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.

 

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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

 

Breaking out of the photography rut…

•October 13, 2017 • Leave a Comment

aurora borealis, aurora, northern lights, dan jurak, landscape, nightscape, Alberta, Canada, hay, bales, farm, stars, learning, rut,

From Google’s definition of the word rut, “a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change.”

That describes me right now perfectly. The creative process is a wonderful thing. Understanding how it works can help you get to the next level.

Learn the basics of whatever it is that interests you. Get the fundamentals down so that you needn’t think about what you are doing.

That can apply to what kind of camera gear you use, how you expose, compose and even when and where you take photos.

I can go back through my archives and see my progression.

I am at first intrigued by a type of landscape photography.

I try to emulate that type of landscape until I can create my own copy of it.

I get bored with that kind of landscape and then the real fun begins on ways to look at it in a completely new way and owning it. Once done I am on my way to a different kind of landscape. LOL Jack of all trades, master of none? Maybe that’s me?

Over the last dozen years my interests have gone from dramatic storm clouds, to foggy sunrises in all seasons, to black and whites, to long exposure black and whites and now to where I am, photographing the northern lights.

The last few weeks I have been wracking my brain trying to imagine different ways to present the aurora. Google image search will show you that by and large there are two kinds of aurora, broad expanses of skies where the foreground is dark or unimportant or  directly overhead at the corona.

After browsing through a few hundred aurora photos or maybe even a few thousand it dawned on me that for the most part they all look the same. That is both frustrating and challenging. Nothing is ever new in the art world. Everything has been done at least once already.

The photo above is NOT where I want to take this but is representative of the easy, standard aurora photograph. A sky with lights, a foreground and nothing else to make it different from the rest. The technical stuff is routine and easy and boring. The creative process is exactly the opposite.

We are all at different places where creativity is concerned and the idea of never really knowing everything is what makes shooting landscapes or anything else for that matter continually fun.

Keep learning and growing and you will never find yourself in a rut for very long.

Happy shooting,

Dan.

 

 

We all have to start somewhere… and it is fun to help out

•October 12, 2017 • Leave a Comment

instruction, learning, photography, winter, sunrise, frost, cold, landscape, Dan Jurak, Alberta, prairie, farm, snow,

I am certainly not new to landscape photography or to Photoshop. So many years later I find myself still amazed at what I don’t know especially when I thought that there was nothing more to learn.

Photography is the gift that keeps on giving. Images that were taken a dozen years ago look new and fresh on second look. How I process images or see things keeps changing and that is how it should be. As with any art form there is no finish line. You never get to the place where you can say “that’s it”, time to move on.

I mention this today because of a post that I saw on Facebook. A few months ago I started up a new Facebook account, I couldn’t reclaim the old one to which I had forgotten the password and would NOT send copies of two pieces of government identification to Facebook.

When starting up the new Facebook page I noticed a group, it was a suggestion by Facebook that looked interesting. There was a page devoted to photographing the northern lights in the province of Canada where I live. That appealed to me for two reasons, I love to see what kind of photos are being taken where I live and secondly, my interest in the northern lights was rekindled and seeing other peoples images seem to inspire me to get out.

The experience level of the group is like a pyramid with most or a lot of people just starting out and as you go up the pyramid there are fewer and fewer people with both the artistic and technical expertise. This group seems to be very heavily weighted on the bottom and that is not a bad thing.

Beginners in anything should ask questions. There are never any dumb questions only dumb answers and I have seen a few of those in the group from some of the self appointed “experts”.

When I was a working photographer I sometimes had students in the studio. Normally when working with a still life I would have the stereo playing, get into that “zoned out” space and just do my thing. However I found that when I had a student with me and had to explain what I was doing I found myself explaining something that was done instinctively. By explaining what I was doing I realized that what I thought was instinctive was actually being done for technical or artistic reasons. What seems automatic to me when shooting landscapes isn’t as automatic as it looks. A dozen things are happening in my mind that I am not really thinking about but reacting to.

I seldom answer any questions since they seem to be answered fairly quickly but when I see an answer that I think is misleading or wrong, I give my opinion.

Back in the early seventies the only way that I could see what was happening in the photo world or to get answers to my technical questions was through magazines. Today answers, right and wrong are only a click away from your phone or computer.

I would have loved to have input from someone who knew more than I. Today things are so much easier, so much better for learning.

In any kind of art there are no absolutes. There is no one hundred percent right or wrong answer. Just like when you are in the kitchen preparing a meal, how much salt is right? A teaspoon or a teaspoon and a half? That is part of the puzzle and part of the joy of photography.

There is so much to learn. There are no rights or wrongs. Your photography is yours and no one else’s but it never hurts to listen to someone with an open mind. You never know what you might discover.

Happy shooting,

Dan

Gripe: Buying software but wait… there’s more to buy than meets the eye

•October 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Today’s post is more of a bitch or a gripe than anything else. Hopefully these will be few and far between but today I felt compelled to write about this.

