Thursday, November 30, 2006


We're still waiting for our winter storm to arrive. Early predictions were for the snow to begin falling late yesterday. We're now told that this afternoon will see the beginning of storm activity. Looks like six inches of snow at a minimum - could be a foot or more in some places. We'll see.

This photo was taken at Racine, Wisconsin's Reef Point Marina in more temperate times last September. Cool and sunny, with a slight breeze that rippled the water, making for lovely reflection patterns.

It's tempting to want to go back to those days instead of bracing for a winter storm, but we must push on, mustn't we?


Holiday mood photo

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


As fall gives way to winter here in the upper Midwestern U.S., the weather can seesaw back and forth until the incoming season gains its foothold. Such will be the case in the next 24 hours. We've been enjoying temperatures into the 60s. The mild weather ends today as a cold front ushers in wind, snow and temperatures that will struggle to get out of the 20s.

We'll see how much snow. And hopefully, it will afford the first photo opportunities of the winter.

Stay warm. I know I'll try.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Monday, November 27, 2006


There’s a lot of time to think while driving along old Route 66 from Arizona to Illinois. Time to think about how vital a road U.S. 66 used to be for the people traveling it. Some drove it for pleasure and some sought a new start in life. Then there were those folks who made a living providing services to those people along their journey.

There’s time to think about the interstate highways that came through and bypassed so many thriving small communities, cutting off their life blood and condemning them to suffer slow painful deaths. Many of the carcasses of those communities are visible from the interstate. A few plucky ones continue to try to capitalize on their Route 66 heritage and invite motorists to pull off for a taste of history.

I found this fabricated cross sitting at a corner on a service road off I-40 that used to be Route 66 west of Amarillo, Texas. I’m not really sure why it was there – if it was a memorial for a traffic fatality, you’d think they would have made it prettier. At any rate, it seemed to fit in with a nearby grain elevator slowly dissolving into rust under the hot Texas sun, surrounded by the vast high plains of Texas under the big Texas sky. And bypassed by Interstate 40.

Forgotten, forsaken, left to die.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sky puddle

This photo was shot as a prelude to the two star trail photos from last week. While waiting for night to fall, I passed by a pond in the countryside west of Elgin, Illinois. A slight breeze caused the reeds and grasses along the shore to sway, yet was not strong enough to kick up any ripples in the water.

It’s as if a big drop of sky landed in the field, a reflection of the deepening blue descending from above.

Photo stitched together from two separate photos. 20 seconds at f22, 100 ISO film. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

First Congregational Church of Dundee

Nine people gathered in a small schoolhouse 165 years ago in Dundee, Illinois to worship. They formed the First Congregational Church, which eventually grew into a large brick building on Main Street complete with two sets of cathedral-style windows, provided by the financial assistance of several families in the congregation.

Last spring, the church decided it needed to build a new facility and began construction on Illinois Route 31. Now nearing completion, the structure combines modern design with traditional touches; the cathedral windows made the move from the old building to the new structure and a new copper-plated steeple is a reminder of what many of the other century-old church steeples in Dundee and Elgin looked like when they were new.

These photos were taken about a half hour after sunset last evening. The frenzy of activity from day-after-Thanksgiving shopping had subsided, the smell of burning leaves hung thickly in the air. This is one solution to finding photographic subjects in the in-between days of late autumn and early winter – find an interesting building at an interesting time of day.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photographs © 2006 James Jordan.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

November sky

This is the time of year that I find most difficult to get good photographs. It’s an in-between time. The leaves have fallen here in northern Illinois. The trees are bare. The sky is mostly gray. What sunlight can break its way through the clouds is cut short by the quickly decreasing length of the days. The snow has not yet fallen to blanket the brown, brittle grass.

As I searched through my archive of recent photos this morning, I came across this grain elevator that sat along old Route 66 near Amarillo, Texas. The original photo just seemed a bit too colorful for the feeling of abandonment that I wanted to capture when I first saw the structure and old truck.

