Getting in the “zone”

•June 26, 2016 • 2 Comments

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There are times when everything is in its place. It feels right. It looks right.

It’s being in the groove. In the “zone”.

Something almost spiritual happens and it’s all part of the creative process.

I’ve never been high, at least not on drugs. I was drunk once in my life and it wasn’t a great feeling during or afterwards. It’s a wonderful feeling being in the “zone” that is difficult to explain.

When shooting infrared images on my camera what is displayed on the back of my camera is a pinkish/purple image that is far removed from how it will end up looking.

A long time ago shooting stopped being contemplative and is instead more reflexive. I see. I shoot. It feels right. It doesn’t feel right. It has become that simple.

I shoot fast, only checking for two things while looking at the camera back. Is the exposure close? Is the image in focus. That’s it. The critique comes later when I get home and do a rough edit in camera.

That’s the first part. It’s almost mechanical.

The second part is probably what I enjoy most about photography. With this image for example I did a rough correction in my RAW image editor. All of those things that you learn in art or photography school about composition, balance, etc. happen almost unconsciously. If it doesn’t “feel” right and I don’t have a better way to explain it then it gets deleted. Trashed. Gone forever and inside my head a mental note is made I think, about what DID NOT work. Filed away to be recalled again one day when a similar situation arises.

For the images that I keep, I almost always go to youtube, find some music that I like and open the image in Photoshop.

Looking at the image, I lighten, I darken, I burn, dodge, hold this area back, instinctively while listening more to the music than paying attention to the photo. It’s kind of like channeling I think, drawing something from somewhere that you aren’t really conscioius of and I love doing it.

For the ten minutes or so that I will spend with the photo all that exist in my universe are two things, the music that I love and my creation. Is it mine? I dunno. I don’t know that I have much say in how it turns out.

The idea starts in one direction consciously and unconsciously ends up in another. Weird or what?

That’s being in the “zone”.

Happy shooting,

Dan

 

 

It’s not about where you live…

•June 25, 2016 • 8 Comments

Lone Elm Tree

I have received many emails and comments telling me that they wished that they lived in as beautiful place as I.

And my reply has always been, it’s not that beautiful. In fact, it’s very ordinary where I am.

Alberta has hundreds upon hundreds of square kilometres or miles, take your pic of very plain, ordinary and UN-spectacular landscapes. If I lived in any other part of the world my photos would look different but they wouldn’t look any less special, at least not to me.

Where I live has shaped how I see things. Photography on the prairies is not the same as say planting myself on the shores of Lake Louise and ninety percent of my work is done for me. Lake Louise already looks good without any help. Where I live is another story.

The secret to getting interesting landscapes is not about being in the most exotic landscapes on the planet. I have little to no interest in visiting Iceland, or going to Patagonia. That is low hanging fruit and… I love sleeping in my own bed.

I take my photos and usually in half an hour I am home.

Put a wide angle lens, the widest you have on your camera and go out someplace twenty minutes from where you are. Snap photos all around you until you have a complete 360 degrees covered. Go home and look at those photos. Somewhere if you look hard enough there will be something that catches your eye. THAT is my secret to getting interesting and different photos. I don’t take all those photos with a camera but in my minds eye I look around until I see something that is aesthetically pleasing.

That’s the first part.

The second and third parts go hand in hand. Light and weather. Both transform, almost magically a place that looks ordinary to something very special. There are so many places within minutes that I have photographed that tens of thousands of people drive by everyday and never give a second look.

The ordinary can be made to look like something trulyl special with just a little bit of work/inspiration.

It’t not about where you live. It’s about how you see.

Happy shooting,

Dan

Dust In The Wind

•June 22, 2016 • 2 Comments

Dust in the Wind

“I close my eyes only for a moment, and the moment’s gone
All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity…” – Kansas

One thing is for certain, long exposure photography gives plenty of time for among other things… contemplation.

