Friday, November 30, 2007

Seeing the light

I've been to the Wind Point lighthouse north of Racine, Wisconsin more times than I can recall. It's a classic light tower and keeper's house on Lake Michigan and has been well taken care of by the community. The city just completed a renovation of installing historically correct windows in the tower and applying a fresh coat of paint and it looks better than ever.

As I've spent so much time here, I've watched a lot of people interact with the lighthouse and adjacent beach while I've waited for light conditions to maximize so I can take some shots. It's developed into a common ritual. People arrive in the parking lot, get out of their cars, look up at the tower, then head down the paved path to the beach area, where they walk around a little, take a few snapshots of each other standing in front of the lighthouse and water, wander around a bit more, then leave.

They don’t seem to notice the clouds creeping in from the west or the gap in those clouds that will produce a shaft of light when the sun sinks close to the horizon in about 20 minutes, or the patterns of the rocky beach that leads the eye out into the lake. They miss the puddles of water trapped within the rocky ledges that reflect the sky and clouds above. They don’t watch the growing shadow cast by the lighthouse on the roiling water. They don’t realize that if they wait just ten more minutes, they’ll catch a glimpse of a magnificent full moon rising above the lake. It only takes a little bit more time and effort to experience things that most others miss.

I had taken the full moon shots that I posted earlier this week after spending about two hours taking photographs around the lighthouse grounds. I had the opportunity to witness the coming and going ritual of a number of groups of people. After I had packed up my equipment and was heading to the parking lot, I passed one visitor just arriving at the lighthouse.

“Leaving so soon?” he asked.

“I’ve seen plenty,” I replied.

Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Rambling among the frosty leaves

The icy breath of winter is bearing down on us here in northern Illinois, touching the leaves, rattling the windows, exhaling threats of what is to come.

I passed a large retention pond while driving yesterday. A layer of ice sat just under the surface of the water and dozens of geese appeared to be standing on the surface of the water. An avian miracle right here in the suburbs. What a time not to have a camera with me.

It reminds me of a blog in which a photographer posts photos not taken, but describes them in such vivid detail that a picture becomes superfluous.

Photo blogging: Andy Frazer is one of my contacts at Flickr and a specialist in night photography. Andy also photographed last weekend’s full moon from San Francisco and has a number of moonlit beach scenes posted on Flickr. Here is one of them.

Here is a collection of night or near-night photos on Points of Light.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

O Christmas tree

Thanksgiving has passed and now I can report that the halls of my home are duly decked. I have always loved how lights play a prominent role in the decorations of the Christmas season. To me, it's a visual reminder that the light of God's love came to this world through the birth of His son.

Update: This photo was selected as Photo of the Day at the Beautiful Capture group on Flickr.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Enjoy the silence

I’ve never been able to sit and watch the ocean or a sunset without having my mind wander into myself and ponder my place in life, the universe and everything else. What you see in this photo is a front row seat to encounter not only the swirl of water, wind and sky, but the swirl of activity happening within.

The old chair sat discarded on the edge of the beach, so I pulled it over into a patch of sunlight and shot a few frames. I often cross-post photos here and on Flickr. Last night, a commenter mentioned that this photo reminded him of the chair that Depeche Mode frontman David Gahan used in the video for Enjoy the Silence, a song about letting some things remain unsaid between people who love each other.

In the video, Gahan, dressed as a king, chases the sunset to a number of locations, each time setting up his beach chair and sitting briefly to view the sights before him. Yet it is not the sunset that he is chasing. The video echoes the themes presented in Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s novella, The Little Prince, which contains the line what is essential is invisible to the eye.

So pull up a chair, sit for a while and look for those things which cannot be seen. You can’t miss them.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Moonrise, Racine, Wisconsin

Another look at last Saturday's full moon. This one was selected as today's photo of the day at Karma.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Moon, rocks and water

Blame it on the moon. The full moon has been linked to crime, suicide, mental illness, disasters, accidents, birthrates, and fertility among other things. Numerous studies have tried to find lunar effects to all of the above and more. The results thus far? The full moon seems to have little or nothing to do with changes in human behavior or physiology. Lemurs and corals, maybe, but people, no.

