Black & White Or Color?

•March 7, 2017 • Leave a Comment

monchrome, black and white, black & white, landscape, surreal, prairie, winter, snow, farm, rural, clouds, ethereal, dreamy,

Black and white or color? Which to shoot? Which way to see?

After having spent a whole year of concentrating on black and white images a change from the color that I am used to, I feel the urge to do… both.

There are so many advantages to each. Being able to visualize a color photograph is different than in black and white. It’s not more difficult, only different.

By spending a year on only black and whites I think that I am starting to be able to successfully predict how my final image will look compared to what the eye sees.

Photography is what you want it to be. There are “purists” that take sides and vigorously defend them. Your side is wrong! My side is right! Film is the only way to see! No burning or dodging allowed! And on and on and on they preach. Don’t be swayed or misled by these people.

Photography for me anyway is like religion or politics. We are all entitled to believe what we will and practice what we do as long as it doesn’t interfere with how you live your life.

Getting back to black and white especially at this time of year frees me to take pictures during all hours of the day. I look for shapes and tones. If the bare bones of the photo is there it can usually be completed in post processing.

The photo above was taken during the middle of the afternoon. The color image is white and blue. No matter how I played with the photo in color it didn’t come across the way that I imagined.

Converting this photo to black and white offered many more opportunities to take the image which ever way I wanted. It is the freedom to create without limitations or restrictions that is fun. I keep coming back to photography because it is fun and not work.

Restricting yourself creatively might be a good exercise to learn a technique but the goal is to have fun, create and share.

Happy shooting,


The Aurora that wasn’t

•March 2, 2017 • Leave a Comment

aurora, aurora borealis, northern lights, prairie, nightsky night sky, stars, winter, prairie, Dan Jurak, Alberta, landscape, snow drifts,

There was a tremendous solar storm last night. The only problem is that I didn’t stay out late enough to see it. Or maybe that wasn’t a problem?

Spaceweather was forecasting great things for last night and they got it right. In fact as I write this at 9:00 a.m. the following morning the storm is still going on. It is rated as a 6 which is as high as I have ever seen in my few years of following this website.


The forecast for last night was partly cloudy so my hopes of getting anything really good weren’t very high. With that in mind I wanted to refine or practice shooting night sky panoramas. I learned two very important things from my first attempt at panoramas.

The first thing that I learned is that it is important to have your panorama head as level as you can get it. If you are shooting a set of say six images for a panorama if the head is not level when you go to stitch the images the stitching program has to try and align those uneven horizon points. As a novice at stitching I have much to learn to get that down so it is better in the short run to get the images right in camera.

The second important lesson is about having enough detail from image to image that is recognizable in the stitching program to match similar points. The first night pano that I took was in the absence of any kind of moonlight. The moon was behind the earth and for as trivial as that might seen when shooting night panos the light of the moon can add a lot of illumination to the foreground.

There was a very faint crescent moon on this night and although it was faint to my eye when the camera recorded the landscape the snow in the foreground was amazingly bright.

Having these lessons under my belt the pano stitched much easier. The absence of any kind of northern light display removed some of the drama that was in my first pano.

It was very cold on this winter night. The thermometer on my Rav4 said 19 Celsius. Happily there was very little wind which would have made things seem much colder.

I drove out of town with no particular place in mind and somehow ended up at the same place that I had taken my first night pano so I gave the same place a try. Froze a bit even though I was dressed for winter and then made my way to an old, iconic barn a few kilometres further up the road.

panorama, night sky, nightsky, aurora, milky way, stars, Dan Jurak, prairie, winter, barn,

Level the tripod. Take six frames. Redo the whole series again because of an airplane that moved through the sky while shooting.

By this time it was 9:30 p.m. and still no aurora in sight or at least not much to see. Homewards I drove with the plan of taking a detour just before I hit the city limits to have another look for the northern lights and there they were.

I headed toward this old and large poplar tree that has been in a few of my photographs before, snapped a few frames and with high hopes drove north, away from the city for twenty minutes. The lights disappeared.

Meh, I figured that they would probably show up but I was getting sleepy and a warm and cozy bed looked better to me than driving til 3:00 a.m. taking pics. I guess that’s what happens when you get older?

More lights planned for tonight and if the sky is clear I intend to leave later and return later with more aurora photos.

Happy shooting,



Selling your photos online

•February 27, 2017 • 4 Comments

fineartamerica, dan jurak, sell prints, photos, photogrpahy, landscape,

It’s always nice when you can earn a few dollars from your favourite hobby or pastime.

