Breaking out of the photography rut…

•October 13, 2017 • Leave a Comment

aurora borealis, aurora, northern lights, dan jurak, landscape, nightscape, Alberta, Canada, hay, bales, farm, stars, learning, rut,

From Google’s definition of the word rut, “a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change.”

That describes me right now perfectly. The creative process is a wonderful thing. Understanding how it works can help you get to the next level.

Learn the basics of whatever it is that interests you. Get the fundamentals down so that you needn’t think about what you are doing.

That can apply to what kind of camera gear you use, how you expose, compose and even when and where you take photos.

I can go back through my archives and see my progression.

I am at first intrigued by a type of landscape photography.

I try to emulate that type of landscape until I can create my own copy of it.

I get bored with that kind of landscape and then the real fun begins on ways to look at it in a completely new way and owning it. Once done I am on my way to a different kind of landscape. LOL Jack of all trades, master of none? Maybe that’s me?

Over the last dozen years my interests have gone from dramatic storm clouds, to foggy sunrises in all seasons, to black and whites, to long exposure black and whites and now to where I am, photographing the northern lights.

The last few weeks I have been wracking my brain trying to imagine different ways to present the aurora. Google image search will show you that by and large there are two kinds of aurora, broad expanses of skies where the foreground is dark or unimportant or  directly overhead at the corona.

After browsing through a few hundred aurora photos or maybe even a few thousand it dawned on me that for the most part they all look the same. That is both frustrating and challenging. Nothing is ever new in the art world. Everything has been done at least once already.

The photo above is NOT where I want to take this but is representative of the easy, standard aurora photograph. A sky with lights, a foreground and nothing else to make it different from the rest. The technical stuff is routine and easy and boring. The creative process is exactly the opposite.

We are all at different places where creativity is concerned and the idea of never really knowing everything is what makes shooting landscapes or anything else for that matter continually fun.

Keep learning and growing and you will never find yourself in a rut for very long.

Happy shooting,





We all have to start somewhere… and it is fun to help out

•October 12, 2017 • 2 Comments

instruction, learning, photography, winter, sunrise, frost, cold, landscape, Dan Jurak, Alberta, prairie, farm, snow,

I am certainly not new to landscape photography or to Photoshop. So many years later I find myself still amazed at what I don’t know especially when I thought that there was nothing more to learn.

Photography is the gift that keeps on giving. Images that were taken a dozen years ago look new and fresh on second look. How I process images or see things keeps changing and that is how it should be. As with any art form there is no finish line. You never get to the place where you can say “that’s it”, time to move on.

I mention this today because of a post that I saw on Facebook. A few months ago I started up a new Facebook account, I couldn’t reclaim the old one to which I had forgotten the password and would NOT send copies of two pieces of government identification to Facebook.

When starting up the new Facebook page I noticed a group, it was a suggestion by Facebook that looked interesting. There was a page devoted to photographing the northern lights in the province of Canada where I live. That appealed to me for two reasons, I love to see what kind of photos are being taken where I live and secondly, my interest in the northern lights was rekindled and seeing other peoples images seem to inspire me to get out.

The experience level of the group is like a pyramid with most or a lot of people just starting out and as you go up the pyramid there are fewer and fewer people with both the artistic and technical expertise. This group seems to be very heavily weighted on the bottom and that is not a bad thing.

Beginners in anything should ask questions. There are never any dumb questions only dumb answers and I have seen a few of those in the group from some of the self appointed “experts”.

When I was a working photographer I sometimes had students in the studio. Normally when working with a still life I would have the stereo playing, get into that “zoned out” space and just do my thing. However I found that when I had a student with me and had to explain what I was doing I found myself explaining something that was done instinctively. By explaining what I was doing I realized that what I thought was instinctive was actually being done for technical or artistic reasons. What seems automatic to me when shooting landscapes isn’t as automatic as it looks. A dozen things are happening in my mind that I am not really thinking about but reacting to.

I seldom answer any questions since they seem to be answered fairly quickly but when I see an answer that I think is misleading or wrong, I give my opinion.

Back in the early seventies the only way that I could see what was happening in the photo world or to get answers to my technical questions was through magazines. Today answers, right and wrong are only a click away from your phone or computer.

I would have loved to have input from someone who knew more than I. Today things are so much easier, so much better for learning.

