Artistic Interpretation vs. NOT Photoshopping

•May 24, 2018 • 12 Comments


jasper, landscape, river, summer, rockies, alberta, travelalberta, dan Jurak, mountains, dawn,Growing up shooting 4×5 Ektachromes and Kodachrome what you did in camera was what you got as a final result when your film was processed.

For me that meant being very careful with exposures. Too much and the transparency would wash away or be clear. Too little exposure and the result would be dark or opaque.

That is a far cry from todays digital cameras where you can over and underexpose freely and to a certain degree recover otherwise lost details in post processing.

The ultimate back in the days was coming upon the perfect light along with the perfect exposure and that was it. The transparencies were either submitted for books or magazine or stock. Shoot film. Process film. Done. Finished.

Today it is so much different because although you still need to get the bones of the subject captured with post processing so much more can be done.

Is it right?

That is something that each of you has to answer for yourself.

Like religion or politics or social issues I believe that there is no ONE right or wrong answer. You should be free to do as you will without worrying about the “ethics” of what you are doing.

This of course only applies to what I do and that is landscape photography. I have never attempted to misrepresent something photoshopped as the scene being exactly how it looked the moment the shutter was released.

A few years ago the Associated Press in the states decided that photos would not be burned or dodged or affected in any way that would mislead the viewer. Having grown up processing black and white and colour photographs for a local newspaper this was a common thing.

I disagree with the AP but I see where they are going with their decision. Is it wrong or misleading to darken the corners of a news image to concentrate the focus? I don’t think so but then that is only my OPINION.

The photo at the top of this post was taken back in 2013 and I never processed it until this week. I was driving back home to Edmonton one morning after a night of photographing the Milky Way in Jasper National Park. As I was leaving the park and the sun was rising I looked to see an interesting scene developing. I pulled over. Grabbed a few frames and proceeded home.

When I first looked at the image I was disappointed. It didn’t look anything like what I had expected. I had gotten plenty of other photos on that trip, processed them and had forgotten about this one.

Fast forward a few years. Gain some more Photoshopping experience and upon revisiting this image it looked like it might be fun to play with it. Much like with water-colour painting I went where the image took me. It is the same as carving a piece of wood. The wood has an infinite number of possibilities inside it that can result from your carving. See a face? It is there. See something else? It is there too.

I played with this image for a couple of days. Tweaking it. Revisiting it and tweaking it again. All the while seeing it again through fresh eyes every time I revisited it. Like a water-colour painting you can continue until you wreck the painting or know when to stop and that is YOUR decision.

Above is the result. Below is the raw image unprocessed other than to save it as a jpg.

The choice is yours.

Happy shooting,



Shooting landscapes is much like shooting fashion

•May 15, 2018 • Leave a Comment

landscape, foggy, alberta, golden, road, trail, summer, rural, trees, Dan Jurak, fog, yellow, horizontal,

In another life, many, many years ago I took fashion photos for a living. It’s not something that I ever aspired to. I kind of fell into it. Long story short, I was asked to shoot fashion along with still life photography which was where my interests really lay.

When I look back on it, the idea of learning to photograph fashion and share the results of your lessons with hundreds of thousands of people every week was an unlikely thing to happen.

The first shoot I did was with a local model who spent a lot of time overseas, in Europe mostly. We had a makeup artist, the fashion editor had chosen a location, an old mansion with Greek style columns or pillars out front of the building.

When the model first showed up she wasn’t wearing any makeup, wearing street clothes and her hair looked ordinary. Kind of disappointing I thought but maybe all fashion shoots were like this?

Half an hour later we were standing out front of the old mansion with afternoon light being softly filtered through the tall elms behind me. Sara, was her name, leaned against one of the pillars and without me saying a word fluidly moved in a series of poses from one to the next.

Looking through my camera viewfinder the transformation was incredible. With makeup done, hair styles and wearing light and fashionable summer wear it was hard to believe that this was the same person I had met a short while ago.

Wow! This was incredibly easy I thought to myself. The shoot continued on for a while changing outfits and then I did one of the most stupid things that I have ever done during a photoshoot. Back then we were shooting film, rolls of 36. In my excitement I had forgotten to reload the camera and made some dumb excuse to have Sara change back into a few outfits under the pretence that I had some other ideas for the outfits.

