A not great ending to a not great start…

•July 19, 2018 • 5 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

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The best laid plans… or always keep an open mind

•July 13, 2018 • 4 Comments

focus stacking, landscape, jasper, mountains, sunset, ice fields, columbia, mount wilson, landscape, horizontal, tourism jasper, Dan Jurak,

I almost always stop at the Columbia Icefields for photos when I am in Jasper.

Over the years I’ve personally witnessed the toe of the Athabasca Glacier recede. Where we once parked our vehicle when we were kids is now a long, long walk from the glacier.

One evening I had planned on getting a photo with both Mount Andromeda and Mount Athabasca glowing orange with a smattering of dramatic clouds swirling around the tops of the peaks.

The reality that evening was a couple of sparse poofs of white and a very harsh and direct sun shining on the mountain tops as the sun was setting.

So much for that idea.

As I was walking back to my vehicle which was NOT in the parking lot but halfway up the drive down to the parking lot a distance of about half a kilometre I kept noticing tiny streams of water threading down the hillside and reflecting the evening sky. I walked a bit further up the slope and saw what was to my eye a beautiful curving line of water which might make for an interesting photo.

Mount Wilson in the background was brightly lit while all around the water was very dark. Not a problem I thought, the range of exposure would be captured by the camera and I could even it out in post processing, which I later did.

I was also trying something new for me. Focus stacking. I picked up a new camera body a couple of weeks before that figures out focus stacking for you.

Focus stacking is taking a series of photos starting with close focus and with each successive shot focusing a bit further.

The laws of physics limit how much depth of field your lens will have with a particular aperture.

You can’t tell from this shot but the camera was about ten inches from the ground, photographed at 14 mm on a full frame body. When I focused on the near rocks the far peaks were soft no matter how much I stopped the lens down.

I set the camera up to take five exposures while stacking. This requires me to focus to the nearest point and then the camera will automatically do the rest of the focusing and exposures for you.

Then in post processing you combine the resultant images either in Photoshop or a stacking program like Helicon Focus and get ONE sharp image.

So experimental mode in effect I let the camera do its magic and to my delight when I got home and combined the images I got one sharp frame.

Focus stacking has a lot of applications of which landscape photography is one. You can really exaggerate near/far relationships while focus stacking and have a perfectly sharp image where before you were limited by the laws of physics about how far you could stop the lens down and how much depth of field you would get.

I remember reading years ago about an MMA fighter who was one of the best in the world. He was head and shoulders better than anyone in his weight class. He was so good that he could clown around and play with his opponent like a cat sometimes does with a mouse. When asked what his secret was he said that he was like water. It takes the shape of the vessel it occupies.

That is very much like shooting landscapes. You cannot force mother nature to provide you with the light or weather that you want but instead have to be flexible enough to take advantage of what she provides.

Happy shooting,

Dan

Just got back from Jasper

•July 9, 2018 • 2 Comments

 

Jasper, mountains, rockies, Dan jurak, landscape, river, dawn, summer, Alberta, travel alberta, tourism jasper, water, Sunwapta,

I just got back from Jasper.

It has been years since I have visited the park in early July in large part because I abhor crowds. As I drove through town during the middle of the week motel upon hotel had their no vacancy signs up. All the campgrounds close to town were also full. Yup. That’s why I have avoided the prime summer months. And the traffic. Lots of campers, vans and motorhomes on the roads.

The first thing I noticed were the wildflowers. There were more than I ever remembered. The sides of the road and meadows seemed to be carpeted with yellow, white and orange flowers.

And it seemed that absolutely everyone had an SLR and was taking photos. Was there a sudden resurgence in photography or is it that I just never noticed it before, after all I usually visit during the fall and winter months. Perhaps its just because there are less people around.

I made the trip for photographs and doing it solo had a lot of time to myself and my thoughts.

Each and every place I stopped at had memories. When driving by Pyramid Lake I remembered catching about a four pound lake trout (thats large for that lake) and proudly showing it to my now deceased mother and wondering if she were with me as I reminisced.

While waiting for the mid day sun to lower at Medicine Lake memories of being with my father on the lake in a boat when I was maybe four years old. That is sixty years ago!

Had I really been visiting the park for so many years.

I went to the fifth bridge at Maligne Canyon and suddenly remembered the now defunct fish hatchery at the sixth bridge and as a youngster marvelling at the thousands of minnows and then the huge breeding trout in the other tanks. Of course Parks Canada stopped stocking lakes and river ages ago so that is another long lost memory. Where the hatchery once stood is nothing. Nada.