There is a rural cemetery about twenty minutes from where I live. It’s right beside a paved two lane highway. I knew that the cemetery was there. I have photographed the church that is on the same property a few times before. Never had it occurred to me to take a few minutes to check the cemetery.

I was on my way home from having taken photos earlier in the day. When I first passed this spot the skies were cloudless. Not so on the way back.

With afternoon convection puffy clouds were forming all around me. I thought why not stop for a few minutes and check things out?

I grabbed my camera body, the one modified for infrared and tripod and made my way out to the old pine tree that was sitting on the edge of the burial ground. It was an old, old pine. You don’t see many pines out this way. Obviously it wasn’t native to here which made me wonder who had planted it? When and why did they plant it? It had to be at least 75 years old.

I set up the camera under the old pine, set the exposure, (four minutes) and waited. As I waited and was taking in the surroundings I saw names on the headstones. Each one had a story I thought. Most of the names were Ukrainian which is common to this part of the province. Just like my relatives who came here from eastern Europe over one hundred years ago. They lived in a strange place with strange customs, a strange language and far, far away from their family and friends.

It wasn’t easy for them I am sure. But with the hardships came rewards. Like my great-great-grandfather before me who emigrated he left a place of relative comfort, he was a blacksmith, to find a better situation for his family. He worked building the railway for two years before he could save enough money to repay his benefactor and send for his family.

I moved through the cemetery watching clouds drift aimlessly overhead as they have done for millions of years obvlivious to the stories that unfolded below them.

A thousand years from now we will all be dust in the wind and the clouds will still be telling their own story.

Happy shooting,

Dan

Mindfulness and your photography

•June 19, 2016 • 12 Comments

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A few months ago one of my daughters and I visited a Buddhist temple, well, it wasn’t really a temple but I am not sure what to call it. It was a small in a small, old, neighbourhood strip mall and was once a drycleaners or something like that.

There were various Buddha posters, incense, books and videos to buy on Buddhism, candles, etc. and a few rows of foldable chairs for those who came to worship or in our case spend three hours on an introduction to meditation class.

I can’t remember exactly what the trigger was for learning about meditation but it seemed interesting and it’s always nice to learn something new.

As someone who was raised from birth in a very strict and restrictive religion somehow I emerged from that as a spiritual, non-religious and tolerant of others beliefs person. You believe what you believe. I believe what I believe and we can all live in peace and harmony together.

What brought me here on an early Saturday morning was the meditation aspect of Buddhism and not Buddhism per se. I usually prefer to learn things on my own but wondered if there was something that I was missing from books and podcasts that a real, live person might be able to impart.

As the instructor took us through a series of exercises one thing became clear to me, mindfulness.

From Google’s definition of mindfulness,

“a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”

Mindfulness is about clearing your mind of clutter and being an observer inside yourself. As you are reading this you are probably having a conversation with yourself. “He’s nuts.” “This is interesting.” “I need to get groceries later today.” That is the kind of thing that we all day long and never realize.

Being mindful means to me anyway, being in the moment, being aware of yourself and your surroudings without the inner dialog.

My sister in law is a very talented painter and talking with her last night she mentioned how when she is painting the colours and shapes flow from within her onto the canvas without any kind of dialog or thinking. Simply, it just happens.

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The best photographs that I have ever taken were not things that I analyzed and thought deeply about. They just happened. It was as simple as being aware of what I was seeing, pointing the camera in that direction and firing away.

I could never understand the photographers that spent seemingly forever contemplating a composition. When I point the camera at my subject it either feels right or it doesn’t. It’s that simple. I don’t understand it but for me it works.

This assumes that the basics of photography, focus, exposure, etc. are understood well enough that the shooting is not about anything technical, that is automatic, the shooting is about seeing and reacting.

Many of my happiest and most peaceful moments have been when I was out alone in the country taking photos. I realized that without being aware of it, photography for me was in large part about meditating. It was being mindful without realizing it.

