Sunday, December 31, 2006


Wishing you a rewarding journey in 2007.
Happy New Year!

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

Saturday, December 30, 2006

As the old year fades ...

I've been away a few days visiting family in Michigan. Appreciate those of you who still stopped by while I've been unable to update posts.

My wife and I drove back home to Chicago last night. Our car had suffered a breakdown on Wednesday, which necessitated a two-day extension of our trip while it was being repaired. Buying the extended warranty package when we purchased the car paid off nicely.

We decided to take a Lake Michigan shore route west of Grand Rapids south and around the lake to help us arrive in Chicago after the bulk of the rush hour traffic had subsided. Just before sundown, we stopped in the small town of South Haven, which has a beautiful harbor and a light tower which sits on a pier extending into the lake.

I chose a low angle to frame some fishermen standing by their lines under the catwalk as the last light of day slowly faded away. It was peaceful and quiet, a wonderful time to contemplate with no hurries and relatively few worries.

I hope your 2006 ends the same way and that your 2007 dawns with hope and well being.


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

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Light of the world

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death

a light has dawned.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:3,6

May His peace be within you. Merry Christmas.

My 2006 faves: April

April was a great month of photography for me. A trip to south central Tennessee and the Smoky Mountains resulted in a bunch of favorite photos, both of the planned variety and happy accidents.

This cow photo is one of the latter. My wife and I drove about the predawn countryside while I looked for something – anything – to silhouette against the rising sun, which was due in just a few minutes. Spotting a few cows in a field, we pulled over. Perhaps I could capture a distant silhouette or two against the dawn sky.

As I wandered up to the electric fence that bordered the field to set up my shot, dozens of cows slowly meandered from every corner of the field and gathered around me. I took several shots of the gathering herd. Then one cow stepped through the huddle and stood to full height, blocking the sun and casting a long shadow in my direction. Perfect.

This shot has been around. It won a competition on Flickr. It was picked up by a Swedish news site to accompany a story on tainted milk. It may well live as desktop wallpaper on who knows how many computers around the world.

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

Saturday, December 23, 2006

My 2006 faves: March

When you’re a photographer by hobby or profession, you tend to look at everything with an eye toward its photo potential. As I’ve driven around the area back and forth from work or shopping trips, I’ve noted several locations that could be nice if the conditions were right.

This tree sits in a field adjacent to a park located off a busy four-lane road near my home in Elgin, Illinois. I’d driven past this tree many times over the years, always intending to stop by someday to photograph it. I finally made good on my intentions last March.

This tree photo was part of a series of pictures taken within just a couple of miles from my home. You’ll find the entire series in the March 2006 archive. I’ve been to a number of places across the U.S. to take pictures. On this day, I learned that that’s one way to see the world. Another way is to look at the nearby world through new eyes.

New "how-to" photo blog: I've started a new blog to share the things I've learned about taking pictures over the course of the last eight years. Someday it will be a robust site with dozens of tips, but for now, it's being built one post at a time as I find time to add to it. You can participate by leaving comments, asking questions and making suggestions for what you'd like to see covered. The main point of the site is that the tips are geared to work with any type of camera and at any skill level. They worked for me. they'll work for you.

Check out Ready, Aim, Click.

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

Friday, December 22, 2006

My 2006 faves: February

By February, I’m ready for spring. The only problem is that I know from living in the upper Midwestern U.S. that spring won’t arrive for another couple of months. Last February, I walked through a forest preserve near Des Plaines, Illinois. Snow was sparse, and the landscape was a dull brown under a gray sky. The epitome of the dead of winter.

As I crossed a small frozen creek, I noticed the patterns created by leaves and twigs laying on the surface of the ice as well as entombed beneath. Winter still held creation in its icy grip. What was once vital to the life of nearby trees was cast aside, unnecessary in this landscape of death.

Yet those very castaways would, with the spring, nourish the survivors that remained along the creek bed. This is a photograph of the past and the future.

More in the February archive.

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

Thursday, December 21, 2006

My 2006 faves: January

Logan Creek, Door County, Wisconsin As 2006 comes down to its last few days, I'm in a reflective mood. Over the course of the next week or so, I will repost some of my favorite photos from the past year, by month, and offer some perspective from behind the lens.