In any kind of art there are no absolutes. There is no one hundred percent right or wrong answer. Just like when you are in the kitchen preparing a meal, how much salt is right? A teaspoon or a teaspoon and a half? That is part of the puzzle and part of the joy of photography.

There is so much to learn. There are no rights or wrongs. Your photography is yours and no one else’s but it never hurts to listen to someone with an open mind. You never know what you might discover.

Happy shooting,


Gripe: Buying software but wait… there’s more to buy than meets the eye

•October 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Today’s post is more of a bitch or a gripe than anything else. Hopefully these will be few and far between but today I felt compelled to write about this.

Photoshop has been around for many years. It is a gigantic program that after having used it daily for almost twenty five years I at times feel like I have only scratched the surface on it.

Photoshop is a very important part in my photography. Taking the picture is kind of like having the ingredients to a recipe and photoshop is akin to the kitchen and assorted utensils.

I am always open to new and interesting ways of processing things. Many times I find myself doing things the old fashioned way only because that is how I have been doing it for years.

There are many ways to achieve the same effect in Photoshop. Whether it is manually selecting and using the different tools in the program, using filters or the latest thing, Photoshop actions.

Actions is a name for a series of things done in the program that have been automated. For example I could manually select shadows with a magic wand, save the selection as a channel and I have a luminosity mask. An action cuts out all the in between steps and with the press of a button you have the same channel.  A real time saver for sure.

That is but one example of Photoshop actions.

Today I came across a set of actions that I found really interesting. The were an advanced  version of actions that I had bought about a dozen years earlier and I was still using them. The new set is much more advanced than the ones that I have and do many more things.

I was tempted to purchase them until I saw all of the instructional videos that I could “purchase” to help me understand the program.

Now I ask, isn’t that like selling you something without a users manual so that you can use the item to its full potential?

If I don’t buy the videos I can stumble by and slowly learn my way through the program and maybe miss a lot along the way.

When I bought my car, I got a very detailed manual. In fact just about everything that I buy comes with a comprehensive manual but not this software.

Did I buy it? You guess.

Happy shooting,


/bitchy mode off

Was I right NOT to buy the new Nikon D850?

•October 7, 2017 • 4 Comments

D800E, Nikon, aurora borealis, aurora, northern lights, winter, Alberta, landscape, full moon, Dan Jurak, prairie, rural, Canada,

I love new equipment. I think that we all do. It’s also nice to drive a brand new vehicle, to have a new pair of sneakers, gee you can’t beat the smell of a new house.

In short we all like new things.

Before Nikon released their brand new DSLR the D850 there were of course all manner of drooling and speculation about what the new camera would be.

Everyone saw it through their own wants and needs. Could it be a great news/sports camera? Would the high ISO performance blow away all other cameras? Was it lighter? Weather sealed? On and on the speculation went for weeks until the specs of the camera were released.

When Nikon officially announced the specifications of the new camera I of course needed wanted one and so I watched the international online and local online stores to see when they would be available and at what price.

We all idealize things. It is what we do. Everyone seems to be in a better situation than ourselves. They are better looking. Have more money. Have better marriages and yes even have better camera equipment than us. That isn’t a realistic way of seeing things, something that I learned years ago. That lesson is a huge part about learning to be happy.

I had my chance more than once I woke up early, checked a Canadian website and guess what? They had the camera in stock. A few hours I would check again and it would be back ordered.

Three times I saw that coveted camera there for me to pick up and yet I held off on making the purchase. Today I am officially happy that I held off on that purchase.

I came across an article that had the numbers comparing the Nikon D850 to other cameras and it scored for the first time ever 100 out of 100. Sounds impressive doesn’t it?

But is it really? The website, does comprehensive tests on camera bodies and lenses a little bit like Consumer Reports but more on the technical side.

A score of 100 is certainly impressive. Who wouldn’t want such a camera? I still do but now I realize that for me it isn’t worth the money.

Below is a chart courtesy of detailing the top camera bodies regardless of manufacturer. They are all put objectively through the same test. Some people swear by DXO others swear at them because they either don’t believe in the methodology or hate to see their favourite brand not do so well., dxomark,

For colour photography I use a Nikon D800E. For infrared black and white I use a modified Nikon D800. Both were great cameras when they were released in February 2012. Those are two old camera bodies. Five years in digital technology is a long, long time. Both still take very, very good pictures quality wise. With large file sizes, great sensor quality and good lenses these two bodies are probably more camera than I am photographer.

