When Photography Becomes About More Than Taking Photos

•September 23, 2018 • 2 Comments

Banff, mountains, landscape, rockys, fog, foggy, river, forest, trees, spirituality, life, death, Dan Jurak, Alberta,

I’ve been making autumn trips for pictures to Jasper and Banff for about fifteen years.

Autumn is usually a great time to get out to the mountains. The roads are less busy. The tourist spots less populated and the weather is more unpredictable.

I’ve had years where there was not a cloud to be seen and years where it rained every day. Whatever the weather it is always interesting.

When I visit the parks I usually have a rough idea of what I want to see and do but keep an open mind. The light and the weather has always been my guide.

On Instagram I’ve seen a couple of falls that I’ve never had luck with. It seemed that I was always in the wrong spot. With an idea in mind of what I wanted to do I set out to both Athabasca Falls and Sunwapta falls. Surprisingly there were summer like crowds at both falls. I had never seen so many people in Jasper in mid September.

Walking around both falls it dawned upon me. The reason that I had never gotten photos like I had seen was for a very dangerous reason. In both cases the photos were taken on the OTHER side of the protective fences.

It happens every year. People who figure that it will never happen to them ignore the danger signs, hop the fence and inadvertently slip, falling down a few dozen meters into water that can best be described as thrashing and churning, rag dolling their bodies until days later they are found at the bottom of the falls.

No picture that I will ever take is worth risking life and limb to get it. I left the falls shaking my head in disbelief because I had not seen one or two but dozens of photos taken from these spots.

My first night in the park I arrived at Bow Lake around sunset. The clouds were very low. So low and dark that not a trace of evening colour could be seen in the skies. All alone at this popular spot it started to snow and snow heavily. The snow was more like mini hail than the big fluffy flakes that are usually seen this time of the year.

The plan was to sleep in the parking lot in the back of my vehicle and catch the first rays as they hit Crowfoot Mountain. It felt like I never slept at all that night and by 6:00 a.m. I decided to get dressed and see what it was like. My vehicle was covered with frost and ice. The stars were overhead with just the beginning of light in the east.

Clear skies and one tiny cloud over the lake. I couldn’t see a picture there and decided to drive away hoping that somewhere else would be suitable before sunrise.

Forty minutes later and my heart skipped a beat as I saw a huge wall of fog ahead of me. For the next two and a half hours the only thing that existed in my world was the magic I was witness to.

Everywhere I looked I could see a photo. I shot and shot and shot some more got in my vehicle for ten minutes, got out and shot again.

While shooting nothing else exists. It is being immersed in a special place. If there is a higher power and I am certain of it, that power was smiling on me this day. At times I would look up and see fresh snow covered peaks peaking out of the fog. They would play a game of hide and seek. There was never any panic or worry about not getting my image, they kept showing themselves to me.

By the time the morning light had ended I felt like I was walking on air and not touching the earth. It’s funny about coincidences because a few days earlier I had been listening to a podcast. The guest of the show was a psychic and one of the things she had said was a sign that you know that a loved one is contacting you is when they instantly pop into your head. My father who died when I was six years old was an outdoorsman and an avid photographer and I don’t know why but he immediately came to mind. Maybe because one of his favourite places to get away was around Nordegg where I was driving. Many of my fondest outdoor memories happened under the stars watching for meteorites or satellites warmed by the campfire before falling asleep.

Real or imagined it was a comforting thought that some fifty years after his death my father might be with me on my journeys. Watching over me like a dad does for his son.

Happy shooting,

Dan

Advertisements

It Never Gets Old

•August 26, 2018 • Leave a Comment

landscape, foggy, alberta, prairie, horizontal, summer, sunrise, dawn, dan jurak, clouds,

We’ve been having a lot of grey, smokey skies in Alberta for the past few weeks. The cause being the forest fires that are going on in British Columbia the adjoining province to the west of Alberta.

This has led to grey skies during the day and if the cloud cover was light enough, deep red sunrises and sunsets.

This past Friday was grey, heavily overcast and raining lightly. With the overnight forecast being clearing skies, light winds and temperatures near freezing it was setting up for my favourite of all conditions, morning fog.

The days are getting shorter every day up here and sunrise was a pleasant 6:30 a.m.

I didn’t want to drive very far on this morning so had planned to go to one of my favourite spots only twenty minutes from home.

At 5:00 a.m. the alarm went off, the coffee brewer was turned on and I checked the highway webcams from around the province to see how heavy the fog was.

Nothing. No fog. Every webcam that I looked at said that humidity was 100% and a slight wind but no fog. This didn’t make sense. Should I make the drive and be disappointed?

I threw my camera gear in the Rav, put on my wet weather clothing (it is always wet in the morning and having a good pair of waterproof pants and boots makes the time out more pleasant) and was on my way wondering if this was going to be a bust.

I had just gotten to the city limits and there it was, as if someone had taken cotton batten and covered the surrounding fields, the fog lay low and heavy.

As I drove away from home I kept looking for potential photos. The sun was still a half an hour from rising. Maybe here? Maybe there? Nothing looked worth stopping for so I continued on to one of my go to spots a small winding river valley. The water in the “river” is so slow moving as to almost be standing still but being water and in a valley if there was a thick fog for a sunrise it would be here.

A few minutes later I found myself driving into the valley and looking across to see it only sparsely covered with fog. A short drive up to the other side of the valley and to a view point I could see heavier fog but it was on private property and I always respect property owners rights by not trespassing.

I took a few shots from up high and went down near the river hoping that things would change.

I waited. And waited. And waited. 6:30 came and no sun. I waited some more, maybe another twenty minutes, took a few photos and no sun. Hmm?

Back into the Rav and up and out of the valley and what should I see to my left but an orange globe of light having over a field of ripening wheat. I quickly turned around and drove back into the valley hoping that in a few minutes the sun would poke through.

As it turned out, the cloud was thick enough on the eastern horizon that it took a few more minutes before it poked its way through and I grabbed a few photos.

Deciding it was time to head in a leisurely route home I drove up to the valley viewpoint and photographed the image at the top of this post. With all the recent smoke the sun glowed orange and the light otherworldly. A few quick shots and taking my time driving stopped a few more times for pics.

By 8:00 a.m. I was back home and enjoying the rest of the coffee that I had brewed a few hours earlier.

What a great morning. Autumn was definitely in the air. My vehicles thermometer was reading 1 Celsius and as I write this I am listening to the television where the forecaster is saying that there will be snowfall higher up in the mountains.

It never gets old doing landscape photography. For me its more than just the photos. It’s about connecting with nature. Being alone with my thoughts and realizing what a wonderful world we live in.

Happy shooting,

Dan

A Morning To Remember

•August 13, 2018 • 4 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

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