A midwinter trip to Door County was a bit disappointing as far as the weather was concerned. Overcast skies seemed to be my lot, ruling out any inspiring sunrise/sunset shooting. I ventured out one morning east of Egg Harbor, hoping to find something/anythng interesting. I crossed a bridge that spanned a small creek on County Highway T. I stopped the car, got my camera out and walked along the creek into a wooded area, where I took several frames. This is one of the shots that came out of my exploration.

It's special for a number of reasons. I applied a number of new post-processing actions to get this photo to a point where I was pleased with it - mostly by trial and error, but I learned some things that I was able to apply to a good number of pictures which followed through the year.

Another lesson I learned, and one that would be repeated in the year to come (and I'm sure in the next year as well), was to push onward, even when conditions are less than ideal, because the law of averages will ensure that ideal times will be a rarity.

That probably applies to more things than photography.

Check out the January archive.

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

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Winter sunrise, Algoma, Wisconsin

The town of Ahnapee, named for an Indian phrase meaning “land of the great gray wolf,” was a thriving fishing village on the shore of Lake Michigan in northern Wisconsin in the late 1800s. The growing number of commercial fishing vessels forced town leaders to lobby the government for funds to enlarge the harbor and build protective piers.

The government responded. In 1870 and 1871 the Ahnapee River was dredged and piers provided protection to the harbor. By 1879, Ahnapee’s fishing fleet was the largest on Lake Michigan. The town was officially renamed Algoma, another Indian name meaning “park of flowers.”

Lights were installed and put into service on the pier in 1893. The configurations were changed over the years as light structures decayed and were rebuilt. Today a red steel tower houses a fifth order Fresnel lens encased in red glass, sending its intermittent red beam to mark the harbor entrance.

Commercial and sport fishing is still a mainstay of the local economy of Algoma. A number of manufacturers supply jobs for Algoma’s citizens, and a recent revitalization of the historic downtown area strives to draw more tourism.

The photo above was taken an a cold winter morning as the light from the rising sun shimmered on the floes of ice in the harbor.

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

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Night watch

I'm revisiting some photos from my archives in between holiday activities (and until I can find some time to get out and shoot some more pics), and for some reason, I've been drawn to my stash of lighthouse pictures. Maybe it's the serenity of the scenes or the things that lighthouses represent - guidance, wisdom, steadfastness, strength.

This is the canal light at Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, seen through an outcrop of beach grasses. And yes, I threw the lighthouse out of focus on purpose. We go through our days focused on the activity of life around us, while in the background, the God who is guidance, wisdom, steadfastness and strength continues His watch. For that, I am thankful.

Hope your holiday season is going well.


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

Monday, December 18, 2006

Standing against the waves of change

Kewaunee, Wisconsin had hopes of becoming the next Chicago in the late 1800s. A building boom ensued upon rumors that gold had been discovered in the area. The Kewaunee River was dredged and a pair of lights installed on a pier that jutted into Lake Michigan to guide the many ships that were expected to dock in the harbor. And for a time, Kewaunee reaped the benefits of its lakeshore investment.

The growth just couldn't be sustained. To the south of Kewaunee, Manitowoc's rail lines to Green Bay and other Wisconsin cities allowed products to get to a major port faster than the long and hazardous trip around the Door County peninsula that commerce with Kewaunee required.

Today, a century after the vision of a mighty city on the lake faded away, the pier light of the village of Kewaunee still stands resolute against the natural and economic forces that continue to ebb and flow.

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

Friday, December 15, 2006

The expanse

We’ve mapped nearly every inch of the breadth and depth of the Great Lakes. We’re getting there with the oceans and we’ve navigated our way to the moon and back. We understand our galaxy’s place among others in our cosmic neighborhood. We have a fairly good idea about the size of the universe. And it’s all big.

Yet most of the time, we don’t think about the expanse that we inhabit. We tend to focus our attention on our immediate environment. I once read that a deer in the wild will most likely live its entire life and die within a half mile of the spot where it was born. So much for the freedom of the wild. All that space gone unused and unexperienced.

