Beauty is everywhere if you look for it

•February 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment

snow drifts, low key, winter, drifts, cold, Alberta, rural, farm, prairie, Dan Jurak, landscape, monochrome, snow drift, cold, black and white,

Beauty is not only in faraway places. Beauty is not the mountain vista or the oceanscape that is thousands of miles from where you live. The grass is NOT greener on the other side of the fence.

These past ten years since I took up landscape photography after having put down my work camera many years ago have been an eye opening experience.

Many things have changed over the last decade. Digital cameras are common. Not only do many, many more people own high quality digital slrs but almost everyone has a smartphone with a camera capable of taking very decent quality images.

Amateurs have become proficient users of Photoshop, once the bastion of only professional photographers and retouchers. Photos are taken every day, everywhere.

I manage a very large group in Flickr, the popular and one of the original photo sharing websites. Everyday I edit over 600 images before any are accepted to the group and yet the majority of images that I see are taken near the ocean, in the mountains or by a lake.

Those are naturally beautiful places. They are the low hanging fruit of the photography world. What could be more obvious than a serene mountain lake at sunrise with wildflowers in the foreground? Easy huh? Well, not so easy to take  a great photo of that but easy to see and appreciate the beauty. That is very, very low hanging fruit.

Sadly many new photographers have learned that there are only a few types of landscapes worth taking and the result? Almost every single image that I see in my group and on the internet looks painfully… the same.

Yeah, some are better than others. Some are awful and others are magnificent but when you squint your eyes there is a sameness that after seeing hundreds of thousands of images makes them look unimaginative, not creative in the least and most of all, BORING.

Look, I like a pretty mountain photo as much as the next person but what really makes my eye do a double take is when I see something that I have seldom or never seen before. It is the artist and I use that word intentionally that is seeing and creating.

I have grown tired of the lack of imagination in even the most popular of landscape photographers on the internet. They are really good at maintaining a sameness in all of their photographs. They are really good at painting inside the lines and not straying from the safe and known.

If you come across any landscape photographers that have a unique vision, a distinct style and are able to create the unusual I would be ever so glad to hear about them.

In the meantime,

Happy shooting,

Dan

Paint by numbers photography or why you shouldn’t play follow the leader

•February 7, 2017 • 10 Comments

Athabasca River, mountains, boulders, rocks, monotone, black and white, low key, Dan Jurak, Jasper, rockies, Travel Alberta,

There is a trend in landscape photography.

I have a couple of daughters in university. Both are taking genetics, biology, etc. and as a result we sometimes talk about what they learn in school.

One of the things that we have talked about is genetic diversity. You see the more diverse the gene pool is of any species the healthier it is. It is by being different that we are better able to survive.

Many years ago in North America, Dutch Elm Disease was introduced to the continent. Hundreds of thousand of elm trees across the the United States and Canada died. The elm trees, American Elms had no resistance to the disease and easily succumbed to it. Here in Edmonton as a result, our city has purposely planted a variety of trees to prevent the same thing occurring here again. Diversity in biology is a good thing.

I recently received an email from a well known photographer offering a very, very expensive course on how you could  process your photos to look just like his. Now this photographer has been around for a few years and for better or worse there are plenty of clones trying their hardest to emulate what he does. The result is thousands upon thousands of landscape photos that look as if they were all taken by the same person at the same place. The skies all have the same overly dramatic look. The locations are all the same, probably because it takes no creativity or imagination to find someplace on your own? I don’t know but it is a sad commentary on how a creative art like photography has for too many become a case of paint by numbers or follow the leader.

Maybe photography isn’t biology but in the arts it is valuable to have as diverse and wide ranging outlook as possible.

Happy shooting,

Dan

ps. and YES Abraham Lake does have the best ice bubbles in Alberta Seriously. 🙂

Photography on Autopilot

•February 6, 2017 • 2 Comments

snow, high key, winter, hoar frost, fence, barbed wire fence, Alberta, landscape, Dan Jurak,

Definition of AUTOPILOT 

: a device for automatically steering ships, aircraft, and spacecraft; also : the automatic control provided by such a device

That kind of describes how I take pictures.

There are people that will scout out a location, use the photographers ephemeris to calculate where the sun or the moon will be at a given time at a given location.

