones that I never ended up processing looked new to me. I had forgotten all about them but upon seeing them I could recall exactly what I was thinking as I was driving the lonely, dark backroads of central Alberta during the early winter.

When I am taking pictures and processing them over the next few days I am always looking forward to the next photo shoot so when I look back upon what I have taken years later it seems like Christmas all over again. A bounty of found photos that were long forgotten.

The funny thing about the aurora photo above is that when I saw it earlier today for the first time in four years I immediately thought of Christmas. I don’t know why but I did and as a coincidence a couple of hours later when I was driving home from getting supper what should be playing on the radio? A Christmas song. The first I have heard this year. Life is full of happy coincidences.

Have a safe Remembrance Day if you are in Canada or Veterans Day if you are American,

Dan

ps. Today is the 55th anniversary of my fathers passing. My dad loved photography among other things and to him if he can see me a special hi to my dad wherever he is. Dad, I hope that you are smiling. I always have you in my thoughts.

Living off of the low hanging fruit? It’s not any sweeter.

•November 10, 2017 • 3 Comments

landscape, prairie, winter, dan jurak, alberta, snow, cold, fencepost, farm, rural, fence post,

The days have become shorter up here. Today a cloudy grey sky and a predicted high of -7 Celsius is forecast. It’s gloomy outside and some people find weather like this depressing. Call me weird but I find peace and tranquility when the skies are heavy. The landscape is easier on the eye. Shadows are soft or non-existent today.

Lately I have been going back over some very old photos from when I picked up landscapes again. Today is from 2007 and was taken with a now ancient Canon Rebel XTi.

I have attached a screen of the IPTC data just to show that although it is nice to have a high end camera and lens it really isn’t necessary. A Facebook group that I belong to has almost every day a post asking about what is the best camera, lens, tripod, etc. to buy and almost always someone pipes in that the latest and most expensive is the best. They are great tool to have but to get one early on in your journey as a photographer is a waste of money and equipment.

A couple of months after the new Nikon D850 was released for sale I can honestly say that I am happy that common sense kept me from ordering one. I really didn’t need it nor do I now need one.

We are all at different places as people and as artists/photographers. Somewhere along my journey I felt the need to be the biggest and the best at what I did. I never made any noises about it but inside my inner voice always said more, more, more. More exposure, more sales, more internet fame. Like a dog that soon tires of chasing his tail one day I realized that none of that which I had deemed important was. I didn’t need to be the most popular nor the best nor the most known and friended. Quite the opposite I relish being unknown and quietly allowed to do my own thing.

I always write with the most basic idea and my writings are more a stream of consciousness kind of thing than anything. Apparently some people have a plan and an outline for their writing. Too much work for me. Too lazy I guess?

The idea of low hanging fruit came from a Facebook post that I saw yesterday in one of my groups. The photographer/businessman has posted a photo in the mountains of course which interested me so I checked out his page. Living in Canmore which for those of you not familiar with Alberta is mere minutes outside of Banff National Park the fellow leads photo tours of the national parks teaching people how to take pictures. Clicking on his photos only served to reinforce what I have come to think of most photo guides, they talk a great picture but they can’t take one. This fellows photos were only interesting because they were in the mountains. There was nothing that set them apart from the millions of images taken in Banff every year but people see a pretty mountain lake and are quick to open their wallets and throw their money away.

I think that instead of relying on a spectacular landscape to carry your images you are better served learning in a less grand  setting. This way you will be forced to learn about light and weather, composition and processing. A really good mountain image will always trump a really good “normal place” landscape but that is okay. The idea is that you get so good at your craft that you don’t need to pick the low hanging fruit to be successful. I love Jasper and Banff as much as the next person but sometimes all that I need to do is drive for twenty minutes to get my photo fix. The challenge of the higher fruit has always been more appealing to me anyway.

Happy shooting,

Dan.

 

 

A drive in the country to not take pictures

•October 22, 2017 • 6 Comments

autumn, landscape, fall, windy, sunset, trees, prairie, farm, wheat, grasses, storm, silhouette, Dan Jurak, rural,

Wide open spaces. They do something to my soul.

Sunday was a day to go for a drive in the country. Taking my camera gear along was only a second thought. The camera sat in the back seat of the Rav and only once did I take it from the vehicle to shoot a landscape and of this writing I haven’t even looked at the camera to see what I took.

Every fall the oak tree in our yard drops hundreds and I mean hundreds of acorns to the ground before the snow flies.