Every time I see that a full moon is on the way, I think about standing out in the open when it arrives, camera at the ready on a tripod. This time, I followed through, and stood on a beach north of Racine, Wisconsin as 20-mph winds whipped the frigid November air about as I waited for the lunar disc to make its appearance on the Lake Michigan horizon. About 20 minutes after its scheduled arrival, the moon appeared through a thick haze on the horizon, which tinted it a bright red.

One thing that I could have sworn happened as the moon appeared is that the waters of Lake Michigan rose several inches. Some tidal effects have been documented on the Great Lakes, but they are slight. The foreground rocks in the photo above were completely dry as I set up my tripod. By the time the moon arrived, you can see that the waves covered all but the very tops of the rocks. It had to be a tidal effect.

Either that or the moon made me momentarily crazy.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Shoot the moon

This is a photo from the archive, taken a couple of years ago. The moonrise and sunset took place within a few minutes of each other, allowing the capture of the foreground pilings and waves, which were rendered as a mist by the 30-second exposure.

Tonight is the full moon, and I'll be out trying to capture whatever magic will be offered this evening. I'm heading to Lake Michigan, hoping that a combination of rocks, water and Mr. Moon will yield something interesting.

I'll let you know what happens.

If you'd care to see a gallery of some of my lunar photos (either of the moon itself or pictures taken by moonlight, check them out at Flickr.

Photo: Moonrise, Evanston, Illinois. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


There is a trace of snow in the ground this morning, the house is filled with the smell of Thanksgiving dinner cooking and will soon be filled with people who love and care for each other. On this day of giving thanks, here are a few things for which I am thankful:

I live in a world that I can look at in wide-eyed wonder from time to time and sometimes get to capture a small part of that wonder with my camera.

I serve a God who I can also gaze upon in the same wonderment and awe.

I am surrounded by family and friends.

And I'm thankful for you, for your visits here and comments. It makes the last two and a half years of posting photos and thoughts from my part of the world very worthwhile.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Simply beachy

The weather forecast is calling for snow here in the upper Midwest. It has not arrived in Illinois as of this morning. But no problem. I have my own private beach. OK, so it's in my basement and is only about one foot square, but I can dream, can't I?

I set up a few shells and other beachy items on a tabletop for a series of photos that I'll share over the course of the next few days. If that snow does come, these may serve as a great antidote.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Both sides now

Found this leaf in a parking lot and was impressed by the red hue of the front side and the bright red veins against the pale red of the reverse. I decided to create a diptych showing both sides. I think the final result is equal parts clinical and artistic, celebration and autopsy.

I'm about finished with the leaf photos. Last evening, I set up a small tabletop studio in my basement (the garage is getting too cold to work in), grabbed some seashells and a bag of sand, and recreated some close up beach scenery.


Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Last hurrah

The last leaves to fall;
Jeweled wonders in my yard.
It's time to rake now.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


An oak leaf hangs as it waits to fall to the ground. In the background is the trunk of the tree to which it clings.

I’m a couple of days late for Veteran’s Day, but I just learned that oak leaf clusters are a predominant motif in military awards. Valor. Fidelity to duty. All symbolized by the leaf of the oak tree.

Here’s a fascinating story of how one veteran earned his oak leaves.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The ladybug's leaf

I set up a small tabletop studio in my garage last weekend to shoot some fall leaves under controlled lighting conditions. When I say "small studio," I mean just that. I bent a 30-inch sheet of white foam board into a "C" shape, taped it in place, picked up some leaves in my backyard and placed them in it. I hand-triggered an off-camera flash unit (an el-cheapo my dad bought for me about 20 years ago), reflecting it off the top and back panels to soften the light.

Oh, yeah, and since I don't have a synch cable, I had to trigger the flash by hand after I set the camera on self-timer for a half-second exposure. Talk about making do. Total cost to me to outfit my "studio:" about two bucks. I'm impressed by the level of detail that the small strobe reveals - we're getting into the individual crevasses and pores of the oak leaf in the center. Whoa.

After a couple of shots with oak leaves and water drops (applied with an eye dropper), this little lady stopped by to visit. She sat still just long enough to get a couple of shots. Orton effect and some localized color added in post-processing.