I experimented with the hue and saturation and came up with three variations. This is the one I like best. This captures what I feel about this time of year. Abandoned by summer, autumn has passed by. Winter is yet to come.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Friday, November 24, 2006

I'm dropping shopping

OK, so I’m a heretic.

I did not rise early this morning to join the teeming masses to worship at The Church of Fifty Percent Savings. I know I probably should, but I also know the place was going to be filled with hypocrites that only show up one or two days a year. And I can always tell that most of the kids and husbands are there only because mom made them come.

Sure, the place has a nice parking lot and even serves coffee and snacks in a food court, but really, it’s just beginning to resemble a mega church more and more each year. It makes me think they only want me there for my money. So this year, I’m staying home.

I doubt that they’ll even miss me.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Giving thanks

Things I'm thankful for today. It's a short list, but it covers a lot.

1. Life. Sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter. Always a gift to be thankful for.
2. Love. Of my wife. Of my family. Of my friends. Adds to life's sweetness.
3. Light. Gives us sight. Gives us vision. Adds to the richness of love and life.

Hope you have a great Thanksgiving Day.

Texas sunset. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Pond in the country

When was the last time you spent a quiet moment just doing nothing - just sitting and looking at the sea, or watching the wind blowing the tree limbs, or waves rippling on a pond, a flickering candle or children playing in the park?

Ralph Marston

Give it a try this Thanksgiving weekend.

Have a good one.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Selective focus

This is the shot I wanted. The shot I planned for and calculated carefully. This isn’t the shot that came back from the photo finisher. The photo technician keyed in on the tree and set the printer to make a beautifully rendered picture of the light gray bark in all its gnarly detail.

Which totally blew out the sky. No stars.

Fortunately, I had a scan of the negative on CD and knew the information would be there for the sky and stars. Some massive levels adjustments brought the stars back and rendered the tree as a shadowy foreground element.

Sometimes you can’t see the stars for the trees.

Exposure: 480 seconds at f5.6, 100 ISO film. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Making tracks

Checking the weather report this afternoon I saw it was going to be clear tonight with no moon. I've had the itch to get back out and try to capture some star track shots and this evening afforded an almost perfect opportunity.

I caught a couple of twilight shots near a pond shortly after the sun set, then I drove around in the countryside west of Elgin, Illinois to find a suitable spot to camp out to make some long exposures after the sky had darkened considerably. I found a spot near a couple of gnarly old oak trees and a road sign near Highland Avenue.

I basically spent the next hour kneeling in a ditch to make four exposures. This was a ten-minute exposure, more or less. I forgot to bring a timepiece and counted the seconds in my head. I lost my place a few times counting to 600. I let the lights from a couple of passing cars provide the lower light trails. The Creator of the universe supplied the upper light trails. A small flashlight illuminated the sign.

If you enlarge the picture you'll notice the star trails are not continuous, but broken. this occurred because I intermittently covered the lens with my hat while a number of cars passed by on the road. A few automobile light trails are OK. A couple dozen are not.

I was again amazed that the camera captured many more stars than I could see. I really just set up the camera and went on faith that they would be there when the film was processed.

600 second exposure, f5.6, 100 ISO film. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

This is big

The newest issue of JPG magazine is on the newsstands. JPG is a photo magazine with a twist – the content comes from amateurs who enjoy photography for what it is, not necessarily for what they can earn from it. I’m privileged to have one of my photos in this issue – the above panorama of a monsterous thunderstorm in Indiana.

Photographers can visit the JPG web site and enter photos in various categories and vote yay or nay on whether they think pictures make the cut. All I can guess is enough people thought this photo represented the theme of “Big” well enough to give it a thumbs up. For that I’m thankful.

If you like perusing intriguing photography, pick up an issue at your local Barnes & Noble, or browse the JPG web site. Oh, and I’ve entered a photo for the next issue. I’d appreciate your vote.

OttoK, who has some fine photos at Lenscape, is also on the ballot at JPG. He’s currently posting a series of photos taken recently on a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains, one of my favorite places on earth. Check them out.