Whether you photograph flowers, puppies, where you live or are a very serious “art” photographer there is a market out there for your images. The internet can expose you to hundreds of millions of potential customers.

I was sending my images to Masterfile for the past few years but with the downfall and unreliability of payments through stock, this fall I decided that it was best to cut my ties with Masterfile as I had several months of outstanding payments owed to me and empty promises of future payment do nothing to pay for gas for my vehicle.

For example, before my images were completely purged from Masterfile I received notice that one of my images had been used by Toyota of India. Toyota? and yet not a penny has come my way. Toyota or the agency that represents them for their promotions I am sure are paying suppliers but the problem is not them it seems but Masterfile. They are so history for me.

At one time I dabbled with printing my own photos and selling them through my website. It seemed like a good idea until I thoroughly researched it and found it to be lots of work. Work being the key reason that I decided against that idea.

So where else to go? There are many websites online that offer to host your photos and pass on the profits to you. I can’t speak to those but I can speak firsthand about a service that I have been using for a few years now.

With Fineartamerica you are able to submit whatever medium that you like. It can be a watercolour, acrylic, photograph, etc. FAA as I will call them from now on has a diversity of looks and suppliers.

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As a supplier you the artist are able to set your profit on what you sell. For example and this is quite the exaggeration, if I wanted to sell an 8×10 print and wanted my profit to be $1,000 FAA will simply add their cost to the purchase price and it will be $1,000 plus their cost/profit. I could choose to have a profit of $1.00 and the purchase price would be $1.00 plus their cost/profit and the price includes shipping anywhere in the world.

You are not limited to selling prints of all sizes and materials, you can also have your art placed on cups, t-shirts, bedding, bags, cards, etc.

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And they do sell. For example I had a photograph of our Weimaraner when he was eight weeks old and someone from Italy purchased it as the cover for their iPhone 7.

And the good news for me is that they pay and they always pay promptly. I have yet to receive a late or no payment at all.

They will handle the shipping, billing, printing, etc. leaving you to do what you want to do, create.

There are probably other websites that offer the artist a good deal in selling their art but without firsthand knowledge I am reluctant to mention any of them.

If you are interested in making a few dollars from your photos do a little research and see what works best for you.

Happy shooting,


Revisiting your old images

•February 26, 2017 • 4 Comments

mountains, ice, ice bubbles, not abraham lake, not spray lake, Jasper, Jasper national park, rockys, Dan Jurak, landscape,

The clothes that I wear today are different than the ones that I wore twenty years ago. My tastes in music and food have changed. My political leanings have swayed back and forth over the years.

Why would I expect my taste in photographs to be the same? The answer is that I wouldn’t.

I remember when I first got back into shooting landscapes. It was the distinct and unique ability of HDR processing that allowed me to capture both the extreme highlights and shadows that influenced my processing at the time.

Looking back at those early photographs, I am embarrassed. They were awful. I now see halos and garish tones that at the time I thought were “interesting”.

Was that the wrong way to process my images at the time? I don’t think so. I look at it more as a step in my evolution as for lack of a better word, an artist. It was and is a part of my growth and has taken me to where I am currently.

We can all look back at the family scrap book photos with our funny haircuts and hairdos and laugh. I find it harder to laugh at my photos but still they are a reflection of how I saw things at the time.

The photo at the top was taken on a cold January day in 2011. By then my processing wasn’t as wild and crazy but when I looked at how I had processed the photo, I thought that I could do a better job of the original RAW files today.

I have been using Photoshop since version 2.5 and I still consider myself not much more than a novice at the program. I have seen Youtube videos by younger people who are always showing me different ways to get an effect or look.

It’s like the watercolor artist who till the day they die is discovering new ways to roll the paper or lay down the colors and that is precisely one of the reasons that keeps me interested in the craft.

Photography is not a race or a contest where you get to the finish line. It is instead a journey and like the saying goes, the journey is more interesting than the destination.

Happy shooting,


The other side of Jasper National Park

•February 21, 2017 • 2 Comments

sand dunes, jasper, mountains, monochrome, black and white, waves, summer, jasper national park, alberta, canada, dan jurak, landscpae,

This post originally started as the ranting of an old man until I realized that I have ranted about originality and creativity too many times and that I shouldn’t get worked up when I see another copycat photo of Tangle Ridge or Abraham Lake here in Alberta.

Instead I will try, yes, TRY to lend a positive tone to this post.