Yesterday afternoon I went out and took a boat load of pics. I take a bunch and move onto the next place that I am interested in. It is about seeing and reacting. Just that simple.

Only when I get home and start to edit does the process become more contemplative. Sometimes it is like looking at something for the first time. Did I take that? Yeah, I guess so.

Photography can be so many things. For me it is not nor has it ever been about making money or being the most popular photographer on the internet. Nope. Photography for me after all these years is still about being mindful. It’s about being in that quiet place in my head where all things are peaceful and calm.

Happy Sunday to you all,

Dan

 

 

Heavenly Places

•June 13, 2016 • 10 Comments

Heavenly Places

I don’t know where creativity comes from nor do I care.

It’s a funny thing that for me happens automatically as if my hand is being guided by some otherworldly force.

Many times I will drive out of town with a specific idea in mind and more times than not I end up photographing something completley different. Is that creativity?

This morning was a busy one with all the family heading off to their full time or summer jobs between semesters.  A small mountain of laundry needed to be done and as the one person who is retired and stays at home it is incumbent upon me to get it done. I had just finished my second load of laundry and happened to look out of the window to see the beginnings of wispy cirrus clouds. The past few days had been overcast and at times raining hard so even though I wanted to get out I knew better and stayed at home.

Off I went with just one lens and a few neutral density filters and oh yeah, just one camera body, the one modified to photograph infrared.

Ten minutes later I was walking along a country road framing the shot, putting on the TWO neutral density filters to bring the exposure down to three minutes and grabbing a shot.

This went on for half an hour before I got bored and decided to visit a tree that I had photographed in the past. What makes the tree interesting to me is that it is sitting on a small hill in the middle of nothing. That’s odd because most empty fields around here are used as pasture for grazing or tilled for crops.

As I walked in the wet morning grass up to the tree my thoughts wandered to my recently departed brother. It’s funny how he continues to visit my thoughts. So many happy memories of when we were young, before we were married and our own families to raise. A large part of our lives was spent outside. My father who died when I was six years old was an avid outdoorsman. He left behind a treasure of Field and Stream and Outdoor Life magazines upon which many dream trips with him were planned.

Maybe it is because of the above that I feel a special connectedness with the outdoors? It can be in the mountains, by the lake or out on the prairies and still the feeling of awe and connectedness is there but back to the little tree sitting by itself in the field.

I composed my shot, put the two neutral density filters onto the lens and pressed the button on the timer. As I waited for the timer to count down the three minute exposure my mind did what it always does at these times, daydream. For a few minutes all that existed for me was this tree out on the prairie all by itself. Vehicles could be heard buzzing by on the nearby highway oblivious to this special place.

Maybe that is what photography is? An escape? Or a visit to a familiar place?

When I got back and started looking at what I had taken this morning I was struck by the heavenly feel the photos had. It was all light and space. It was for a moment while I was there, a heavenly place.

Happy shooting,

Dan

An afternoon with my daughter…

•June 6, 2016 • 12 Comments

infrared, landscape, dan jurak, alberta, prairie, long exposure, black and white, fine art, fineart,

The old feeling started to come back.

I found myself looking over my camera gear. Were my batteries charged? Were the memory cards empty? What did the skies look like?

My oldest daughter who is done for university for the year and on a day off was at home sleeping in of course because of her busy weekend. So I asked her on a whim, would you like to come out with me for a short ride in the country for photos.

Without even thinking about it she said yes but needed to freshen up a bit before leaving the house. Off to the nearest Starbucks, where she works to get her late breakfast that I didn’t understand the order because it was in Starbuck¬† speak.

In a few short minutes we were on the outskirts of town where some hundred year old poplars line the road. Big old trees they are and it was windy. Nice and windy.