They will contemplate and ponder their composition before releasing the shutter.

I used to do that. Back in the early seventies when I bought my first film SLR a canon FTb that is exactly what I used to do. Everything was composed and looked at in the viewfinder. Was it balanced? Did it have an entry point? Was there a place for the eye to finally end up after travelling the image?

All of those things were consciously considered before taking a picture.

That is part of the learning process. It is by repetition a dozen or a hundred or a thousand times that we get not muscle memory but an unconscious recognition when things are “right”.

There was a space of a few years where I hauled out a lightweight 4×5 field camera and later on a huge 8×10 sheet film camera to capture landscapes. It was very contemplative.

For however much sheet film cost back in those days I did not want to waste a few dollars on one image that was poorly composed or exposed but it was a wonderful learning experience.

Today shooting digital things of course are so much easier. So fast and so efficient.

Not sure about the exposure? Autobracket. Focus? Double check it on the preview screen on the camera back.

Learning photography today is easier but still the same lessons and rules apply.

Come with me when I am photographing the countryside and I guarantee that you would swear that I wasn’t paying attention. LOL But that is shooting on autopilot.

The photo at the top of this post was taken on autopilot. Walking along a railway right of way I spotted the old fence standing out against the whiteness of a winter canvas.

What immediately struck me was the shape of the unusual fencepost coupled with the lines of the barbed wire. Kneel in the snow, quickly aim, snap. Done.

It can be that easy. Shooting on autopilot.

Happy autopilot shooting,

Dan

Father and son, father and daughter

•February 4, 2017 • 7 Comments

landscape, prairie, Dan Jurak, spring, summer, evening, father daughter, father son, Alberta, prairie, color,

Once in a while I will go back to old photos because they are able to refresh long lost memories and experiences. The photo at the top of this post accompanied the text below when I originally posted this photo on the web. It is as true today as when I first put my feelings to words in 2007.

One of the wonderful things about photography is that evokes different feelings in everyone. Each of us experiences something different when viewing pictures. That is the case with the above photo.

I have taken many thousands of photos over the years both as a hobby when I was a youngster and as a photo-illustrator later in life as a career.

Each picture feels special when taken. Maybe it’s because you connect with who you are photographing or because the photo-illustration at the time was both challenging and puzzling. How best to create a thing of beauty that also served it’s purpose for the assignment?

But of the many of thousands of photos from the past twenty-five years, this one is a little more special than the rest.

It’s not because it’s a great photo and it’s not because it’s different.

I have seen many like it here on Flickr. It’s because of what I see when I look at it. A father and his daughter.

My youngest daughter Brooke, asked me on Sunday afternoon if we could go out and take pictures later in the day. I told her that depending upon how the weather looked we might but that we wouldn’t know until a couple of hours before sunset.

Early in the evening I loaded up the car while Brooke and her sister and friend were playing outside. Thinking that she would be more interested in being with friends, I backed out of the garage ready to head out. Seeing me, she stopped me in the driveway, said goodbye to her friends and hopped into the car with me.

It was a beautiful Sunday evening driving in the country. The sun was dropping in the sky making the shadows strong and bringing the countryside to life. Light was skimming over the trees and through the freshly grown grasses making the surroundings seem surreal. As we drove, we chatted about school, about friends, about photography and made each other laugh with the corny jokes that only those that are close to one another appreciate.

Shortly before the sun went down, my daughter spotted the above two trees alone in a field and said that they might make a good picture. I pulled over and while we were laughing and talking we snapped a few pics. We took a few more at another location and hurried home as the sky darkened.

Only after I processed this photo and was looking at it late that evening did I remember back to when I was a little boy out alone with my father on the very same kind of evening, holding his hand and feeling so safe and loved and belonging. Having that special time with him made me feel so special and important. I hadn’t thought of this time with him for some forty years or more.

My father died a few years later when I was seven years old. And what I have left of him are some long ago memories. At seven years of age, how well can a child know their parents?

And so it seemed special to me that when I looked at this picture, that I saw my daughter and myself and also my father and myself that forty years ago. Three  souls connected together in a large and  wondrous world.

Photographs like memories can indeed be special things.

