Photo opportunities are everywhere

Last weekend I was in Jasper National Park. The light was so so and my photos were not so great. By that I mean, they were okay but they weren’t anything that I was especially happy with. It was a case of trying to make the most of the light. Notice I didn’t say mountains? It’s the light. If you don’t have the right light to push your pictures, you won’t get them to the next level.

The next level? Once you’ve become technically proficient in capturing and processing your images, you’ve graduated kindergarten. It’s time to start thinking about what you want from your landscapes. For me, it’s a few things. I want mine to look special. By that I mean, different from the rest. That might not be better according to the majority. That’s not important. What is important is developing the way you see in your unique way. Popularity be damned. It’s over rated.

Sunday afternoon, an hour and a half before sunset, the sky to the east looked interesting so I thought about grabbing my gear and cold weather clothes and going for a short drive. I hemmed and hawwed for a little while as the sun started sinking in the west. Enough procrastinating and out the door!

I didn’t drive for very long and was starting to have second thoughts. The sky that looked interesting was far away on the horizon. Would I get there in time to catch the setting sun? Overhead it was clear, not a cloud to be seen. Faraway on the eastern horizon, it looked good but so far away.

Again with the procrastinating. I’ve gone out so many times and have come back empty handed. Would it be the same this time? I drove on. The farther away I got from Edmonton the more optimistic I was becoming. The sky was filling in nicely. When I got far enough from town, I turned off the highway and started driving the side roads. Driving southward I could see both the east and west horizons.

It was all coming together. I got out a few times and sunk waist deep in the snow, snapping away at fence posts, trees, weeds, anything that would add foreground interest. I drove over these railway tracks. Backed up. Looked up them and down them. Pulled ahead. Stopped. Got out and shot a vertical and horizontal and kept on my way not thinking again about these tracks until I got home. They weren’t anything special when I shot them. I took the photo because it had the strong lines of the tracks going into the sunset. Nothing more.

I had processed a few photos from the trip and didn’t even look twice at the tracks. I got a few keepers and more out of curiosity than anything I processed the tracks. Hey! Why didn’t I notice this before I thought? It looked better after processing than what I remembered when shooting.

You never know what you’ve got until you process it. I do that often and end up deleting many pictures. Once in a while, I get a keeper from an unexpected frame.

Technical stuff. NO graduated filter! Here’s why. After seeing a few hundred landscapes with graduated filters to darken the skies, I immediately pick up where the clouds are tinted purple or the highlights on them are unnaturally dark. If you like that, go ahead and use them. Some of the best landscape photographers I know have stopped using graduated filters because of this. Their skies look more natural as a result. I only need compare their landscapes from two or three years ago to what they are shooting today. The difference is amazing. If you want to see what I mean, take a peak here. There are a few really good photos but the majority are poorly done. It’s comparable to using a hammer when all you need is a gentle tap. The photographers might like that look. I don’t. I only see overly dark clouds, some are black from the filters, others have mountain ridges that start out lighter in tone and darken near the sky because of the filtration.

Darkened skies are a landscape fad that will one day run it’s course and then you’ll end up having “dated” landscapes. Because you’ve “gotten it right” as one photographer says, you’ll be stuck with that look.

The best way around this is multiple exposures, hand blended or tone mapped. There are times for me that one method is better than the other. When your subject matter has a contrast range greater than your camera can handle in one exposure, it’s the only way to get all the image detail that you need.

Like I said, photo opportunities are everywhere.

Happy shooting,


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~ by Dan Jurak on January 31, 2011.

13 Responses to “Photo opportunities are everywhere”

  1. great capture!

  2. I’ll take a stab at it: I’m guessing this one was hand blended, just because of the way the sky looks.

  3. However you made and processed it – it’s beautiful. It’s intriguing that you didn’t see a winner at first! I’m glad I’ve read your blog before venturing into the world of filters. This past week I’ve lost my remote shutter-release in deep snow and broken a leg on my tripod. Since I don’t have auto-bracketing on my camera also, multiple exposure experiments are out for me until I can replace them. Good to know I don’t have to buy filters as well.

  4. I concur with your comments, Dan – and the whole notion of graduated ND filters “improving” a scene is always an issue for me. I’ve seen filters used well – once in a while, and used badly – way too many times.

    Enjoyed reading your musings. Keep ‘em coming….

  5. @ Rick, it’s not blended. It’s an HDR. I think HDRs that are properly done are indistinguishable from regularly processed images.

    @ Cindy, you can buy filters if you like. LOL, I am probably going to sell my set of 4×6 Lee filters and holder. :)

    @ Jeff, there is a place for filters. Like you I see more landscapes ruined from filters than helped.

    More to come. :)

  6. Dear Dan,

    I am a great admirer of your landscapes, however I don’t always like blue snow. It works in today’s post OK. It’s different when it’s selenium but I like some white in my shots. I think there can be such a thing as too colorful as the Sinh-Ray site illustrated. Can you do high colors with white snow ’cause I have only photographed NYC ?

  7. regarding lesliegoodchild’s comment i too have been finding my tone mapped snow too tinted and i have taken to using the color picker in lightroom in order to reduce the snows saturation as well as adjust its luminosity, which i find is giving me respectable results. great grab Dan, keep up the good work.

  8. Dan, I agree so much with finding those photo opps “everywhere”.
    It is that way with poetry for me!

  9. @ Pam, inspiration is everywhere. :)

  10. @ Leslie, the snow usually takes on the color of the sky. Early or late in the day it can be anything from cyan to golden. If you want white snow, shoot mid-day when the color of skylight is daylight.

  11. Hi Dan,

    I agree about the ridiculous fad of overdarkened skies but in the majority of cases its overprocessing NOT ND Grads that are responsible. ND Grads are absolutely necessary if (like me) you like to get it right ‘in camera’ to balance the exposure between sky and ground. Otherwise you’ll just have washed out skies.

  12. @ Craig, I respectfully disagree. I haven’t used an ND grad for at least a year and my skies aren’t washed out. I also disagree that too dark skies that I am seeing on filter websites like Singh-Ray are the result of over processing. I can see the reason for having a slightly darker sky but like with perfume because one drop is good it doesn’t mean that ten drops is better. :)

    Thank you for visiting.

  13. Hi Dan
    Don’t get me wrong, I only use NDs to balance the exposure, not to overdarken the sky. My aim is always to try and best represent what I see, rather than grossly exaggerate. But I think to blame the proliferation of darkened skies solely on filters is incorrect because proponents of HDR are equally as guilty. The fault lies not with the tools (whichever method you prefer, they’re both just tools) but with the user.

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