The mindfulness of photography

•April 1, 2019 • Leave a Comment

creativity, mindfulness, landscape, spring, foggy, fog, morning, Dan Jurak,Alberta,

It dawned on me a while back when I mentioned to my wife if you see me at the computer and there is music playing, I am in Photoshop processing images.

A funny thing happens whenever I start to go through images. My favourite music is playing on youtube and for minutes or hours I am carried away, completely lost in what I am doing.

From wikipedia, “Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training.”

All thoughts of the day or of life are lost in the moment. The “real” world doesn’t exist for that time and the creative process takes over.

The final images that I post are different from what I used to post and how I processed them. Years ago I would rush to finish an image and post it almost immediately.

Todays photos are often the result of processing, leaving for a few hours or days, revisiting and continue processing. The final result is often much different than the RAW image.

It’s like taking the picture is going to the grocery store and buying ingredients while processing them is being in the kitchen and deciding what to do with them.

When in this “mindful” moment there is never a goal or a final result that I am attempting to achieve instead it is continually moving within the image, lightening, darkening, changing the colour and doing whatever “feels” right.

When you get lost in the moment, something from somewhere guides your hand. It is magical and cannot be explained. Accept it and love it. That is where your best moments come from.

Happy shooting,

Dan

 

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Spring time in Alberta

•March 25, 2019 • 5 Comments

landscape, spring, snow, ice, dawn, foggy, fog, surreal, farm, dan jurak, Alberta, rural, silos, granary,

I waited and waited and waited for the right weather conditions before going out to take photos.

There were a couple of false alarms from our local television weather forecasters that never materialized but my reliable cleardarksky.com website pulled through again.

With the snow rapidly melting in southern Alberta my pile at the end of the driveway which was two meters high a week ago is now down to less than half that. With all the melting comes humidity. If the winds are too high at night the fog that I look for can’t form.

On Friday morning I got up early as usual and having looked at cleardarksky the evening before was hopeful that conditions would be great and they were. The fog was thick.

I don’t think that in all my years of taking landscapes that I have ever seen such a heavy fog. It was so thick at times that driving safely meant keeping speeds under 25 km/hr.

Every direction seemed to be full of photos. I was either manic or my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me. As the sun broke through the fog around 7:40 a.m. the landscape changed again. I prefer to have the sun in my photos. It adds more depth and I wasn’t to be disappointed.

Around 9:00 a.m. I was making my way home with a few dozen captures. Thinking that my shooting was done for the morning I made my way back down the same side road that I have driven dozens of times when looking east the scene above caught my eye.

Of course I pulled over. Put my four way flashers on and quickly snapped off a few variations of the scene. What you see is typical of an Alberta spring morning. Water that was melted the day before freezes over at night which provides a great material to reflect the morning sun on.

This is the first one that I have processed from two great mornings of shooting. The fog was even thicker on Saturday morning.

Happy shooting,

Dan

My Journey…

•February 14, 2019 • 4 Comments

landscape, winter, sunrise, cold, Alberta, prairie, frost, snow, photographic journey, Dan Jurak,

Why do you take pictures?

There are as many different reasons as there are people. Each one is as valid as the other.

I can’t recall when I first wanted to pick up a camera. It was that long ago.

My long deceased father was a serious amateur photographer before he died in 1962 at the age of 32. We were left with hundreds and thousands of black and white negatives, prints and color transparencies.

Maybe it was a way of keeping close to my father? Poring through old images and seeing him on his hunting and fishing excursions to the foothills of Alberta was a way to live with him through those images.

In my early twenties after dropping out of university and working for a few years at various manual labor jobs I decided that was not the life for me and returned to school to enrol in a two year photography program.

Things don’t always go as you plan. Not that it’s a bad thing. After having been published in a few hard cover books and magazines I had my sights set on becoming the next David Muench but something happened and I found myself more interested in studio photography and for the next thirty or forty years found employment as a photographic illustrator and designer forgetting about the landscapes that had originally drawn me in.

And then it happened, a few years ago I found myself driving the side roads of Alberta with camera in hand and becoming acquainted with an old friend.

