Releasing the shutter is only the beginning… then the real fun begins

•March 16, 2018 • 2 Comments

tourism jasper, jasper, rockys, rockies, Alberta, landscape, columbia ice fields, ice fields, glacier, Dan jurak, Landscape, waterfall, long exposure, LE,

I have been having a blast going through thousands of old images with a new eye on processing them.

The picture at the top of this post was taken in September of 2011. Almost seven years old. The way that I visualized the scene then is much different than how I see it today.

Tastes change. Ideas change. We change.

Change is a healthy and necessary part of our development at least that is what I have been taught. There is an old Chinese proverb about the tree that bends in the wind doesn’t break. I think that in some was that should also apply to our creativity.

Remaining rigid in your ideas or beliefs and not being receptive to at least hearing and giving a few moments of consideration to something different than is not conducive to our growth.

Along with an, can I say it? Evolving sense of the aesthetic the way that I approach an image in Photoshop is different. Better? Worse? Time will be the best judge of that because I know that when looking at something I create I tend to lose a sense of objectivity.

The idea for re-processin this image of Mount Athabasca an Mount Andromeda in Jasper comes from seeing many of the younger and up and coming popular photographers on Instagram.

Rather than staying close to reality they tend to stretch and exaggerate realism in every sense.

I came from a time when Eliot Porter. Porter is best known for his large format colour images of the American Southwest. From what I remember he did dye transfer prints from his transparencies. There was no dodging or burning or Photoshopping like there is today.

From Porter my tastes drifted towards David Muench who similarly photographed the American Southwest with a large format camera. The difference being that Muench was much more flamboyant with his use of colour and graphic style in his use of colour.

Just as I was influenced by those two great landscape artists of the past I am also influenced by a generation younger than mine.

The before RAW image with only default settings to export.

There is no right or wrong way to process this image. Give the RAW file to one hundred people and you will get one hundred different interpretations. The fun really does begin after you release the shutter.

Happy shooting,



Something is wrong with this picture

•March 15, 2018 • 9 Comments

abraham lake, milky way, night shots, long exposure, winter, banff, rockies, landscape, Dan Jurak , photoshop trickery

The laws of physics if what I was taught in school apply to everyone. All the time.

There aren’t any exceptions for the rich, the famous or the good looking.

For the past few weeks I was at first uber impressed when I saw one photo like it and then double uber impressed when I saw another by the same photographer.

The landscapes were simply stunning. Night shots in the winter with all kinds of detail in the snow and shadows and tack sharp. How in the world was that accomplished?

I filed that away under the label of interesting things to try in the future. Stymied by this photographers complete mastery of photography and physics I plodded on in my Neanderthal ways. A simple photo. Compose. Tweak in post processing. Rinse. Repeat.

And then a light bulb went on above my head. Or was it in my head?

Why in the second night landscape did I not see any light pollution? The area in which it was taken is very populated and there just had to be light pollution that creeps into all night shots taken within 50 km of highly populated areas.

The second photo I revisited. When I looked closely at it things started to not make sense to me. The laws of physics you know.

Under a night sky with no moon the light is very, very flat. So flat in fact that no amount of overexposing will give you directional light and shadow. This photo along with the first was probably taken shortly after sunset when there is sufficient light in the sky to get great depth of field and most importantly directional light.

So I processed two RAW images from my recent trip to Abraham Lake. The first was the foreground taken around sunset on the first evening there. With a cloudless sky I would have probably ended up deleting the file eventually because as a landscape it sucked. The second, the night sky was taken from the same spot at about 5:00 a.m. the following morning while it was still pitch black out and moonless.

I pasted one photo on top of the other, did a few photoshop tweaks and black magic, added some fog on another layer, tried to match the colours of the two halves as close as I could and voila! My very own laws of physics defying night shot.

Now before you pick it apart, like all things done on first try and rushed there are a dozen ways to make it seem more realistic. This was my first try.

So before you go and swear that some photographer has all the luck with the perfect conditions remember this article. There may be some tom foolery afoot. 🙂

Happy shooting,


Posting my mistakes on the internet for all the world to see :)

•March 14, 2018 • 5 Comments

milky way, stars, long exposure, abraham lake, mount michener, mt. michener, night sky, ice bubbles, Dan Jurak, landscape, panorama,

On my Vero account earlier I had someone like one of my photos there and as I always do checked out their profile to see if there were any pictures that I might like.