How dumb I was! I was so busy talking and trying to get the right angle, pose, whatever that I never realized that I was just clicking the shutter for no good reason. Practice makes perfect eh? LOL

When I got back to the studio and had the film processed, the photos looked like something out of an Italian Vogue magazine. Wow, I impressed myself with how good I was.

Reality check for Dan.

My next photoshoot was with a new model just learning the ropes and this was a different experience totally. It was up to me to try and get her to relax and move fluidly the way Sara had done before. This was definitely NOT as easy as I had made it out to be.

Over the following years I think that I got better at shooting fashion. I really enjoyed it but it would never have been something that I would have pursued on my own.

There are similarities between fashion and landscape photography. They might not be obvious but they are there nonetheless.

Where I usually photograph landscapes during the middle of the day under harsh sunlight and clear skies the land looks normal and nothing out of the ordinary. But almost anyplace on earth be transformed the way Sara transformed herself with the right light and weather and I really enjoy the challenge of finding the extraordinary from the ordinary.

Perhaps that is why I so seldom travel to the mountains. If you can capture beautiful and extraordinary landscapes where you live, just think of what you are capable of when you travel to places that are like supermodels!

Happy shooting,


ps. The dumb thing that I did with the camera with NO film being exposed, I repeated a few more times. Rack it up to learning. We were all beginners once upon a time and some of us are very, very slow learners. 🙂 So take heart, if I can do it, anyone can.


Necessity IS the Mother of Invention

•May 11, 2018 • 4 Comments

prairie, sunrise, summer, horizontal, greenery, dawn, farm, rural, trees, yellow tansy, ditch, Alberta, horizontal, Dan Jurak,

Life just like photography is full of challenges. The old saying that whatever doesn’t kill you only serves to make you stronger is so true.

I kind of chuckle to myself when I see trends in landscape photography. I see leaders and I see a gazillion followers.

The leaders do things differently. They see things differently. Take Jasper National Park for example. At the moment it is in vogue to photograph three places and the majority of those photographs all have the same perspective.

Why is that? Why in a park with so many peaks and valleys, waterfalls and rivers do people seem to only photograph these three same places? Time? Monkey see, monkey do? A lack of originality?

As children we have all done the paint by numbers sets, at least those of us who are older. I’m not sure that they still sell them any longer.

Paint the coloured areas with the appropriate paint. Stay within the lines. Voila. Instant painting.

That would seem to be a test of following rules rather than using any kind of creativity and the last time I looked, photography was a creative art.

I get why people do this because at one time I used to look at magazines and try to emulate what I saw but for many of the photographers I see they are past the copying phase or should be and are NOT creating.

One of the things that I love about shooting on the prairies is that aside from a very few times in the span of a month there are few “easy” or “obvious” shots. That is where the fun comes in.

There have been many times when the sun was rising and there is a very small window of time in which the light is great, the clouds perfect and the mood just right that I have been scrambling to find a shot.

Somehow, for some reason unknown to me a picture always seems to pop into view.

For the photo at the top of this post that is exactly what was happening. All around me I didn’t see anything that I thought would make an interesting photo so out of necessity I jumped into the ditch next to my vehicle and VOILA there was my shot!

Going to a popular spot and taking a photo is akin to going to a cattle ranch and pretend that you are hunting game only to end up shooting a domestic animal. Where is the challenge in that? (BTW, although I don’t hunt anymore, I haven’t eaten red meat in almost forty years)

Challenge yourself. You will surprise yourself with your ingenuity. When there seems to be nothing to see around you…

Happy shooting,


Eleven years and three camera bodies ago…

•May 8, 2018 • 4 Comments

Medicine Lake, Jasper, tourism Jasper, mountains, lake, reflection, landscape, horizontal, dan Jurak, Alberta, rockies,

Is it the camera or the person behind the camera?

Anyone who has taken photos for a while knows what the answer is.

A new lens or camera body seldom means that your photos improve.

I grew up learning photography with film. It was such a slow and tedious process, especially if you exposed transparencies like I did. Kodachrome had to be sent away and it wasn’t until three or four weeks later that my mistakes were obvious. Over exposed. Under exposed. Badly composed. There’s a good one. Rinse and repeat.

It was also expensive to buy a roll of film and have it processed. I wasn’t into black and white at the time. It wasn’t until a few years later when I enrolled in a two year program to learn photography that I was force to shoot and process them.