I love photographing landscapes for so many different reasons. Whether I am in the mountains of Jasper and Banff or minutes away from home in my own back yard, the prairies of central Alberta, being outdoors gives does my soul good.

When I was younger and just getting into landscapes I would make the four hour drive every weekend in my 1969 Ford Econoline camper van. The drive wasn’t as relaxing then as it now is with a wide open four lane highway from Edmonton to the outskirts of Hinton. Back in the 1970’s a lot, most of the highway was a twisting sinuous two lane terror that claimed many lives due to the carelessness of those who just had to pass when it wasn’t safe. Still, I made the drive.

Even in the seventies when I was working on a book project about the Canadian rockies something inside me wanted to seek out that which was seldom seen or photographed. So I hiked a lot. I went into the deep back country of the park heavy pack on my shoulders with a serious tripod and large format camera. It was hard physical work but I loved it.

Every Monday morning back at work my body ached from walking too far with a too heavy pack in search of new and different landscapes.

Oh yeah, I got sidetracked. LOL

Photographing landscapes does so much for me today like it did forty years ago. I love the solitude. I love the peace and quiet. To get away from the routine of daily things even if only for a few hours is like going on a long holiday. It recharges the batteries.

I have always been a daydreamer. The margins of my school books were full of doodles and drawings and when out with a camera when I see the landscape my imagination is in full gear imagining this location or that. Wondering how this place would look under a different light. Imaging how this scene would look with a wide lens or a long exposure.

I might be quiet when outdoors but that imagination is going one thousand miles an hour.

Using your imagination is like playing the lottery. You try and you try and you try and always in the back of your mind is the payoff. The great photo. The photo that hasn’t been taken before or at least a photo that I haven’t seen before because very little of this world has not been photographed.

The photo at the top of this post is one of those places in Jasper that people drive by every day by the thousands but I have yet to see any photos of it on the internet and this photo is probably ten years old.

It’s kind of like Tangle Ridge in Jasper. For years I wondered why such a beautiful place was always photographed showing Mount Kitchener and Beauty Creek. That was the standard photo of the place but three or four years ago something happened.

A very well known American photographer actually stepped off the highway and into the deep snow and took a great photo of Tangle Peak, slightly to the east of Kitchener and three years later it seems that I see nothing but photos of Tangle Peak taken from close to where the original photo was taken.

Where is the joy in that? Where is the solitude of wilderness or landscape photography when you arrive only to find a small crowd of like minded photographers there?

For some I suppose, that is their joy, their goal, to copy what they saw on the internet. Goal accomplished but isn’t something that is called an art form more than simply copying something? I guess not and there is nothing wrong with that if that is your thing but the goal or one of the goals of this blog is to inspire creativity.

You see the act of creating something that I haven’t seen before gives me a special joy. Unless you are a creative person you might not get it. Maybe it’s like the gambler looking for the next jackpot or the drug user who is looking for his next high?

Whatever it is, it is special and it keeps me returning to the land. It keeps me looking for the next “new” place to see and interpret in my own way. It might look like crap to someone else but creativity is not about pleasing someone else. It is about reaching inside your soul and pulling something out that you never knew existed.

Happy shooting,


My First Night Sky Panorama

•February 20, 2017 • 2 Comments

Friday night was another great learning experience for me.  I experimented with shooting ultra high iso milky way images and blending them as a way of reducing noise and I tried my hand at photographing panoramas at night.

First of all I want to thank the generous and kind people at when I was shopping online and looking for a panorama head. When I emailed nodalninja for shopping advice I was informed that what I had in mind was overkill. The rig that I was thinking of buying was more than I needed. It would have been easy to oversell me and make a few extra dollars but I was advised to get a smaller pano head and they were right. It works perfectly for what I intended to do with it.

When doing panoramas a certain amount of overlap is needed by the stitching program in order to better assemble the final image. The percentage of rotation between shot is dependant on the focal length or field of view of the lens being used. A wider lens = greater rotation between frames. A longer focal length means more photos taken to cover the same area and less rotation between frames.

For the photo above  I used a 14mm lens on a full frame camera. The reason for such a wide lens was that for my first try at panoramas I didn’t want to shoot two rows high to get the top of the aurora. The 14mm lens in portrait position covered enough sky to only need the one row of images.

Simple is better when learning. It’s a good idea to simplify whatever you are doing while learning. As you acquire more proficiency, add more layers of difficulty.