Every once in a while I like to walk to the edge of my half-mile tether and take a glimpse at the expanse beyond. And I dream about maybe taking a bold step and adding another half mile to my existence. Then I take a few pictures and head back home.

Moonrise, Sturgeon Bay canal lights, Door County, Wisconsin. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Christmas coming-of-age story

I ran across a meme while blog-hopping yesterday. I’m not big into memes, but one of the questions was intriguing: How did you find out the truth about Santa Claus? Here’s how it worked out with me:

Santa made his annual pre-Christmas visit to our small town every year right after Thanksgiving. And every year, my brother, sister and I would give the big guy his marching orders. Afterward, my mother would pump us for what we told Mr. Nick and take careful note of our wish list items. On Christmas morning, our order would be there under the Christmas tree, just as we had specified. What a guy!

About the time I turned seven, logical thinking began to creep in and I began to grow suspicious of the whole gig. We didn’t have a chimney, so how did Santa get in our house? How did he make name-brand toys in his North Pole workshop? Heck, how did he manage to make everything that every kid in our town asked for between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve? And why was mom always so interested in what we told Santa?

So I devised a test in my seven-year-old brain. That year, I gave Santa my list of things I wanted. When my mom asked what I had told Santa, I declined to tell her, citing a confidentiality agreement between myself and Mr. Claus. She shrugged and left it at that.

On Christmas morning, nothing I had asked Santa for was under the tree. Red flags went up all over. I told my brother and sister about Santa’s failure to come through. They suggested a mixup may have occurred somewhere in the order fulfillment department at the Pole. Now that seemed reasonable to me. Santa did have an awful lot of things to remember. It also seemed pretty cool to me that somewhere in the world, a boy was scratching his head, wondering why he got my stuff instead of his.

The next year, the suspicions returned and I devised the ultimate test. I would stay up all night Christmas Eve if I had to, and confront the big guy for an explanation of last year’s mix-up. Santa never showed, but around one in the morning, my mom and dad passed by my room with large shopping bags full of stuff on their way to the living room. Clue phone's ringing. Moment of truth on line one.

I could have been devastated. I could have ratted them out. I could have revealed the bitter truth to my younger siblings. Nah. I went back to sleep after deciding to milk the thing with my parents for another year or two.

Photo: Christmas dock, Door County, Wisconsin. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Winter dawn

Happy Wednesday.

Hopefully, you’ll make it safely over the hump today and coast gracefully into the coming weekend. Although that can be difficult this time of year. Why do we put ourselves through all the shopping, baking and general running around during the Christmas season? As I’ve heard it put, “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to satisfy people we don’t like.” Other than a handful of shepherds who had to be up anyway, the rest of the world pretty much slept through the first Christmas.

This was the last frame on the roll of film I used to take the previous early morning shots. The night was fleeing ahead of the advancing sun, so I turned my attention to the approaching daybreak. This shot was metered to catch the full color of the sky. I used a small flashlight, which I carried with me to help me see to set the camera in the dark, to light the post and some of the foreground grass. By the way you may recognize these posts from other photos I've taken.

Finding time to get out and photograph will be harder to come by in the next couple of weeks, and photos like this one will have to sustain me during the busy times to come. But there’s also lots of stuff in the archives that I can revisit.

Just plain nice photograph.

Winter dawn, 30 seconds at f22, 400 ISO film, Wal-Mart mini flashlight for 15 seconds. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
above the heavens.

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

Psalm 8:1,3-4

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

Monday, December 11, 2006

Star race

Moonlight illuminates the face of an old barn while stars streak by in this six-minute exposure. The reflection of moonlight off the snow-covered ground was enough to light the area under the eaves.

I’m still trying to get over my feelings of insecurity when doing night shots. I’m barely able to see to focus and compose the shot and I have yet to fully trust that the camera and film will capture what my eyes cannot see. In this case, the only star bright enough for me to see was the reddish one touching the barn’s roof to the left of the peak. I set up my tripod so that the star was just out of view, knowing that the rotation of the earth would bring it above the roofline over the course of six minutes. I had to trust that other stars, not visible to me, would show up in the shot. I really hoped that this shot and a couple of others I took early yesterday morning were not a waste of time.

Oh me of little faith.

