Weather and landscapes… what is the best time?

•November 10, 2018 • 4 Comments

landscape, winter, fog, foggy, snow, Alberta, Dan Jurak, trees, prairie, dreamy,

My apologies for not posting here on WordPress more often but after so many years of blogging it sometimes like I am repeating myself and nobody but nobody likes to hear the same thing over and over again.

Winter has finally come to central Alberta and looks to stay again until the middle of April.

A question was raised the other day on Instagram where I now post about when is the best time to go out. Evening? Morning? Daytime?

The answer simply is, it depends.

Unless I am going out for a specific reason that is, a big storm is on radar during the summer months that I want to chase or if I happen to be doing infrared photos or long exposure photos… I get out in the middle of the day.

The storms usually happen in the later afternoon when with convection the clouds build up and then usually fizzle once it gets cooler in the evening.

With infrared photography which for me is a summer only pursuit the middle of the day when theres plenty of radiant energy in the foliage is the best time.

For long exposure images I want some blue sky and some clouds. For whatever reason it seems that we get these great popcorn shaped clouds around 11:00 a.m. on summer mornings. Too early, no clouds. Too late and the popcorn clouds have filled up the sky. When that happens a seven minute exposure leaves not tones in the sky. The sky becomes a blank white area.

Now to the original question from Instagram. If I am doing landscape in colour and am at home I only go out when conditions are right for me. From trial and error and many, many kilometres of driving I have learned how to best get the results that I want.

The first requirement for me is that the sun needs to be near the horizon. That means the morning or evening and they are usually both very different.

Here on the prairies we can get some blazing sunsets especially after storms so the evening can be good. In the winter sunsets are not usually as dramatic. Evening is my second choice.

My absolute first choice for any season is MORNING and the reason for that is FOG.

On the prairie things can look really blah. A large expanse of nothingness.

Fog has the ability to magically transform a boring place into something very special. If there is no fog forecast I prefer to walk my dog early in the morning because past experience has shown me that it is rare that I get images that I am happy with on fog free mornings.

Being in Alberta the climate is usually very dry so fog doesn’t happen often but on a good morning I can usually get twenty or thirty unique and very different kinds of photos that make up for the lack of good weather.

I have become a bit of a weather nut in my search for fog. The first place I will look is our  government forecaster for a forecast. If it looks slightly promising I go to a website called Cleardarksky.com It is my most valuable weather resource for photography for a few reasons. It gives me a great indicator of the chance of fog.

weather

When you visit it for your area it will show the predicted forecast for your general area no matter where you live. I look for a few things on there.

The first thing to look for of course is when the sun is rising. The chart is broken down into bars that cover the 24 hour clock in one hour increments. So you can look at 6:00 a.m. and see what it is predicted to look like for your area at that time.

The second is cloud cover. If the skies are one hundred percent filled with clouds I am probably not going out. Probably but that is more of a general rule than an absolute one. Winter mornings with completely overcast skies, frost and fog can produce some interesting results.

In order to get fog where I live one hundred percent humidity is needed. The chart shows that by the hour and in order to keep the fog from blowing away and disappearing NO WIND.

If I see that the humidity and wind are where I want them I am almost guaranteed pictures no matter where I go. They seem to be everywhere on those morning.

Of course when I visit places that I am visiting like Jasper or Banff, I go out regardless and hope for the best. I don’t have the luxury there of going out only when the conditions are great.

As with most things there are exceptions. About fifteen years ago during the Christmas holidays we were blessed with TWO day of thick fog, hoar frost and no wind. This made for long days because even the sunsets were foggy and dreamy and with the sun being so low to the horizon this far north at Christmas it was almost like early morning all day long. Like I said that was years ago and I have only seen that once but I hope to see it again one day.

So there you have it. My so called “secret” to getting good weather photos.

Happy shooting,

Dan

 

 

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I am that caveman painting on the wall

•October 12, 2018 • Leave a Comment

 

creativity, rockies, rockys, athabasca river, alberta, jasper, mountains, dan jurak, reflection, monotone, black and white, forest, clouds, autumn, Alberta,I am that caveman.

I remember seeing a program on the National Geographic channel a few years ago. Briefly it was about primitive man, tens of thousands of years ago. In one of the caves in Europe they showed wall paintings of contemporary animals and people. Further along in the show they demonstrated a primitive musical flute that was made from a birds bone.

Early man for some inexplicable reason had a fascination with the arts.

