Learning to see

learning photography, landscape, winter, snow, cold, prairie, Dan Jurak, surreal, foggy,

Do you remember when you were a small child? Your friends were all riding around on their two wheeled bicycles and you were still on your tricycle. Sure the trike was great but that two wheeler looked like so much fun and so easy.

When your parents finally got you a new two wheeled bicycle you were so excited to give it a try and when you did… you fell down.

Up again and on the bike and determined to do it yourself you try again with the same result.

But it looked so easy you thought. Everyone else was doing it. Determined to master the new bike you chose not to give up and your parents either put training wheels on the bike or they did like mine did they held onto the back and guided me along as my brain and body slowly learned to coordinate the new skill.

Some of us got it right away and pedalled on with our friends. Others of us needed more time and practice but eventually we got it and could ride with the best of them.

Photography is much the same as learning to ride a bike. Everyone can do it. There will always be some that can ride without holding the handlebars or stand on the seat and continue without falling and then there are those of us who will be content to ride with both hands on the handlebars.

Today when I’m out taking pics it seems automatic to me. There is very little conscious thinking or awareness that I must get this angle or adjust my camera a certain way it happens, almost automatically!

But where I am now is not where I started. I was one of those kids that didn’t get it right away with the camera. I loved to take pictures but when I got them back they never seemed to look as good as they did in the viewfinder.

Back then I learned to shoot with film which was for me a very expensive thing to do whether I shot print film or transparencies. For every roll of 36 exposures if I got one or to “keepers” I was happy.

But I persisted. There was something about photography that had me interested. I didn’t realize it then but it was the creative process that drove me. I photographed friends and family. I photographed flowers and the family pet. I photographed our river valley skyline and most of those photos fell far short of what I expected the result to be. Undaunted, I marched on. There were so many great looking photos in magazines and books (there was no internet back in the seventies) and it looked so easy.

Slowly but surely my discard to keeper ratio got better and then I transitioned to large format sheet film where each exposure was a deliberate act. Looking under a black focusing cloth and seeing your image upside down and left to right, metering the scene, setting the camera lens aperture and shutter, closing the lens down. Loading the film holder, pulling out the slide, exposing the film and repeating were a slow and deliberate act.

It was long process just to take ONE photo. Over time I improved. Two years in photo school where I was taking pictures every day of things that I had no interest in forced me to see things differently. Screw the instruction or the marks the best thing about school was being forced to take pictures almost every day. It was like riding a bike every day and it got easier.

Forty years later and I am still learning. I am experimenting. Always trying something new.

I think that one of the things that has made me better is photographing the same part of the province where I live over and over and over again. It is forcing myself to see differently than I usually do. It is having to actually “work” for a photo in an area where most everyone would drive by.

An example, where I live in Alberta, Jasper and Banff are very popular with photographers and for good reason the scenery rivals any on earth and its for the most part very accessible from the road.

Of many of the photos that I see from Jasper and Banff there are very few that I like. Why? Well the photographer shot a pretty place and it looks nice but what lacks in most of the photos that I see are an awareness of light and weather and a lack of creativity.

If you saw photos of my neighbours and me on a fashion catwalk you wouldn’t look twice but put a celebrity or very attractive model in that same picture and you would give it a second look. Thats what happens in the national parks. Lots of pictures of pretty places but not many imaginative/creative photos. Those photographers in my eye anyway are still learning to see. Maybe some of them will be like me and never be able to stand on the handlebars and balance the bike? Maybe some of them will?

There are NO secrets to any kind of photography or art that can’t be learned by repetition and being aware of when you have made progress or when you have made mistakes.

Eventually we all pedal off on two wheels going our own way.

Happy shooting,


~ by Dan Jurak on November 19, 2018.

One Response to “Learning to see”

  1. As we can only cycle down the road in front of us, we can only photograph what we can see in front of us…. but what do we see in front of us? (Of course, we should always be aware of what’s behind us too!)

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