Why do we do it? Or the need to be different

•January 18, 2017 • 5 Comments

methane bubbles, frozen, ice, Abraham Lake not, Alberta, Dan Jurak, black and white, long exposure, monochrome, Jasper,

I am/was a very competitive person.

I think that I wrote years ago on my blog (I discarded a few hundred posts and started fresh) about when I was younger I used to shoot food and fashion for our local newspaper.

I got thrown into it. I didn’t really ask for the job but was offered it and had no experience at all photographing fashion.

There was a competing paper at the time who had an excellent studio photographer. I loved how he shot fashion and every week on Tuesdays the fashion section would run in both papers. I would anxiously look to see what he had done and every week I would cringe while comparing it to what I had done.

Being the best was important to me. It mattered not that he had many years of experience while I was just starting out. I tried my best. Always striving to do better and slowly it happened. I got better.

That was so many years ago. Now retired and with nothing to prove to myself why do I keep taking pictures (even if intermittently LOL)?

The picture at the top of this post was inspired by photos I have been seeing of Abraham Lake recently. By now almost every landscape photographer has seen or heard of them. They are an interesting phenomenon. Where the North Saskatchewan River flows into Abraham Lake the water freezes slowly. As the water is freezing leaves and other detritus that is deposited on the river bottom decomposes and releases methane gas.

Abraham Lake has a dam positioned at the lakes outlet and as the water is let out of the dam the frozen ice with bubbles heaves and shifts producing spectacular sharp, jagged shapes.

I have visited a few times but always the conditions were horrible. Either the river ice was covered with water or snow or the ice had melted under a January sun and become pock marked hiding the bubbles.

By the way there is another American photographer that claims that the bubbles at Spray Lakes are the best in Alberta. It’s only his way of getting unknowing photographers to pay a premium to take his over priced tours.  Two and a half thousand dollars for a week and not have your accommodations paid for is obscene.

Abraham easily has the best and that is a problem for me. You see, Abrahams bubbles have been photographed so many times over the years that he photo has become a bit of a cliche. It’s become an obvious place to plant your tripod and the result is Google images has all of this bubble images that look the same and that is NOT what I want to do anymore.

I don’t want to become the best bubble photographer in Alberta. The contest ended years ago when I realized that what was important to me was satisfying my creativity. That means shooting what I want to shoot without regard for what anyone has done. It means satisfying my creative self by doing it my way.

That means not being the most popular photographer on Instagram or Twitter but when you think about it what is the point? I stopped hollering look at me a long time ago.

Creativity is a God given thing. It’s not religion to me but it has a special place in my soul.

Strive to be yourself. You are important. More important and unique than you know. It is your uniqueness that is valuable. Not the ability to mimic someone else.

Happy shooting,

Dan

 

Ps. The photo at the top of this post is NOT Abraham Lake.

Goodbye Masterfile… no payment, no pictures

•December 2, 2016 • 11 Comments

Photos that used to be with Masterfile.

I am retired. A few years ago while I was still working I got the idea of supplementing my retirement income by submitting my photos to stock photo agencies. The thought being that like putting money away in the bank or investing, photo sales later on would supplement my retirement income.

The very first agency that I applied to, Getty Images asked me to submit a sample of my photography and I got my first rejection. The second agency, was called First Light and happily they accepted my early images and it was off to the races. I photographed what I always had, landscapes and submitted them.

A few years into that agreement I was looking to one of the more successful and larger stock photo agencies in the world that was also headquartered here in Canada, Masterfile.

I applied to Masterfile and to my delight I was accepted. Wow, I thought at the time. Shortly after I was sent a box of professional looking business cards with theirs and my name on it. It seemed all very professional to me.

I still kept my older images with the first agency, I continued to get royalty payments and had no reason to withdraw them. My newer images were all sent to the new agency.

For a few years all was going great. I received almost monthly royalty payments from Masterfile to the point where my accountant said that I should probably start keeping track of my expenses related to photography as I was earning more money from my hobby than I counted on, so I did.