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

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Moonlit barn, 5:00 a.m.

Inspired by photographers like Bob and Tobey, I’ve been challenging myself to get out at night and photograph by the light of the moon. There’s something about being barely able to see to compose the shot, exposing the frame for five to ten minutes or more and then trusting the camera to capture what is only visible in your mind’s eye.

As I’ve said, I had been unable to get out in the evenings this past week to catch the moonlight at full strength. So with the weekend here, I got up at 4:30 yesterday morning, packed my camera gear, lots of hot coffee (the wind chill has been near zero degrees at night the past few days) and with my wife to keep me company (what a trouper), set off into the countryside near my home in Elgin, Illinois to see what I could find in the moon- and starlight.

What I found was a moon only 75 percent of full, so longer exposures than normal were needed. This barn was taken at about six minutes exposure (f8 and 400 ISO film). The light was fine for capturing objects on the ground and moving clouds in the sky, but I also wanted to capture some star trails – the moonlight was a little too strong to catch long trails without overexposing foreground objects. I did catch a few but would have liked to have gotten longer trails. There’s a balance somewhere – I’ll keep trying until I find it.

More early morning night shots to come. Or is that late night morning shots?

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

Friday, December 08, 2006

Of moonlight and kung fu

There have been some gorgeous moonlit nights here of late – perfect for getting out and getting some lunar-lit landscapes, but alas, it has not worked out for me to get out and do any photographing. Going into my archives, I pulled out a shot from a series of moonrise photos taken last September on the shore of Lake Michigan near Evanston, Illinois. We'll see what the weekend holds for photo excursions.

Switching gears: It doesn’t take much to get me going somewhere. Maybe it’s because of my naturally curious nature. I cross-post many of my Points of Light photographs on Flickr, an online photo community. A photo I had posted here a couple of days ago received a comment from Burnblue: “Compositional kung fu,” which I take as a high compliment.

Now, I’m at an age where the term “kung fu” brings to mind images of David Carradine wandering the old west, spouting soft-spoken philosophy and seeking serenity while throwing evil cowboys around like cow chips. So I thought it might be good to get a better handle on the term.

Through the popularity of martial arts films and the Kung Fu television series back in the 1970s, the term came to encompass Chinese martial arts in general. But a quick look-see via wikipedia reveals that the original meaning of the term is quite a bit different. There’s no direct English equivalent, but the general idea of kung fu is something like “achievement through great effort.” The closest single English word might be “virtue.”

On one hand, I have indeed devoted a great deal of time and effort toward improving my photographic skills, and it feels good for someone, who is himself an accomplished lensman, to give recognition. All of your kind comments have been gratefully received as well.

On another level, I can’t help but think about this time of year - that the birth of Jesus Christ in a manger in a small backwater town was God’s “kung fu.” That through the great effort and achievement of that child some thirty years later on a cold, hard cross, humankind would be blessed with virtue.

I told you it doesn’t take much to get me going.

More “kung fu” photos from BurnBlue

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

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Rough weather ahead

Exactly one week ago today, we got a healthy dose of instant winter - a foot of snow followed by single-digit temperatures. I’ve lived in the Midwestern U.S. long enough to know that most likely, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. There’s a long way to go until spring. Not much to do except grit your teeth. And pray.

And I thought that meteorologists were saying this is an “el nino” year and to expect milder than normal temperatures. Oh, well.

I know a couple of people who have been hit by a blast of rough weather and are facing some hard times related to their health. For them it also may seem like a long way until spring. And coincidentally, their nicknames bring to mind a one-cent coin.

Penny is a co-worker at my day job and is in need of a liver transplant. Penni writes a really neat blog and is under attack from some seriously bad viruses. Penny and Penni are both doing the teeth-gritting thing.

Perhaps you could pray. I’m sure they’d appreciate it.

Country road in fall and winter. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

This old schoolhouse

The teachers who taught in one-room schoolhouses were a dedicated lot. They would often arrive early on cold winter mornings to start a fire in the potbelly stove, teach their students throughout the morning and prepare a hot meal on top of the stove for lunch before teaching throughout the afternoon. One former one-room schoolhouse student recalls that her teacher cared for her and her classmates “like a new mother hen would care for her newly hatched chicks—always looking out for their health and welfare."

