I love the mountains but my heart will always be on the prairies

moody, winter, landscape, prairie, foggy, fog, snow, sunrise, dawn, Alberta, farm, Dan Jurak,

I’ve been going through thousands of RAW images that I have taken over the years. Starting with a 10 megapixel Canon Rebel that I bought only to take better photos of my kids playing intramural sports (I had lost my interest in landscapes having been shooting editorial for a living for many years. More on that in another post) and realizing that the state of digital photography was in its infancy.

Over the years what started as a fun pastime and a return to my roots I would get out before work and catch the sunrise regardless of the season and then be out again in the evening as the sun set.

There are thousands upon thousands of images that no one other than myself has ever seen. When I got serious about landscapes back in the late seventies and early eighties film was king and the king of the landscape was large format film. I lugged a large wooden field camera and heavy tripod into the back country of the national parks because that is where I thought the best images were. Shooting colour transparencies is very different than digital. Your exposure has to be right on or it is trashed. Today, I auto bracket most scenes and quickly delete any exposures in camera that are too over or under exposed to use.

As a result, I am a very prolific shooter. If you don’t have it on your memory card it is lost forever. Shoot it now and decide later if it gets onto the hard drive.

As I was saying, I would get out to the mountains in my now old Ford van almost every weekend in Jasper. Banff always struck me as over photographed and too crowded even back then. Today it is a zoo. But back then editors eyes would beam when shown photos of places that they hadn’t seen before. Today there isn’t much that hasn’t been photographed a thousand times before.

With the advent of digital photography and photo sharing websites the popularity of photography has exploded. Everyone it seems now goes to the national parks to shoot landscapes.

Today be at one of the popular spots in Banff or Jasper and you are almost guaranteed to not have the place to yourself. For some that is a good thing. To me having others around was always a distraction. Oh sure, I could shoot fashion on Jasper Avenue in Edmonton at lunch hour and have hundreds of people around but landscape photography has always been a solitary experience, aside from when I have my girls come along.

Once the interest in shooting landscapes was rekindled I was out every week of the year and with a family my trips were limited to taking them close to where I live. A funny thing happened. Every once in a while all the elements would align and the prairie would be transformed into a most magical place. And the beauty was breathtaking. On drives home before work I would be almost high having experienced such beauty.

It became a passion photographing the prairie. With all the images that I was getting I started selling them through a few stock photo agencies. They ended up outselling the Jasper and Banff photos that I had submitted. From governments agencies around the world to Fortune 500 companies, my back yard, the flat and uninteresting prairie was making prairie landscapes profitable enough to to buy me newer equipment, etc.

Over the years things started falling into place. When to go. Which weather was best. Which weather to stay home in. Always learning. Always experimenting.

During that learning period I was privy to some of the most remarkable scenes ever. This wasn’t Alberta. This wasn’t the flat and featureless prairie that I expected.

This was heaven on earth.

The photo at the top of this post I remember very well when I took it. The temperature was below -30 Celsius. The wind was non existent. Being outside only a few minutes and a thick coating of ice was forming on my moustache and beard. I took a couple of selfies that I saw this morning and even my eyelashes had thick frost/ice stuck to them. It was cold but it was amazing. The sun at that time of the year stays close to the horizon for most of the day giving a very Renaissance kind of light and with the ice fog hanging in the air a dreamy look.

The barn in the photo has since been demolished to make way for industrial development as have the old trees in the foreground and background.

It was a magical morning. On the drive home the heater in the Rav was blasting hot air to warm me up but it was heaven. The hot thermos of coffee that I had made earlier tasted even better on the drive warming me up as it made its way down my throat.

Those are the memories that I have of my prairie. The mountains are fun. Its like going to Disney Land or getting a sugar high from a chocolate bar but the prairies are so much more satisfying.

Find your magic place. It is out there.

Happy shooting,




~ by Dan Jurak on November 16, 2018.

6 Responses to “I love the mountains but my heart will always be on the prairies”

  1. Love the photo and blog post! Discovered your Instagram a while ago, and the blog more recently. Sometimes I’m more curious about what is going on in other photographer’s heads, and what they see as a potential photograph, than I am in capturing something for myself.

  2. Thank you Keith.
    After all these years shooting seems to happen like it is in autopilot.
    Ages ago I used to mentor photography students in my studio and it was only when I had to stop and explain what I was doing and why I was doing it that I realized that there is a method to the madness. That is probably true for all of us.

    Thank you for visiting and commenting,

  3. Wow, that image is pretty awesome!

  4. Thanks Rob.

    It was one of the coldest mornings ever that I was taking pics. If memory serves it bottomed out at -34 Celsius without a wind and happily there was none.

  5. That little bit of sunlight in the foreground leads me around the curve to the rays coming through the fog. I think I “get” what you mean about loving the mountains but your heart will always be on the prairies. I spent a couple of summers in Saskatchewan and loved the change in flowers and grasses, as well as the trees that grew here and there that served as a landmark, the storms with the massive clouds, light in the morning and at sunset. Then, the pitch black skies at night except when the milky way made an appearance. I will never forget that.

  6. Jane I think that I have probably written this before but I think that it bears repeating. I am familiar with the prairies because they are only minutes away from where I live.

    If I were to live in the mountains, the foothills or the coast those would be my favourite places to photograph because immediate access grants you access to the once a year moments where the weather is magical.

    My wife and I have talked about moving to Canmore and if we did I guarantee the photos that I post would be 100% different from what I post now. Proximity is everything.

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