Altered reality? Or not all landscapes are as they might seem…

•January 29, 2018 • Leave a Comment

photoshopped skies, icefields, winter, jasper, national park, rockies, rockys, mountains, ice, snow, cold, landscape, Dan Jurak,

Let me preface this post by saying that in no way should I or do I want to influence your artistic direction. Creating art is about following your heart. It isn’t about seeking attention or approval.

I know firsthand which of my pictures will get more attention and which can be overlooked. Back in 1971 or 1972 I started a two year photo course. Before the first semester of the course was done I had already figured out how to present my assignment and get a high mark. Me being the stubborn person that I am, I decided thereafter to say the heck with high marks, I want to photograph things the way that I want and not what the instructor would like.

Right or wrong that stubborn idea of seeing things my way never changed. I also had a second instructor nicknamed “JR” who told us that when shooting a commercial job, shoot it the way the client wants it even if it isn’t what you think is best and then shoot it your way and present them with a choice. Inevitably the client or editor would choose my version the majority of the time.

Stay true to who you are. Your art is a reflection of all that you are. You see no better nor worse than the most popular landscape photographers of the day. Your vision is just as valid.

Over the years I have spent a lot of time outdoors with a camera. Every sunrise or sunset in the mountains or the prairies isn’t a “Kodak” moment. Some are just plain prettier or more intense than others.

There are so many brilliant skies and sunsets out there that if you never set foot on the planet and were viewing all of these photos you might think that our world was perpetually foggy or bathed in golden colours.

Many and I mean MANY of the most popular landscape photographers, you know, the ones who give workshops and charge many thousands of dollars do more photoshopping to their images than you might think.

I was reminded of this a couple of years ago when I saw a photo of Bow Lake in Banff during the winter taken at the same time and only inches away from one another by the instructor and the customer.

The difference was incredible. The customer had a plain, normal, I wouldn’t look twice at the photo whereas the professional had the same sunrise photoshopped as a scene of brilliant golds and oranges bathing the clouds over Crowfoot Mountain.

So, when you get out there and don’t experience these awe inspiring scenes take heart, most of the time the world doesn’t look like that.

A few years ago I made my annual winter/autumn trip the Jasper and took a few pics of the Columbia Icefields. The mountains look great but the weather is usually horrible for photos. One moment there are clear skies and the next, clouds have blown over the ice fields from the west and the sky is completely enshrouded in grey.

Spectacular sunrises and sunsets are even more difficult to come by.


Usually when photoshopping a hand of God sky a little colour in the sky helps greatly but this time I used a photo taken late in the morning when the skies were completely daylight coloured which makes it more difficult to do a convincing switch in skies.

I spent maybe ten minutes max to rough this out.

Even with a “boring” sunrise or sunset ten minutes of effort in Photoshop would allow for a more dramatic and convincing sky.

So the next time you go out there and are disappointed that the sunrise/sunset wasn’t as dramatic as you had hoped, maybe it was but you just didn’t realize it.

Happy shooting,





Putting your best foot forward, even mother nature has makeup

•January 26, 2018 • 4 Comments

mother nature, winter, frost, makeup, landscape, backyard, Edmonton, Dan Jurak, Alberta, YEG, hoar frost, snow, flakes,

This going to be a short and quick post.

I sometimes wonder if I have some kind of as of yet undiagnosed Attention Deficit Order. I simply cannot spend too much composing, planning, processing or even thinking about what I am doing let alone what I have done in the past.

Simply put, landscape photography can be as simple as you want to make it and I make it really, really simple. When I am in my for lack of a better word, “zone” pictures pop out at me everywhere.

I sometimes envoy those photographers that can stand in one place for hours on end to photograph star trails. Being outdoors for that long and only coming away with one photo? I dunno how they do it but I admire them for being able to do it.

