Like Father, Like Son

•June 21, 2015 • 10 Comments

long exposure, fathers day, Alberta, Dan Jurak, black and white, Alberta, fineart, fine art, long exposure, minimalist,

Happy fathers day to all the dads out there both young and old.

I didn’t know my father very well or I don’t remember much of him. I was seven years old when he died. My memories of him are vague and fading but he still lives with me.

It was a sunny day in October when he was taken away to the hospital. Us kids never knew how seriously ill he was and in those days youngsters weren’t allowed to visit the ward that he was in. I knew he was sick but we all get sick and get better. Don’t we? Or at least that’s what I thought. He never returned home.

The next time I saw him was from the front row of his funeral. A few hours later they were lowering his casket at the cemetery. It was a cold and gray November day. The snow was falling. The wind was blowing. It was a miserable day.

Even at that young age I understood the finality of death. I didn’t understand why dad was gone. Why did I have to lose my father while all of my friends still had theirs. It didn’t seem fair but then as I grew up I began to understand life is not always about being fair. We have our fate and our destiny. My destiny was to grow up without a father one of five siblings with a young widow for a mom.

My consolation to losing my dad was having a great mother. It wasn’t easy for her. We didn’t make it easy for her because we never understood as children how difficult it was for her.

As I grew older, got married and had my own children I realized the importance that parents have on their offspring. For better or worse we become more like than unlike our parents.

One of my earliest memories of dad was him setting lights up in the house to photograph us. We were always being photographed by him and then if it wasn’t too late we would get to see him use the bathroom as a darkroom. The orange glow of the safelight and the strong smell of developer, stop bath and fixer are etched in my mind. That would have been around 1958 or 1959.

Over the years I would pore over my fathers’ negatives, prints and transparencies. I became fascinated with photography never intending to pursue it as a career. Somehow I ended up in photo school after I quit university and the rest is history.

There have been moments when I am out by myself chasing clouds that I have felt my fathers presence. In a way my photographs are both a tribute and a reflection of him.

I still love you dad after all of these years.

Dan

Old Friends Revisited

•June 19, 2015 • 3 Comments

long exposure, grain bins, granary, landscape, long exposure, black and white, low key, prairie, landscape, Dan Jurak, clouds,

I wrote in the previous blog post about maybe revisiting these to grain bins over the course of the year. On my very next trip out I ended up not by plan but by accident at the end of the day near these two bins.

The light was fading rapidly as the sun was hiding behind the clouds low on the horizon. This was a grab shot more than something that I was counting on as a keeper. The result was a slightly underexposed image that made for a better low key image than a normal one.

What this demonstrates to me anyway is how variable a scene can be depending upon the light and the weather.

I will return. :)

Happy shooting,

Dan

Two old friends that I want to keep in touch with…

•June 17, 2015 • 2 Comments

long exposure, landscape, black and white, minimalist, cloudy, low key, Dan Jurak, Alberta, farm, rural, #explorealberta,

Last fall a couple of old metal granaries caught my eye. There is nothing unique or special about them. They are two of thousands that dot the Alberta prairie.

They caught my eye because of where they are situated. On a hill, not far from a gravel road that I frequent. Alone in the middle of a treeless field. That is what makes them for me at least special. You see when area farmers erect barns, granaries, etc. they don’t do it based on aesthetics but on practicality. Usually they are nestled among trees lining the edge of a field where they are hard to see. Oh yeah, and out of the wind.

For photographs that isn’t such a good thing. These two metal friends are situated in the most perfect of places. There is even an access path worn through the new crops traveling up the hill to them. Very picturesque.

Hopefully the next year will allow me to photograph these two in all sorts of conditions. From clear skies, to windy, cloudy days. From morning til dawn the light and the sky is constantly changing. The perfect location to learn long exposure, what works and what doesn’t.

You’ll be seeing more of this special place and hopefully how different the same place can look through the year.

Happy shooting,

Dan

Westerly Winds

•June 16, 2015 • 1 Comment

Alberta, landscape, minimalist, landscape, black and white, fineart, fine art, landscape, Dan Jurak, clouds, black and white,

When I arose this morning the skies were almost perfectly clear. Not so good for photos. At least not for me.

I checked the forecast like I usually do and surprisingly there were thunderstorms forecast for the afternoon. Hmmm.

This early it seemed like a waste driving out of town so daily chores got done. Groceries. Laundry. The usual and boring and mundane that everyone has to do. A big difference being that as I am retired I can usually go out when I choose.

By noon the sky was dotted with tiny puffy clouds and the wind was picking up. There was also and Environment Canada weather advisory. Thunderstorms were imminent sometimes later.