Storm at sunset, Brownsburg, Indiana. 1/125 second at f5.6, ISO 400 film. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

This is big, too: The North American Photobloggers are getting together in my backyard this spring. Okay, maybe 30 miles from my backyard, but close enough. The meet-up event will take place in Chicago from April 27-29. If you're
a photoblogger in the U.S., Canada or Mexico, you can register here. I can't vouch for the weather (we've had snow here as late as May) but I'm sure a good time will still be had by all.

Friday, November 17, 2006


On the same evening that I photographed the moon rising over ancient pilings in Lake Michigan near Evanston, I photographed the Grosse Point Lighthouse. As I left town, I spotted another lighthouse of the community – the Springfield Missionary Baptist Church.

I have to like a church that uses a neon sign to make its presence known in the community. But the involvement of the church and its African-American congregation doesn’t stop at the sign. The church runs a weekly soup kitchen for the down and out of its community. Springfield Baptist is also the host church for the New Revelation Community Choir, an ensemble comprised of teenagers. The award-winning choir’s mission is to be a spiritual mentor to the youth of the community while providing opportunity for budding vocal talent to grow and flourish, giving its members a taste of achievement and eventually producing young men and women that become leaders in whichever community they eventually find themselves in.

Guiding people in a positive direction – I like that in a lighthouse.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Morning fog

I like how fog can make you see things more clearly when it comes to photography. These trees in a park near my home were part of another series of fog photos posted here earlier. Yet another series took advantage of a rare fog-shrouded winter morning. In fog, distracting backgrounds are reduced to hazy shades of colors that help isolate foreground objects. By obscuring, fog clarifies.

If only we can figure out how to make that work in politics or the corporate world. The obscuring part, we've got down.

The clarifying part needs work.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What lies beyond

The leading edge of a storm front passes over the Wind Point Lighthouse north of Racine, Wisconsin as the sun set. The swirling clouds and shifting colors reminded me of some of the photos I’ve seen taken by the Hubble telescope, though not quite as spectacular.

But there was a time when the frontier of our existence was the shore of the sea, and humans would stand on the edge of that shore and wonder what lay beyond what they could see and hear.

In a way, we still do. We've just moved the edge farther out.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006; James Jordan.

Totally unserious note: Looks like the Weekly World News already saw what lies beyond.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Minimalist photo of the day

Ain't she a butte?

The Citadel, Wupatki National Monument, Arizona. 30 seconds at f22, 100 ISO. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Eat here and get gas

The little town of Shamrock, Texas was once a bustling little burg. In its heyday, Shamrock catered to the many travelers of Route 66. Its main avenue was rife with garages, filling stations, restaurants and tourist courts along with the residents and travelers that frequented those businesses.

Chief among the businesses in Shamrock was the combination Tower Gas Station and U Drop Inn diner. A prime example of 1930s art deco styling, it was described at the time of its opening as “the swankiest of swank eating places" and "the most up-to-date edifice of its kind on the U.S. Highway 66 between Oklahoma City and Amarillo." The distinctive building was a welcome sight to many travelers.

Nowadays, the main business area lies north of town where Interstate 40 passes by. You can fill your vehicle at a number of self-serve gas stations and catch a meal at any one of a number of fast food franchises, where the majority of customers are unaware of the existence of this architectural gem where travelers far from home used to get a home-cooked meal and an attendant would wash your windshield and check your oil while pumping gas at 34 cents per gallon.

While my wife and I stopped to take in the old main street, I took a number of shots of the colorful structure, a couple of them while standing in the middle of old Route 66, with very little danger of being struck by any vehicle.

Progress, I guess you call it.

Click on pictures to enlarge. Photographs © 2006 James Jordan.

Lava bomb

Volcanic explosions can hurl thick molten rock thousands of feet into the air. Often, that molten material forms into spherical or disk shaped objects that harden in flight and drop to the ground. These rocks from the sky gained the moniker “lava bombs.” I can imagine that it would not be a pleasant experience being caught in a lava bomb barrage.