If you look at the chart my old D800E scores 96 out of 100 on the chart. That begs the question, are those four percentage points worth $1,000 for EACH percentage point of difference? Four thousand dollars out of my pocket for a measly 4% points difference? The answer to me at least was obvious. Wait for the next iteration of this camera body. I don’t NEED the D850. Wanting and NEEDING are two different things.

I was going through more old photos last night, photos that I had long forgotten about. The photo of the old church was taken with an old D800E, fitting eh? LOL How different would it be to have been taken with the D850? NOBODY would see a difference. Maybe a 1:1 comparison would show a difference but still, would that splitting of hairs be worth $4,000 to me. Nope.

So today I sit with four thousand dollars in the bank which will probably be going to replace my 2011 iMac later this year. My iMac is already starting to show its age and unlike my camera gear I use it EVERY day. Money that is better spent on the computer this time and no buyers remorse.

Happy shooting,


All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain…

•October 5, 2017 • 8 Comments

high key, snow, cold, prairie, I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die., Blade Runner, Dan Jurak, snow, winter,

I have written before that my father died when I was very young. Even now at the age of 63 I can see how it still affects me and made me into the person that I am.

If anyone understands and appreciates women’s equality, the glass ceiling, etc. it is probably me.

My mother was a very strong and independent woman. We were very poor and couldn’t afford the things that most people took for granted.

I remember being eight years old and our upstairs toilet, the only toilet in the house, stop working. It was mom who turned the water off, started taking the thing apart until she figured out was wrong or what part needed replacing and caught the bus to go the the nearest hardware store to pick up a replacement. She repaired our television set the same way taking out all the tubes and going to a department store to put them in the tube tester, yes they really did have those things, until she found the broken one and bought a replacement.

My mother was very strong but she had a soft and gentle side.

I grew up with a strong female influence. I was never “macho” or tough. I grew up understanding that the difference between men and women were by and large physical and in no way were women less than men because of that. Women in many ways had to excel in order to be recognized as being equal to men.

That being said, I have what I guess you could call a “strong” feminine side? No, I don’t mean I wear women’s clothing or anything like that but I am at times very emotional. Many are the times when a television show was on that I had to leave the room in order to hide my tears because it wasn’t “manly” to cry or so I believed. I was so wrong about that.

When dating I could never go to a movie that I knew was a tear jerker because I would be sobbing the loudest of all the people in the theatre. LOL

One of my favourite movies of all time is Blade Runner. The sequel to it comes out today I only realized as I am writing this.

The story takes place in the future when Harrison Fords character is tasked to hunt down some rogue replicants. Replicants were genetically engineered supermen who supposedly had no hearts or souls. They would be sent to dangerous places across the universe to mine or go to war, to places deemed too dangerous to be visited by humans.

Near the end of the show, one of the last replicants being hunted by Fords character is shot and mortally wounded. The two characters are on a rooftop where it is pouring rain and Ford is hanging from the edge of the building about to fall to his death with the last replicant near him on the ledge. You would think that the replicant would let him die but just as Ford loses his grip, the replicant grabs him by one arm and lifts him to safety.

As the replicant realizes that he is about to die he says to Decker, Fords character, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

And he passes away. Well, I was in the theater at the time watching it and you know the rest. Bring out the Kleenex.

And so here we are having lived and experienced “all those moments”.

Your photos are important. They are more important than you think and I don’t mean financially. They are a part of your legacy. The photos I have of my ancestors, my relatives, my dad the cutlines around Nordegg during his annual fall hunting trip. The photos of us growing up. Will they all be lost?

With every photo you take there is a story, many stories and memories and feelings that we have forgotten until we revisit them.

Part of our legacy are these photos. Treasure them and keep them in a safe place or they will be lost in time, like tears in rain…

Happy shooting,



You’re a beginner who just got hooked on photography… now what?

•October 1, 2017 • 4 Comments

photography lessons, photography workshops, Alberta, Dan Jurak, landscape, Alberta, rural, morning, dawn, prairie, road, foggy, summer,

I saw a post earlier today on Facebook that proved to be inspiration for this post.

