I love the mountains but my heart will always be on the prairies

•November 16, 2018 • 6 Comments

moody, winter, landscape, prairie, foggy, fog, snow, sunrise, dawn, Alberta, farm, Dan Jurak,

I’ve been going through thousands of RAW images that I have taken over the years. Starting with a 10 megapixel Canon Rebel that I bought only to take better photos of my kids playing intramural sports (I had lost my interest in landscapes having been shooting editorial for a living for many years. More on that in another post) and realizing that the state of digital photography was in its infancy.

Over the years what started as a fun pastime and a return to my roots I would get out before work and catch the sunrise regardless of the season and then be out again in the evening as the sun set.

There are thousands upon thousands of images that no one other than myself has ever seen. When I got serious about landscapes back in the late seventies and early eighties film was king and the king of the landscape was large format film. I lugged a large wooden field camera and heavy tripod into the back country of the national parks because that is where I thought the best images were. Shooting colour transparencies is very different than digital. Your exposure has to be right on or it is trashed. Today, I auto bracket most scenes and quickly delete any exposures in camera that are too over or under exposed to use.

As a result, I am a very prolific shooter. If you don’t have it on your memory card it is lost forever. Shoot it now and decide later if it gets onto the hard drive.

As I was saying, I would get out to the mountains in my now old Ford van almost every weekend in Jasper. Banff always struck me as over photographed and too crowded even back then. Today it is a zoo. But back then editors eyes would beam when shown photos of places that they hadn’t seen before. Today there isn’t much that hasn’t been photographed a thousand times before.

With the advent of digital photography and photo sharing websites the popularity of photography has exploded. Everyone it seems now goes to the national parks to shoot landscapes.

Today be at one of the popular spots in Banff or Jasper and you are almost guaranteed to not have the place to yourself. For some that is a good thing. To me having others around was always a distraction. Oh sure, I could shoot fashion on Jasper Avenue in Edmonton at lunch hour and have hundreds of people around but landscape photography has always been a solitary experience, aside from when I have my girls come along.

Once the interest in shooting landscapes was rekindled I was out every week of the year and with a family my trips were limited to taking them close to where I live. A funny thing happened. Every once in a while all the elements would align and the prairie would be transformed into a most magical place. And the beauty was breathtaking. On drives home before work I would be almost high having experienced such beauty.

It became a passion photographing the prairie. With all the images that I was getting I started selling them through a few stock photo agencies. They ended up outselling the Jasper and Banff photos that I had submitted. From governments agencies around the world to Fortune 500 companies, my back yard, the flat and uninteresting prairie was making prairie landscapes profitable enough to to buy me newer equipment, etc.

Over the years things started falling into place. When to go. Which weather was best. Which weather to stay home in. Always learning. Always experimenting.

During that learning period I was privy to some of the most remarkable scenes ever. This wasn’t Alberta. This wasn’t the flat and featureless prairie that I expected.

This was heaven on earth.

The photo at the top of this post I remember very well when I took it. The temperature was below -30 Celsius. The wind was non existent. Being outside only a few minutes and a thick coating of ice was forming on my moustache and beard. I took a couple of selfies that I saw this morning and even my eyelashes had thick frost/ice stuck to them. It was cold but it was amazing. The sun at that time of the year stays close to the horizon for most of the day giving a very Renaissance kind of light and with the ice fog hanging in the air a dreamy look.

The barn in the photo has since been demolished to make way for industrial development as have the old trees in the foreground and background.

It was a magical morning. On the drive home the heater in the Rav was blasting hot air to warm me up but it was heaven. The hot thermos of coffee that I had made earlier tasted even better on the drive warming me up as it made its way down my throat.

Those are the memories that I have of my prairie. The mountains are fun. Its like going to Disney Land or getting a sugar high from a chocolate bar but the prairies are so much more satisfying.

Find your magic place. It is out there.

Happy shooting,

Dan

 

 

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A surefire way to improve your photography and its free!