Slowly over a time the stock photo business changed. Before, only real professionals were with stock agencies. The expenses were high, film, processing, travel, etc. Now with high quality and cheap digital cameras, many new photographers were jumping on board. As in all economies, supply and demand dictate price. There was suddenly a flooding of new digital images on the market.

Getty Images was one of the first stock agencies to notice this and quickly moved to promoting royalty free images, i.e., you buy it once and can forever use it which ever way you want. Translation, the photographer gets paid once.

All of my photos with both agencies were with the old royalty program where they would sell for one time use and the agency and I would retain the rights to that image continually. Clients were guaranteed that the image they bought had a trackable history of where it had been used and could be guaranteed uniqueness in the market.

Getty was pushing really on the rights free model and prices continued to plummet.

The squeeze was on other stock photo agencies and some went under, others barely survived which is where we are in the story with Masterfile.

My first missed payment with Masterfile was in October of 2014, then November, 2014, then December 2014 and again in January of 2015.  That is four months of royalty payments that almost two years later I have still not been paid.

I was told that Masterfile was working things out and that I could expect my money sometime so I continued to to remain with them in good faith.

Long story short, over the following two years I was alternately paid and not paid for photos of mine that were sold to companies around the world. Yes, you read that right, my photos were being sold, used by a client and I was NOT receiving royalty payment however I still stuck with them in good faith hoping that things would turn for the better.

Earlier this year at the end of summer I had more sales but no royalty payments. Again the promise of money coming. And again more sales and no payment. And again.

I had enough with Masterfile. I had my photos pulled from their system a few weeks ago and now only have my images with Firstlight/Designpics which manages somehow to pay me in this bad market but more and more I find I am generating better income from the sale of prints through Fineartamerica.com

Things change. Jobs change. The market changes.

I do believe that there is a time to say enough is enough and cut my losses. Why continue to keep my photos with Masterfile when it looks to me like I will have more sales in the future and the chance of NOT being paid for them. A win for them but a loss for me.

If you are reading this it means that Masterfile still owes me royalty payments. The day that I receive all the money that I have earned from them, I will delete this post.

If you are interested in purchasing my photos you can contact me through my website or through Firstlight.com but I am no longer associated with Masterfile. No money. No photos.

Happy shooting,

Dan

Edit: It’s been almost a month since I posted this and have yet to see a penny from Masterfile.

My advice is to stay away from them if you are a buyer or a seller. There are other agencies around that will respect the suppliers and make sure that they get paid for the value that they have contributed to the agency.

Any updates to this will be posted here.

Alone In The Dark

•October 7, 2016 • 5 Comments

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A few days ago just I did something that I never do. I went out at night to photograph the northern lights with three other people. My brother, sister and my sister’s daughter-in-law made the trip out to Elk Island Park to see the northern lights. I found it odd that both my brother and sister hadn’t really seen the northern lights before. After all, we all grew up in the same house and I remember as a pre-teen lying in the grass under a summer night sky with my best friend Russ watching stars and trying to figure out where the constellations were when every few days we would observe the aurora.

When the four of us got to the parking log by Astotin Lake in the park it was dark. There are no lights in the parking lot and in most of the park. Without a moon illuminating the landscape it was difficult to even see the ground. That’s when my sister’s daughter-in-law who is from Taiwan asked if I were ever afraid to be in the dark alone. It dawned on me, no pun intended that almost without exception I am usually all by my lonesome in the middle of nowhere.

I told her that I really never worried about that as I was always interested in what was happening in the sky above.

As it turned out the four of us got to see the milky way and I pointed out a few constellations but the aurora never showed up.

A few days earlier when the aurora were spectacular I was again by myself at night. With no moon it was almost impossible to see any buildings or trees far from the road. Because I have spent so much time driving around the area north of where I live taking photos it is like walking through my house in the dark. I know where everything is.

I was close to the twin grain bins that I had photographed many times before and thought that I would make my way to them. Again because of the darkness  unless you knew where they were it would be easy to drive by them. They sit about 150 meters off the road on a hill.