For the last few years I have been taking trips north of Edmonton with these seeds. Today I not only had oak acorns but chestnuts from a mature chestnut tree that I see everyday when I walk the dog. The tree hangs over a public walk way and come September lots of those large nuts fall to the ground on the walk way side so I naturally pick them up. That chestnut is a handsome tree. With a broad canopy and thick trunk it is quite unlike the willows and poplars that dot the prairies where I live.

The plan for today was to head north of town with the tree seeds and plant them along farm fields. Because there are so many oak acorns it isn’t practical to make a hole for all of them so for many I simply throw them into the woods and hope that by numbers alone a few survive.

I imagine in a few years for the trees that do take root people will be wondering how those Burr Oaks and chestnuts came to be.

I am 63 and it might take 25 or 30 years for these trees to mature. Will I make it to see them? I dunno. Who knows how much time we have.

It had rained Sunday morning and there were warnings of freezing rain falling on the local highways. By the time I had left town the skies were starting to clear and the vehicle thermometer was reading 6 Celsius.

I kept an eye on the skies as always should a picture present itself but as I continued northward the sky to the west was clearing and the clouds overhead were quickly moving east and away.

With the windows open and a cool, cool breeze blowing, the FM radio was playing songs from my teens like The Guess Who, Elton John, etc. the mind as always flashed back to a time of unfulfilled wishes and dreams not knowing where I would be some forty odd years later.

All of us like the seeds that I planted today have a cycle and a lifespan. At times it seems like forever and at other times I wonder where it all went.

So many memories of the past. So much to see yet in the future.

Happy shooting,

Dan

ps. the photo at the top of this post is obviously NOT from today. It was taken on a very cold, very windy autumn day ten years ago when I was just starting up again shooting landscapes. Another memory. Hang onto them.

 

Ten years ago with digital photography…

•October 19, 2017 • 10 Comments

old cameras, old technology, landscape, dan jurak, alberta, spring, water, reflection,

Digital photography has come a long way from when I saw my first digital Nikon or Canon camera. I can’t remember which it was because it was so many years ago.

I think that it had something like one or two megapixels and cost over $25,000.

Digital photography was just in its infancy and only a few news organizations could afford bodies like that.

A few years later I think that professional camera bodies had gone all the way up to eight megapixels which we all thought was HUGE and the prices had dropped substantially too.

Technology is like that. The early adopters pay exorbitant amounts to be the first using technology that is far from refined.

The first film scanner that I remember seeing sold for something like $30,000. A few years later much less  money would buy you much more scanner.

Film was still king. The technology was still too pricey and primitive to be adopted widely.

I had spent my life shooting film and was in no hurry to switch over. Too much money for too little.

By 2007 my kids were in high school and doing all kinds of intramural sports. My little Intel digital camera, more a toy than anything wasn’t up to the job so I sprung for a Canon Digital Rebel XTi. I was able to use all my current Canon lenses so it seemed like a good idea.

The file size was very large, something like 10 megapixels Wow! This was a brand new thing to me and I quickly fell back into landscape photography. I could squeeze off a few hundred frames and it didn’t cost a penny to have film processed because there was none.

I did a lot of landscapes with that little digital body. It was fun and the quality was pretty good. Stock photography had always interested me but the expense of shooting hundreds of rolls of transparency film, having them processed and then sending them away to be accepted or rejected wasn’t attractive.

Now with digital photography I could shoot lots, send lots and my only costs were for gas for my vehicle.

I applied to Getty Images first because they were the largest. Got no reply and then applied to the next two biggest stock firms that I knew of and got accepted.

There was a problem though. The agencies wanted larger files than I was shooting so already using Canon I went out and bought a Canon 1DS Mark III. The file size was twice as large, 21 megapixels I think and I was off to the races.

The difference in image size seemed huge. The files bogged my computer down so a faster computer was soon ordered.

With the stock agencies I learned a lot about image quality. What you supply might be used for a small postcard or a large billboard. Little things like chromatic aberration, dust spots, banding, etc. were cause to have the image rejected for quality and have to be corrected and resubmitted. I hated having to go over those images at 1:1 but it forced me to look closely at the results I was getting.

With my main lens a Canon 16-35 f2.8 CA or chromatic aberration was a big problem. At 1:1 it was readily apparent at wider apertures. Long story short I ended up buying a Nikon 14-24 f2.8 a legendary lens and with the use of an adapter shot with a Canon body and Nikon lens. The difference in quality between the two lenses was easily noticeable.

Digital camera technology was now mainstream and film was but a foggy memory. There may be people out there, in fact I know that there are who idealize film and think that it is the best thing ever, kind of like the people who collect vinyl records. I grew up with film, was too familiar with it having spent hundreds of hours in the darkroom printing and processing. Digital offered me so much more control. With over twenty years of darkroom experience burning and dodging was second nature to me. With Photoshop, it was a dream come true. Things were so much more forgivable and easier to accomplish.