Quality black and white prints have a distinct look to them. Different from digital black and whites. In my eye, not better or worse. Just different.

Early on a 35mm film body and standard lens limited and at the same time helped my photography. Learning to “see” one focal length is a good thing.

Fast forward thirty or so years and my film cameras were put away. No more having to take photos at work. Photography wasn’t important to me any longer. When shooting fashion or food at work the idea of using a camera on the weekend seemed like more work to me. Landscapes were but a distant memory.

As I have written before, it was only because my daughters were playing intramural sports in school that I bought a digital camera. A tiny (by todays standards) ten megapixel Canon Rebel. I hadn’t used a digital camera before and there certainly was a novelty factor being able to see what you had just taken on the camera display.

Because I had been using Photoshop daily at work for close to twenty years, processing images was second nature. On a slow day at work when there was not much happening between assignments I stumbled upon the photo sharing website Flickr. The more I studied the images the more interested I became in landscapes again. They looked so different from what I had grown up viewing.

Landscapes became interesting again. I would drive out during the evenings after work and rediscovered the passion that I had lost.

Looking back on some of those early images I found quite a few that sucked and the odd one that I really liked.

HDRs were a big deal at the time. Probably because I liked to shoot into the sun and the camera sensors at the time didn’t have the exposure latitude that todays cameras do.

The image at the top of this post was taken in 2007. A single exposure, it shows what can result when you shoot within the limitations of your camera gear.

The camera body that I use today has a much better sensor. The lenses are sharper. The image file is way, way bigger but today like so many years ago it is the person that is behind the camera more than the camera itself.

That is important to remember when you see an incredible image and read that it was taken with Brand X camera body, Brand Y lens and so on. W

Your improvements in photography will come as a result of you improving more than the next bit of camera equipment that you buy.

Todays semi-professional DSLRs are more than most people need and that might explain the popularity of smartphone cameras. It is still the person and not the camera.

Happy shooting,



Great Expectations… not a book by Dickens LOL

•May 6, 2018 • 4 Comments

aurora, aurora borealis, northern lights, reflection, spring, Alberta, night sky, long exposure, Dan Jurak, stars, lake, pond, farm, rural,

Saturday May 5.

It was. Then it wasn’t. Then it was. Then it wasn’t.

I’m talking about the great aurora display that was predicted to happen on Saturday, May 5.

A space weather website that is usually pretty accurate, that is to say as accurate as the weather predictions that we get, sometimes spot on and at other times, off the target, predicted an auroral display for Saturday.

A few days ahead of time when the prediction was made I don’t get worked up and make plans. When only a day ahead the forecast looks great then I start to get excited.

Then when I checked the website early Saturday the display was postponed until Sunday and Monday for which the local weather forecast was cloudy at night.

An hour later when I checked the same space weather website there was an update! Yeah, the storm had arrived earlier than expected and it was looking favourable for Saturday night.

The updated weather forecast were I get very accurate sky cover forecasts for the night was predicting clear skies over almost all of Alberta.

It was on! Clear skies and a rapidly improving aurora forecast and I was planning on spending most of the night outside.

Being an early riser means that by 10:00 pm my eyes are barely open so I did what I have tried to do since I was a toddler without any success, get a nap. For some reason I am unable to sleep during the daytime so I lay in bed for three hours listening to the internet radio next to the bed. No sleep. Grrrrrr.

At 10:30 a fresh pot of coffee was brewed, poured into a thermos. Camera gear and a sleeping bag in the back of the Raw in case I found myself too sleepy to make the drive home and I was off.

As I drove eastward there were still the remnants of daylight as the north western horizon was still alight. Living this far north there is a time of year where it never really gets completely dark out. That sounds great but the negative is that come winter there is a period when daylight is limited to around eight hours. Eeeek!

Driving on the highway and passing the entrance to Elk Island Park I could already see plenty of vehicles turning into the park to see/photograph the night sky. Crowds aren’t for me so I continued on to my planned spot.

There was a slight green glow in the northern sky as I made my way away from the bright lights of Edmonton. The funny thing was that I wasn’t seeing any spikes or waves of light as I drove.

At the time the storm was up to a kp6 which for Edmontonians means there should be a lot of green swirls overhead. Hmmm.

It was just about midnight before I pulled off the highway and started seriously looking at the sky. With no moon up yet the landscape was dark, dark, dark.

I continued driving to my spot and to my disappointment the light show remained subdued.