I saw a post on Instagram yesterday where the photographer had mentioned how photography had helped him out of a half dozen very dark years. It gave him purpose and direction.

As I read the post something inside me clicked.

Why do I create? Why do we create? Where does the creativity come from?

Many times I am playing music on youtube in the background while I am processing images and find myself totally immersed in what I am doing. It gives me a satisfying feeling in the same way that your thirst is satiated after a big glass of cool water on a hot day. It hits the spot.

So how different are we from those people fifty, sixty or seventy thousand years ago? Not  very for as much as I can tell.

They loved. We love. They had dreams and desires. We have dreams and desires.

They had a need to create and so do we.

I am that caveman. Still.

Happy shooting,

Dan

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take

•October 10, 2018 • 2 Comments

Banff, foggy, autumn, frosty, frost, Alberta, mountains, reflection, lake, waterfowl lake, forest, spruce trees,

When I was a young man a hockey player named Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Edmonton Oilers a National Hockey League team in my home city of Edmonton.

In his first year he established himself at the upper echelon of players in the league and quickly went onto distance himself from even the very, very good hockey players. He was that good.

The team went on to win a bunch of Stanley Cups and eventually Wayne was sold to the Los Angeles Kings. Thats right, sold and not really traded. The Oilers were never really the same after that.

Gretzky has long since retired but he once was quoted as saying that “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” and its true. Wayne was talking about hockey but that also applies to photography.

There are those who will sit and wait and wait and wait for the light to be perfect, squeeze off that shot and be done. I tried that for a few years when I was shooting landscapes with a large format film camera and shooting colour transparency film. With transparencies you got what you shot unlike the digital cameras of today where the shot is only the starting point and not the end point.

I’ve written many times before that I am a very voluminous shooter. I shoot fast and I shoot a lot. As an example when there is a nice sunrise happening outside of town in the space of five minutes I might end up with as many as a dozen DIFFERENT photos. By different I mean looking in different directions, different angles, different lenses, etc. The result can be a dozen images that look like they might be taken at another time or place.

The photo at the top of this post is an example of shooting a ton, processing my one or two favourites from that morning and then ten years later upon revisiting those images seeing one that has been sitting on my hard drive all those years and ignored.

As we move forward in life we change. Our tastes change. Our views on the world change. The way that we see the world changes.

Being on Instagram for the last few months has opened my eyes to different ways of processing my images and also to see differently. Images that I would have processed differently ten years ago and rejected now look like they have possibilities.

The RAW, unedited image that sat on my hard drive for ten years.

There was something interesting about this scene that I instinctively pointed, framed and shot my five bracketed exposures. Shortly after upon viewing it looked not so good but this morning something about it interested me enough to have a go at processing it.

Like Gretzky said all those years ago, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Happy shooting,

Dan

 

A friend died… what does this have to do with photography?

•October 6, 2018 • 9 Comments

Earlier this morning I attended a memorial service for a friend, a neighbour that died far too young.

We had talked off an on over the years when we would pass each other on the cul de sac. When my brother was dying of cancer Eugene always had a kind word for me and would lend me his ear as I worked through Dave’s downward spiral.

My neighbour had a blood disease and took early retirement a while ago. His treatments eventually stopped working and I saw less of him as I passed his house. I had a feeling that things weren’t going well for Eugene and last weekend he passed.

It’s always sad to see someone pass. Maybe because my father died when I was a young boy death has been a very real thing. It wasn’t just an abstract idea. We are here and then we are gone.

As I sat at the memorial this morning and heard stories of Eugenes life the same thoughts that I have had since my dad passed raced through my mind. What is this all for? Where are we going? Does it matter that we are here?

I don’t know. I don’t have the answers to those questions. I have my ideas but like I have told my girls as they were growing up I cannot say for certain what happens to us when we pass, I can tell you what I think and that is all that it is.

As I get older and passing becomes more real by the day my time has become more valuable. We seem to only cherish something when it is gone. I cherish my time here while I am still here.

Do what you love. Be with those that you love.

Photography for me has always had a connection to a deeper part of me. Creativity comes from somewhere deep inside of us. It like family is a gift to cherish and to share.

Like the fleeting morning light that is here and then gone, so are we one day.

I’m gonna miss seeing you as I pass your place Eugene. Something inside me says this isn’t goodbye just see you later.