What I found was a landscape photographer who on one of their photos had what wreaked of desperation to me. Follow me be entered into a draw if I get 1000 followers on Vero. Huh? OMG I thought to myself what is this persons problem?

Popularity like I wrote the other day is ethereal. It has no real value. You can’t touch it, eat it or sell it. BTW, their photos were not anything that I want to revisit.

I am not popular. Never will be and don’t care to put in the work that it takes to be popular. Maybe there is something wrong with me? I dunno but I am perfectly content being who I am.

Who I am is a regular person that has challenges in what they do. I am a person who makes mistakes and is sometimes slow to learn from those mistakes but if something is valuable enough to me I will make the effort to learn from them.

My little jaunt to Abraham Lake this week is proof of that.

In yesterdays post, the night panorama of the milky way and the northern lights, a reader pointed out to me that there was a funny purple colour in the shadows and wondered what it was.

What was in those shadows is the result of someone having not mastered night photography. It is severe under exposure and that is now my camera body handles it. Purple bands that are a paint to remove so instead of trying I am writing about growing as a photographer even after all these years of having earned a living with one.

What I know is that when photographing the milky way or any stars for that matter you want the exposure to be short enough that the stars aren’t streaky. The streaks caused by the rotation of the earth. Point your camera at the night sky and leave the shutter open for a few minutes and you will quickly find out that yes indeed, the earth does rotate.

Me being a little naive, stupid and lazy decided that I would keep my exposure at 15 seconds at f2.8 and bump the speed from the suggested ISO 6400 to over 8000 ISO. That was my mistake.

I could have done a few things to help minimize the purple banding. I could have doubled the exposure to 30 seconds which with a 24 mm lens would have been fine or I could have done what I have seen others do, expose once for the sky and then do a separate exposure for the foreground. That means lowering the ISO or sensor speed, increasing the exposure to a few minutes in length and then blending the sky and foreground.

EDIT: How stupid of me. I just realized that I had a 24 mm f1.4 lens in my camera bag. The panorama was taken with a 14-24 f2.8 lens at 24mm. If I had used the first lens I would have been able to give it more exposure at a wider lens opening for the same length of time. Duh…..

My laziness and naivety proved to be my undoing.

My saving grace is something that I have told my kids ever since they were toddlers. No mistake is a bad mistake if you can learn from it.

Lesson learned.

Happy shooting,


ps. please note the purple banding in the shadows of the pano at the top to see what I am talking about. 🙂 (I am humbled) LOL

The shot above is a panorama of five or six (too lazy to check) vertical images. I copied and pasted the image on top of itself and then processed on layer for the sky and the other for the foreground. The result was then blended and saved as a single image.


When your wife kicks you out to take pics or why can’t I take an iconic photo of Abraham Lake?

•March 13, 2018 • 6 Comments

abraham lake, ice bubbles, nordegg, clearwater county, milky way, stars, northern lights, aurora borealis, aurora, Dan jurak, landscape,

I had an interesting 48 hours this week.

My wife is always kidding me that I always say that I am going to take pictures but never do. I am not sure if she just wants to get rid of me or if she does it to tease.

I love to get out to the mountains but at this time of year for me that means sleeping in the back of my little Toyota Rav4. At six foot one I am forced to sleep diagonally to fit in the back and with night time temperatures dipping into the mid to low teens Celsius I am getting too old to do that as frequently.

Why not stay in a motel the wife asks? Call it cheap or frugal I don’t like throwing away a couple of hundred dollars for something that I can usually do for free, ie, sleeping in my suv.

At her insistence she said, no she told me, take the money out of the house fund and long story short, I reluctantly agreed.

So with a quick phone call to the Nordegg Lodge in good old Nordegg I had a reservation for the evening. My plan was to scout out Abraham Lake before it got dark, maybe take a few pics and then return at 4:00 a.m. when the milky way would be over Mount Michener on Abraham Lake on a moonless night.

I love to drive on the highway so the almost four hours to the lake passed quickly. When I got there at four in the afternoon it was almost like summer. My vehicles thermometer read 11 Celsius. I walked around the popular Preachers Point to discover a trio with skates looking for some flat ice to glide around. Most of the ice was either covered with the recent heavy snowpack or what was exposed was rotting or going soft.

