You’re a beginner who just got hooked on photography… now what?

•October 1, 2017 • 4 Comments

photography lessons, photography workshops, Alberta, Dan Jurak, landscape, Alberta, rural, morning, dawn, prairie, road, foggy, summer,

I saw a post earlier today on Facebook that proved to be inspiration for this post.

They were new to photography and wanted to learn from someone how to use their camera and take pictures like the ones that they were seeing in the group.

Normally I would just read the post and forget it. This time was different because there was an immediate reply from someone saying that they teach photography and to pm them. Out of curiosity I clicked on their Facebook profile.

Aside from the photos of the fellow holding what looked like assault rifles in his profile were his landscapes and they were horrible both technically and aesthetically. The few photos of his that I saw were under exposed, poorly processed to the point that they were dark and looked for all purposes that they were snapped without actually looking at the subject matter. In short, they were terrible.

On a semi-related topic there was a post the day before asking what kind of camera equipment this person should buy. They were just starting out. One of the replies was a Nikon D850 body and a Sigma 14mm f1.8 lens. For someone starting out in photography this is extreme overkill and a waste of money. This is akin to someone learning how to drive and they receive the sage advice of buying a Ferrari Testarossa as the car to learn on. Does that make any sense to you?

I am reluctant to recommend to ANYONE to actually pay for photo instruction lessons for two reason. The first is Youtube. There are so many great and not so great instructional videos on the internet that will teach you the basics all the way to  some very advanced techniques both with your camera and also in using Photoshop which is JUST as important as your camera.

My second reason for NOT paying for instruction. I spent two years in a photography school after I left university and I will and still believe the only important thing about school was that it allowed me two years of taking pictures. All of the classes that I took on aesthetics and exposure and other such stuff were not important. What was important was the actual time spent using the camera gear and learning from my mistakes and successes.

I don’t do photo workshops or teach photography even though I have had the opportunity to do both because I believe that in doing so I am stealing that persons money and I can’t do that.

There is no mystery to taking good pictures. There are no secrets to be revealed that will make you a better shooter that you can’t easily and freely learn by looking at photos, studying your mistakes and successes and scouring youtube for instructional videos.

Keep your money in your pocket. The best camera gear and most expensive instruction in the world won’t do as much for you as taking your time, looking objectively at your results and shooting some more.

Happy shooting,


ps. To show you how unimportant camera gear is I went back into my archives for this one. It was taken with a 10 megapixel Canon Rebel, a starter camera with a kit lens. If I can do it YOU can do it.


Mother always said, “If you can’t say something nice about someone…”

•September 30, 2017 • 2 Comments

aurora borealis, aurora, northern lights, Alberta, night sky, astrophotography, Dan Jurak, landscape, Alberta, prairie, rural, green, crops,

I think that this old saying that I first heard fifty some years ago still applies today.

What does this have to do with photography? A lot.

When you are being creative that means actually CREATING.

From google when I define creative some of the synonyms are, “inventive, imaginative, innovative, experimental, original;”

I emphasize innovative, experimental and original.

We all crave attention and adoration. Few things make us feel better than positive reinforcement. To be told you are special or doing a great job not only feels great but gives us incentive to go out and do more of the same.

One of the great pleasures in my life is trying new things. To learn or see in a different way than I have been used to seeing is both rewarding and frightening. Frightening because if you are too different you don’t get the virtual pat on the back and rewarding because if seeing differently works, you have another bow in your quiver of creativity.

There is a trend on the internet to heap praise on everyone in your group regardless of what their work looks like and that is not a good thing.

Every once in a while I am asked to critique someones photos or asked what I think about a photo and I have learned that it is better to not say anything if I can’t honestly say that I like something. Why would I do that? I don’t want to be dishonest or mislead someone into thinking that I love something that they have created if I don’t.

My kids learned that while growing up. Every time they would get new clothes which being girls is a common occurrence, I would be asked what I thought of the new outfit.

If it was meh, I would say so. If I didn’t like it, I would make a neutral statement rather than lie and if I did love it my opinion really mattered to them because they knew that I was being honest and wasn’t just saying it to please them. It works the same way with photographs. Today I commented on someones photo that I thought was special and it was to me.

It’s not often that I can say to someone that I love what they have created but I think that if you say it sparingly and truthfully it goes a lot further than loving and liking everything that you see.

Honesty is the best policy. This doesn’t mean that you go out and purposely hurt someones feelings because you don’t have to. You can politely deflect without being overly critical.

Happy shooting,



After 40 years I am still a novice photographer

•September 29, 2017 • 7 Comments

aurora borealis, aurora, northern lights, fisheye, landscape, Dan Jurak, Alberta, prairie, stars, long exposure,

I never really knew my father. He died when I was seven years old so in a sense I knew him but only as a small child can know their parents.