Happy shooting,

Dan

How I Shoot Landscapes and Why

•September 27, 2018 • 2 Comments

landscape, processing, shooting technique, Alberta, rockies, banff, autumn, Dan jurak, foggy, morning,

I might have attention deficit disorder. I kind of joke about that sometimes because I have a lifetime of doing things really, really fast. If I don’t, I find that I am losing interest in whatever it is that I am doing.

To see me photographing landscapes someone might think that I wasn’t seriously thinking out my composition, waiting for the light to be right, etc.

They might be right but then again, I know what works for me and it sure isn’t wasting time, sitting in one place waiting for the exact conditions that I want.

Photography is a lot of trial and error. I would rather take ten separate views of the same landscape while the light is good and have the time to sit at home and edit what I like or delete what I don’t because once you have left that location it is gone. Like former NHL great Wayne Gretzky famously said, you miss one hundred percent of the shots that you don’t take. It’s like that for landscapes. If you shoot ten times and get one or two good images then that is one or two that you wouldn’t have if you waited or didn’t shoot at all.

After having taken the photos and returned home I let the pictures sit on the camera card. Once in a while I will go through them and delete the over or under exposed frames. Because I bracket everything except for my aurora or milky way photos I always have five exposures of the same scene. I find it wasteful sitting outdoors figuring out what is the perfect exposure when I can squeeze off five quick frames and worry about the exposure another day. What you don’t take you don’t have. Remember?

Then the real fun begins. The processing. After having used Photoshop since version 2.something I am still learning new ways to process. Once in a  while I pay for a tutorial from someone whose work I like only to see how they process differently than I. From that tutorial there are usually a few new things that I can pick out for myself.

Years ago I would process my favourite image when I got home and post it just as quickly. Upon reviewing the image more often than not there would be things about it that I didn’t like. Today I’ll process an image. Leave it for a day or two and refine it. Sometimes that can happen four or five times. For me anyways I need to distance myself from what I am seeing. Its the rare person who can sit down and process something once and be perfectly fine with it.

Oh yeah, one last thing. For many years everything that I posted was an HDR. Not the garish kind that you might associate with HDRs but something that looked very normal. Todays cameras with their very wide exposure latitude have made that unnecessary. For the past couple of years everything that I’ve posted has been from one RAW image.

And thats that.

Happy shooting,

Dan

When Photography Becomes About More Than Taking Photos

•September 23, 2018 • 4 Comments

Banff, mountains, landscape, rockys, fog, foggy, river, forest, trees, spirituality, life, death, Dan Jurak, Alberta,

I’ve been making autumn trips for pictures to Jasper and Banff for about fifteen years.

Autumn is usually a great time to get out to the mountains. The roads are less busy. The tourist spots less populated and the weather is more unpredictable.

I’ve had years where there was not a cloud to be seen and years where it rained every day. Whatever the weather it is always interesting.

When I visit the parks I usually have a rough idea of what I want to see and do but keep an open mind. The light and the weather has always been my guide.

On Instagram I’ve seen a couple of falls that I’ve never had luck with. It seemed that I was always in the wrong spot. With an idea in mind of what I wanted to do I set out to both Athabasca Falls and Sunwapta falls. Surprisingly there were summer like crowds at both falls. I had never seen so many people in Jasper in mid September.

Walking around both falls it dawned upon me. The reason that I had never gotten photos like I had seen was for a very dangerous reason. In both cases the photos were taken on the OTHER side of the protective fences.

It happens every year. People who figure that it will never happen to them ignore the danger signs, hop the fence and inadvertently slip, falling down a few dozen meters into water that can best be described as thrashing and churning, rag dolling their bodies until days later they are found at the bottom of the falls.

No picture that I will ever take is worth risking life and limb to get it. I left the falls shaking my head in disbelief because I had not seen one or two but dozens of photos taken from these spots.

My first night in the park I arrived at Bow Lake around sunset. The clouds were very low. So low and dark that not a trace of evening colour could be seen in the skies. All alone at this popular spot it started to snow and snow heavily. The snow was more like mini hail than the big fluffy flakes that are usually seen this time of the year.

The plan was to sleep in the parking lot in the back of my vehicle and catch the first rays as they hit Crowfoot Mountain. It felt like I never slept at all that night and by 6:00 a.m. I decided to get dressed and see what it was like. My vehicle was covered with frost and ice. The stars were overhead with just the beginning of light in the east.

Clear skies and one tiny cloud over the lake. I couldn’t see a picture there and decided to drive away hoping that somewhere else would be suitable before sunrise.

