Patterns on the Prairie

•May 17, 2015 • 10 Comments

minimalist, long exposure, low key, black and white, Dan Jurak, landscape, fineart, fine art, prairie, rural, dark sky, crop, fields, In central Alberta spring is a funny thing. We have such a large province with varied geography. It can be snowing in one part of the province and sunny and 20 Celsius in another.

Southern Alberta has recently had a few days of heavy rain. Where I live, in Edmonton it is still very dry, little rain so far and things are greening up slowly. To the south along the American border it is almost wildflower time. The long hours of sunlight and the recent moisture will have the foothills and prairies teeming with wildflower blossoms. On the other hand the southern prairies will turn brown and dry before we do.

The higher you go the later spring comes and there are still plenty of snow covered trails in Banff and Jasper. Some areas of the parks won’t be snow free for another month at least.

Around Edmonton trees are leafing out and brown, dead grass is being replaced by this years growth. Farm fields have been tilled and seeded, most that I have seen anyways but because of the dryness very few have anything sprouting yet.

This presents a challenge photographically. There is very little to take pictures of so I am taking pictures of “nothing” so to speak. Empty fields. Bald hills. Almost cloudless skies. Like I said, nothing.

This is a good thing. I went out on Saturday, yesterday and only took three photos. One was ruined because during the five minute exposure the tripod had moved and the image was blurred. On these very sunny days the viewfinder display is so dark that I am having trouble seeing it clearly and am considering either bringing along a focusing cloth from my viewfinder camera or buying a magnifying hood.

The last picture of the afternoon was taken when I was headed home. The rows in the field from seeding caught my eye. There was nothing in the field but rows and bits of last years crop that had been tilled under. Nothing to take a picture of but a pattern of rows on a hillside.

In processing I bumped up the contrast of the dirt to make the rows more pronounced. They would have otherwise been lost.

Works for me.

Happy shooting,


Learning to see the world around you… differently

•May 12, 2015 • 6 Comments

Trees and Sky

I received my replacement 16 stop neutral density filter from Formatt Hitech yesterday and had a chance to give it a try earlier today.

For those that are unsure of what that is, it is a filter that to the eye is almost black. Using it on your camera reduces the amount of light the camera sees by 65536 times (thank you for the correction Zbigniew). Now why would a person want to do that you might ask? For me it is a different way of seeing the world around me. Instead of using a short or quick shutter speed that freezes almost everything to where it looks frozen a very dark neutral density allows me to photograph landscapes during the middle of the day with exposures as short as three minutes and as long as nine.

The next time you have a moment to lie back on the ground and take a few minutes to watch the clouds go by imagine how they might look if they became more fluid and ethereal. Hard edges become soft and indistinct. I haven’t done enough of this to be able to predict the end result. There are so many variables. The focal length of the lens. The speed and direction of the clouds.

This is experimentation. There are hits and then there are the misses. The clouds that you liked when you first opened the shutter may have moved out of frame or changed shape before your exposure is finished and that is why I like it.

Shooting landscapes has for me become predictable. I was almost always able to accurately visualize what the final result might look like when I shot traditional color. This “new” for me kind of photography is like visiting a new country. I never know at least not yet what I will be seeing and bringing home.

I awoke early today, 4:30 am to drive my university student/Starbucks barista to her early shift job where she started at 5:30 am. The skies were cloudless and that was the forecast for the whole day. In fact that is the forecast for the next few days here. Clear skies to my thinking are only good for one thing, astrophotography. Landscapes without clouds usually look lifeless and blah. Clouds are the glue that hold heaven and earth together.

Around 3:00 in the afternoon I looked up to see small puffy clouds drifting overhead so off I went replacement filter in hand. It wasn’t very long before I arrived at a small barren hillside and started shooting. I moved to a few different spots and two hours later I was home putting shish kabobs on the barbecue for supper. It was that simple. That fast.

Because each long exposure averages about five minutes in length I don’t take very many photos. I think that I had less than a dozen exposures on my memory card.

What do I do when I am shooting this way? I look for shapes. I look to simplify the landscape. A few basic shapes in the viewfinder is all that I want. Busy photos don’t seem to work as well as simple ones. The difficulty is finding a subject that lends itself to “nothingness”. It takes a bit of practice to learn to avoid including clutter but that is part of the allure. If it was easy I would probably get bored like I have with color and take up playing the trumpet.

Happy shooting,


ps. So far my replacement filter looks good but I won’t jump to any conclusions until it has been tried a few more times.


I never know what to expect…

•May 9, 2015 • 6 Comments

Country Road

Last night the sky looked interesting so I grabbed my camera gear, hopped into the Rav and followed my eye.

A year ago I wouldn’t have give a second thought to driving out of town under those conditions but this is a year that I have decided to make a break from the comfortable and experiment.

I am experimenting with long exposure photography and am still a novice at it. It is by trial and error that I learn what works and what doesn’t. Should the skies be completely overcast? Are clear skies better? What about a mix of blue sky and clouds?

These are all things that I am slowly finding out by experimenting.