When taking photos, my eyes are always scanning the horizon, framing and composing in my mind. If something clicks, I stop on the side of the road and often have a half dozen DIFFERENT photos within the space of a few minutes. Would my photos be any better if I took longer and deliberately thought out and planned purposefully what I was doing? I will probably never know because while planning for one shot another three pop into my head and just as quickly they disappear.

That short attention span and almost immediately forgetting what I have taken pictures is what brings me here today.  We had a huge dump of snow around Edmonton today. Finally.

Now at long last it looks like winter and my back knows it from shovelling 25 plus centimetres of heavy snow from our long double driveway.

A few years ago I awoke to one of those special days when everything and I mean EVERYTHING looked like a photo to me. The photo at the top of this post is one that had completely escaped my memory and upon seeing it, looked as new to me as the day I took it.

When we’re young and looking to impress others with our good looks in the hopes of getting a date or impressing someone we dress up, comb our hair or get it done, splash on cologne or perfume and for the ladies put on makeup.

The photo above is an example of my backyard going on a date. It doesn’t always look like this but with a little polish and shine from mother nature, WHAM!

What I am trying to get across is how light and weather really can make any place on earth look special. Start following the forecasts closely. Watch the sky. Pay attention to the humidity. Whether it be hot or cold, high humidity and low winds always make for special times.

On the night this snowfall came it also deposited a heavy hoar frost. An unusual combination and what was needed was for there to be no wind to blow of the delicate sparkles from everything.

Mother nature can be your best friend when she decides to put her best foot forward for you.

Happy shooting,


Are you in the mood?

•January 25, 2018 • Leave a Comment

landscape, winter, snow, cold, alberta, dan jurak, farm, rural, drifts, hoar frost, frost, prairie,

Our art is a reflection of how we feel about the world around us.

On one of my Flickr groups that gets hundreds of submissions a day, the vast majority of them never make it into the group because they have no “mood”, no heart.

What do I mean? Look outside right now. Do your surroundings look special or does it look like any one of thousands of days?

A photo with feeling or mood doesn’t look special. It looks like it could have been taken by anyone on any day of the year. No feeling. No emotion.

Mood is more about weather and light than composition although the latter does come into play in a minor way.

I am always looking at the skies and the light. Depending upon the kind of photography that I am doing what is good for one kind of photography, say infrared, is different than when I want to do colour landscapes.

For infrared the best clouds where I live seem to start forming around ten or eleven in the morning. They are bright, puffy clouds. Later in the day they start to blend into one another which for infrared doesn’t work well.

For colour early morning or late evenings I find are the best with mornings having the advantage in Alberta because if the conditions are favourable there can be heavy fogs which are my favourite conditions to be out in.

The photo above was taken the morning after a night of heavy fog and frost. For me that means getting up before sunrise, at least an hour and getting on the road well before the sun nears the horizon.

The best light and weather usually only lasts half an hour or so before the fog starts to burn away or the wind takes the hoar frost from whatever it is clinging to.

I have on occasion been lucky and found myself taking pictures until just before lunchtime but that is more rare than common.

The landscapes that are special are the ones that can be seen for only a short time. My flickr group has seen thousands upon thousands of photos that could be taken anytime of the day and they really aren’t special in any way. They just don’t put me or anyone else in the mood.

Happy shooting,


Stepping off the path…

•January 24, 2018 • 3 Comments

Jasper National Park, winter, snow, cold, Tangle Peak, Beauty Creek, landscape, winter, Dan Jurak, Alberta,

It’s funny how life seems to go in circles.

I remember as a very young child being myself and not caring about whether I fit in or not. Being popular never seemed important to me.

Then came junior and senior high school when we all start to physically mature. Being a tall and gangly kid who was always on the skinny side with a big nose and suddenly being interested in the opposite sex, what others thought of me seemed important.

Now a senior citizen who is balding and getting a bit of a belly, I have returned to my childhood. Do I need or care to be the most handsome, popular or well like person? Nope.

Give me good health, peace of mind and a roof over my head and I am happy.

What does that have to do with photography? There was a time post teen years where I needed to be different. Perhaps in a way it was still needing attention? I had to be different in my musical tastes, dress, etc.