I stopped early by a pond, made an exposure at what would be normal during a display and found everything really dark and underexposed. Increasing the exposure revealed a muddy was of green. Rather unspectacular.

Ah well, surely it would get better? There was a nearby lake that I was hoping to get the rising milky way over that I pulled over, set the camera for stars and not the aurora and took a few frames. In the camera it was very disappointing. Meh. That happens sometimes.

I made my way home early but with an eye to the north in case things should pick up. They didn’t.

Great expectations.

Happy shooting,


Three months of Instagram and it feels like I am back in highschool

•May 5, 2018 • 8 Comments

landscape, horizontal, fame, prairie, foggy, fog, morning, farm, rural, agriculture, fence, Alberta, Dan Jurak, orange, golden,

Wow! Highschool seems like such a long, long time ago but the memories of it are coming back in flashes.

Instagram is highschool all over again.

After forty years of being in the work force I am reminded daily about how much I disliked the cliquiness that I hated.

If you were like me, you were never one of the “in” or “popular” people. We seemed to be always on the fringe looking enviously to what we thought was a better place.

I quickly realized that it wasn’t important to me but nevertheless it still bugged me.

Being in the work force felt so much different. You were judged on what you did and how well you did. Coming out of high school and working among adults it was a relief to not see the cliquiness that I had experienced previously.

I learned something that I think that I knew all along, some things never change.

Hopefully I have become a very good judge of photographs having taken them for over forty years, most of it professionally.

When I see a photograph that honestly is not a very good photo get hundreds and even thousands of “likes” in a matter of hours it became clear that lots of people are still interested in being part of the “in” crowd. Maybe if I like this photo I can get recognized and invited into the inner circle? Is that why people fave mediocre images or are my artistic tastes so screwed that it is me who is blind to great art?

Being a stubborn Ukrainian, (that’s what a fellow work mate used to call me, LOL) I prefer to believe that I am right and they are wrong.

I am reminded of the old Grouch Marx saying that goes something like, I wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that would have me.

Fame is hollow if you have to sacrifice what you are to become popular and I sure aren’t returning to high school in the near future.

Happy shooting,


The Best Way to Learn Photography

•May 3, 2018 • 6 Comments

landscape, learning photography, prairie, farm, horizontal, agriculture, summer, sunset, dusk, dan jurak, Alberta, wheat, barley, clouds,

I’ve seen hundreds of beautiful places on Instagram. Maybe even thousands.

A recurring theme seems to be the twisted trees of Patagonia with the impressive granite spires of the Fitzroy group behind them.

Aside from the occasional capture that is spectacular, that is, incredible scenery, beautifully composed and processed the majority are blah.

Blah photos of an incredible subject?

It seems to be very common. Spend your twelve or fourteen thousand dollars to get down to Patagonia, snap away and let the world admire your creativity.

It sounds tempting but it is akin to getting your learners permit to drive and then buying a million dollar supercar to learn with. That is precisely what I see happening.

Learning photography is not a difficult task.

I am still learning and this is after over forty years of taking pictures. The learning process hopefully never ends.

How do you learn? Before you plan a photo trip to Iceland or Patagonia or any other exotic place you need to become familiar with how light falls upon your subject, how to recognize interesting weather, to compose and to process your images.

We all learn differently so I can only recommend what has worked for me.

Get out with your camera as often as you can. Everyday if possible. Get out and take PICTURES.

There is a common wisdom in sports that to master one you must put in over ten thousand hours. With that time invested you get muscle memory, conditioning, strength, etc.

That wisdom also works for photography. If you like street photography, go downtown and shoot. Shoot every day. Night. Shoot every season.

If you can make a “boring” scene interesting, just think what you can do when you get to someplace exotic.

Your progression at first might seem slow with no improvement but you will definitely be going in the right direction.

Lastly, pore over photo sites on the internet. Just to see images good and bad reinforces those in your brain. It increases your brains ability to recognize while in the field what composition and light works for you and what doesn’t.

Lastly, don’t be influenced by the comments you get or don’t get with your photos. Why? What is someone absolutely loves an image that you are neutral about? Does that make the photo better? What if that person has tastes that are contrary to yours? Your job is not to please others but to please yourself.

I take photos for myself. I no longer have an editor or creative director to please.

Unless you have one or both of the above, get out there with your camera and enjoy yourself.

Happy shooting,