Once I got to the spot on the road closest to them I pulled over, grabbed my headlamp and camera gear and in almost total darkness made my way up the hill. There was rusting in the mowed flax field all around me. Was it mice or rabbits or coyotes scurrying about in the dark? I didn’t know but wasn’t worried about any threat to my health. After all you never hear of man mauled by field mouse or ravaged by owl stories in the news.

When I took the photos of the aurora to the north the grain bins were all but invisible in the photos. By processing the image twice, once for the sky and once with the foreground and bins lightened up I was able to combine the two photos and selectively lighten the areas that I wanted to show up, the areas that were almost black before.

The result is above.

Now the sun is going into a solar minimum I have read and the chances of good auroras are diminishing.

Along with the diminishing aurora, the leaves have finally dropped from most of the trees and snow is forecast for the weekend. It is cold, for October. It was around zero Celsius today but there was a strong wind that made it seem much colder on my hour long walk with the dog.

I have to chuckle because if we get “cold” like this in February we will all be saying how nice it is outside. 🙂

Here’s to winter and goodbye to autumn.

Happy shooting,

Dan

Another Night of Magic

•October 1, 2016 • 5 Comments

Astotin Lake Aurora

Last night was truly a night of magic. It like the previous night stimulated all of the senses.

Day two of the current solar storm was spectacular.

Like the previous night all the ducks so to speak were lining up in a row. Spaceweather.com was predicting a storm with a rating of 6 which is really high. Aurorawatch.ca by 9:00 p.m. was showing only a 30% chance of seeing aurora which seemed very low given the conditions and cleardarksky.com was showing clear skies for my are until 3:00 a.m.

On the previous night I had noticed that a lack of any kind of a moon above the horizon not only made the northern lights appear brighter but the landscape below darker. Much, much darker.

Rather than photographing any kind of buildings in the dark without any illumination it was an easy decision to photograph a lake where the overhead lights would be reflected in the water. Nearby where I live is Elk Island National Park. It is about 30 minutes east of Edmonton. The national park is popular with astronomy hobbyists because of the lack of nearby commercial or residential dwellings. Simply put the sky is darker there.

The centre piece of the park is Astotin Lake. That is where I was headed.

At 10:00 p.m. aurorawatch.ca was  still showing a low percentage but I decided to get out anyways and hope that the lights would appear. Five minutes later and I was at towns edge and could see a faint band of green stretching from horizon to horizon. A good sign. A great sign. If you can see the aurora in the city they have to be bright.

Fifteen minutes out of town and half way to Elk Island and the lights were so bright that I almost pulled over to photograph them. Instead I persevered hoping that they would keep up until I got to the lake.

Soon I was pulling into the lake parking lot turning my headlights off as I approached it only to see the reflection of many vehicles from my driving lights as I drove close to the lake. Ah, lots of photographers just like myself I thought. Opening my drivers side door turned on the interior light which seemed to illuminate the lake. I quickly got my hear, donned my headlamp and walked towards the waters edge about 60 meters away.

Near the lake I could see the embers of a fire in a pit. Around it were the silhouettes of people laughing, singing and having a good time. Hmm, I thought what about the aurora? I walked past them and onto the beach. No photographers. I had passed about eight cars stopped at the side of the road in the park. They were near ponds hoping for reflections into the ponds I guess but there were no photographers here that I could see.

I turned on my headlamp, attached the camera to tripod and pointed towards the lake which was roughly in a north westerly direction. In the far distance I could see a faint glow from the lights of Edmonton to the southwest  and Fort Saskatchewan to the west.

Then the show started. At first it was very faint but because of the reflecting water they appeared to light up the lake. Out of the dark a young lady with a camera approached, there were other photogs here I thought. Very politely she asked if it would interfere with my shooting if she walked onto the pier. Of course not. It would make a nice silhouette I thought to myself. She walked on. Took a few photos and returned to where she had come from.

The air was cool and I was glad that I had brought a winter jacket again. And it was breezy. I could smell the smoke from the fire behind me and the singing got louder. It seemed like one happy family was at the lake. So special.