Photoshop has been around for many years. It is a gigantic program that after having used it daily for almost twenty five years I at times feel like I have only scratched the surface on it.

Photoshop is a very important part in my photography. Taking the picture is kind of like having the ingredients to a recipe and photoshop is akin to the kitchen and assorted utensils.

I am always open to new and interesting ways of processing things. Many times I find myself doing things the old fashioned way only because that is how I have been doing it for years.

There are many ways to achieve the same effect in Photoshop. Whether it is manually selecting and using the different tools in the program, using filters or the latest thing, Photoshop actions.

Actions is a name for a series of things done in the program that have been automated. For example I could manually select shadows with a magic wand, save the selection as a channel and I have a luminosity mask. An action cuts out all the in between steps and with the press of a button you have the same channel.  A real time saver for sure.

That is but one example of Photoshop actions.

Today I came across a set of actions that I found really interesting. The were an advanced  version of actions that I had bought about a dozen years earlier and I was still using them. The new set is much more advanced than the ones that I have and do many more things.

I was tempted to purchase them until I saw all of the instructional videos that I could “purchase” to help me understand the program.

Now I ask, isn’t that like selling you something without a users manual so that you can use the item to its full potential?

If I don’t buy the videos I can stumble by and slowly learn my way through the program and maybe miss a lot along the way.

When I bought my car, I got a very detailed manual. In fact just about everything that I buy comes with a comprehensive manual but not this software.

Did I buy it? You guess.

Happy shooting,

Dan

/bitchy mode off

Was I right NOT to buy the new Nikon D850?

•October 7, 2017 • 4 Comments

D800E, Nikon, aurora borealis, aurora, northern lights, winter, Alberta, landscape, full moon, Dan Jurak, prairie, rural, Canada,

I love new equipment. I think that we all do. It’s also nice to drive a brand new vehicle, to have a new pair of sneakers, gee you can’t beat the smell of a new house.

In short we all like new things.

Before Nikon released their brand new DSLR the D850 there were of course all manner of drooling and speculation about what the new camera would be.

Everyone saw it through their own wants and needs. Could it be a great news/sports camera? Would the high ISO performance blow away all other cameras? Was it lighter? Weather sealed? On and on the speculation went for weeks until the specs of the camera were released.

When Nikon officially announced the specifications of the new camera I of course needed wanted one and so I watched the international online and local online stores to see when they would be available and at what price.

We all idealize things. It is what we do. Everyone seems to be in a better situation than ourselves. They are better looking. Have more money. Have better marriages and yes even have better camera equipment than us. That isn’t a realistic way of seeing things, something that I learned years ago. That lesson is a huge part about learning to be happy.

I had my chance more than once I woke up early, checked a Canadian website and guess what? They had the camera in stock. A few hours I would check again and it would be back ordered.

Three times I saw that coveted camera there for me to pick up and yet I held off on making the purchase. Today I am officially happy that I held off on that purchase.

I came across an article that had the numbers comparing the Nikon D850 to other cameras and it scored for the first time ever 100 out of 100. Sounds impressive doesn’t it?

But is it really? The website, https://www.dxomark.com/Cameras does comprehensive tests on camera bodies and lenses a little bit like Consumer Reports but more on the technical side.

A score of 100 is certainly impressive. Who wouldn’t want such a camera? I still do but now I realize that for me it isn’t worth the money.

Below is a chart courtesy of https://www.dxomark.com/Cameras detailing the top camera bodies regardless of manufacturer. They are all put objectively through the same test. Some people swear by DXO others swear at them because they either don’t believe in the methodology or hate to see their favourite brand not do so well.

https://www.dxomark.com/Cameras, dxomark,

For colour photography I use a Nikon D800E. For infrared black and white I use a modified Nikon D800. Both were great cameras when they were released in February 2012. Those are two old camera bodies. Five years in digital technology is a long, long time. Both still take very, very good pictures quality wise. With large file sizes, great sensor quality and good lenses these two bodies are probably more camera than I am photographer.

If you look at the chart my old D800E scores 96 out of 100 on the chart. That begs the question, are those four percentage points worth $1,000 for EACH percentage point of difference? Four thousand dollars out of my pocket for a measly 4% points difference? The answer to me at least was obvious. Wait for the next iteration of this camera body. I don’t NEED the D850. Wanting and NEEDING are two different things.

I was going through more old photos last night, photos that I had long forgotten about. The photo of the old church was taken with an old D800E, fitting eh? LOL How different would it be to have been taken with the D850? NOBODY would see a difference. Maybe a 1:1 comparison would show a difference but still, would that splitting of hairs be worth $4,000 to me. Nope.

So today I sit with four thousand dollars in the bank which will probably be going to replace my 2011 iMac later this year. My iMac is already starting to show its age and unlike my camera gear I use it EVERY day. Money that is better spent on the computer this time and no buyers remorse.

Happy shooting,

Dan