He was an avid hunter, fly fisherman and photographer.

I never looked forward to the Saturday evenings when he had us dress up in our Sunday school clothes, set up flood lights in the living room and pose us for family photos. I found it boring. I would rather have been playing with my younger brother instead of boring photography AGAIN.

When dad passed away in he left five of us kids and a young wife in her early thirties. Money was tight and so most of the photo equipment was advertised in the paper and I can remember strangers coming to visit and walking away with dad’s stuff.

The equipment had been sold but we still had thousands of black and white negatives, prints and color transparencies. Those pictures were a part of who I became. Maybe it is what got me interested in photography? After all, I did take up fly fishing and hunting as a young man, why not photography?

In elementary and junior high school I would pore the library looking at photo books and old National Geographic magazines. Little did I know that seeing all of those images would make a life long impression on me.

After quitting university, I found it boring and not for me I worked as a labourer for a few years and realized that it was a dead end occupation. Did I really want to do this for the next forty or so years of my life so I ended up returning to school for a couple of years and enrolled in photography.

God or maybe it is just good luck has followed me my whole life because immediately after finishing school I was offered an evening job in the dark room at the Edmonton Journal while photographing advertising during the day.

Like I wrote earlier good fortune has followed me and somehow I stumbled into being a fashion, food and editorial photographer, a web designer when only a few people had dial up modems and then in my last few years a print designer. All jobs that I was invited to accept.

When I enrolled in photo school I had dreams of becoming a “professional” landscape photographer. I had already had a few magazine covers and photos in books and felt that I was on my way. Little did I know that I would not return to landscapes until some thirty years had passed.

The internet, Flickr in particular got me interested when I kept seeing these weird landscapes taken with HDR photography. My appetite had been whetted and I was on my way again and what a trip it has been.

One of the joys of photography is learning new things. I love to learn. Even at 63 years of age put a new program in front of me or show me a new technique in Photoshop and I am hooked.

Landscape photography is much the same. There is so much to learn.

We are the accumulation of our life experiences and whenever I take a photo unconsciously I am recalling those thousands of photos dad has taken, the many faraway places from National Geographic and the magnificent colour landscapes of Elliot Porter whose photos convinced me to shoot landscapes with large format colour cameras.

My latest passion is aurora photography. They are the easiest thing in the world to capture if you know the basics but there is so much more to them than that.

Photograph them under a moonless sky and the land is black or almost black and without detail. Photograph them under a full moon and the landscape looks like it was taken during the middle of the day.

aurora borealis, aurora, northern lights, lake, reflection, clouds, landscape, Dan Jurak, Alberta, prairie, stars, long exposure,

Everyone photographs the aurora it seems under clear, cloudless skies. Weather, the right kind can make an average aurora scene stand apart from the crowd.

There is so much to learn after forty years of photography and that might be the biggest reward.

Life has always been about the journey and it has been a great ride so far!

Happy shooting,


This is where I live…

•September 28, 2017 • 4 Comments

aurora, aurora borealis, northern lights, night sky, long exposure, astrophotography, Nikon Canada, gravel road, prairie, landscape, Dan Jurak, rural, autumn, road,

Last night I got home at 2:00 am and out of habit woke up at 6:00 am. Part of getting up early was the dogs fault. He had to go outside and do his business. Back to bed for an hour trying to get some more sleep with no result and up at 7:00 am. Sleep is overrated. LOL

All of us take for granted where we live. Wherever it might be there are opportunities unique to you and those around you.

I grew up seeing the northern lights in the summer and also in the winter when playing outside. At this latitude during the shortest days of the year the sun sets shortly after 4:00 pm. so there is ample opportunity to see the night sky.

Everyone can see the aurora borealis, or so I thought. It turns out that only under the most exceptional circumstances can people near the middle latitudes see it. Last night might have been one of those nights. The lights were so powerful that instead of only seeing them on the northern horizon they were overhead and far to the south. Surely those in the northern states could see them.

Last night was the perfect storm so to speak. With a very strong CME or coronal mass ejection a few days ago and it being close to the solstice when for some reason the aurora are more easily triggered and a forecast for clear skies for most of Alberta it was smart to head out.

I left the house at 9:00 pm with only the faintest glow on the western horizon. Soon it was completely dark and as I drove north I kept glancing skyward for any hint of the northern lights. Thirty minutes later the Rav was parked on a gravel road and the waves of green began slowly at first and then the whole sky was awash in colour.  With the moon behind me and low to the horizon the perfect balance was struck between overly bright and too dark. There was just enough moonlight to provide illumination to the countryside.