Trips with my brothers and cousins. Fishing trips with friends from work to catch Brooke Trout where the Maligne River flows into Medicine. So many memories.

After all of these years Jasper has still not lost its magic. Every time I visit is like coming home again.

Thats what being alone will do to you. Memories.

Anyway, I did take pictures and somehow I always end up with something different. There are so many places to stop like the photo at the top. In sixty years I must have driven by this place at least a hundred or even three hundred times but on this particular morning I did.

After a fitful sleep in the back of my little Rav4 I made my way to this river thinking that the photo was where you don’t see, behind me. When I turned around the lines immediately drew me into the scene. Of course I did take a few pics of where I intended but this just goes to show you that expect the unexpected.

It seems that what I often plan is not my favourite photo and that is a good thing.

Photography is full of surprises and memories.

Happy shooting,

Dan

So Dan, what kind of camera do you use?

•June 19, 2018 • 5 Comments

prairie, summer, road, rural, foggy, fog, Alberta, trees, farm, Dan Jurak, landscape, horizontal, camera equipment, Nikon, Sony, Canon, clouds, stormy,

I was asked this very same question on Instagram last week.

I actually had to go back to the image and open it up to view the EXIF data to see for myself.

I have only used three different camera models since I started shooting digital in the early 2000’s. The first was a 10 megapixel Canon Rebel, then a Canon Mark 1DSlll and finally I made the switch to Nikon about five years ago.

Aside from the Canon Rebel which is now old and amateur technology I never have noticed the difference between the newer Canon and Nikon.

Sure the Nikon has almost the resolution of the newer Canon but quality wise you really have to look closely to see any kind of difference.

I’m not a commercial photographer. The most extreme use of any of my images might be for a large print and both the Canon at 21 megapixels and the Nikon at 38 are more than adequate for my needs.

Some people still mistakenly believe that if they get Brand X camera body and lens that they will be able to take photos like the ones they like and they are partly right but they are mostly wrong.

Photography is probably 90% the person using the camera and the remaining 10% are the physical limitations of the lens and camera sensor.

Just like it was thirty years ago there are still “experts” on the internet forums today telling you why a Sony is superior to a Nikon or Canon and they might be but the differences are something that you will probably only ever see in the lab.

I could just as easily use a Nikon, Canon or Sony and nobody but nobody would ever be able to tell the difference. Creativity lies between your ears and not in your hands.

With a photographer just like a painter it is the person and NOT the equipment that matters. Remember that the next time you go shopping for gear.

 

Happy shooting,

Dan

An evening of storm chasing in Alberta

•June 10, 2018 • Leave a Comment

storm chaser, supercell, tornado, bad weather, storms, clouds, Alberta, prairie, horizontal, landscape, Dan jurak,

Those who are hardcore weather chasers had been predicting extreme weather central Alberta this past weekend.

We had been having a few days in the high 20’s Celsius to close to 30 Celsius and with a cold and damp front moving in from the west the result might, just might result in severe storms.

That weather usually passes closer to Red Deer which is a couple of hours drive south of me. What was unusual was that it was all supposed to happen just a half an hour or more east of where I live.

Friday the predicted foul weather never appeared. On Saturday morning I awoke to clear skies at 5:00 am and warm temperatures. Because our dog doesn’t like the hot weather I took him for or regular hour long walk and returned not being sure if the weather would turn foul.

Then around noonish the skies became uniformly grey and the air was feeling heavy and humid.

The latest forecasts were predicting storms by 6:00 pm that day and at least a couple of hours east of me. I keenly watched a Facebook group for severe weather chasers and started seeing pics of rain, grey clouds, etc. but nothing too impressive.

Closer to six the good pics had started appearing and there was even a tornado warming for a small town two and a half hours away from me. The weather was in fact moving AWAY from where I lived.  If I were to start driving out there, I figured that I would miss it. Meh.

Laziness got the better part of me and the fact that there was a UFC preliminary fight on that evening was all the more reason to stay at home.

Out of curiosity I checked the weather radar app on my iMac and to my amazement saw that there were BIG storm clouds west of me and not too far at that.

Putting the VCR on record I grabbed my stuff and headed north west. As I drove I kept my eye on the west and could vaguely see a large cloud. It didn’t look special but I kept driving mainly north and a bit westerly.

I was probably forty five minutes from home and then the cloud started to take shape. If I could get to the front of it I thought I might see the shelf that was probably at that end.

When things started to look good I pulled over and snapped a few pics. Nothing great but looking west the shelf I had been hoping for suddenly appeared. In the Rav and hightailing it across gravel roads as I got closer and closer to this great looking cloud formation.