So much for that place in the morning I thought to myself and back down the David Thomson highway a few kilometres to a pull off where I could easily access the lake and have a great view of Mount Michener. Again, lots of snow covering the ice. The world famous bubbles had disappeared and what ice was exposed was also going soft and mushy.

With perfectly clear skies forecast for the evening and overnight, there probably wouldn’t be any good photos to take but I persisted and tried a bunch of things all of which I promptly deleted when I got home the next day.

Half an hour later and I was back at the Nordegg Lodge, making a quick meal, unpacking my camera gear and double checking it and then hopefully fall asleep quickly as I planned to get up at 3:10 a.m.Â

It didn’t work out that way. It was one of those weird nights where I tossed and turned, my body overheated and I felt like I was burning. My mind was racing and I was playing every mind trick that I could think of to get to sleep. No such luck and when 3:00 a.m. showed on my iPhone I decided that I could probably sleep AFTER I took photos IN THE BACK OF MY RAV. LOL the irony.

At this early hour and with temperatures now well below freezing I expected a frost covered windshield but it was clear. Yippee. One less thing to do.

As I drove westward I could see stars sparkling in the dark, dark sky. A great sign. And man was it dark. I was glad that I had scouted out the area at Michener the evening before otherwise I would be completely lost.

As I got to the east end of the lake, the side that NOBODY ever photographs I could faintly see the milky way overhead. It was so dark that I was pointing the camera, shooting and viewing the display on the back of the camera and moving it by what I saw on it.

One of the things that I had wanted to try out with the milky way was a panorama as a single shot would usually only capture a small portion of it.

I placed the camera on the tripod with the panorama head, levelled it and then proceeded to squeeze off six frames from east to south to west covering around 180 degrees. What the camera saw amazed me. There was so much detail that I couldn’t make out with the naked eye and now the wind was picking up by the minute.

I took a few more shots here by Windy Point, I wonder why they call it that? LOL and made my way or rather tried to find my next stop in the darkness.

A few minutes later I came upon another suv parked by the road and as it turned out that was the spot I had planned on stopping at. The lights on the vehicle were off so the photographer was either sleeping in it I figured or out on the lake already taking photos.

I pulled on my winter gear and made the slog over hardened and at times soft snow until I was on the lake proper. The level over the winter had drastically dropped as the power company drew water from the reservoir to generate electricity. Abraham Lake isn’t a natural lake but a dammed lake. When the lake freezes and the water drop, huge sheets of ice fracture and lay exposed on the bare bottom of the lake bed. There were some giant hollows there. I never knew the lake dropped off so quickly there.

Minutes later I could see two headlamps making their way from the truck to the lake. Ah, so someone was awake in the vehicle. Shortly the two made their way towards me and I was greeted by two young women with camera gear and what looked like arctic wear. (They were very smart it turned out.)

They went there way. I went mine and we both took photos for the next couple of hours until the eastern horizon started to light up. I mistakenly though that it was the moon. I was wrong, it was the sun although a sliver of a crescent moon rose just before the sun did.

I drove an hour to Rocky Mountain House and topped up with gas and then made the pleasant almost three hour drive back to Edmonton.

A quick bit of fiddling in my RAW converter and Photoshop and the result is at the top of this post. This is not usually the view that you see of Abraham Lake. Don’t believe me? Google it and you will see what I mean. LOL

I guess I am not supposed to get that picture, although everyone else has it. Sigh…

Happy shooting,



Even my dog doesn’t chase his tail…

•March 11, 2018 • 2 Comments

abraham lake, nordegg, david thomson country, Alberta, landscape, ice, lake, instagram, popularity, winter, frozen, Dan Jurak,

Instagram! Aaaaak.

I have a smart dog. Cooper is the smartest dog that I have ever had the pleasure to own in my lifetime. It’s not the proud father syndrome because when we had our last dog, a Dalmatian I would always joke that she wasn’t the sharpest pencil in the drawer.

Cooper turned seven years old yesterday and not once ever have I seen him chase his tail. Is it because his tail isn’t an interesting object to him? I dunno. I prefer to think that he would rather be chasing squirrels or some other worthy object.

What does this have to do with photography? Instagram. The more I post and make visits the more I am reminded of being in primary school and wanting to be the first one picked in sports or liked by the girls. Instagram for many is a popularity contest.