Then it happened. First a few spikes of aurora lit up the sky against the green faded wash. Brighter and brighter it got. Soon the singing behind me stopped and I could hear people commenting on the aurora. Wow! They were as bright as I had seen in years and they were active. Swirling and twisting and making their way from east to west across the sky. It was like a giant fluid monster of light was twisting and turning in the night making its way across the earth.

I kept pushing the camera shutter. Pointing the camera in every which direction. There were lights everywhere but to the south. I put on a fisheye to get more of the sky and snapped a lot.

As the lights danced another young woman parked herself a few meters next to me and I couldn’t help but comment on the lights. The lady said that she was from Australia and had NEVER before seen the northern lights. What a night to see them! She snapped a few photos or tried to as she explained that she did not have a tripod and returned to the fire pit.

Then as quickly as the show started it slowed down to a crawl so I waited. I stood on the sandy and wet beach. I know that it was wet because my knees and pants were wet from kneeling near the camera and tripod. Half an hour passed and only a faint green glow remained so I decided to head west back home. It couldn’t get much better than what I had seen I figured.

As I drove out of the park I passed almost a dozen other vehicles at the side of the road. I could see groups of photographers huddled alongside ponds.

During the short drive home I thought I saw the beginnings of a flare up but it was short lived. Then, five minutes out of Edmonton and the show started up again. The whole night sky woke up but the thought of laying my head on a pillow was too strong. I forced myself not to look back in the rear view mirror. I knew that it wouldn’t take much to convince me to turn around.

It was another night of magic.

Happy shooting,

Dan

A Special Night on the Prairie

•September 28, 2016 • 5 Comments

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016, and I woke up to cloudy, rainy skies.

The astronomy website spaceweather.com was predicting a good night for the northern lights aka the aurora borealis.

My favourite weather forecast website cleardarksky.com which is usually very accurate to the hour was predicting that by late afternoon the skies would be completely clear and cloudless. The moon would not be rising above the horizon where I live til 3:41 a.m.  All the ducks were lining up so to speak.

I haven’t done any night photography for a year at least. Something always seemed to come up or I would get too sleepy when it was time to head out and sleep seemed the better idea over taking photos. Tonight would be different.

To prepare for the northern lights I charged my camera batteries and put my tiny headlamp in its charger. A headlamp like the ones spelunkers use is handy for night photography. It beats fumbling in the dark to find something that has dropped or to make your way through a field and not trip on something that you can’t see.

Next thing I did was to put my two favourite night lenses in my backpack, a 14-24 f2.8 zoom and a 24mm f1.4 lens. The memory cards were formatted, the car was topped up with gas and I was ready to go, when it got dark enough.

As the evening progressed I kept checking aurorawatch.ca to see how the aurora were. Aurorawatch is great for me because it predicts the possibility of viewing the northern lights at my latitude and it kept looking better and better as time went on.

By 9:30 p.m. I made my mind up to hop in the car and head out. Only ten minutes out of town and I could see a faint band of green on the northern horizon stretching from east to west. The sky was crystal clear. Stars were sparkling and a light fog covered the road as I drove north.

Twenty minutes later I arrived at a favourite spot. There are two churches and a graveyard here. Ahead of me I could see a couple of cars parked on the side of the road. Already there were a few photographers out to see the lights.

Grabbing my gear I walked near the first old church and started taking pics. The sky was awash with the colour green. When I exhausted all angles back into the car I went and drove to the next church down the highway.

This one has much more elegant lines to it but the aurora were starting to fade so I put my camera down and just sat under the starry night sky.

Photography is so much more than taking photos. Driving out here I passed many farmers getting their crops off the fields. Lights flashing in fields of canola. Dust hanging heavily in the air and the smell of freshly cut hay was in the air.

Sitting and waiting for the aurora to appear I heard the faint honk of geese overhead as they migrated south thinking of how beautiful it must appear to them to see the stars high above and the northern lights swirling across the sky.

One coyote started yapping in the distance then another answered and then another. Soon there were the sounds of coyotes all around me yapping and howling and letting each other know where they were.