This lava bomb was found sitting on the decaying trunk of a fallen tree at the Sunset Volcano Crater near Flagstaff, Arizona. Someone, or perhaps several someones, placed the heavy bowling-ball-sized bomb on its perch.

I liked the way the wavy lines of the decaying tree leads to the reddish sphere set against the deep blue Arizona sky from which it fell.

My thanks to the bomb squad for setting up this shot for me.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Sangre de Cristo sunset

In 1719 the Spanish explorer Antonio Valverde y Cosio awoke to the sight of the morning sun throwing reddish hues onto the snow-capped peaks of a mountain range to his west. Impressed by the sight, the explorer named the mountains Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ).

I drove up into the Sangre de Cristo mountains east of Santa Fe one evening on the road trip my wife and I took from Phoenix to Chicago. I wanted to get a photo of the sun setting behind the Jemez mountains to the west. As the sun dipped lower in the sky I continued up the winding road hoping to find a scenic overlook from which to photograph. Finding none and deciding there was no time to look further, I pulled into a small turnout, set up my camera and tripod on the roadside (quite a drop and no guardrail) and took several frames of the sky as it burned with color, then faded into twilight.

I built this panorama, which includes a portion of the road I had been traveling, from three separate photographs.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Relative motion

The moon and stars slide silently by while we maintain our fixed position on the ground. Or so it seems. In reality, the ground moves, and we with it. The earth rotates. It rotates as it orbits the sun. Our planet follows the sun in its rotation around the galaxy, which itself careens through space, which is expanding outward. Five directional movements at once.

And I thought Mondays were confusing.

This is another view of the moonlit barn, with wispy clouds and the trails of a few bright stars in motion in the sky. The highlights on the barn were made with a flashlight during the 60-second exposure.

Photo taken with 35mm lens, no filters. 60 seconds at f16, 400 ISO film. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Moonlit creek

I've taken photos of this creek in the late afternoon and the early morning. So why not, I figured, at night under the light of the full moon? Jelkes Creek meanders not too far from the barn depicted in yesterday's photo. It's part of the small community of Sleepy Hollow, Illinois that has worked hard to keep its rural feel while surrounded by suburbia on all four sides.

I was inspired by Bob over at NoTraces to give night photography a try after seeing some of his amazing photos. It's a learning process, but one that I enjoy immensely. I enjoyed being out at night and staring up at the stars as a youngster, pondering the mysteries of the universe. That hasn't changed. It's just a little tougher to find good spots to do so in suburban Chicago.

Taken with 35mm lens. 90 seconds at f8, 400 ISO. A flashlight was used to illuminate several spots on the creek bank. Some burning in of the upper half of the photo in PhotoShop, some vignetting and blur added. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Barn and star tracks

I learned a couple of things from my moonlight photo excursion a couple of nights ago. 1) I can capture star tracks from within the confines of the Chicago suburbs - I didn't think it was possible, given the amount of light thrown up by miles and miles of suburbia. 2) I can capture star tracks in the light of a full moon (or nearly full). 3) Old barns look really nice in moonlight.

There are still some barns within a five-mile radius of my home and I headed out under the nearly-full moon to see what I could get. What I got was several shots that I'm pretty well pleased with. Calculating the exposure times was pretty much a shot in the dark (yes, pun intended) and I can see where some fine-tuning is needed, but I gained some valuable experience I can put to use the next time I head out, which I plan to do in another week or so, when the moon is a little less intense and I can hopefully catch some longer star tracks.

The foreground light and the slight greenish tint on the front of the barn came from a vapor light to the right of the barn. I used a flashlight to brighten up the cupolas on the roof of the barn. The pinkish glow in the distance is from the lights of an interchange on Interstate 90. The rest is lunar light.

Taken with 35mm lens, no filters. 300 seconds at f16, ISO 400 film, some dodging and burning in post-processing. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Just here for the pier

After posting photos taken in the southwestern U.S. over the past week or so, I felt the need to see some water. This one is another in the series taken at the beach north of Evanston, Illinois last September. The old relic pier came in handy as a compositional element, acting as a connector between the water and sky. I returned in October to capture the harvest moon rising over the same pier. It’s a great location and not much more than an hour’s drive from my home.