Fast forward a few more years and Nikon released the D800’s with 36 megapixels. My Canon body was getting old and a year after the bodies were released and the prices started to drop I picked up one, a D800E and then later a D800 which I had converted for infrared photography.

How much different were my landscapes ten years later comparing the old Canon Rebel to my then new D800’s? Well the new bodies certainly had more exposure latitude, much larger file sizes but that was it.

With the ancient Rebel as long as you knew the limitations of the sensor the same photos that I took with the new Nikons I could still take with the old Canon.

There is a point to this story. I have read a few Facebook posts over the last couple of weeks with people that have already very good cameras asking about the latest and newest for twice the price of what they have now and are wondering which to buy.

The painful answer is that their photos will still be the same regardless of what they use.

Ninety percent of a photo at the very least is the photographer and NOT the equipment. If you are very experienced and are pushing the limits of sensor technology, viewing all of your images at 1:1 and using them professionally then you will most likely benefit from the newer body.

You can be an early adopter of the new bodies, if your current camera is nearly worn out or very, very old it might make sense to buy but if it still works keep your money and use it for trips and not equipment. You will benefit more from getting out and taking pictures than you will from the newest camera technology.

Don’t be a camera collector, be a photographer.

Happy shooting,

Dan

ps. The image at the top of this post was taken with a 10 megapixel Canon in 2007 and to me it’s just fine.

exif

The Dark Days of Autumn

•October 15, 2017 • 4 Comments

snow, ice, autumn, black and white, prairie, alkaline pond, Alberta, landscape, Dan Jurak,

On a Saturday morning in the middle of October I awoke to a grey and dark day. The forecast had a chance of snow or rain late in the afternoon. The sun wasn’t up yet and I could hear the wind outside rustling the leaves of our two large maple trees in the back.

Normally this would be the kind of day that I would avoid trying to take any pictures. Knowing when the conditions are right for the kind of photography you want to do gets you halfway there. Today was not the day for photos but yet I wanted to get out of the house.

At times the best thing in the world for me is to be outdoors and alone with my thoughts. Today pictures would not be a priority.

At the latitude that I live we are blessed with long, long days in the summer and come autumn the days rapidly shorten until mid December when we have about eight hours of daylight. It was 7:30 am when I left the house and the sun had not yet risen.

One of my earliest memories as a child was driving east of town to see relatives. A huge portion of east central Alberta is probably related to me in some way. My family on both sides emigrated from the Ukraine in the late eighteen hundreds and early nineteen hundreds and settled around Elk Point and Two Hills. How many farms would I drive by today and be related to people that I didn’t know? Probably a lot.

On the way to the relatives I remembered seeing large alkaline lakes from the highway. The shorelines of the lakes were always a bright white or clay colour and for years in the back of my mind I wondered what kind of possibilities they would present.

Today the idea was to see the lakes. It would be lousy for photos because of the sky but still I wanted to get out and I was soon on the highway driving east.

Alone in the car the FM radio was playing ten minutes out of town. Jimi Hendrix was on, playing All Along The Watchtower and my mind went back forty years to memories of driving along this same stretch of road with my brand new 200 mm lens that I had just bought for my Canon Ftb. I was just becoming interested in landscapes and everything was so very new to me.

I could see a very young, very naive Dan driving his van along the backroads of Strathcona county and I laughed to myself when I remembered the photos that I took. Things had changed so much in that time. It only seems like a few years yet it is a few decades. Time has gone by so quickly I thought to myself. That was forty years ago. Where would I be in another forty? Would I live to be over one hundred? Life at times seems so short.

I continued on dreaming while driving and watching the sun slowly rise over the rolling hills of the county. A light fog made the hills look more three dimensional. The sloughs and ponds near the highway were all covered with a thin veneer of ice. Was it that close to winter I thought?

As the FM radio blared out songs and memories from the seventies I continued eastward in to the now risen sun. The traffic was very light this morning. In what seemed like minutes but was actually an hour I was now 100 kms east of town and skiffs of blowing snow appeared on the highway. Soon I could see a snowplough on the highway, blades up. Was he just doing a dry run I thought, getting things check out before snowfall?

Ten minutes later the highway was covered in light ice and blowing snow and I was gripping the steering wheel a little tighter. Paying more attention to the road conditions I missed my turn to the alkaline lakes. I soon found a turn around and now was a good time to see how slippery the road was so with no one behind me I hit the brakes. Yup, that was ice all right as the ABS kicked in and the wheels chattered as I slowed down.