Nowadays being a frugal senior citizen I roll my eyes when I think of how much money I wasted on clothes. If only I had invested that.

Today being different is more about being myself. Above is an example of that.

Jasper National Park is well travelled and photographed by maybe millions of people every year. I recognize almost every photo that I see from Jasper having been to all of those places during the last sixty years.

When I go to the mountain park I am not looking to emulate anything done by any other photographers before me but to see the park in my own way.

This little spot or at least a couple of hundred meters from it on the other side of the highway is becoming popular because of the many photo workshops that have been given in the park.

Creativity is not about paint by numbers but about investing your soul and imagination into what you do. Without consciously trying, your art will be different.

In the age of the internet there is a great “sameness”. People think, look and act more alike than apart. It is our differences that make us who we are. Not our sameness.

Happy shooting,


Graduated ND filters for landscapes, should you use them?

•January 23, 2018 • 7 Comments

graduated ND filters, photo filters, photographic filters, ND, landscape, snow, winter, cold, snow drifts, snowdrifts, Alberta, Dan Jurak,

Gadgets. I have found photographers, amateur and professionals alike love their gadgets.

There was a running joke where I worked that two of the photographers had to have the latest of everything only to sell whatever they bought a few months later for a bargain price.

Been there. Done that.

Many years ago I kept seeing very dramatic skies and wondered what I was doing wrong because my skies never looked like the ones on the internet or in magazines. Stupid me, reading a photography magazine saw an article of the wonders of  graduated ND filters.

Unlike a regular neutral density filter a graduated one is just as described. Usually full density to reduce light passing through near the top and gradually diminishing until the filter was clear.

The theory was that skies are usually brighter than the ground so if you used one of the filters the sky would receive less exposure than the ground below and become darker and more dramatic. No more washed out skies.

So, with my new found knowledge I found out which were the best filters at the time or most highly regarded and spent a few hundred dollars on a set of graduated ND filters and special adapter to fit on my wide angle Nikon 14-24 lens. I bought not only neutral, grey filters but coloured ones to make my sunsets more colourful.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I was oversold on the merits of the filters.

The filters had no place in a digital world. In the days of film when shooting transparencies they might be a suitable alternative but with digital I found that the filters were actually ruining my skies. They introduced more density and colour than I intended and once a scene was taken with them it was very difficult if not impossible to revert back to a neutral sky.

The image at the top is one of my regrets. We had a wicked winter blizzard a few years ago and the moment the wind stopped I grabbed my gear and made my way out of town.

I was greeted with these long tailing drifts crossing the road. Having 4 wheel drive really helped me as I was able to 4 wheel it through the drifts. I had to get out on the roads before the snow ploughs came out and cut through the drifts which meant ruining them for my photos.

The photo here has the sky over darkened and because I used a magenta graduated filter, the sky took on too much of a hue, more than I wanted.

I know that in Photoshop it would have been easier and have allowed me much more control to have done this digitally.

I sold those filters a few months later and aside from the solid ND filters which I use in my long exposure photographs (up to 10 minutes) I am completely filter free.

Digital photography offers so much more control that many of the gadgets that we think we need actually hamper our photography and not help it.

Happy shooting,


Another great tool in your Photoshop quiver, Raya Pro

•January 22, 2018 • 2 Comments

Raya Pro, rayapro, luminosity masks, Jimmy McIntyre, Dan jurak, photoshop actions, control panels, landscape, photography, frost, winter, Alberta,

With any kind of photography there are three important parts to the photography process.

Visualizing. Photographing. Processing.

It is while processing RAW images that I often have the most fun. My RAW images seldom look the same as the finished image that I post. Simply put, it is in processing that you can impart your vision to the end result.

There was a time, many, many years ago when shooting transparencies that once the shutter was released, the result was finalized. Shooting transparencies requires a different kind of discipline than shooting digital.

