It's About The Light

by Dan Jurak



Prairie cemetary by Dan Jurak ©

Landscape photography for me is as much about the light as it is the landscape. The two cannot be separated. Living near the rockies our on the vast Alberta prairie, it is the light that gives our photos feeling.

I started shooting landscapes in the rockies in the early seventies. Jasper was a photographers paradise. The long hikes into the backcountry with a heavy tripod and 4x5 camera were always exhausting and rewarding.

Ironically a career in photography took me away from shooting landscapes. While shooting food and fashion for a living, landscapes were completely forgotten. It wouldn't be until thirty years later that I would pick up a camera and head back outdoors.

Snow drifts by Dan Jurak ©

Some things have not changed in that time. The light, shape and mood of the landscape is still as important as ever. What did change? Digital photography has made shooting the landscape easier than ever. Good equipment is reasonably priced and the quality is great.

The learning curve for new photographers is not nearly as steep as it once was. No more over or under exposed images or wasted film. No more waiting two or three weeks for your Kodachromes to arrive in the mail.

Prairie storm by Dan Jurak ©

I still love to go to the shoot in the mountains. Being four hours away, I spend most of my free time shooting the prairies. Some would think that the open prairie is the most boring place to photograph landscapes. Compared to Jasper and Banff it might be. Great shots are to be had here but you need to work a little harder to get them.

Light and weather are even more important on the prairie because you can't always rely on a spe ctacular backdrop to carry the image.

My shooting tends to be in the early morning or late evening. This is when the light is low in the sky and the surrounding countryside takes on a three dimensional quality that is lost during mid-day.

Tracks by Dan Jurak ©

The fields, trees and buildings come alive at this time of day. What was boring and mundane is now exciting and vibrant.

The exception to this shooting time is when we have unusual weather. While most people are hunkering down as a big storm clouds blow by, I am usually in the Rav chasing them.

Dark clouds affect how the landscape appears, providing a dramatic backdrop to the prairie. I try to be at the front of a storm as it passes through. It is usually the storm front that has the big, powerful clouds. Once they have passed, the skies seem to lose their character.

Cracked Earth by Dan Jurak ©

Follow the storms and you will be pleasantly surprised at how good, bad weather can look. It isn't necessary to travel to Jasper and Banff to get great photos, your own backyard is waiting to be discovered.

Almost everything I shoot is shot as a 3 exposure HDR (high dynamic range). Sometimes I only use one exposure if the light range isn't too extreme. The exposures are bracketed at -2, 0 and +2.  I use Photomatix to combine the images. I tried a few other programs and found this to give me the best results. I purposely try to not give it the "HDR" look. That is haloed and posterized scenes that have a cartoony look. A good HDR in my mind is picture that is indistinguishable from a single exposure.

No filters were used here. I burn ocassionally, it is an old habit from working in a darkroom for many years.

I mainly use one lens, a 16-35 mm wide angle. There are others in my camera bag but I "see" landscapes usually with a wide view. Brand names aren't important for the equipment. I use Canon now but only because my old lenses from fashion were Canon and they worked with the digital bodies. It could just as easily be Nikon or another manufacturer.  There are differences but to my thinking they are too small to be important.

I haven't taken any pictures for work since the early nineties. In that time, I only used a point and shoot to take family pics. The 4x5 gear is gone. I still have my 8x10. Maybe one day if I get nostalgic, I'll pull some film out of the freezer and drag that monstrous piece of wood and glass out of the basement.

When I did the food and fashion I was focused on doing that as best I could. It never occured to me to spend my weekends with a camera when I would use it at work. Work and private time are best kept separate, at least for me.


Dan Jurak portrait



Dan Jurak contribute's to three stock photo agencies. When he shoots, it is for his pleasure. He never goes out intending to get stock and looking for what might be marketable." The photography is for me". If it helps pay for gas or gear, great, if not, pffffft. I didn't get back into photography to make a living. Been there.

Dan lives and works out of Edmonton, AB

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