I continued taking pics, moving on, stopping and taking more pics for about twenty minutes before the storm broke up and I gave up.

Less than an hour later I was home and realized that in my haste I had set the PVR to the wrong channel. LOL Oh well, the results would be on the internet in the morning so I headed to bed looking forward to the rain that was predicted for the following day.

Happy shooting,

Dan

What I know about Photoshop 26 years later…

•June 8, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Maligne Lake, dawn, reflection, jasper, rockies, photoshop, monochrome, summer, foggy, Dan jurak, landscape, travel alberta, tourism jasper,

My introduction to Photoshop was I think in 1992. The version at the time was 2.0 and a few months later we were upgraded to 2.5. They were heady times.

The transition from a wet darkroom to a digital one was exciting. Exciting because I love to learn. That enthusiasm for learning stood me well over the years.

Every upgrade was like opening a gift at Christmas time. There was always something new and yet to be discovered.

When you use Photoshop everyday at work it becomes second nature to you. We used Macs at work, I had a Windows machine at home and I purchased my first copy of the program for around $500 I think. Even today that is very expensive for a program.

It took a little while to get used to the different keystroke combinations between a Mac and Windows machine but like almost everything else, repeat it a thousand times and it finally clicks with you.

I continued to use Photoshop over the years and eventually became a designer which meant learning more new programs, Illustrator being one of them.

My career has been full of challenges from learning Photoshop and Illustrator to learning to hand code html pages when we started designing websites for our national newspaper chain.

Now retired Photoshop is still used by me almost daily and I am still learning.

Puzzles can be fun to solve. I found myself stumbling across photos by the same photographer this week on Instagram. His photos had a unique monochrome or duotone look to them but it was obvious that they originally were in colour.

On his profile he had links to actions and tutorials to learn how to process photos like him. Tempted as I was I figured that it would be more fun to experiment knowing what I know about Photoshop and see if I could replicate what he had done or at least get close.

At the worst I wouldn’t be able to figure out how he had gotten his amazing results and at best I might learn something that new that had never occurred before to me.

So I sat down at my iMac last night and started playing with an image from 2009. The more I toyed with the image the more fun I found myself having. My photo was definitely not looking like his but I found myself liking this treatment better.

It ends up being very monochrome with a couple of exceptions. Very graphic and deliberately so.

What I do know is that if I ever tried to replicate this very same look it would end up looking different and that is not a bad thing because there is no “right” look for this image of Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park.

One day if I ever get motivated enough I will definitely make a video of my screen as I play in Photoshop because these days that is what it is. 26 years later I still find myself learning Photoshop.

And it is sooooo much fun!

Happy shooting,

Dan

Sheep or shepherd? Which are you?

•June 4, 2018 • 2 Comments

Emerald Lake, British Columbia,photography, landscape, foggy, summer, lake, reflection, clouds, moody, colour, trees, rockies, Canada, dan jurak, horizontal,

I came across a great saying the other day.

“When you’re younger, it’s all about conformity and being easily influenced – especially in terms of fashion. You just follow the trends. Whatever is hot at the moment, you want to get it. You basically just want to be doing what everyone else is doing. But as you get older, those things aren’t as important.” – Tia Mowry

I had to Google Tia Mowry to know who she was. Apparently she is on a television show that I have never heard of. That sounds like an old man doesn’t it?

Most of us start out in life needing to be/feel part of a group. It’s probably a genetic thing that helps ensure our survival and I am as guilty as anyone of trying to conform or at least I was when I was younger.

A funny thing happened to me in my early twenties. Instead of feeling the need to conform I had my own mini-rebellion so to speak. It was so mini that I doubt that anyone even realized that I was rebelling. LOL

You can see conformity all around us these days. What is trending on Twitter? What is hot on Instagram? From fashion to music to food there is an almost universal need to conform or is it be popular?

There is a trend happening in of all places, landscape photography. I see it everyday. Someone, lets call him the shepherd photographs a new place or an old place in a new way. And the sheep we will call them see this very popular shepherds photograph and copy it.

I can only speak of things that I am familiar with so I will tell you about Jasper and Banff national parks here in Canada. They are huge. Really big. In my twenties I would hike all the back country trails that I could in Jasper and still have not seen all of the park. Having said that why is it that most of the popular photos from Jasper and Banff are of the same half dozen places and almost without exception photographed the same as all the “shepherds”?

So when I get out to the national parks and see the obvious cliche I make an effort to do something different.

Popularity has never been something that I aspired to and in my senior years I find myself being more of a “rebel” than I ever was in my teens and twenties.

Maybe getting old means getting a little crazy?

Happy shooting,

Dan