People who have grown up with digital cameras should consider themselves fortunate to have been able to learn without film. The learning curve is less steep and more forgiving.

It is no different than my generation buying film and the previous generations developing their images on a wet plate, producing the emulsion in the field.

Regardless of when you were born, your imagination is still a requisite tool to get great results.

I think that I first started using Photoshop at work in the early nineties. It was version 2.1 I think and twenty odd years later the program has become a giant, bloated piece of software that tries to do too many things for too many people. I think that I might use 10% of the program for my purposes.

Despite how big the program is and how many things that it can do for you it still needs help. There are a few plugins for black and white that are my go to’s. For colour images and black and white I am finding one that I tend to use more and more.

Many years ago I came upon a set of luminosity masks made by a fellow named Tony Kuyper. For my purposes they made things simpler and quicker. What they allowed me to do is selectively choose areas of the image based upon the density and create a mask from it. What that meant is that instead of simply using curves and levels over the whole image I could now selectively lighten, darken, increase or decrease contrast.

A few months ago I stumbled upon a series of tutorials for a set of Photoshop actions that made the luminosity masks much easier to use than I had ever imagined. The actions were so good that I ended up buying a set after watching a few tutorials that are viewable on youtube.

But these actions go far beyond simply producing incredible luminosity masks. Instead of using Photomatix like I have been for the past dozen years for my HDR images I have started using the Raya Pro Panels instead. That part of the actions involves the blending of light and dark images to create the final image. These actions offer me more control than what and HDR program does.

The actions that I am talking about and I get no payment, credit or acknowledgement from Ray Pro for posting this do so many different things that I find my head spinning with the possibilities creatively.

The website for Ray Pro and whether you have a Mac or PC makes no difference, can be found at

I have put away my Tony Kuyper actions and now exclusively use Raya Pro. It has become in a short time, an essential creative tool for me.

One of the pluses of Raya Pro is that once you buy the actions you get unlimited free upgrades. That cannot be said for many things.

Visit the website if you are even slightly interested. A teaser of one of the tutorials is here

Happy shooting,


ps. If only I wasn’t so lazy I would be posting videos of how I process my photos. I also think that many would probably be disappointed in how I get my results because simply put they/I am boring. LOL

Seeing the world through YOUR eyes

•January 21, 2018 • 5 Comments

popularity, monkey see monkey do, landscape, winter, dan jurak, alberta, snow, cold, drifts, rural, foggy, sunrise, foggy,

Monkey see. Monkey do.

From Wikipedia, “Monkey see, monkey do is a pidgin-style saying that appeared in American culture in the early 1920s. The saying refers to the learning of a process without an understanding of why it works. Another definition implies the act of mimicry, usually with limited knowledge and/or concern for the consequences.”

I see a lot of that on the internet. Maybe too much . Another term might be copycat.

In the race to become popular we glom onto what we see is the current flavour. Short term success leads to long term failure.

There are very few photographers that I follow because most of them look the same. Whether they are in Banff or Iceland the photos are interchangeable and that’s just wrong.

Photography is one of the arts. Arts are about creativity and expressing yourself. We all like to get a pat on the back or a positive comment but that shouldn’t be our motivation for taking photos.

A few days ago I reactivated my Instagram account. Facebook I am kind of new to. Twitter I have had for a few years but ignored it.

What inspired the idea for this post was a “love” that I got on Instagram. Out of curiosity I clicked on the persons profile and to my dismay I found that for a few dollars I could BUY as few as a dozen or as many as thousands of followers.

I knew that happened on Twitter because I had read in the news a few weeks ago that millions of President Donald Trumps followers were not real people but bots or bought accounts.

On Facebook I am always getting nods from them that I can “promote” my page by opening my cheque book.

Sadly for many this is what photography has become. You might be happy with lots of likes, loves and follows but if you aren’t being true to yourself what does it matter?

The path to real success and happiness I believe is not through the adulation and praise of others but by following YOUR heart and your vision. We need to see more of you.

Happy shooting,