For a few years I contributed to the stock photography market and had sales around the world. Then the stock photo market crashed and I stopped contributing but I didn’t stop taking photos.

I’ve been taking them ever since, not for a client or for public approval but for myself.

It’s been over a year since I posted my first Instagram photo and in that time I have seen hundreds and thousands of photographers on their own journeys. Some are there to make money. Some are there to boost their ego. Some are there to only share their journey.

I was saying to my kids the other day that it still sometimes surprises me that the photos that I least suspect are the most popular and the photos that I enjoy most are given a so so reception.

I still take photos for myself and for my enjoyment. There is a sense of satisfaction that comes from creating something that is yours and different from the rest.

Our journeys are all different one from the next but we are all headed in the same direction.

Happy shooting,

Dan

Being creative means adapting…

•January 16, 2019 • 7 Comments

frost, snow, hoar frost, prairie, brush, landscape, vertical, Dan Jurak, Alberta,

Even with super computers, European weather models, North American weather models and “experts” forecasting the weather is still for of a craft than a science it sometimes seems.

The past few days around Edmonton the weather has been unpredictable.

I’ve been watching the detailed forecasts for a few years and after many dozens or even hundreds of trips out of town I can usually tell when trips will be productive or not.

As I’ve written a few times before I prefer mornings over evenings. Both can times of the day can have the colourful skies that I like. Mornings though, have the added advantage of fog.

Fog has the ability to hide and reveal parts of the landscape. It softens light and makes the ordinary seem mysterious.

Morning fog in central Alberta is usually a combination of high humidity, 90 to 100%, light winds to no wind at all and overhead skies that are clear or partially clouded.

This past Monday looked to have all of the above so I was planning on double checking the highway cameras around Edmonton to see if indeed there was any fog.

At 6:00 am I found ONE camera where there was a thick fog. Every other camera I checked showed none so I switched to a local television station and kept hearing about temperature inversions and thick fog outside of town.

That was enough for me and by 7:15 am I was in the Rav and driving into the dark to get away from town before sunrise.

As I approached the city limits I kept scanning the horizon for any signs of fog. None. A good sign though was that as I drove along the back road I was seeing frost reflected from the trees lining the road, a good sign.

I continued to drive as the sky lightened and as it did in the distance I could see fog but it was misleading. There was some fog alright but it was light and spread out. Definitely NOT what I was hoping for.

By 9:00 am the sun had already risen and no matter which direction I drove, nothing. Even the trees were clear of hoar frost. Not a good sign so with just a couple of photos taken for the sake of taking them, I decided to head home.

A funny thing happened as I neared Edmonton. To my right all of the bushes and trees were covered in a heavy, thick, white coating of hoar frost. Pulling off the highway I made my way along a side road until I came across a ditch lined with small frost covered bushes and stopped.

Grabbing my camera and tripod I hopped out and made my way into the ditch landing waist deep in snow, plopped the tripod into the snow, aimed towards the sun and snapped away.

It wasn’t what I had planned on photographing but then you can’t force nature to do what you want. You have to adapt to what nature hands you.

Happy shooting,

Dan

Keeping your sanity on Instagram

•January 9, 2019 • 8 Comments

instagram, landscape, popularity, dan jurak, sanity,

It’s been almost a year since I joined Instagram and it’s been both good and bad.

First the good.

The variety of landscape photos and styles presented are amazing. I do believe that I have learned from photographers much younger than myself in new ways of seeing and processing.

Now for the bad. Instagram can be a trap for those that seek affirmation of themselves or their photography. It can be one HUGE popularity contest.

Popularity isn’t a bad thing, ie. if you don’t seek it and I see too many desperately trying to attract more likes and follows.

Everyday I get follows and everyday I get unfollows. At first that was a puzzle and then my internet savvy kids pointed out what was happening.

I wondered why there were follows from accounts that had nothing to do with landscapes. Out of interest and courtesy I would always check back on those follows to see if there were landscapes that I might like and hopefully discover someone new to me.

Almost always I would see an account full of glamour selfies. You know the kind where the person has obviously shot thousands of selfies to get the one that was just perfect.