They were new to photography and wanted to learn from someone how to use their camera and take pictures like the ones that they were seeing in the group.

Normally I would just read the post and forget it. This time was different because there was an immediate reply from someone saying that they teach photography and to pm them. Out of curiosity I clicked on their Facebook profile.

Aside from the photos of the fellow holding what looked like assault rifles in his profile were his landscapes and they were horrible both technically and aesthetically. The few photos of his that I saw were under exposed, poorly processed to the point that they were dark and looked for all purposes that they were snapped without actually looking at the subject matter. In short, they were terrible.

On a semi-related topic there was a post the day before asking what kind of camera equipment this person should buy. They were just starting out. One of the replies was a Nikon D850 body and a Sigma 14mm f1.8 lens. For someone starting out in photography this is extreme overkill and a waste of money. This is akin to someone learning how to drive and they receive the sage advice of buying a Ferrari Testarossa as the car to learn on. Does that make any sense to you?

I am reluctant to recommend to ANYONE to actually pay for photo instruction lessons for two reason. The first is Youtube. There are so many great and not so great instructional videos on the internet that will teach you the basics all the way to  some very advanced techniques both with your camera and also in using Photoshop which is JUST as important as your camera.

My second reason for NOT paying for instruction. I spent two years in a photography school after I left university and I will and still believe the only important thing about school was that it allowed me two years of taking pictures. All of the classes that I took on aesthetics and exposure and other such stuff were not important. What was important was the actual time spent using the camera gear and learning from my mistakes and successes.

I don’t do photo workshops or teach photography even though I have had the opportunity to do both because I believe that in doing so I am stealing that persons money and I can’t do that.

There is no mystery to taking good pictures. There are no secrets to be revealed that will make you a better shooter that you can’t easily and freely learn by looking at photos, studying your mistakes and successes and scouring youtube for instructional videos.

Keep your money in your pocket. The best camera gear and most expensive instruction in the world won’t do as much for you as taking your time, looking objectively at your results and shooting some more.

Happy shooting,


ps. To show you how unimportant camera gear is I went back into my archives for this one. It was taken with a 10 megapixel Canon Rebel, a starter camera with a kit lens. If I can do it YOU can do it.

Mother always said, “If you can’t say something nice about someone…”

•September 30, 2017 • 2 Comments

aurora borealis, aurora, northern lights, Alberta, night sky, astrophotography, Dan Jurak, landscape, Alberta, prairie, rural, green, crops,

I think that this old saying that I first heard fifty some years ago still applies today.

What does this have to do with photography? A lot.

When you are being creative that means actually CREATING.

From google when I define creative some of the synonyms are, “inventive, imaginative, innovative, experimental, original;”

I emphasize innovative, experimental and original.

We all crave attention and adoration. Few things make us feel better than positive reinforcement. To be told you are special or doing a great job not only feels great but gives us incentive to go out and do more of the same.

One of the great pleasures in my life is trying new things. To learn or see in a different way than I have been used to seeing is both rewarding and frightening. Frightening because if you are too different you don’t get the virtual pat on the back and rewarding because if seeing differently works, you have another bow in your quiver of creativity.

There is a trend on the internet to heap praise on everyone in your group regardless of what their work looks like and that is not a good thing.

Every once in a while I am asked to critique someones photos or asked what I think about a photo and I have learned that it is better to not say anything if I can’t honestly say that I like something. Why would I do that? I don’t want to be dishonest or mislead someone into thinking that I love something that they have created if I don’t.

My kids learned that while growing up. Every time they would get new clothes which being girls is a common occurrence, I would be asked what I thought of the new outfit.

If it was meh, I would say so. If I didn’t like it, I would make a neutral statement rather than lie and if I did love it my opinion really mattered to them because they knew that I was being honest and wasn’t just saying it to please them. It works the same way with photographs. Today I commented on someones photo that I thought was special and it was to me.

It’s not often that I can say to someone that I love what they have created but I think that if you say it sparingly and truthfully it goes a lot further than loving and liking everything that you see.

Honesty is the best policy. This doesn’t mean that you go out and purposely hurt someones feelings because you don’t have to. You can politely deflect without being overly critical.

Happy shooting,