What the heck I thought. I grabbed one camera body and one lens along with the tripod and a handful of neutral density filters. Ahh, the joys of shooting black and white. It’s been a long time it seems since I was up at 3:30 a.m. to beat the sun rising in the country to a fog covered morning. This was truly taking it easy. No groggy eyes. No dragging myself out of bed. Just get an idea and off I go.

And so I went. As I drove out of town I could see that the spotty clouds were quickly filling in with heavier cumulus clouds all around me. It wouldn’t be long before the sky was completely overcast. I had gone maybe ten minutes and came upon a familiar location that has been shot by me many times before. This very same hill was featured on a magazine cover a few years ago. The autumn sun was setting after a powerful storm had passed leaving golden streaks splashing along the recently harvested wheat. Today was different. One o’clock. A glaring sun. Lots of wind and clouds coming in from the west. Ahh, those westerly winds that bring us most of the weather here.

I took just one exposure. Four minutes @ f11 with a 16 stop neutral density filter and already the clouds were becoming heavy. Because the wind was blowing in my direction, I am facing westward, the clouds have streaks on their upper sides. This is to me both a mystery and delight. I haven’t done this long enough to accurately predict what the camera will see and after four or five minutes the clouds you saw just moments ago have moved or are gone. So very unpredictable right now and that is why I probably love this so much right now.

It always surprises me when I get home and open up the RAW image to begin the real creative part of it in Photoshop. This photo can look a hundred different ways. You get to decide which way it goes.

Right now I am still finding a “look” that I want to pursue for lack of a better term so the next year will be filled with lots of experimentation trying to find which way the winds of Alberta will take me.

Happy shooting,

Dan

Astotin Lake in the Rain

•June 13, 2015 • 4 Comments

long exposure, Astotin Lake, Dan Jurak, low key, fineart, fine art, black and white, black & white, Elk Island, national park, rain, clouds, low key

I hadn’t planned on taking any photos today but seeing the heavy clouds as I drove one of my daughters to her job in the morning changed my mind.

June in central Alberta is usually a very wet month. It’s been relatively dry this spring and the rain is a welcome thing.

Weather is a landscape photographers greatest friend, that and sunlight. The clouds this morning were of the low and dark variety but yet it wasn’t raining. Perfect I thought for trying a few photos of Astotin Lake located in Elk Island National Park about fifty kilometers from where I live.

Elk Island has geological features that make it different from its surroundings. During the last ice age huge mounds of glacial moraine were left. The resultant landscape is rolling interspersed with lots of lakes and sloughs. Being a short drive I figured that I’d be able to beat the rain ( I was driving from the direction the weather was coming from) and try out a few different things.

Long exposure photography is still very new to me and I cannot yet consistently predict results in camera. I had wanted to get the water looking glassy smooth and whatever happened to the sky, well, it is experimenting for me.

My windshield got the occasional drop of rain, more of a mist than anything on my way to the park. Half an hour later as I pulled into the parking lot by the main lake the rain picked up. Aaargh. I waited a few minutes hoping that it would subside and when it didn’t I bravely made my way to the waters edge camera and tripod in hand.

My first exposure all five minutes worth was black. I put on a less dark ND filter and waited another five minutes to expose the sensor all the while noticing the wind and the drizzle pick up. Even the new Canada goose parents and their weeks old goslings were getting wet making their way out of the lake and onto the beach. The ever vigilant parents kept an eye on me as their young waddled only meters by me.

My second exposure was a little better. The third too light but salvageable. It is from the third exposure that I made this photo from.

Three exposures in and now it was starting to pour rain heavily. Off I ran to the Rav to turn on the interior fan and heater and home I went to savor a hot cup of coffee.

I must confess that I am having more fun experimenting with long exposures and infrared than I have in years. Maybe color photography had become too predictable and boring.

Happy shooting,

Dan

Turn around… there’s your photo

•June 11, 2015 • 6 Comments

long exposure, minimalist, fineart, fine art, Jasper, Columbia Icefields, rockys, rockies, mountains, lake, clouds, storm, Dan Jurak,

We usually have preconceived ideas about what or where we are photographing. It’s too easy to get in a rut about how we do or see things.

If you look long enough or hard enough you can sometimes find a photo that is better than the one you were originally planning.

If you’ve never been to Jasper National Park one of the most beautiful drives in the world is the two hundred or so kilometers from Banff to Jasper. The highway is a paved and for the most part well maintained (it does have it’s bumpy spots). The highway puts you smack dab in the middle of the mountains. There are photo opportunities everywhere. It is as simple as pulling onto the shoulder of the highway and snapping away. It is so darned easy I often wonder why people pay thousands of dollars to have someone drive them along these roads only to take photos that they could have just as easily taken and with the added bonus of discovering these places for themselves. It is the discovery that is the exciting part.

