A Morning To Remember

•August 13, 2018 • 2 Comments

Alberta, landscape, foggy morning, fog, foggy, prairie, farm, rural, horizontal, Dan Jurak, road, fence, misty,

We’ve been having some great weather here in central Alberta for the past few days. Great to be at the lake or on the beach but not very good for photography.

The days have been cloudless and hot. Where I live on Friday we set an all time record high of 34.5 Celsius. For those in the American southwest that isn’t much but up here where it can be -34 Celsius in the winter months that is hottttttt.

Saturday and Sunday it poured. It rained heavily on Sunday and the forecast for Monday was clear and sunny again.

My first thought was… FOG!!! Anytime there is high humidity (from the weekend) and clearing morning skies, if the wind is light or non-existent, fog is almost guaranteed.

With that I set my radio alarm for 4:30 a.m. and before too long the alarm was buzzing and I was out of bed, dressed and brewing a pot of coffee for my morning trip out of town.

As I looked out of our front window into the dark night sky, the street lamps cut through the thick fog. Checking our provincial highway webcams the fog was visible out of town but not very thick.

In half an hour I was out the door and  driving away from Edmonton in the slowly brightening skies.

I headed to my usual spots and the occasional cloud could be seen above the fog. I would alternately drive in an out of the banks until I came to a local river. The valley had very little fog in it which surprised me because this spot was usually one of my favourites. I continued on to another river spot. Same thing.

Hmm. Instead of going home I continued on in and out of the banks of fog as the sky got brighter. Ten minutes from sunup and I had taken a few photos but nothing remarkable.

And then… the sun rose above the horizon over a field littered in bales of hay but the view was obscured by trees. Usually my best morning shots are taken while the sun is close to the horizon so there was a little urgency finding a suitable location. I turned down a freshly ploughed gravel road and could see my photo ahead. The sun was rising through the thick fog which was framed by a stand of poplar trees. Just then a truck rounded the corner and slowed by me. I rolled down the window to ask if the driver needed any help his answer was to ask me the same. Long story short, it was his private road and he was headed to work with a stranger driving up to his house. Me.

I apologized, turned around and drove on disappointed that the best of the day was behind me.

It was such a nice morning instead of going home I continued on and as I did, the photo opportunities started presenting themselves one after another. With every turn I took was another photo.

The skies were perfect. The light was perfect and I was for a while in my own personal heaven. This continued on for forty or so minutes and by then I had decided to turn the Rav around and head home.

By 8:00 a.m. I was home and doing a rough edit of my images in camera. I was not disappointed with what I saw. Many, many images to process.

The first one from this morning is at the top of this post. While driving and looking to my left there was a private road leading to an oil well or pump. I couldn’t tell because it was hidden in the fog.

Pulling over I placed the tripod in the wet gravel/mud and snapped a few pics. This one needed very little touching up at all. A testament to how perfect the morning light was.

A morning to remember for a long time to come.

Happy shooting,

Dan

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The Beauty of EVERY Season

•July 25, 2018 • 2 Comments

landscape, summer, farm, rural, agriculture, canola, wheat, grain, dawn, sunrise, horizontal, Alberta, Dan Jurak,

For many years I would look forward to autumn here in Alberta.

The mountain parks would empty out. Splashes of gold and crimson contrasted with the blue bird skies.

No traffic was to be found on the highways. Everyone seemed to be back to school or work.

Then I fell in love with winter.

A clean white canvas that took on the colour and mood of the sky. Frost covered landscapes that looked like something from a fantasy movie.

Spring was always an in between season. Lots of browns and greys. Little to no foliage and the weather was boring.

And then, and then I discovered long exposure black and white photography. Previously unphotographable landscapes became works of beauty with seven minute long exposures. Tones of black, white and grey swirled across the sky.

Now we are in the middle of summer in Alberta. The crops are growing. The canola is golden. The skies are the most interesting of the year.

There is beauty to every season here in Alberta and where you live too.

Happy shooting,

Dan

My Love Affair With Light

•July 23, 2018 • Leave a Comment

sunrise, storm, prairie, canola, farm, rural, alberta, storm chaser, Alberta, Dan jurak, horizontal,

Sometimes when my wife asks me why I’m not out taking photos I reply because the light isn’t right and she nods dismissively like what am I talking about.

