R U following your closest three thousand photographer friends?

•December 10, 2014 • 10 Comments

Dan Jurak, landscape, black and white, minimalist, long exposure, fineart, fine art, Alberta, landscape, snow, winter, sky, clouds,

Ever wonder why some people get all the views? All the hits? All the comments?

It doesn’t happen by accident. Some attention is deserved. For others, it was earned by hard work deserved or not.

Becoming well known in the online photo community usually means spending more time promoting yourself than taking photos. For some it is done with an eye towards promoting a business and for others it has more to do with ego than anything.

Let me use the photo sharing website 500px as an example. There is a rating system how it works I am not sure but it is almost like a contest to see if you can get to the top of the first page. I think it has to do with how many views, likes and favorites you get on your photo. Obviously the more eyes that fall on your image the higher the probability that you will get a fave or a like.

It is easy to get more eyes by getting followers. This practice has been going on for many years. It is the rule of reciprocation. If someone follows you, you follow them. If someone likes your photo, you like one of theirs. It’s that simple.

This is where the hard work comes in and it has nothing to do with your photography. You have to do through your “friends” list and I use the term very loosely and fave or like their photos on a constant basis. Continually doing so will net you thousands of “friends”. That sounds not only like too much work but there are better ways to spend my time I figure, like trimming my toenails. :)

I have very few “friends” on both of the photo sharing websites that I am on. That isn’t because there aren’t many interesting photographers on there it is because there are few that I want to follow. It is confusing to log onto your home page and find SIX HUNDRED new images posted by your friends since the last time you were online. Now imagine if you have something like two or three thousand friends and that is NOT an exaggeration. How on God’s green earth can one possibly keep tabs on your closest three thousand friends photos?

It is hard work to go through all of your friends and comment on their photos telling them how great they are even when they’re not and that is the really sad thing most photographs that I see on 500px and Flickr are not good at all. Surprised? I’m not. We all have different opinions on what makes a great photo and we are all right.

Now let me play amateur psychologist for a moment, my mother always told me how special I was. Anything and everything that I did received praise and encouragement. When I took pictures for a living and my photo credit was omitted it was never a big deal yet for some fellow photogs that I worked with it was a huge injustice. Huh? As long as my name was on my pay cheque I was happy. Over the years my photos have probably been seen by millions of people here in western Canada. Was it important to them that they were taken by “Dan Jurak”? No.

Thank you mother wherever your loving soul may be for showing me all the attention when I was growing up that I don’t need to seek it from others. You see, I think that I know if something that I have taken is good or not. A general manager of our local NHL team here famously said about a goalie last year, “If you have to ask the question, you already know the answer.” That’s what I know to be true. If you have to ask…

Anyway, my toenails are getting a bit long. Gotta go.

Happy shooting,


ps. About the photo above. Taken a couple of days ago in color. I saw the unusual shape of the cloud over the slope on the snowy field where there was an intersection of interesting lines. That immediately caught my eye and from there it was a matter of experimenting in Photoshop to get something almost abstract that was pleasing to the eye. It’s just that simple.

Winter in Black and White

•December 8, 2014 • 14 Comments

winter, landscape, black and white, Dan jurak, Alberta, prairie, snow, frost, hoar frost,

It was an interesting morning/afternoon for me. I don’t usually go out for photos long after the sun has risen but I wasn’t able to as I drove one of my daughters to the public transit for final exams in university. When I got home for as great as the sky was looking I thought that it would be a wash to try and catch it.

A few hours later after constantly checking the provincial highway webcams I decided to give it a try. If nothing else it would be nice to get some fresh air after a few weeks of poor photo weather and those two words are special, photo weather.

Black and white or color it makes no difference good light and just as importantly good weather is critical to getting interesting photos. Here the sun is at a right angle to the camera which provides texture in the snow. An hour earlier or later and that texture might not be there. Many photographers think that location is the most important part of their landscape and they are wrong. This is a clump of trees on the side of a gravel road. Hardly picturesque until the conditions are right.

The country side was covered with a thick coating of frost and the wind had not yet picked up enough to blow it from the branches.

The photo above looks good in color, that is how it was shot. For me, the test was to see what I could make of it in black and white. With the dark almost black skies and white branches it does look like an infrared photo which it isn’t. BTW, I ordered a used Nikon D800 this week for that exact purpose. I will send it away in the new year to have it converted to shoot infrared only. That should be lots of fun when summer rolls around.

In the mean time, enjoy the snow or lack of it wherever you may be.

Happy shooting,


Creating your own reality

•November 22, 2014 • 4 Comments

Dan Jurak, black and white, fine art, fineart, long exposure, prairie, winter

One of the things that I find wildly different shooting black and white instead of color is the freedom I find in manipulating or post-processing. With color I have always strived for a look that closely resembled the original scene. I would enhance colors changing them slightly to alter the intensity or mood. Parts of the scene might be darkened or lightened subtly to draw the eye into one area or away from another. That was as far as I would go in changing things.