The photo above was the last one that I had taken on Friday evening. The sun had dropped closer to the horizon than I had reckoned and as a result the photo was under exposed. It was underexposed but it looked interesting in an unexpected way.

A half an hour of fiddling with it in Photoshop and the result is something different than I am used to doing.

Expect successes and failures when you are trying something new and never get discouraged. Like the old saying goes, when one door closes another opens and you never really know what to expect.

Happy shooting,


My bad or how learning from mistakes is a joyous thing

•April 30, 2015 • 7 Comments

The Wind Blows

I am trying.

Nothing would be easier right now than to say in my comfort zone and doing what I know. After years of shooting color landscapes during the early and foggiest parts of the day it is time for a change. Too many landscape photographers looking the same has given me a gentle nudge to move on.

The Formatt-Hitech filter that I blogged about has still not arrived from the United Kingdom. As you recall the filter, my second of this type was horribly flawed. Half of the image was out of focus.

I had wanted to do some more long exposures earlier today. The skies seemed right and there was a terrific wind blowing from the west so I convinced one of my daughters on break from university to make the short trip out of town.

Because I did not yet have my 16 stop neutral density filter in my hands I did the next best thing or so I thought I piggy backed a Tiffen 10 stop neutral density filter with a Marumi 8 stop variable density filter. The images came out sharp, the ones where the camera wasn’t shaken by the wind that was but there were some other weird things going on.

All of my photos had a strange red/magenta cast to them. The highlights in the sky were pink and the ground was a bright red. I had to check to see that I hadn’t accidentally used my camera body converted for infrared the colors were so off. There was also a dark streak down the middle of the frame kind of the opposite of vignetting.

After having discarded the images where the tripod had been blown by the wind I was left with THREE photos to use. The image was converted to black and white. Almost immediately things started to look better. I am not sure that I could have used the image as a color one if I had wanted to so bad was the red/magenta cast.

What you see in the upper clouds is the result of the wind blowing fiercely from my back towards the grain bins. I had some beautiful skies when shooting into the wind but those ended up being the ones ruined by tripod movement.

So what did I learn today besides a lesson in frustration?

I learned that stacking my two neutral density filters isn’t a good thing. It is also a good idea to weigh the tripod down with a heavy weight when the winds are so strong. The shakey image wasn’t visible on the back of my camera display. It was only at home on the computer that it became apparent how bad the shake was.

A few mistakes today that haven’t discouraged me today. Mistakes that serve to motivate and make me a better photographer. If you aren’t making any mistakes you are playing too safe and that is never a good thing.

Hopefully the replacement filter makes it here soon and is not flawed because I am looking forward to taking a few days trip around the province and into the next with the intent of trying out some more new ideas.

As always happy shooting,


Finding your way in an ocean of everyone looking the same

•April 19, 2015 • 3 Comments

Alberta prairie

I hope to always be growing. I hope to be forever changing the way my photos look. I hope that I stand apart from the crowd for better or worse.

I belong to a couple of different photo sharing websites, and For me they are a convenient way to see where the world of photography is headed. One of my habits is to view the landscape section of 500px and click on the tag “popular”. What I often see are pages of the very same picture taken in different places around the world. It is almost as if the same photographer were taking all the photos. It is the sameness that ruins it for me. Art whether it be photography, music or painting is about self expression.

Why is it then that 500px and even flickr have more photos that look more alike than different? Is it monkey see, monkey do?

There is a famous landscape photographer that now has photo tours throughout North America. I used to love his work because it was different from the norm. He recently held a winter photo tour in Jasper and Banff National Parks. The results always interest me because I am curious to see how someone else sees the same landscape that I travel through.

The surprising thing from this past winters tour was the photos that his clients had posted on 500px. It was disappointing. It was disappointing because these obviously talented clients had taken photos that were indistinguishable from his from the perspective to the processing. Like I said, disappointed.

Photography for me always has been about searching and pushing the limits of what I see. I too can be a clone of one of the world’s most famous photographers, it isn’t difficult to copy what you see at least after all these years of taking photos it isn’t. There is no challenge in that. The challenge is in trying to find your way in the ocean of sameness that is digital photography.

There is an almost borg like mentality with photos being so accessible on the internet. Good and bad. More bad I sometimes think than good.

Spring is here in central Alberta and instead of waiting until things green up I have found a new challenge. The bare fields and spring skies that surround where I live present opportunities missed in previous years.

I will still continue to shoot colour but I am drawn more and more into this other way of seeing. For better or worse. For richer or poorer (meaning not shooting stock photos anymore because I don’t see a market for these photos).

A simple prairie photo. A new direction for me.

Happy shooting,


My review of Formatt Hitech Firecrest Superslim IRND 4.8 ND filters – JUNK?

•April 11, 2015 • 11 Comments
My first defective Formatt Hitech Firecrest IRND 4.8 Filter. Notice the soft spot on the ridge. Everywhere else is sharp. I could see a bubble or warp on the filter against the sunlight.

My first defective Formatt Hitech Firecrest IRND 4.8 Filter. Notice the soft spot on the ridge. Everywhere else is sharp. I could see a bubble or warp on the filter against the sunlight.