Awareness of light is the most powerful tool a photographer can have in their arsenal. Weather comes in a close second and location a distant third.

With the right light and weather any place and I mean ANY place can look incredibly interesting.

Light doesn’t just illuminate the landscape. It shapes and colours it.

A few mornings ago when driving around after sunrise the residual storm clouds from the evening before hung low to the horizon. If you were to see them during the middle of the day they would appear almost without depth and colour.

During the early hours of the morning when the sun is low and light is being filtered through the atmosphere these very same clouds took on an almost ethereal look.

The morning sun pulled otherwise hidden shapes and forms and painted the sky with delicate and then bold hues of yellows and oranges until finally it had risen enough that this cloud lost its depth and colour.

I love light. I love how it transforms the world around me.

It’s my not so secret affair that my wife now knows about.

Happy shooting,

Dan

Same Storm… Different Day

•July 22, 2018 • 4 Comments

storm, prairie, clouds, dark sky, alberta, storm chaser,Dan Jurak, alberta, farm, sky,

Mid to late July is all about heat and moisture, lots of it followed by an endless cycle of hot sun and pouring rain.

In my previous post I had written about my car giving me worries and causing concern because of the loud noises it was making.

A trip to a very honest mechanic revealed that there was a rock about the size of a dime stuck in the brake caliber. The mechanic told me that eventually the rock would have disintegrated but I wasn’t about to drive it with all that racket not knowing what it was.

In my over forty years of driving on gravel roads I have never had anything like that happen to me before but as I talked to people it turned out that although it isn’t common it isn’t unknown.

Getting my vehicle back on Thursday evening was coincidental to a huge storm passing through our part of Alberta. I followed it from Edmonton north east (this time with a full tank of gas) and tried to get ahead of it to see if there was a shelf or any other kind of interesting shape at the front.

I finally caught it about forty minutes later and stopped at the side of the road to try and get a few photos of it. The wind was blowing very hard and everything in the landscape that could bend was swaying to and fro.

Taking a few quick photos of the front of the storm I hopped back into my vehicle to try and get ahead of it again but this time instead of being on pavement where I could do 100 kph I made the mistake of driving on gravel. The storm quickly overtook me and soon the rain was pounding hard and bouncing off the road.

Fearing the worst I looked for a tall stand of trees lining the road to take shelter in should it hail. At least this might provide a little protection for my windshield if the hail should get too large. Moments after I stopped the hail started. All I could do was put on my flashers and listen to the radio until the storm weakened.

Fifteen minutes later I was back on the highway headed home but that wasn’t the end of my storm photo.

With heavy rains I was hoping that the wind the following morning would be calm so I planned to make it out and hope that there might be a fog with the high humidity. With the sun set to rise around 5:30 am it was off to bed early and soon enough time to get out of bed and on the road.

DSC_0841_DxO copy

Traveling out of town there was very little in the way of morning fog but there was the chance for a colourful sunrise against the fields of blossoming canola.

There is a beautiful place close to where I live where there are rolling hills planted with wheat and canola so I made my way out there to await the sunrise and it didn’t disappoint. Very slowly the sky turned from pale blues to magentas and pinks and then to crimson. It was a beautiful morning to be out and a thank you to the kind young couple who stopped while I was taking photos to ask if I needed any assistance.

After the sun rose I continued north taking photos until the last of the morning colours faded from the sky and by 7:00 am I was home.

A beautiful start to the day.

Happy shooting,

Dan

A not great ending to a not great start…

•July 19, 2018 • 7 Comments

storm, landscape, road, farm, rural, alberta, horizontal, prairie, summer, weather, Dan Jurak,

Life isn’t all peaches and cream. Some days are better than others. Some worse.

It all started with squirrels.

We have squirrels in our neighbourhood and as anyone who has lived near them can tell you they can be very destructive. Cute to look at not but not the damage they can cause to your property nibbling and chewing away at wires and insulation.

Around seven one morning the family dog, Cooper was standing at the double doors to our deck and crying. He saw something and he wanted to get it. Coop as we call him is a natural hunting dog. He was never trained to but he instinctively sniffs out, points and then flushes partridge all on his own on our walks in the country.