At six frames the image covered is probably a little over 180 degrees and the final stitched and cropped image is over 13,000 pixels wide. Noise is practically non existent in the sky but apparent on the ground but that could quite easily be taken care of with a good noise reduction program.

The aurora on this night was unlike the auroras that I usually see. Instead of a swirling and twisting light show directly overhead, an arch of green stretched from the north west horizon to the north east. What you see in the photo is how it remained for most of the time that I saw it.

At home I opened and processed the six images in my raw image editor. The resultant files were saved as 16 bit tiffs.

The difficult part for me was figuring out how to use the panorama stitching program for the first time. It seemed that with all the dark areas the program got confused and the result looked more like a kaleidoscope than anything resembling a photograph. It was necessary to manually place the images in the order that they were taken and find control points (or similar points) in adjacent images.

Youtube to the rescue where after a few tries I started getting things aligned the way I wanted.

A quick crop. Some colour corrections and dodging in Photoshop to reveal more details in the road and shadows and voila. My first night time panorama.

Like I wrote in the previous blog post there is a certain joy from learning something new and putting it to use. I look forward to many more night and daytime photos using the pano head and stitching software.

Happy shooting,


The Milky Way, the Aurora Borealis and two bootfuls of ice water

•February 18, 2017 • 4 Comments

aurora borealis, northern lights, winter, reflection, Dan Jurak, ice, Alberta, landscape,

I love to learn. At the age of 62 I find myself wanting to know more rather than be content with the little that I do know.

It was in 1992 or 1993 that I was introduced to Photoshop. It was version 2.5 I think. That would make it 23 or 24 years that I have been using the photo editing program both at work daily and at home. Instead of knowing everything there is to know about the program I might know 10 or 20 percent of what it does.

So last week when I stumbled upon a program for the Mac that combined star photography images with lots of noise, aligned them and then reduced the noise (with the image shot at extremely high ISO for eg. 12,400) it piqued my curiosity.

After having watched a few tutorial videos I ordered a digital copy online and anxiously waited for clear evening skies so that I might photograph the milky way.

Friday February 17 looked to be one such evening. The astrophotography forecast has predicted clear skies all day and well into the evening before cloudy skies were expected to arrive. With no moon until after midnight it looked like a perfect evening.

I recharged all my camera batteries, packed my camera bag with the few lenses that I wanted to photograph the milky way with, filled a thermos with hot coffee and made my way in a north westerly direction from Edmonton.

By the time I arrived, 7:30ish the skies were completely black with no hint of light in the western horizon from the days sunset. With no moon it was even darker than normal. But… had forecast the possibility of a good aurora borealis display. Usually we see them start around 10:00 p.m. or so. So when I took the first of my eight exposures that would later be stacked to combine into one image what did I see? A greenish glow. Not from city lights. I was pointed in the wrong direction for that. It was the faint glow of the northern lights arching from the northwestern to the northeastern horizon.

So much for that experiment I thought to myself. But, I continued a few more exposures of the milky way ever aware of the brightening green glow to the north.

I had been experimenting with panoramas for the past few months and instead of concentrating on my experiment and reason for getting out that evening I instead started photographing panoramas of the northern lights.

These were a very unusual for me kind of auroral display. Instead of waves of swirling light overhead the display instead was a constant glowing arch to the north across the horizon. You photograph what nature gives you so that is what I did for the next couple of hours.

I had just done another panorama and was in the car thinking of heading back home when the cell phone rang. I pulled over and on the other end was my wife wondering how long I would be. I thought that I was finished for the night so I told her that I would probably be a half an hour away.

On my way back to the highway I noticed a reflection to my right just across the ditch and in the dormant farm field. Immediately I got the idea of getting to the other side of the ice/water and try for an aurora photo with a reflecting glow in the foreground from the ice/water.

I pulled over, grabbed my gear and gingerly made my way across the ditch and to the far side of the icey water. After a few minutes, thinking that I had all that I would get from that location I picked up the camera and tripod and headed back directly to the vehicle. MISTAKE!

Not realizing that the snow in the ditch that I was stepping into was on top of at least a foot of water I plunged into the water and in the process losing my balance. Trying to protect the camera and tripod with one hand the other came down on the gravel road while my other foot went knee deep into the ice cold water filled ditch.

Two freezing bootfuls of icey water and soaking pants. Brrrrrr. That was it. I was done for the evening. I put the gear in the back of the Rav, poured another cup of hot coffee from the Thermos and made my way home as my feet gradually warmed the ice water in the boots.

Ah, how I love photography.

Happy shooting,