Almost exactly halfway between Jasper and Banff townsites are the Columbia Icefields or rather the edge of the icefields. The icefields actually cover over three hundred square kilometers but from the highway one only sees a small portion of the Athabsca Glacier. Nearby the glacier is a hotel/information center where one can eat, stay overnight or visit the glacier display in the basement.

It is only a short drive from the Icefields Chalet to the foot or nearly the foot of the Athabasca Glacier. There is a guided walk and even bus tours on the glacier. For those who don’t want to spend the money there is also a short self guided walk that takes you to the foot of the tongue of ice that meanders down theĀ  mountain. It is here that tens of thousands of tourists from all around the world stop and take pictures. The picture you see is one that seldom gets taken. Near the parking lot that takes you to the glacier walk is a small glacial lake that is usually very silty and brownish colored. It isn’t the most beautiful lake in the rockies when you compare it to turquoise gems like Peyto Lake and as a result people usually pass on it and photograph the Athabasca Glacier and Mount Athabasca.

When we visited this spot last week I had probably been to the glacier dozens of times before, usually at dawn or dusk to get the best light. This time it was mid afternoon, cloudy and what sun there was was directly over the icefields which meant shooting into the sun if I was going to shoot the glacier. Instead I simply turned around walked a few meters from the parking lot and made a five minute exposure of this little unnamed lake.

The result is better than if I would have tried to capture spectacular Mounts Athabasca and Kitchener cradling the Athabasca Glacier.

Sometimes your best photo is behind you but you might never know it.

Happy shooting,

Dan

What makes a good black and white photo?

•June 10, 2015 • 3 Comments

infrared, black and white, landscape, Alberta, Dan Jurak, fineart, fine art, summer, prairie,

When I was FORCED to shoot black and white for most of my first year in photography school I really did not like it at all. Until my first day on campus everything that I had taken was in color. I saw in color. I composed with color. It was all about the color as far as I was concerned.

During our first year everyone was taught with the assumption that each student knew absolutely nothing about photography and that was probably a good thing. Everyone of different abilities had to re-learn what they thought they knew about photography.

Even with all of us receiving the same instruction and having the very same assignments our work was different from one person to the next. We all interpreted and executed the same assignment differently. So, when you ask someone what a good black and white is you will probably get as many different answers as there are people.

A good black and white is like a good meal. It’s subjective. What I like you might hate. Who is right and who is wrong?

The answer is… We’re all right. I can only tell you what I think constitutes a good black and white photo and even to that there are exceptions. High key and low key photos don’t fall into my loosely set guidelines.

Aside from the obvious compositional and aesthetic considerations it is all about the tones for me.

I have seen lots of dull and to the opposite overly contrasty black and white photos. A photo that has no pure whites and no solid blacks doesn’t cut it just as a photo that has only blacks and whites without a wide range of grays also doesn’t make the grade.

When processing digital images the very first thing that I do in Photoshop is go to the levels slider and adjust them until I have a 100% white and then a pure black. That is my starting point. Of course if you happen to be photographing in very flat light your scene may not have a solid black nor a pure white. For most daylight scenes they do.

Now I concentrate on the middle tones making sure that there is separation to make the scene more alive. Sometimes the shadows will be too crowded or collapsed and by using luminosity masks I can select a certain tone and work only on that. Likewise for the lighter tones.

Once the overall look is achieved I’ll close the photo and forget about it usually returning in a day or two. This makes a huge difference at least to me. My eye and brain seem to adjust to what I am looking at and I lose distance from what I am doing. Your brain can get used to something being too light or dark. Returning to it a day later I have “fresh eyes” and can be more objective about what I am seeing.

If the tones are fine then my eye goes over the scene looking at where it is dark and light. Where does my eye travel? Is this spot dead? Does it need lightening. Is that spot too dark and it is a void?

I tend to burn and dodge at this stage. A good example of what I will do is the tree trunks in the photo above. After I had gotten all the tones where I wanted them the trunks of the larger trees seemed flat. Using the dodge or lighten tool in Photoshop I ran the tool up and down the middle part of the trunks to give them more shape and depth. Some of the leaves in this infrared image also felt too dark so I did the same to them lightening them a bit.

So there you have it. My idea of what constitutes a good black and white and it is only my idea. You might process this completely different and your opinion would be just as valid as mine because in the end it doesn’t matter what others think of your art, it only matters what you think.

Happy shooting,

Dan

 
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