Black and white right is a different beast. I could shoot and process the same way in black and white  but instead it is so tempting to completely alter what I saw and create something from my imagination.

Today’s photo is an example of that.

I was driving the back roads of Alberta in an area that was unfamiliar to me looking for any unusual old buildings, stands of trees or fields that looked suitable for photography. It was at an intersection that I came upon this old and abandoned house. Next to it was a very photogenic wooden barn. The sky was drab and uninteresting. It was a sky that would photograph as a wash of gray or white. Sometimes that might work but with this subject matter the foreground was too busy for that. I photographed it anyway and stored it on my hard drive until I felt it time to re-visit and see what could be made of it.


The sky. That was the problem. Another problem was that the horizon was busy and jagged. Had it been a smooth horizon it would have taken me all of a few minutes to cut it out and paste a different sky over the house. As it was I spent two weeks working on a bit of the horizon, putting it away and coming back to it the next day.

Finally the horizon was cut out. For the sky I chose a photo that had a sky in it that involved a seven minute long exposure. The sky was a mix of blue and a smattering of clouds. My limited experience has shown me that too many clouds and the sky becomes too white when blurred. Too few clouds and there is too much dark and not enough white space.

I then pasted the new sky on top of my black and white converted image.

More white was needed in a few areas so the black and white image was processed in Silver Efex to make the whites pop out and be contrasty. That image was placed UNDER my black and white. Using an image mask in layers in Photoshop with a black brush areas were selectively removed in the mask revealing the brighter whites underneath.

Areas of the roof on the house were also treated the same to add interest and modeling to it.

The layers were flattened and a few areas of the house again were then treated to the burn tool to darken corners and such.

The result is something that only barely resembles the scene that I came upon.

There you go. My reality.

Happy shooting,


Visualizing black and white winter images

•November 21, 2014 • 1 Comment

landscape, Dan jurak, travel Alberta, long exposure, minimalist, fine art, fineart, black and white, winter, snow, banff, rockies, moutains,


“If you go as far as you can see, you will then see enough to go even farther.” –   John Wooden 


I am having a blast trying to visualize my world in black and white. When the conditions for a great color image present themselves as they did in my previous blog post at Bow Lake in Banff national park, I can’t ignore them because color images still move me. Seeing in color comes naturally to me or maybe it’s because I have been shooting color for so long, over forty years that I have learned what works for me and what doesn’t. This increases the chances of taking a photo that I will keep and process.

Black and white is different from color but it is also in many ways the same. The same rules of composition apply. Colors in an image carry weight in the same way that tones do in black and white. A large wash of blue can balance an image the same as a large area of black or dark gray.

When I “see” in color during the winter the snow is an integral part of the image. Shooting during the early or late parts of the day give me broad washes of color on the snow. The snow isn’t actually colored but is reflecting that color from what is overhead in the sky.

When I “see” in black and white I am looking not at colors but at shapes. Unless you are doing high key photos where white or very light shades of gray predominate I try to minimize the amount of white that is in the final image.

Landscapes force the photographer to work with what is in front of them. You are to a great degree at the mercy of the elements. The weather has the final say on how I take pictures. Give me a foggy and overcast day and my images will probably be very bright or high key. Give me a sunny day and I will be looking at dark or low key photos.

One of the major differences for me between black and white and color is that with black and whites there is greater freedom in manipulating the image. For example, the foreground in the above image was too bright for me. Way too bright. Maybe because we have been conditioned from an early age to accept visible burning and dodging in black and whites that I could darken the snow field and not make the image seem contrived. How bright was the snow? If you look at the strip of white separating the dark trees from the foreground, that is how bright it was. Again most of my “visualization” with black and whites occurs in the post processing. I experiment going lighter then darker and taking direction from how the image feels. It is seldom that I have a concrete idea in mind as to how the final image will look when I release the shutter. So the visualization really happens twice, shooting and then post-processing.

When visualizing a scene before I shoot I don’t make a conscious effort to think about the rules or decide that this area can go light or this dark. Instead, I see the scene and simply go by the feel of the image. Is it balanced? Does it lead the eye around the frame? This happens very fast. In the blink of an eye I will know if I want to shoot or not. I never over think this process. When I get home and later edit images in camera they often look different again and photos that I thought would be keepers are deleted, some iffy images are kept and end up being favorited.

You can never over shoot a scene during the winter. It is better to have an abundance of photos to work with and later delete than to be super critical in the field and come home with one or two shots.

Fresh snow is forecast for the weekend. Maybe it will be time for a few high key images?