I picked up an app that shows me how is unfollowing and upon checking it would always see these for lack of a better word, vanity accounts unfollowing. Those accounts were promptly blocked.

I follow accounts for a few reasons. I like their photography. They photograph a place I know or they are people that I know. I NEVER follow anyone with the intention of getting a follow back.

I’ve been taking photographs since I was a young man both as a job where millions over the years would see my photos weekly and as an amateur. I think I know what a good photo is. Having said that, anything to do with the arts is a subjective thing. What is fine great to me might be garbage to another.

There are photographers that get many times more likes on their photos than I do and that is a great(?) thing because when I post photos I post photos that I like. The emphasis being on “I”.┬áThere are also lots of in my opinion, very mediocre photographers with thousands or tens of thousand of followers but does that make them “better” than you or me? If you are asking yourself that question then you are posting for the wrong reason.

As I have often told my kids when they were growing up, its not important what other people think of you, it’s important what you think of yourself.

Instagram is NOT the place for validation. It is only a place to share ideas and photos.

Happy shooting,

Dan

Adapting to the weather…

•December 13, 2018 • 2 Comments

sand storm, jasper, landscape, winter, clouds, dan jurak, alberta, silhouette,

I just returned from a few days in the mountains. It’s not often that I make the drive. A few times a year seems to be plenty for me. This trip was amazing for the variety of conditions that I experienced over three days in December.

From photographing ice bubbles on Abraham Lake to chest deep snow near the Columbia Icefields to sandstorms and shelf clouds. Yes SANDSTORMS and SHELF CLOUDS in December.

Weather is to me the most important ingredient in landscape photography. Shooting mainly on the prairies if you don’t get the right weather most photos end up looking flat and uninteresting.

The internet has really helped in deciding when to go and at what time. Websites like Cleardarksky.com can be particularly helpful with hour by hour breakdown of humidity, wind and cloud cover.

Apps like TPE for Android or iPhone with the accompanying Skyfireapp add-on very accurately predict the chances of having a blazing sunset or sunrise.

On my last morning I had decided to go to one of two places. My first option was to drive 100 kms towards the icefields as a moderately coloured sunrise was predicted. That was in the OPPOSITE direction of home. The second choice was to drive towards home where an absolutely blazing sunrise was being shown on the app. Hmmm… which to do?

Cleardarksky was showing moderate cloud cover over both of the areas but directly to the west of me was a really heavy band of cloud cover. Even with sophisticated weather satellites and programs predicting the weather is still sometimes hit or miss.

Because the heavy band of cloud was so close I decided to wait until morning and see what the forecast looked like and decide at that time.

Up around 6:00 a.m. and checking the Environment Canada forecast it had now changed to light snow which meant completely overcast. Out the window went the previous evenings plans.

I checked out of the motel at 7:00 a.m. bought a pumpkin spice latte and waited in a parking lot in Jasper townsite for the sky to lighten. If the forecast was wrong I might make the short drive to Pyramid Lake and take a photo of the bridge to the island on the lake with blazing morning colours. If the forecast was right I would point the Rav in the direction home.

I sat for the next hour watching the sky. It wasn’t promising. What the heck, I made the ten minute drive to Pyramid Lake near sunrise and nothing but heavily overcast skies with a smattering of snow flakes falling.

That was it. I would be heading home.

A few minutes later I was on the highway and driving into the Athabasca River valley. The skies were darkening even more and the clouds dropping near to the ground. As I drove on the wind picked up and started pushing the vehicle from side to side. This was a regular storm that I was driving into.

Now heading eastward along Jasper Lake which is really the Athabasca River where it widens to over a kilometre sand was whipping up off the flats and sheets of it were being blasted across the highway. Wow! I pulled over. Put on my flashers and grabbed my camera for a few shots.

Early December in the mountains and in the middle of a sandstorm. The ice that was parts of the river was now covered in a thick coating of brown dust and the distant mountains were obscured by the blowing sand.

I continued eastward stopping every few kilometres taking photos of the storm. Satisfied that I was done I got back in the vehicle with the intention of heading straight home.