It was magical. A 360 degree Imax experience. All of my senses were bathed in the sights, sounds and feelings of the cool autumn night. And it was cool. The Toyota thermometer said that it was only a couple of degrees above freezing. Frost was forecast overnight where I was and I could already hear it as I walked on the crunch, frosty grass.

The lights magically reappeared. First in the eastern horizon then swirling and dancing west ward til they were almost overhead.

I grabbed a few more frames and head off to a few more favourite places before turning back home.

Getting home I never even looked at the photos I had taken. The dog greeted me as he always does when I take photos, sniffing all the strange scents that I bring home and in a few minutes both of our heads were on our pillows and asleep to dream.

The beauty of an autumn night on the western Canadian prairies. A dream indeed.

Happy shooting,

Dan

In a world where everyone looks the same…

•September 20, 2016 • 7 Comments

The Barn Beside The Road

I have a love/hate relationship with the internet.

I love that information and ideas can be so easily shared. Everyone can have a voice on the ‘net. We are free to express ourselves however we like. Too often for worse rather than better. The hate and bigotry that is rampant on the internet is sad really and says a lot about human nature. Some of us need police and prisons to keep ourselves in check. Happily I think that is the minority rather than the majority.

Expression comes in many forms. Political. Religious. Morality. I choose to express myself for lack of a better word and without trying to sound pretentious, artistically.

The internet has changed me as a photographer. I think that it has probably made me a better one. Digital photography, camera/phones, etc. have made photography more accessible than it has ever been. Everyone is a photographer or wants to be one it seems.

For the last couple of years I have noticed a homogenization in landscape photography. What do I mean by that? Every freaking picture looks like it was taken by the same person.

A visit this morning to the photo sharing website 500px only served to reinforce that. When I look under popular landscapes there is more similarity than uniqueness among the first few pages of photos and I think that is a  bad thing rather than a good thing.

Why does it seem that everyone at least everyone who is “popular” looks the same? What was popular twenty years ago is now outdated and old. What is now popular was once new and beyond the bounds of what is “normal”.

We all want to be liked. We all want the pat on the back that says, well done. Some of us chase it more than others and to what end?

Why is it important to be “popular” on the internet? It takes hard work to be popular. It just doesn’t happen on its own. I see photographers on Flickr and 500pix with thousands of friends. That means every time they log on they get hundreds and thousands of photos in their feed.

Can you really be their “friend” when they are one of thousands of anonymous people you have friended? I don’t think so.

For my whole life I have made a conscious effort to be different. To step apart from the crowd. To speak my own voice.

Maybe it’s more important to have two or three real friends than thousands of “friends” on the internet?

In a world where everyone looks the same I want to look different.

Happy shooting,

Dan

 

Time Passages

•September 4, 2016 • 3 Comments

Time Passages

“All round the day was going down slow
Night like a river beginning to flow
I felt the beat of my mind go
Drifting into time passages
Years go falling in the fading light
Time passages” – Al Stewart

Friday was indeed dark and cloudy but it wasn’t dreary, at least not to me.

There is something about photography that gets me excited about all kinds of weather. The kind of weather that keeps people indoors or depressed gets me outside and invigorates me.

Driving back from Elk Island National Park I zig zagged home in a most indirect way all the while looking around at the low, dark and fast moving clouds.

In Strathcona county which is just outside of Edmonton they must have lots of extra tax dollars because all of the side road, roads which anywhere else in Alberta would be gravel are paved in the county.

I turned the corner on this desolate looking day and started driving up a broad hill. Power lines to the left and nothing to the right it might seem as if there were no photo to be taken but the line of the road diminishing as it went uphill drew me in.

Out I stepped and immediately a cold wind cut through my jacket. The weather here in September can be so variable. Hot short and t-shirt weather one day and looking for a parka the next.

The routine was the same as it usually is for long exposure photos. Take the ND filter off the lens, open the eye piece cover on the back of the camera, place tripod on ground, compose, undo first three steps and wait four or eight minutes for the exposure then move on.

I did this a few times before arriving home cool and refreshed from having been out in the cold wind. A hot pot of coffee was soon brewing and I was deleting the unwanted images that I had taken earlier.

Happy shooting,

Dan