Like my dog, I figured this one out a long, long time ago.

Popularity or the appearance of being popular means NOTHING.

I saw a very popular Alberta photographer on there yesterday. He is talented. Not out of this world extraordinary but a very competent person and he had upwards of 50,000 followers. How does he get those views I wondered? Listening to my university aged girls I discovered hashtags. Hashtags are a way to index your images so if you have a photo taken in Alberta you might want to add the hashtag #alberta to your photo to help people find it.

Knowing that I copied this “popular” photographers hashtags onto a pic I posted this morning.  Within a few minutes I got a message from the admin of one of the hash tagged groups asking me to message him/her if I wanted to have them post my photo. Gladly I replied, yes!

I got a message back saying that if I paid them $6.00 per pic they would post my pics and share in the profits. I respectfully declined.

There is a message here about the appearance of popularity. For most of us it is work and there is a price to pay and in the end what do you get out of it? A false and inflated sense of self.

It doesn’t matter what others think of you. It matters what you think of yourself.

My dog figured out a long time ago that it made no sense to chase his tail. I think that he is onto something.

I am resigned to being a lesser shining light in the Instagram world and that is fine by me.

Happy shooting,



Where my heart is…

•March 6, 2018 • 2 Comments

explorealberta, jasper, mountains, rockies, autumn, fall colours, landscape, Alberta, Dan Jurak, golden,

The memories that photographs that we have taken can bring back. So long ago. Such a long, long time ago and yet it at times it seems just like yesterday that I was a little boy of four or five years of age in a boat fishing for trout in the middle of Medicine Lake in Jasper.

Where does the time go? How much more time will there be?

You know how your mind wanders before you fall asleep and you find yourself thinking about anything and everything. The past. The present. The future?

I got to thinking that soon I will turn 64. That is not young by any means. At times I feel like the little boy fishing with my father. By no means do I ever feel my physical age that is until I look in the mirror and see an old and greying man.

64 I thought. How many more good years are left to make trips to the mountains? How long before health comes before photography?

Why do we take pictures? How do we decide to travel where we do?

The photo at the top is of Jasper and was taken during the autumn months a few years ago. It trigged the idea for this piece. I was processing it and realized when looking at the brown grassy meadow that you see in the middle of the picture that it is the bottom of Medicine Lake which drains to almost nothing in the fall.

There have been countless hours here spent with both of my now deceased parents and then later with my brothers and cousins and friends and even later with my wife and daughters.

It’s funny how we somehow drift back to where we started so many years ago. That is where our hearts are.

Happy shooting,


ps. About the photo, I had processed it normally or at least the same way that I always do but then saw a video on the internet where the photographer did that and then made a copy of the image but then darkened and lowered the contrast and pasted it into a new file. From there he was cloning the bright spots on the normal print into the darkened file.

Since there is more than one way to do things I ended up copying the darkened image and pasting it onto the original then using a mask on the dark image selectively brushed back some of the highlights or brighter areas where I wanted them. The result is an image with much richer and deeper tones than what I normally do. I like the result.

Another arrow in my quiver now so to speak. 🙂

You are never too old to learn new things.


When the world goes to sleep…

•March 4, 2018 • 6 Comments

snow, winter, sleep, ethereal, moody, explorealberta, landscape, Alberta, prairie, cold, foggy, misty, farm, rural, hay bales,

I have been having fun posting photos on Instagram and Vero lately. There is a  whole different group of people than I am familiar with.

Is it the algorithms of Instagram that keep showing me brain smashing, bang me in the face with overblown colours or is that what is current? Seeing photos on there is like steadily increasing the amount of sugar or salt in your diet until you realize that you can’t taste the sweetness or saltiness anymore.

In going through hundreds of old images that I have taken and forgotten about over the years I found this little gem that seemed so opposite of how I see Instagram.

It is about quiet and serenity. It seems so different than what I have been seeing for the past few days that I have posted it simply because it is opposite.


If you want to be successful creatively you have to walk the fine line of acceptance and rejection. Be ready to be ignored or slammed because people need to be educated to see things differently than they are used to.

Praise is nice but what is nicer is feeling good about what you create because that is what truly matters. Never be afraid to stand out from the crowd and be different.

Happy shooting,