Fifteen minutes later the first burst had subsided and I continued north to a small lake where I was hoping the lights would reappear and I could get the aurora with a reflection in the water. Arriving at the lake twenty five minutes later I was disappointed to see plenty of low clouds obscuring the horizon. Meh, I thought, I got some great shots already, time to head home.

Three times on the way home the skies lit up and I turned the vehicle around heading northward again oblivious to how late it was getting.

At times like this it helps to be familiar with where you are driving because now that the moon was very, very low the surroundings were almost black. On my way to a pair of grain silos the sky AGAIN exploded so I pulled over and took photos like a madman. Pictures all around me. Directly overhead. To the north and also looking south.

The photo at the top of this post is looking south. The light you see on the horizon is where I live. Edmonton. A city of around one million people. Thirty minutes away from a million people and all alone with thousands of stars sparkling overhead and wash after wash of green combing across the sky.

Wherever you live, you are also bless. Sometimes all that we need to do is open our eyes to see what is special around us.

Happy shooting,


Be known by your best photos… learn how to edit

•September 26, 2017 • Leave a Comment

frost, hoar frost, autumn, landscape, sunrise, dawn, prairie, slough, reflection, cold, snow, ice, Dan Jurak, editing,

Years and years ago when I was attending photo school I learned a very valuable lesson that served me well for over thirty years.

I was in my first year of school and when handing in assignments it seemed that if I submitted three photos my instructor would pick my LEAST favourite pic.

You have read about the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? That was what was happening to me the first few months of school. One day I decided to hand in only my favourite photo. Guess what? With no other photos for my instructor to critique I ended up doing pretty well through the first year and ended up with the highest average in my class. Lesson learned.

After finishing my two years I ended up working for a newspaper. This was in the film days and I was working in the lab. The photographers would shoot rolls of film on the same assignment and after the film was processed they would grab a loupe and edit their film before the editor could see it. They would choose one or two frames from a roll which the editor would then see a proof of and a decision was made where it would play in the newspaper.

When I started taking pictures for a living doing advertising I already knew that I would only show my art director my one or two favourite pictures because sure as the sun rises in the morning if I added others for them to see they would use my reject.

That was in the nineteen seventies.

Fast forward to a day when film is a rarity. It doesn’t cost anymore to shoot one digital frame or one thousand. Space on the internet on webpages is almost unlimited.

I belong to Flickr and just joined a group on Facebook where people can post almost unlimited photos in their galleries and very quickly I am hiding posts from certain people.

The people that will not only want to show me their best pic from last night but also everything else that they shot!!!

What is lost on a lot of these photographers is the lost art of editing.

Why on earth would you want to be known by your almost rejected but certainly not your best photo is beyond me but I keep seeing the same people posting more and more and more and then finally, “hide posts from this person” is what I am clicking on next.

If we were going on a date would you want to look and act less than your best? If you invited me over for dinner, would you prepare a recipe from your list of “it’s okay but not the greatest” meals? Probably not.

If that’s the case please do the world and yourself a favour and post ONLY YOUR BEST because the rest of the world just like me will soon tune you out.

Happy shooting,


Why I decided not to buy the new Nikon D850

•September 25, 2017 • 8 Comments

barley, autumn, crops, sunset, landscape, rural, wheat, d850, Nikon, buyers remorse, clouds, storm, Dan Jurak, prairie,

We have all been there. The attraction of the next new, best lens or body. If only I had that brand new state of the art thing my photography would jump to the next level.

When you use cameras and lenses everyday at work it is important that you have sturdy, reliable and sharp equipment. Back in the day we would get an annual camera allowance with the understanding that it was up to the photographer to keep their gear current and in good condition.

I am retired now. My budget is limited. I no longer get a camera allowance. I have to carefully consider my purchases before making them. Is this new item really necessary? Can I do without it?

Having said that I have been secretly coveting Nikon’s new D850 camera body and I came this close to buying it once. They might be in short supply but here in Canada I have seen a half a dozen times when I get up early in the morning that one of the major camera stores up here had them in stock for online purchases. A few hours later they were eagerly snapped up and every time I had a tiny bit of remorse for not making the purchase.

It isn’t a purchase to take lightly as the new Nikon bodies retail for around $4,300 Canadian before tax. It is still a sellers market for these things and because of that nobody is selling below suggested list price.

And then I had that eureka moment.

On Sunday afternoon I browsed my website and was looking at some very old landscapes that I had completely forgotten about. It was like seeing these photos for the first time. They weren’t so bad. They were sharp, sure the file sizes were a bit smaller ten years ago but the tones were great, technically they were very good. Even my ten year old cameras could take photos that I was happy with.