I missed getting out and photographing under the hunter’s moon on Sunday night because of cloud cover. The clouds lifted long enough last night for me to get out into some rural areas near my house and get some moonlit shots on film. Those will be processed today and hopefully there will be something decent on the roll.

Stay tuned.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Whiterock, New Mexico

The landscape north of Santa Fe, New Mexico was more than enough to inspire my inner Ansel Adams during the recent road trip my wife and I took between Phoenix, Arizona and our home in suburban Chicago.

The photo above was taken near the small town of Whiterock, New Mexico. A town park offers a spectacular view of the Rio Grande valley and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the distance. I processed the photo in black and white to pay homage to Adams. I think black and white really helps play up the ruggedness of this region.

Just a little north of Whiterock is the small village of Hernandez, where Ansel Adams took his famous moonrise photo. I can see why he spent a lot of time here. It's a fascinating portion of God's creation.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Autumn at the Arch

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri was completed in 1965. The 630-foot-tall stainless steel arch was built to commemorate the westward expansion of the United States, with St. Louis as the common point of embarkation.

The Gateway Arch greeted my wife and me as we neared the end of our Phoenix-to-Chicago road trip. We stopped by on a cold, crisp autumn morning to capture the structure on film before beginning the final leg of the journey.

Click on pictures to enlarge. Photographs © 2006 James Jordan.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Red-tailed hawk

Another picture taken at the Arboretum of Flagstaff Arizona. A naturalist at the center was holding this guy while talking to a visitor following a presentation on birds of prey (the Great Horned Owl from two posts back was also taken after the presentation).

The background was as striking as the bird; those are the San Francisco Peaks that lie north of Flagstaff. The presumption is that what are now several peaks (the tallest, Humphreys Peak, is the highest point in Arizona) used to be one much taller volcanic mountain that blew its top. Erosion over the years carved the rim into a series of summits.

What caught my attention in this photo was the contrast of the bird, bound to its human handler, while the spectacular open space of its natural habitat went unnoticed.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Friday, November 03, 2006

San Miguel Mountain, Bandelier National Monument

Powerful explosions from San Miguel Mountain, above, and nearby Jemez Mountain once buried a large portion of northern New Mexico under nearly one thousand feet of volcanic ash. The explosions are estimated to have been 600 times more powerful than the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980.

The layers of ash eventually compacted into a soft rock called tuff (there’s an irony there, but I didn’t pick the name). The Rio Grande River carved deep canyons into the soft rock between Jemez Mountain and the Sangre De Cristo Mountains to the east of Santa Fe. Native Americans carved their homes into the canyon face, cutting bricks from the soft stone.

This view of San Miguel is from the opposite side of the Rio Grande Canyon. The passing cloud cast its shadow on the jagged remains of the once-fiery peak, creating a brief reminder of its past life.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Cadillac Ranch

Some 32 years ago a group of artists decided to make a statement about class and status in America. They targeted the Cadillac, then the vaunted symbol of American prosperity. They scraped together enough money to buy ten Cadillacs from local dealers and private owners (average cost per car: about $200 – one owner who would not accept less than $700 for his pride and joy watched in horror as the new owners beat the front end of his former ride with sledgehammers in his driveway). A helium magnate in Amarillo, Texas donated some land along old Route 66 for the boys to bury the Caddies, front end first, in a line facing west. The Cadillac Ranch was born.

The Cadillac Ranch inspired other artists to make their own statements using cars, including Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska and The Spindle in Berwyn, Illinois.

Visitors are welcome to make their own statement via the old cars. Spray painting the cars is encouraged and a dumpster near the gated entrance to the field (itself a nice piece of spray painted art) was loaded with spent aerosol cans on the day of my visit.

The particular car above is a 1958 Sedan. It came equipped with some hot technology for its time: cruise control, two-speaker radio with signal-seeking, and an automatic parking brake release. None of it worked at the time of its burial.

Click on pictures to enlarge. Photographs © 2006 James Jordan.