You are special and so is where you live

•March 24, 2018 • Leave a Comment

unique, landscape, snow, winter, Alberta, frost, prairie, Dan Jurak, cold, frosty, colour, sunrise, dawn, trees, snow drifts, Dan Jurak

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence or so the saying goes.

It is human nature to covet what you don’t have. To be jealous of what others have. Everyone seems to have it better than you.

Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a trap that too many of us fall into.

I see so many talented photographers today and sometimes I have a difficult time guessing where they live because it seems like they almost always follow the same pattern. Iceland. Greenland. Patagonia. Banff and Jasper, etc.

And while they come away with incredible landscapes for me they tend to blur one into another. Because I grew up visiting Jasper and Banff since the late fifties when I see a photograph from there the majority of the time I know exactly where it was taken and these world travellers without exception all follow a paint by numbers photography style. You can almost substitute one photographer for the next and would never know.

Your value is in your uniqueness. Unless you are working in a factory and are doing repetitive work where creativity has no place your uniqueness has value.

You have been given a gift to see differently than everyone else on this planet. Instead of trying to conform it is this difference from others that you should be concentrating on.

The same goes for where you live. Your immediate access to your surroundings give you a leg up on everyone else when it comes to capturing the incredible weather that passes through your area.

Take a week holiday in Jasper and if you get a week of sunny and cloudless skies that is what you are stuck with. If you lived in Jasper you are able to get out on those unique times when conditions make dream worthy photos possible.

Where I live is for the most part flat farmland. We get close to six months of winter which is a long, long winter. The upside to living here is that every couple of weeks conditions become perfect for interesting and unique images.

Instead of complaining about how much snow we have and how cold it can get, the extra snow can be a blessing. When it is a pain to drive to work in, the chest high windrows in the country make interesting points of interest.

Cold, calm nights that are a pain to clear the ice from your windshield in the morning can produce wonderful frosts that cover the landscape.

The easiest thing in the world to do is to be like someone else. The most rewarding and most difficult thing is to be yourself.

I have told people before that regardless of where I lived I would still find something interesting and unique to shoot. The days of me coveting the granite spires of Patagonia are behind me because I know that my best pictures will always be close to home where my heart is.

Happy shooting,

Dan

 

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Previsualising…

•March 22, 2018 • Leave a Comment

sturgeon river, foggy, summer, long exposure, Alberta, moody, Dan Jurak, RAW images,

When I go through old RAW images I am immediately remembered of what it was like on that particular morning or evening, how I felt and even what I was thinking.

Looking back over those many thousands of files is like traveling in a time machine.

So when I looked back on a batch photographed on the early morning of May 26, 2013 I immediately recognized what I first thought when looking at the muddy Sturgeon River.

The Sturgeon River for those who aren’t familiar with the area immediately north of Edmonton is a slow moving, muddy, willow encroached stream more than a river.

The name I understand comes from where it empties into the North Saskatchewan River. A hundred or so years ago sturgeon, those giants of the rivers would spawn there. Photos taken then show fish over seven feet long and weighing a few hundred pounds. They still inhabit the North Saskatchewan but are not very common anymore.

The spot in the photograph is near a small rural development where there are a dozen or so acreages in the valley that the river/creek has carved out over millennia.

On this morning, up before the sun with high humidity and now wind the fog hung low in the river valley. Everything was soaked with the dew. I knew enough to wear a pair of waterproof pants. Too many times I had done this before and knew that if I didn’t everything would be soaked from the waist down.

Maybe a half an hour before sunrise I made it to the waters edge and saw these swirls in the river. I think that is what attracted me to this composition. I continued taking photos until the sun was well above the horizon and the morning fog and burned away. Then it was the twenty minute drive home for a change of clothes and a fresh pot of coffee.

I never processed this image, the first that I took that morning. No matter how I tried I couldn’t come up with anything that I liked and so it stayed on my hard drive for all these years, forgotten.

But things change. I have been playing so much with luminosity masks which allow me to selectively control very specific areas of the image. I had an idea of what was possible with this image that I wouldn’t have been able to do a few years previous.

As with just about everything that I photograph outside this was one of five bracketed shots. I looked at the one image that had the best shadow detail while still not blowing out the highlights and forty minutes later, voila!

Above is the RAW image unretouched as it came out of my RAW converter before tweaking it in Photoshop.

I have many hundreds more photos like this to play with and I am sure that you do too. If Β the composition works for you hang onto those RAW images you don’t know what you will be capable of in the future or what technology will be available.

Happy shooting,

Dan

Purple haze all in my brain…

•March 19, 2018 • Leave a Comment

 

purple haze, jasper, jasper national park, fog, summer, mountains, rockies, processing, Dan Jurak, clouds, rockys, reflection, dawn,traveljasper, explore alberta,
“Purple haze, all in my brain
Lately things they don’t seem the same
Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why
Excuse me while I kiss the sky” – Jimi Hendrix
With apologies to Jimi Hendrix.:)
I took this photo in 2011 with a now seven year old camera and lens. This is one of my favourite spots in Jasper and has yet to become popularized. I haven’t seen any photos of this spot yet but am sure that in time it too will be over photographed.
As I have written many times a great joy of mine with photography is that of discovery. I might not be the first person to photograph this place, in fact I know that I’m not but my joy comes from the fact that I didn’t pay someone to take me here or draw it on a map to find it. Discovery = creativity.
The title for this post should be obvious, the scene is very purple. I had never intended to write about this image but I want to give you some insight into how to look at your photographs in a different way. Not necessarily better but different.
A few weeks ago I was introduced to a photographer from Europe named Max Rive. I believe he is a young Dutch photographer who has travelled the world capturing stunning landscapes. They are so different from what I do and know and in large part that is my attraction to most of his photos.
When looking at some of his images online I was curious about how he got a certain look in some of them. Weather is weather no matter where you are in the world and the same laws of physics apply to rural Alberta as they do to Iceland, Greenland or Patagonia. It occurred to me that it wasn’t necessarily the weather that gave that look but the processing.
I am a frugal person so understand that I didn’t take lightly the purchase of one of his tutorial videos on processing. After all, I have been using Photoshop since the early nineties, probably before or soon after Max was born but am smart enough to know that there are always better ways of doing things than I am used to.
So I bought a video, (it was on sale πŸ™‚ )and proceeded to watch it.
A lot of the things Max did were how I did them and then I got to the part that was a bit puzzling but interesting. When the image was almost complete Max made a new document and then darkened it considerably. He then cloned from the dark image to the lighter image to give the image more depth. Genius! I loved what it did to the original image but the way that Max achieved this seemed overly complicated.
I knew that there was an easier (better) way to achieve the look.
I copied the original onto itself so that the original was two layers of the same thing. Darkening the top image considerably, I created an image mask and then started painting into the image mask to reveal only the parts the image below that I wanted to see which the way were of normal tone.
The result is a photo with much, much more depth than how I originally processed it.
Give it a try. You might like it.
Happy shooting,
Dan

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,

Dan

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. πŸ™‚

Happy shooting,

Dan

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,

Dan

ps. please note the purple banding in the shadows of the pano at the top to see what I am talking about. πŸ™‚ (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.Γ‚

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,

Dan