And the circle continues…

 

The Joy of photographing… nothing!

•February 3, 2017 • 7 Comments

prairie, landscape, Dan Jurak, winter, sunrise, barbed wire, prairie, Alberta,

I have been so tempted these past few weeks to make the drive out to the mountains but perhaps the love of sleeping in my own bed is stopping me? LOL

It is really only through struggle or difficult times do we grow. I have often told my kids that growing up without a father, he died when I was six, being one of five kids in a very, very, poor household made me a better person.

I often thought about all of my friends during the summer time who could afford to go on summer holidays or go skiing in the winter while I made due with finding piled up snow in a neighbourhood parking lot and pretended to downhill ski in my snow boots on those piles of snow.

We didn’t have much except for the stuff that was really important. I was loved. My mother always told me that I could and would achieve anything that I wanted and that nothing in life came free, that you had to work for it.

Maybe that is why I love the challenge of staying close to home to take landscape photos? Or maybe I am just too lazy to drive the four hours to the mountains? I dunno which it is but it matters not because no matter where I end up taking photos I find joy and satisfaction.

Out here in Edmonton the landscape would seem to change very little for a few hundred kilometres in any direction. It’s mostly prairies, farmland and what we called in school, parkland, that is rolling hills with poplars and aspens.

On the surface it might seem that everything is the same and that it is pointless to drive any further but to me, I see difference and opportunities at every turn of the old gravel roads that I drive.

Life is like that I think. Some people are forever unhappy waiting for the perfect partner or to win the lottery and then they will finally be happy.

And then again, some people are not.

Enjoy what your life gives you. It’s all a gift that sometimes we don’t recognize.

Happy shooting,

Dan

ps. An old photo from 2007 that I re-worked. It is really, nothing, the sun rising over a snow covered field and one of hundreds of thousands of fenceposts in Alberta.

 

Photography… the great ego booster?

•February 2, 2017 • 10 Comments

landscape, monochrome, black and white, frost, hoar frost, winter, minimalist, high key, Dan Jurak, Alberta, prairie,

At the age of 62 I am long past caring too much about what people think of me.

When my kids say my hair is standing up (what is left of it) or that my clothes don’t look coordinated I quietly acknowledge them and then go on my merry way without changing a thing.

My photographs stopped being for others a few years ago. When I stopped taking photos for a living and even then I usually did things my way, LOL, started in earnest taking pictures for my own satisfaction.

One only need look at Instagram or Facebook to see how vanity and ego have taken control of a lot of us. For example, how many people actually look like their posed and no doubt practiced a few thousand times, profile photos on social media websites?

Now don’t get me wrong. In my younger days I spent too much money on clothes, looked in the mirror to much and fretted often about what people thought about me.

Age has a funny way of putting things into better perspective for me. I’m not in competition anymore. Not for dating. Not for a job. Not to be the most popular photographer on the internet.

Fame and ego is for others I have decided and that is just fine by me.

The photo at the top of the post is from the few days in January where we had an incredible hoar frost in central Alberta. There are probably a few dozen other photos taken during that time that will never be seen. In taking photos at least how I take them, not everything that is taken will be something that agrees with my minds eye.

Editing is a huge part of the photography process. What you cull from your images is as important as what you keep.

Happy shooting,

Dan

And now for something completely different…

•January 26, 2017 • 3 Comments

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Today in central Alberta the sun is shining brightly. Not a trace of clouds in the sky when I walked the dog earlier this morning. The fog has lifted. The hoar frost has disappeared.

What a change today is over the past three or four days.

Change. Some people hate it. Others fear it. The one thing that I know about change is that it is inevitable and it is also healthy.

Having said that the photo that I posted at the top of this page is something different for me. There are so many things “wrong” with this photo in the traditional sense. It’s centered. The light is flat. It’s in black and white which isn’t in vogue these days. This photo just doesn’t conform to the commonly held standard of what a good landscape is… and I don’t care.

It is only by trying something new that you will grow and at the same time increase the chances of finding something that works.

Have you ever turned your nose up at a food only to discover years later how good it actually tasted? You never really know until you try.

A short post today while I enjoy the sun and fresh air outside with the dog.

Happy shooting,

Dan