I haven’t raised a rifle to my shoulder in over forty years. I stopped hunting. That was my choice for Cooper his brain is wired to hunt.

Geese, ducks, magpies crows, rabbits and all other manner of creatures he ignores with the exception of partridge and SQUIRRELS. When he sees a squirrel he goes crazy.

So with my dog alarm having just gone off I got up from the computer and looked outside  on our deck to see a squirrel inside our humane cage.

I don’t harm the squirrels but instead cover the cage to calm them down and then drive them out into the country where there are large trees and release them. That was the plan on this grey and rainy day.

In a few minutes I was dressed and driving out of our cul de sac with a squirrel in the back or the Rav. As soon as I looked north, the direction outside of town, I saw the most incredible low, and stretching from horizon to horizon rolling cloud. It was white against a dark grey sky.

Instead of doing the smart thing and grabbing my camera equipment then I figured that I would drop off the squirrel and then hurry back to get my gear and chase the slow moving cloud.

Fifteen minutes later I was back home and soon out the door in pursuit of the rolling cloud. It was then that I noticed that my gas tank was slightly more than a quarter full. Never mind I thought I would soon be ahead of the cloud and making my way back to town for gas.

Once on the highway the cloud seemed further away. The more I drove the further away it was from me. I drove for about twenty minutes before I decided that I would never catch the photogenic cloud. Looping back in an arc I made my way into Edmonton stopping to take photos but never really being happy with what I got.

A full tank later I was at home and doing normal household stuff.

Keeping an eye on the forecast and my radar app I could see that things might shape up into an interesting evening and I had decided that I wasn’t going to miss out on the evening fireworks that were predicted by the weather forecasters.

Around seven in the evening I made my way out of town in the direction what looked to be interesting storm clouds on radar. Twenty five minutes later I could see a nice storm cloud on the horizon and made my way towards it taking the odd photo agains the now ripening canola. I continued this for another twenty minutes or so and stopped for a few quick pics before getting closer to the storm. Getting back into the vehicle I put the Rav in gear only to hear a grinding sound. I stopped and then moved forward the the sound disappeared.

A kilometer or so the noise returned, a loud, squealing, grinding noise. This was scary. Half an hour from home, should I call a tow truck?

Thinking that my brakes might need adjusting and that was the problem I pulled the parking brake on and with it holding the breaks pressed on the gas in forward and reverse. The noise disappeared. Whew! Problem solved.

I was close to the storm and it was now losing steam so I stopped where you see the photo above and took a few photos.

Pulling the vehicle around to return home I went a few hundred meters and the noise returned even noisier than before. Stopping the vehicle I got out, looked at the rear driver side, which is where it sounded like the noise was coming from, couldnt see anything and got back in. Driving forward the noise disappeared.

I safely made it all the way home until a hundred meters from home the dreaded noise returned.

So here I write this having made an appointment with a mechanic to get this fixed.

Maybe it is squirrel karma?

Happy shooting,

Dan

The best laid plans… or always keep an open mind

•July 13, 2018 • 4 Comments

focus stacking, landscape, jasper, mountains, sunset, ice fields, columbia, mount wilson, landscape, horizontal, tourism jasper, Dan Jurak,

I almost always stop at the Columbia Icefields for photos when I am in Jasper.

Over the years I’ve personally witnessed the toe of the Athabasca Glacier recede. Where we once parked our vehicle when we were kids is now a long, long walk from the glacier.

One evening I had planned on getting a photo with both Mount Andromeda and Mount Athabasca glowing orange with a smattering of dramatic clouds swirling around the tops of the peaks.

The reality that evening was a couple of sparse poofs of white and a very harsh and direct sun shining on the mountain tops as the sun was setting.

So much for that idea.

As I was walking back to my vehicle which was NOT in the parking lot but halfway up the drive down to the parking lot a distance of about half a kilometre I kept noticing tiny streams of water threading down the hillside and reflecting the evening sky. I walked a bit further up the slope and saw what was to my eye a beautiful curving line of water which might make for an interesting photo.