Forty minutes later and my heart skipped a beat as I saw a huge wall of fog ahead of me. For the next two and a half hours the only thing that existed in my world was the magic I was witness to.

Everywhere I looked I could see a photo. I shot and shot and shot some more got in my vehicle for ten minutes, got out and shot again.

While shooting nothing else exists. It is being immersed in a special place. If there is a higher power and I am certain of it, that power was smiling on me this day. At times I would look up and see fresh snow covered peaks peaking out of the fog. They would play a game of hide and seek. There was never any panic or worry about not getting my image, they kept showing themselves to me.

By the time the morning light had ended I felt like I was walking on air and not touching the earth. It’s funny about coincidences because a few days earlier I had been listening to a podcast. The guest of the show was a psychic and one of the things she had said was a sign that you know that a loved one is contacting you is when they instantly pop into your head. My father who died when I was six years old was an outdoorsman and an avid photographer and I don’t know why but he immediately came to mind. Maybe because one of his favourite places to get away was around Nordegg where I was driving. Many of my fondest outdoor memories happened under the stars watching for meteorites or satellites warmed by the campfire before falling asleep.

Real or imagined it was a comforting thought that some fifty years after his death my father might be with me on my journeys. Watching over me like a dad does for his son.

Happy shooting,

Dan

It Never Gets Old

•August 26, 2018 • Leave a Comment

landscape, foggy, alberta, prairie, horizontal, summer, sunrise, dawn, dan jurak, clouds,

We’ve been having a lot of grey, smokey skies in Alberta for the past few weeks. The cause being the forest fires that are going on in British Columbia the adjoining province to the west of Alberta.

This has led to grey skies during the day and if the cloud cover was light enough, deep red sunrises and sunsets.

This past Friday was grey, heavily overcast and raining lightly. With the overnight forecast being clearing skies, light winds and temperatures near freezing it was setting up for my favourite of all conditions, morning fog.

The days are getting shorter every day up here and sunrise was a pleasant 6:30 a.m.

I didn’t want to drive very far on this morning so had planned to go to one of my favourite spots only twenty minutes from home.

At 5:00 a.m. the alarm went off, the coffee brewer was turned on and I checked the highway webcams from around the province to see how heavy the fog was.

Nothing. No fog. Every webcam that I looked at said that humidity was 100% and a slight wind but no fog. This didn’t make sense. Should I make the drive and be disappointed?

I threw my camera gear in the Rav, put on my wet weather clothing (it is always wet in the morning and having a good pair of waterproof pants and boots makes the time out more pleasant) and was on my way wondering if this was going to be a bust.

I had just gotten to the city limits and there it was, as if someone had taken cotton batten and covered the surrounding fields, the fog lay low and heavy.

As I drove away from home I kept looking for potential photos. The sun was still a half an hour from rising. Maybe here? Maybe there? Nothing looked worth stopping for so I continued on to one of my go to spots a small winding river valley. The water in the “river” is so slow moving as to almost be standing still but being water and in a valley if there was a thick fog for a sunrise it would be here.

A few minutes later I found myself driving into the valley and looking across to see it only sparsely covered with fog. A short drive up to the other side of the valley and to a view point I could see heavier fog but it was on private property and I always respect property owners rights by not trespassing.

I took a few shots from up high and went down near the river hoping that things would change.

I waited. And waited. And waited. 6:30 came and no sun. I waited some more, maybe another twenty minutes, took a few photos and no sun. Hmm?

Back into the Rav and up and out of the valley and what should I see to my left but an orange globe of light having over a field of ripening wheat. I quickly turned around and drove back into the valley hoping that in a few minutes the sun would poke through.

As it turned out, the cloud was thick enough on the eastern horizon that it took a few more minutes before it poked its way through and I grabbed a few photos.

Deciding it was time to head in a leisurely route home I drove up to the valley viewpoint and photographed the image at the top of this post. With all the recent smoke the sun glowed orange and the light otherworldly. A few quick shots and taking my time driving stopped a few more times for pics.

By 8:00 a.m. I was back home and enjoying the rest of the coffee that I had brewed a few hours earlier.

What a great morning. Autumn was definitely in the air. My vehicles thermometer was reading 1 Celsius and as I write this I am listening to the television where the forecaster is saying that there will be snowfall higher up in the mountains.

It never gets old doing landscape photography. For me its more than just the photos. It’s about connecting with nature. Being alone with my thoughts and realizing what a wonderful world we live in.

Happy shooting,

Dan