Happy shooting,


Shooting fish in a barrel or the easy way to take nice photos

•November 19, 2014 • 2 Comments

Dan jurak, Banff, Bow Lake, winter, travel alberta, landscape, ice, cold, sunrise, reflection,

I returned last night after having spent two days in the mountains.

My plan was to try my hand at seeing the mountains in black and white during the white season, winter. More on that in a later post.

My first day was uneventful. The light was terrible and the snow looked old. I snapped off a few frames out of curiosity. You never know for sure until you see the image on your monitor and once I did I promptly deleted them.

The thing about photographing landscapes is that to a great degree you are at the mercy of the elements. You can improve upon the scene in shooting and manipulation but if the bare bones of a good image isn’t there it isn’t there.

Monday night I didn’t sleep well. At 3:00 a.m. a car alarm went off in the parking lot of the lodge I was staying at. I beeped and beeped and beeped and beeped. It beeped for so long that I was seriously contemplating getting up, checking out of the lodge and trying my hand at shooting the winter milky way. Before I got up the alarm suddenly turned off. By then I was almost awake and pretty much lay in bed until 6:00 a.m. rolled around and I got out at the time I originally had planned.

The stars were twinkling as I made my way out of town and drove the icy road toward the lake I had visited the evening before. By the time I pulled into the parking lot next to the lake the eastern horizon was lightening and the once bright stars were quickly fading. I made a thermos full of “instant” cappuccino in my room an hour earlier and poured myself a cup as I watched the sky gradually brighten.

I am not sure how long I sat watching the scenery slowly change before I grabbed my camera gear and made my way to the lake shore. My truck thermometer read -12 Celsius and there was no wind so it wasn’t terribly cold. Not if you are properly dressed and having lived in Alberta all my life, I know how to dress properly for our winters.

Long story short, the sun rose and a thousand pictures were to be had. My only concern was that there weren’t enough clouds. I would have liked them over the mountain and that the ice was too thin to get near the edge of the water safely which made more a messy foreground. Anyway, I shot a gazillion photos. So many that even I found it difficult to pick one over the others.

Ladies and gentlemen this is why you see landscape photographers  ONLY photograph places like this, because it is so easy. Very little to no talent is required. I could take a group of beginners to this spot and make them all look like artists and make a lot of money to boot. LOL

This is fun. This is easy. This is NOT what I envision when I see myself outdoors. I will always take photos like this. It’s kind of like when you eat healthy you once in a while sneak a box of potato chips and a few chocolate bars. I like it but not a steady diet of it.

If you are interested I will be offering photo tours in the new year. You can sign up on the form to the left of this post.

Happy shooting,


Diggin’ the blues

•November 12, 2014 • 6 Comments

Dan Jurak, landscape, black and white, fineart, fine art, minimalist, scenic, foggy, summer, Alberta, prairie, Photoshop

Lately I can’t help myself from looking through images shot expressly to be displayed in color and visualizing them as black and white. The feeling, the atmosphere, the tone of the photograph changes completely. I converted this to black and white and massaged it only to have it feeling a little flat. With just a touch of blue the image seemed to come to life for me.

With a heavy frost forecast for where I live tomorrow (Thursday) morning, I am anxious to get out with my camera to experiment again. I’ve also been closely watching the weather in the mountains in the hopes of getting away before winter finally locks everything frozen for the next six months.

This photo is more of a quick sketch in Photoshop instead of an earnest effort to create something lasting. I know that I’ll come back to it in a few days and re-work it completely. No biggy. I am doing this purely to amuse myself and see what results. After a year of being bored by photography I am feeling more excited about the possibilities ahead.

Happy shooting,


Photograph what you know

•November 11, 2014 • 9 Comments

landscape, fineart, fine art, black and white, black & white, landscape, Alberta, Dan Jurak, gravel road, moody, foggy, dark, minimalist

They say that familiarity breeds contempt. Maybe it does but familiarity also offers insight.

Maybe I am too lazy to make the trip to the mountains every weekend like I did when I was in my early twenties? Maybe I am making the most of my time when I photograph what is close to me? I’ve been watching the forecast for the past few days deciding on the right time to take a trip to the mountains. I’ve got a few ideas that I am interested in trying out now that I am in this phase of trying to see things differently.

Whatever the answer I am sometimes pleasantly surprised by how the plain and ordinary can look different with some inspiration, perspiration and motivation.

In the province that I live, Alberta there are thousands upon thousands of nondescript gravel roads. These are roads that hardly anyone ever looks twice at. They are taken for granted and on occasion look like an eyesore.

Here is my take on one of those places that with a little work can look different and isn’t that really what all of us are trying to do? We all want to separate ourselves from the crowd to varying degrees. It’s a statement about who we are.

Happy shooting,




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