Ten minutes later and I was close the the lakes I had seen in my childhood. The public campground was closed. No access there. I drove around the lake and was disappointed to see that the road never really came close to the lake so an hour and a half from town I decided to take the long and slow way back home, meandering across the counties between Edmonton and myself on roads that I hadn’t travelled before.

It was relaxing to just drive along these gravel roads. The countryside was rolling unlike where I usually take photos and there were ponds everywhere it seemed. As I came upon a large, wide valley I could see an alkaline pond right next to the road and decided to stop and walk the shoreline to see what things were like.

The vehicle thermometer read -1 Celsius and the wind was really blowing hard. I had taken my winter parka not thinking that I would need it but gladly put it on and soon I was by the shoreline. It was cold. Without gloves or mittens my fingers were soon becoming wooden and stiff. Memories of 60 odd winters in Alberta came rushing back. This is what I remember of winter photography. Numbing cold.

The shoreline was a disappointment. It was nothing like what I had hoped. With the snow that had fallen it was either wet dirt or ice. I was hoping for a parched and cracked shoreline. I picked the wrong time of year I thought to myself.

There were some interesting shapes in the snow and ice so I hurriedly took a few different photos before walking back to the Rav. One thing about being far from the city is that everyone is so friendly. As I approached my vehicle a truck drove by with an elderly couple and they waved and smiled at me as I drove by. There would be more of those waves as I continued on my way slowly back home.

Getting back into a toasty warm vehicle I could see how close we were to winter in central Alberta. Out here the smaller ponds were frozen more heavily and there was more snow on the ground.

On the surface things might look quiet and asleep. They aren’t.

Ten minutes later as I turned on the gravel road what I saw surprised me. From near the side of the road and a few hundred yards into the wheat stubble field was a covering of solid white. I rolled my window down and slowed the vehicle as I drove. Hundreds and THOUSANDS of white now geese from the arctic all at once flapped their wings and rose up into the sky. The sound was deafening as the feeding geese flew away from me and settled back down into the same field. I stopped the vehicle and got out not for pictures but just to experience this. Over the course of the next few minutes flock after flock of geese settled into this field. Getting their energy before their next big flight southward. While we will be living through six months of ice and snow these snow geese will be spending winter in the Gulf of Mexico. How wonderful I thought that these families will fly thousands of kilometres south and then north together. It might look to the untrained eye that there is no order to what these birds do. There is order. They do stay together as families during the long flight. Nature is incredible.

I had only driven a few minutes from the snow geese when I came upon another large and frozen pond by the road. There were hills of vegetation that muskrats make during the summer dotted across the ice. On top of one of them was a large bird. Not recognizing it I stopped and soon realized that it was a bald eagle sitting on one of the muskrat heaps. Behind him was a very large raven and in front of the eagle were to smaller magpies. It soon became apparent why the three birds were so close to the eagle as once he became accustomed to me on the road he dropped his head down and pulled at something. In the fall eagles will often find ducks or geese that are sick or wounded from hunters and make a meal of them but it wasn’t a bird I could see as the eagle picked away. It looked like a muskrat. Too small and dark to be a rabbit, duck or goose. That is why the three birds teased at the eagle, trying to get a free meal while the eagle feigned attacking the birds. Too large and slow on the ground the three birds easily stayed out of range of the larger bird.

On I drove and as I did came upon more flocks of snow geese. Every time I would see them they were either feeding in a field or landing where there was open water. Unlike Canada geese these northerners seemed very wary and easily spooked sometimes circling a pond several times before landing.

My mind quickly drifted back to an old photo album full of black and whites. In one of them is a picture of my older sister and I sitting on the steps of our house, each of us holding the tip of a snow goose wing outstretched between us. I was probably four or five years old and to this day remember sitting for the pic. It was a regular thing in autumn for dad to go duck and goose hunting and bringing home the birds for mom to clean. So many memories of biting into shot pellets during dinner. The truth is I never really liked the taste of waterfowl no matter how mom prepared them.

Partridge or pheasant was my choice as a youngster. Like chicken but so much better.

By 2:00 pm I had made my way home, tired from driving but refreshed. The pics? Most of them I will end up deleting because I don’t see any keepers there. Saturday was not a great day for photos but it was a great day to be outside, alive and remembering things that I had not thought of since I was a child.

Winter is coming not just the season of winter but for me. I realize that at 63 I have lived over half of my natural life. Like the the snow geese travelling to warmer climates and the muskrat with the eagle there is a cycle to our lives. We all have a place here and life is too short not to live it to the fullest.

Get out there and enjoy yourself today.

Happy shooting,

Dan