I have always believed that if you are an informed consumer that you could be counted on to make a smart purchase no matter the product.

It was with high expectations that I bought my first Formatt Hitech Firecrest Superslim IRND 4.8 ND filter.

My experience to date has been lousy with both the manufacturer and the product.

My reason for the 16 stop ND filter was to do long exposures. I had a few ND filters kicking around in my camera bag, a Tiffen comes to mind that cost me around sixty dollars. The Firecrest came in at around $170 U.S. quite a jump up from the Tiffen.

Normally I wouldn’t pay so much but I had read a few positive reviews one in particular by Joel Tjintjelaar who happens to have a line of filters named after him. BTW his photos are works of art despite. Worth checking out.

When I found the first filter to be defective I contacted the people at and they graciously and quickly sent me a second filter which was said to be from a new batch that was defect free. When it arrived it was packaged differently than the first and was wrapped in red paper with a seal that said laughingly, Firecrest F214 04 Sep 2014 Quality Control.

Assuming that this filter was a great replacement I never bothered to test it out. Bad decision.

Defective firecrest filter

My second defective Formatt Hitech Firecrest IRND 4.8 Filter from a new batch.The center of the image is sharp. Every where else is fuzzy.

Fast forward five months, winter is over and I am out taking photos of grain silos on the prairies. I got an interesting shot on a windy day. The clouds were moving a lot and things looked wonderful in the camera display. However when I got home I could see that one silo was sharp and the second was blurred. I wrote this off as me being sloppy, camera shake, etc.

Curiosity got the best of me and I went out to my back yard to test the lens. The same thing. Sharp on one side, out of focus on the other. I tried different f-stops. Cleaned the filter. Shot without a filter and shot with a different filter. The Firecrest filter was crap and everything including my sixty dollar Tiffen filter was razor sharp.

As a last resort I brought the camera and filter inside and photographed a calendar on the wall. No wind. No camera movement. The result? All of  the letters on the right side of the frame are ghosted, haloed or whatever you would call it. It is like having a lighter out of aligned version of the original in back of the first. Complete garbage. This is quality control?

My dilemna? I wrote Firecrest TWICE with no reply.

My advice? Until Formatt Hitech acknowledges their awful quality control and makes good avoid them like the plague.



EDIT: I was contacted by a representative from Formatt-Hitech this morning (Tuesday, April 14). Stay tuned.

An otherwise good image ruined because of the defect on my second Formatt Hitech Firecrest Superslim IRND 4.8 filter.

An otherwise good image ruined because of the defect on my second Formatt Hitech Firecrest Superslim IRND 4.8 filter.

Infrared Landscape Photography Part 1- Focus

•January 18, 2015 • Leave a Comment

landscape, black and white, fineart, fine art, infrared, Dan Jurak, Alberta, storm, clouds, summer,

The range of the electromagnetic spectrum that our eyes and brains can recognize is very small. We in fact only see a tiny percentage of what is around us. From television and radio signals to xrays and even heat we are blind to them all.

There is an exciting world that lies just beyond our visual senses and that is the realm of the infrared. We can feel heat to varying degrees no pun intended but there is much more to the infrared than what we can feel. Growing leaves and grasses for example emit or reflect more infrared than their surroundings. Cloudless skies are the opposite they have less relative heat. To the unaided eye things appear normal. To a camera which has been modified to record portions of the infrared spectrum things are more obvious. Living that is warmer things appear lighter in tone and the opposite for that which is cooler.

I had a 10 megapixel Canon Rebel modified many years ago. It was great fun shooting landscapes during the middle of the day a time when I would normally not be taking pictures. As my color cameras became better in quality the little Canon seemed less and less interesting. The fact that I was now shooting with a Nikon body only made things more complicated. I didn’t want to have two sets of bodies and lenses in my bag.

Fast forward to this past December when I purchased a used Nikon D800. I use a Nikon D800E today for most of my photos. Because I am more interested in shooting black and white I had toyed with the idea of getting back into infrared photography so I had the used Nikon body converted for infrared use. In doing so the camera is useless for conventional photography. An untouched image comes out of the camera looking pink. The pink can be removed revealing shades of black and white recording the infrared.

This is the first in a series which will span the course of a few months explaining how I shoot and process IR. Because winter will be here for a few more months the opportunities to shoot IR are less than in the warmer months although I suspect that I will experiment photographing winter scenes with the new body.

One of the most important things to realize when shooting infrared is that when we focus our cameras we are focusing visible light. Infrared being of a longer wavelength focuses beyond the sensor. My camera is modified so that the correct focus is shown on the preview display on the back of my camera. That means that instead of focusing through the viewfinder I must turn on the preview and focus with it. A small inconvenience.

Infrared focus

I was just out in the backyard with the modified camera and took two photos. The top image is with the camera via live view on the camera back. The bottom image is with the image focused through the viewfinder.

Normally I wouldn’t photos at a wide aperture because I want as much in focus as possible but this time I did so as to demonstrate the difference in focus for you.  An aside, the sky is clear and cloudless here but goes black without the use of a polarizer and the needles on the spruce tree which are dark green in color photograph as white.


Happy shooting,



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