•November 13, 2018 • Leave a Comment

snow, winter, Banff, rockies, mountains, Alberta, landscape, Dan Jurak,

I don’t know why but I have always loved looking at photographs. Photographs in magazine. Photographs in books. Our family albums. They have always captured my imagination.

Those photos even at an early age were able to transport me to a place or time far away.

We are the sum total of all that we experience. We draw upon our past to help us with the present and into the future.

Analogies can sometimes make an idea more obvious than it might otherwise be. Here’s my analogy. Imagine if you are four years old and have a pack of crayons and sheets of blank paper but lived inside a house with no windows and never saw the outside world. What would you be drawing with the crayons?

Contrast that with a child that lives in the real world and  have seen all manner of art in magazines, museums, etc.

The second child is more able to draw upon their experiences to use their imaginations to draw.

Photography is like that. Even after having spent my life as a photographer and designer I still learn by browsing hundreds and thousands of photos each year. For every photograph you see you immediately like or dislike it. You don’t spend any time thinking about why you dislike this one but quickly go onto the next one.

What you are doing is formulating your style. You are learning what light, colours and composition together make an image positive in your eyes. There is no right or wrong to this. You have spent your life being influenced by all that you see around you. Your experience is different than mine is different than everyone else in the world.

After all these years there are times when I look at a photograph and think to myself, why haven’t I done that before and one day in the future that will be in my repertoire of things to do. It isn’t copying. It’s learning. Its learning because you are applying what you learned and applying it in your unique way.

Happy shooting,

Dan

Winter Photography… its a snap if you do it right

•November 12, 2018 • 8 Comments

winter, clothing, dressing for winter, alberta, jasper, dan jurak, landscape, photography, landscape, reflection,

Winter is here. There is no going back until mid-April.

One of the really neat things about living this far north is that when we approach the shortest days of the year, about 8 hours of daylight where I live, the sun for most of the day stays very low to the horizon. Morning and evening shoots are extended because of the low light.

If thing play out the way that I hope, I’ll be in Jasper in a few days with my two girls while they are away from university for reading week.

Having lived and played in -30 Celsius winters since I was a toddler here I understand the value of being dressed properly to enjoy our long cold periods.

Years ago when I was into running I would get out during lunch break and run in the river valley. My first winter I discovered something that I had long since forgotten.

After ten or twenty minutes of exercise outdoors your body radiates so much heat that you find yourself taking mittens and head coverings off. You open your jacket. Your frozen toes are suddenly flush with heat.

That happens only if you keep busy and when taking photos that usually isn’t the case for me so instead I dress differently.

It is easier to overdress and open up your clothing when you overheat than it is to do the opposite and end up having to cut your time outside short.

Starting from top to bottom, always, always, always wear a warm toque. You can dress like a polar bear and if your head isn’t covered properly most of the heat you generate will be lost there.

For a jacket I wear a heavy down parka and underneath it a fleece jacket. There is a waist string on the jacket to keep snow out when skiing, tightening it also keeps warm air from escaping.

I usually wear cotton or wool pants. Jeans are a no no. When they get wet they seem to say wet forever. Over the pants are a heavy pair of waterproof and insulated snow pants. I often find myself laying down in the snow taking pics. Keeping dry means staying warm.

For boots it depends upon where I am going. I have a heavy pair of arctic type boots that are so large that I cannot safely drive with them. They are rated to something like -85 Celsius. If I am in one spot for a long time I wear them if not I have an insulated pair of hiking boots that I sometimes pair with gators to keep the snow from getting in my boots. Again dry equal warm in the winter.

Hands are alway a problem. They get cold. Cold. Cold. I have a heavy pair of mitten under which I sometimes were a pair of light, really light gloves. Maybe this year I’ll try a portable hand warmer.

As for cameras freezing and condensation, that has never been a problem. I don’t know why. I always have a spare charged battery handy but have never had to replace one while shooting.

There you have it. Dress properly for winter and you will enjoy it every bit as much as the warmer months.

Happy shooting,

Dan

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

 

 

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