I could have used that stove on the day I photographed the little red schoolhouse, above, in Door County Wisconsin. The temperature hovered in the teens and a stiff wind buffeted me as I walked the field across the road from the building as I looked for an angle from which to shoot.

This schoolhouse is now a private residence in Door County, Wisconsin, the responsibility for educating the community long since has transferred to facilities that are more modern. There are a number of schoolhouses throughout the county. Some house historical museums, some have found new purpose as shops and art galleries, and some, like this one, house growing families.

Another photo of this schoolhouse is featured prominently on the blog of Gena Suarez, publisher of The Old Schoolhouse magazine, and at least a couple of bloggers on my blogroll are educators. Thanks for touching the future.

Great night photograph

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

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

On ice

Baby, it’s cold outside. This morning, there was just one lonely degree of temperature running around outside in northern Illinois. Anything that is normally liquid had a good chance of being solid this morning.

Which got me thinking about how ice forms. Sorry, my brain’s like that.

Water is the only substance on earth that decreases in density as it becomes a solid. Water does stick to the script for a time and increases in density as it gets colder, but somewhere around 4 degrees Celsius, it does a reversal and begins to decrease in density as it reaches the freezing stage at zero degrees.

That’s why ice floats. That’s why lakes freeze from the top down. If it were like any other liquid substance on earth, a body of water should freeze from the bottom up. Not good if you were a fish. Ice would form under you and you would have to move closer to the surface as the ice rose. You’d eventually find yourself flopping around on top of a frozen lake along with all your companions, ejected by the very substance that gave you life. Oh, cruel irony.

From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen?
Job 38:29-30

Another "science can be beautiful" photo

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2006 James Jordan

Monday, December 04, 2006

Shadow and substance

Beware lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow.

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
William Shakespeare

Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance.
Herman Melville, in Moby Dick

A shadow can tell us so much about the nature of the substance that created it. Take this shadow of a tree in my front yard following last week’s snow storm, for instance. It can tell you a lot about the tree's breadth and height.

Yet it can become easy to confuse shadow and substance, and great writers like Aesop, Herman Melville and William Shakespeare devoted works to solving the conundrum. But let me give you a simple tip for determining whether something in your life is shadow or substance.

Substance makes you smart like crazy when you collide with it. I guess that’s why they say the truth hurts.

Okay, not real deep, but come on, it’s Monday. Have a good one.

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

Sunday, December 03, 2006

First snow

The last of the clouds that brought Friday’s snowfall move off to show the fading remnant of sunlight for the day. A large dose of winter has arrived.

Creation had grown drowsy in the later days of autumn and removed its colorful garments in preparation for slumber. Now it’s tucked in under a blanket of white until it stirs again on a day far off.

Sleep well.

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

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Looking up

If autumn is when creation falls asleep, then the patient was knocked out cold yesterday. After the snow storm, my deck, which is usually an accurate measure of snowfall, lay beneath a foot of snow.

I did manage get out to take a few photos yesterday. Those will be appearing soon. (I shoot film instead of digital for a number of reasons I’ll gladly cover if you’d like, and given the treacherous driving conditions yesterday, I haven’t yet gotten the film to a photo lab – hopefully I will today.)

This photo was taken after a snowfall last spring. I wandered my backyard in search of a composition, and was not really satisfied with anything I had encountered. I stood under an oak tree, looked upward, and there it was. The lines of the branch remind me of a Japanese woodcut print, which appeals to my Asian heritage. The moon is a bonus.

So the moral of this story could be that when you’re frustrated and out of options, to look upward. Or, maybe better, to save a lot of grief, look upward first.

This cat means business

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

Friday, December 01, 2006

Autumn's over

Autumn didn’t go out in a blaze of glory here in northern Illinois. It more or less crept out, whimpering, as it usually does here. But boy, did winter make an entrance! Several inches of snow covers the ground and it’s still falling at about an inch per hour.

The photo above is for the autumn that never was here in Illinois. It’s actually several years old – it was one of my first efforts when I first seriously went after photography a few years ago.

Hopefully I can get out later and catch some snowy pictures.

Inspirational photo

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