I had an idea a few days earlier of trying long exposures with my infrared camera to get a more ethereal or dreamy look. To my surprise when I put on the ND filters my exposures were all black. No matter how long the exposure or how wide open the lens no exposure was registering. Damn! Then I realized the filters that I was using, Formatt Hitech ND filters also block infrared, a good thing when shooting color or black and white but not so good for infrared it seemed.

For my Nikon 14-24 I have a neutral density filters made by a different company, WonderPano so I put that lens on the camera body, added a WonderPano filter and with a little experimentation settled on an exposure for outside. It seems that the WonderPano filters are not as good as blocking the infrared spectrum which for my purposes worked.

As my daughter and I walked alongside the road in thigh high grass the sun beat down mercilessly on us. But we talked, nevermind the heat. It was small talk. Nothing important or earth shattering. Tell me about the new boy friend. What did you and your sister do this weekend? The little things that make up or day to day lives and it dawned on me, it was the kind of day that make up the millions of memories we have when we are old and grey. Memories to cherish. Nothing earth shattering just the closeness of a father and his daughter.

Before long I was done taking pictures and we were home. She was out of the house a little bit later to pick up her sister from work while I sit here at the computer writing about an afternoon with my daughter.

Happy shooting,

Dan

 

On the importance of photos and losing your little brother…

•June 4, 2016 • 21 Comments

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I very seldom write about my personal life as I am a very private person. Today is different. Todays’ blog is as much about remembering my little brother “Bobo” as it is about photographs and photography.

My mind has been far away from photography for quite a while. That spark of creativity was missing. I wanted to go out but could not motivate myself and I did not know why.

I think that I now know.

A year and a half ago one of my brothers was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. It was just a few days before Christmas that we got the news. Dave insisted that nothing change and that we continue with the family celebration as usual. At stage four with lung cancer the outlook for living past a few weeks is not great.

Dave lived to spend another Christmas with us. He was a miracle. He was defying all the odds of surviving his illness. He was a machine at home painting the house, pruning trees, doing everything that he could think of so that when he passed it might be just a little easier for his wife.

Dave never asked for help but last fall I got a phone call from him and he said, “Dan, can you come over and help me with this tree. I just don’t have the energy to finish it.”

I was over in a matter of minutes to see the bed of his half ton truck almost full of branches as thick as your thighs. He had one more large branch to finish and couldn’t muster the strength. I worked for an hour getting the last branch down and loaded and I was beat. I offered to haul the load to the disposal but he refused me saying that it was easy to do and don’t bother.

That was my little brother. Never complaining. Never asking why me? It was only in his final months that I found out from his wife that he had days where he cried in pain and wrapped his head in pain as he also had a brain tumour, a few in fact.

Dave died a couple of weeks ago in his bed. He got up in the middle of the night, fell down and was helped back to his bed. A few hours later his wife awoke next to him to find him cold and not breathing.

That was Dave. It was never about him.

Dave didn’t want a funeral. He didn’t want people being sad about his passing. He insisted that there be a celebration of his life where friends and family could share funny stories about him.

Part of the celebration was a slide show of Dave’s life.

Our father died when my brothers and sisters were very young but before he died he shot thousands of black and white and color images of us and our lives.  When my mother passed a few years ago I inherited boxes of black and white negatives, prints and transparencies.

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Dave’s first birthday.

In all of those years that I had them I never looked at them. But I did last week and the first picture that I pulled out of a slide carousel was of just Dave and I and I cried. And I cried and I cried some more. We were so happy then. We were so young with beaming smiles and our lives ahead of us. I was transported instantly to that moment and I missed him so bad. God how I still miss my little brother.

The more photos that I went through the more the memories came flooding back. This goes back to the late fifties. It was like being transported in a time machine. The clothes, the houses and cars and even how the people dressed and did their hair was different but it all came back.

And then it came to me about the importance of photos in our lives. They are more than just pretty or something to make a few dollars from. They are reminders of experiences never to be lost. Never to be forgotten.

I love you little brother and I miss you too.

Dan

 
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