Mount Wilson in the background was brightly lit while all around the water was very dark. Not a problem I thought, the range of exposure would be captured by the camera and I could even it out in post processing, which I later did.

I was also trying something new for me. Focus stacking. I picked up a new camera body a couple of weeks before that figures out focus stacking for you.

Focus stacking is taking a series of photos starting with close focus and with each successive shot focusing a bit further.

The laws of physics limit how much depth of field your lens will have with a particular aperture.

You can’t tell from this shot but the camera was about ten inches from the ground, photographed at 14 mm on a full frame body. When I focused on the near rocks the far peaks were soft no matter how much I stopped the lens down.

I set the camera up to take five exposures while stacking. This requires me to focus to the nearest point and then the camera will automatically do the rest of the focusing and exposures for you.

Then in post processing you combine the resultant images either in Photoshop or a stacking program like Helicon Focus and get ONE sharp image.

So experimental mode in effect I let the camera do its magic and to my delight when I got home and combined the images I got one sharp frame.

Focus stacking has a lot of applications of which landscape photography is one. You can really exaggerate near/far relationships while focus stacking and have a perfectly sharp image where before you were limited by the laws of physics about how far you could stop the lens down and how much depth of field you would get.

I remember reading years ago about an MMA fighter who was one of the best in the world. He was head and shoulders better than anyone in his weight class. He was so good that he could clown around and play with his opponent like a cat sometimes does with a mouse. When asked what his secret was he said that he was like water. It takes the shape of the vessel it occupies.

That is very much like shooting landscapes. You cannot force mother nature to provide you with the light or weather that you want but instead have to be flexible enough to take advantage of what she provides.

Happy shooting,

Dan

Just got back from Jasper

•July 9, 2018 • 2 Comments

 

Jasper, mountains, rockies, Dan jurak, landscape, river, dawn, summer, Alberta, travel alberta, tourism jasper, water, Sunwapta,

I just got back from Jasper.

It has been years since I have visited the park in early July in large part because I abhor crowds. As I drove through town during the middle of the week motel upon hotel had their no vacancy signs up. All the campgrounds close to town were also full. Yup. That’s why I have avoided the prime summer months. And the traffic. Lots of campers, vans and motorhomes on the roads.

The first thing I noticed were the wildflowers. There were more than I ever remembered. The sides of the road and meadows seemed to be carpeted with yellow, white and orange flowers.

And it seemed that absolutely everyone had an SLR and was taking photos. Was there a sudden resurgence in photography or is it that I just never noticed it before, after all I usually visit during the fall and winter months. Perhaps its just because there are less people around.

I made the trip for photographs and doing it solo had a lot of time to myself and my thoughts.

Each and every place I stopped at had memories. When driving by Pyramid Lake I remembered catching about a four pound lake trout (thats large for that lake) and proudly showing it to my now deceased mother and wondering if she were with me as I reminisced.

While waiting for the mid day sun to lower at Medicine Lake memories of being with my father on the lake in a boat when I was maybe four years old. That is sixty years ago!

Had I really been visiting the park for so many years.

I went to the fifth bridge at Maligne Canyon and suddenly remembered the now defunct fish hatchery at the sixth bridge and as a youngster marvelling at the thousands of minnows and then the huge breeding trout in the other tanks. Of course Parks Canada stopped stocking lakes and river ages ago so that is another long lost memory. Where the hatchery once stood is nothing. Nada.

Trips with my brothers and cousins. Fishing trips with friends from work to catch Brooke Trout where the Maligne River flows into Medicine. So many memories.

After all of these years Jasper has still not lost its magic. Every time I visit is like coming home again.

Thats what being alone will do to you. Memories.

Anyway, I did take pictures and somehow I always end up with something different. There are so many places to stop like the photo at the top. In sixty years I must have driven by this place at least a hundred or even three hundred times but on this particular morning I did.

After a fitful sleep in the back of my little Rav4 I made my way to this river thinking that the photo was where you don’t see, behind me. When I turned around the lines immediately drew me into the scene. Of course I did take a few pics of where I intended but this just goes to show you that expect the unexpected.

It seems that what I often plan is not my favourite photo and that is a good thing.

Photography is full of surprises and memories.

Happy shooting,

Dan