As I was approaching the park gates what should I see but a HUGE shelf cloud over the mountains. EEEEEEK! In all my life I have never seen such a cloud in the mountains. It was like being on the prairies in July chasing supercells.

I pulled over by the Fiddle River bridge, threw on an ultra wide lens and snapped away at the cloud as it quickly moved eastward.

The next few hours was uneventful. The predicted sunrise never appeared but then I hardly ever get what I plan for when taking landscape photos and neither should you.

Happy shooting,

Dan

Foggy Saturdays, an orange toque and deer hunters

•December 4, 2018 • 3 Comments

landscape, forest, forest fire, fog, foggy, dan jurak, landscape, Alberta, deer hunt, deer,

My wife sometimes says to me that I don’t go out and take pictures anymore. I do.

After almost twenty years of obsessively going out at all times of the day regardless of the weather I can usually predict when the conditions will be good for photos and when it’s better just to enjoy the scenery and relax.

The past few weeks haven’t been anything to get excited about but I was chomping at the bit for a drive this weekend.

I’m an early riser. Maybe it’s old age? When I was younger I would often sleep past noon during holidays or when school was out. These days my around 4:30 a.m. I usually find myself laying in bed trying to fall back asleep for at least another hour. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

By 5:00 a.m. I was out of bed while everyone else was in dreamland. Coffee brewing I checked out the provincial highway webcams to see what the conditions were around me. The government forecaster had predicted fog but my cleardarksky website which is usually very accurate for astronomical photography said otherwise.

The webcams weren’t showing any fog, something that I love to take pics in. Hmm?

By 7:00 a.m things still weren’t looking good but half an hour later with the sky just starting to lighten I figured what the heck and put on my winter clothing, grabbed my camera gear and headed out into the dark.

As I drove away from home and into the country there was still no sign of fog. The snow was old and mostly melted away but onward I went. There’s a place that I usually go to that almost guarantees fog on mornings like this so onward I went in hopes of something good.

Twenty minutes later with the eastern horizon much brighter I arrived at my spot. Nothing.

It was then that I decided that I would make a nice drive back home and just enjoy the morning in the country.

Ten minutes later and a funny thing happened. As I was driving through an area that was used frequently by quads during the summer, full of pine trees and sand the fog or at least a thin fog appeared.

I knew the area well. It was only a few years earlier that I would take my two girls out here on weekends to learn to drive. The roads were two lanes, paved and twisty through the pine trees. Because the last few years had been very dry the once thick pine tree stand was now peppered with tall charcoal spikes pointing upwards.

Curiosity piqued I pulled over. Grabbed my gear and walked into the burned forest.

The sun might have been up but you couldn’t tell as the sky was so overcast but the eastern horizon was considerably brighter than twenty minutes earlier. I wandered around looking for interesting angles, kneeling in the snow, camera on tripod taking photos as they presented themselves.

That continued off and on for twenty or so minutes until I got back in my vehicle and found another spot that looked promising. I walked into the burned forest, took a few photos and was walking back to my vehicle when I saw a four wheel drive truck driving towards me. There is a lot of oil field activity out this way so its not unusual to see service trucks driving by.

As the truck approached I stayed out of my SUV to talk to the driver. There is always vandalism around these places so I usually say hi and make it clear that I am there for photos and not to steal anything.

As the vehicle pulled up to me and stopped the first thing that the two men inside said was, did you see anything? Puzzled I told them that I was out for photos in the fog.

It turns out that they weren’t working but were deer hunting that morning. That close to the city deer season goes late into the fall but hunters are required to use bows or shotguns which limits their range to about thirty or so meters. It was then that I remembered that I had put on a blaze orange toque which stood out like a sore thumb in the morning light. Bright and blazing against the dark background.

Even though the season is bows and shotguns there are still people who will illegally use rifles to hunt deer. It was then that I realized the wisdom of picking that coloured toque.

Not that it saved my life but when you are crouched in the snow on a dark morning who knows what some guy with a rifle is going to think that he is looking at?

With a few images on my memory card I headed home as the sky brightened.

Happy shooting,

Dan