What would I be giving up by not having the latest and greatest camera body?

File size. I am currently using a body that takes 36 megapixel images and have not had a need for anything larger.

Image sensor quality. From what I have seen with images from the D850 the quality was better but not four thousand dollars worth better. Any difference in quality can be gained in post processing to the point that you would not be able to tell the difference between my current body and the new one.

Shooting speed. Darned if landscapes require 9 frames per second. That is a no brainer.

Video. I don’t use video on my current body.

Focus bracketing. Something that I am interested in but is it worth four thousand dollars to get something that I might use once a year?

I convinced myself that my money would be better spent on gas for a trip to the country or to replace my aging iMac which I use EVERYDAY.

So the next time your eyes open up and you get all hot and bothered for that ultra fast lens or megapixel body hold off on that purchase. You might not need that new thing as badly as you thought.

Happy shooting,


BTW, the image at the top was taken with a very old Canon Rebel and kit lens.

On Being a “better” landscape photographer

•September 24, 2017 • 4 Comments

frost, autumn, fog, fall, sunrise, alberta, landscape, prairie, farm, fence, barbed wire, rural, Dan Jurak

A couple of months ago I tried to log onto my original Facebook account. While doing so I neglected to notice that I had my VPN or virtual private network software running. What that does is hide your location or change it to make it look like you are browsing from somewhere else. It is helpful for websites like the BBC where you can only watch/listen if you are in the United Kingdom or for listening to some radio shows from the states where if the station sees that you are coming from Canada, blocks you.

So, when logging into Facebook I mistyped my password (I hardly ever used FB) and to Facebook it looked like someone was hacking my account. Trying to reset my password resulted in them requesting that I copy two pieces of government ID and send copies to them, something that I am loathe to do so I created a new account.

One of the first things I noticed when I had joined a local group to see what kind of photos were being taken was the abundance of “professional” photo pages a lot of the users had. Looking at those pages and I quickly realized that anyone with a camera nowadays calls themselves a “professional”. Can I say that I am a lawyer because I watched Perry Mason as a kid but still so many professionals that it is laughable.

So many of the landscapes that I see on the internet these days are simply snapshots of the land. Flat. Bland. Boring. Monotonous. All looking the same. One out of every couple of hundred catches my eye. The rest are only a record captured without any imagination or creativity.

Photos are like food. There is no right answer for everyone. What is too sweet for one is just right for another and so it goes for landscapes so what follows is MY idea of how to be a better landscape shooter.

This assumes that you have already gone through the learning stage, the very basic stage where you have mastered focus, exposure, composition and processing. I saw this because most of the landscapes that I see even by those “professional” Facebook photographers seem to be still in that early learning cycle.

The first thing that comes to mind is to be different from the rest. You look, dress and eat differently than everyone else but why do your photos look the same as everyone else?

Being different is part of being creative. Being creative is not the act of copying but adapting what you have seen and interpreting it in your own special way.

Find a photo that resonates with you, something that makes you look twice at it and try to verbalize whatever it is about it that made you do a double take.Was it the subject matter? The light? The weather? The processing?

All of the above is my right answer.

Being different can mean that you like someones look but that doesn’t mean that you are a carbon copy clone of them. On Flickr on one of the groups that I moderate I can see who has gone on workshops with a very famous landscape/workshop photographer from the states. I can tell because when I look through their pages I keep seeing the professionals work. Much like the person that can copy faithfully every brush stroke of the Mona Lisa but is unable to “create” anything unique on their own that is where these photographers get stuck unable to progress beyond what they see.

If you must go to where the low hanging fruit of the photo world is, like national parks, do your best to avoid the worn out cliches. Of the hundreds of photos that I have seen of Vermillion Lakes and Mount Rundle in Banff one of two stand above the rest. The others look like a paint by numbers photo. You can do better than that.

Special atmospheric conditions will make your pictures soar. When everyone else is asleep, be the one who is up and out before the sun to capture the early morning fogs or frost or low sun. The very same place that looks like a fantasy when the sun is rising is boring as all get out an hour later. The most bland places on earth take on a special look of their own when a huge storm rolls in over the horizon. Just after a blizzard but before the snow has had a chance to settle will give you a look that will last forever when you capture it but will quickly degrade in real life under the sun or wind.

Processing your images is as important as what you photograph. The very same photographer that I wrote about above has kindly posted on the internet before and after images and to compare them you can see the vision that is involved in post processing. Don’t be satisfied to adjust color and density and be done with it. There is so much more control that you have now in a digital world that didn’t exist even in the nineties.

My fingers are getting tired from typing, LOL so I will call it a day.

Get out there, be unique and be CREATIVE. Be DIFFERENT.

Happy shooting,