Exposure info: One-half second with strobe firing during exposure; f16, 200 ISO film. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 Jeams Jordan.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Faded glory

The Japanese celebrate an aesthetic called wabi-sabi. Basically, it is the art of finding beauty in imperfection, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It's simple, slow, and uncluttered - and above all, authentic.

Wabi-sabi is flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet - that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came.

I spent some time this past weekend photographing what was once a robust garden of flowers in my backyard. But the winter approaches and the cycle of life draws to a close.

You can view these photos of death and grieve for the time that has passed.

The length of our days is seventy years— or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. Psalm 90:10

Or you can resolve to make the most of the time that is still available.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16

Choose wisely.

Monday photo blogging: Like dogs? So does Erin Vey, a Seattle photographer who specializes in poochy portraits.

Photo: Morning glory. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Autumn tears

There are times when God asks nothing of his children except silence, patience and tears.
- C S Robinson

Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Autumn bokeh 2

Another autumn bokeh shot, courtesy of an ornamental fruit tree in my front yard and a maple tree across the street. Lighting supplied by God.

OK, technical point: Everything in the shot was supplied God.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Happy Friday

I hope that wherever the path leads you this weekend, you may find wonder and beauty.

Have a good one.

Photo: Ladybug's Journey. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Photoblogging: Brian McCarty In the last couple of posts featuring squirrels-eye views of autumn, I talked about staying connected to the activities of youth. Brian McCarty is a photographer that never lost his fascination with toys. Brian photographs toys in real-life surroundings, blurring the line between what’s real and not real. Check out Brian McCarty’s online portfolio.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Autumn bokeh

Bokeh is a Japanese-originated photographic concept pertaining to the quality of the out of focus area of a photograph. I am also Japanese-originated, but I digress. Many photographers have some pretty strong feelings about what may be considered “good bokeh” or “bad bokeh.” I am only now coming to understand what the fuss is all about.

Basically I am in the camp of “if it looks good to me, it must be OK.” From what I’ve gathered so far, however, it’s the out of focus points of light in a photo’s background that reveals the quality of the bokeh and, by association, the quality of the lens being used. These out of focus points of light are called “circles of confusion” and are not to be confused with the sometimes out of focus writing at Points of Light.

Some lenses render fuzzy points of light with a brighter core that fades toward the edge while others render a brighter outer ring that fades toward the center. Still others render a rather flat point of light. One optics expert suggests that lenses that render “bright core” circles of confusion produce more pleasing bokeh than those that render “bright ring” circles or flat circles. He also tested a number of lenses and discovered that even in a single lens, bokeh may change depending on aperture, focal distance and the direction of both direct and reflected light entering the lens. As if circles of confusion weren’t confusing enough.

If you are losing sleep at night not knowing the bokeh-bilities of your favorite lenses, you can test them thusly: poke a pinhole in a piece of black paper (try to make the hole as uniformly round as possible), illuminate it from the back and take some photos at various angles and focal distances, then analyze the resulting photographs.

My 135mm 2.8 prime Nikkor lens, which I used for the above photo, produces the coveted “bright core” circles of confusion at the closest focal distances and maximum aperture opening. Yay for me. Not bad, considering the lens was given to me by a friend after he purchased it on eBay for about ten bucks. Way to go, John.

Now that I've thoroughly confused you about circles of confusion, you may now focus on the photo above.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Queen Anne sky

I don't know what the technical name is for the expanse of small tufts of high level clouds (update: cirrocumulus clouds), but it seemed perfect for this shot. The Queen Anne's lace grew in a vacant lot adjacent to an outlet mall in Huntley, Illinois. The stalks are now dried and lifeless, but the sky presents a picture of what this field used to look like when the flowers were new and fresh and tufts of white spread far upon the earth. Those earthly blooms are now only to be seen in the sky.

Add to this scene the fact that the day has drawn to a close and it becomes a poignant reminder of the things I've experienced over the last several weeks. I guess this picture could represent the past and present. It also offers some hints as to the future.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The oak in autumn

Being strong and sturdy, the oak tree has come to represent longevity and wisdom. Like wisdom, the tree is something that stands the test of time. It has fought and struggled and withstood storms and harsh conditions. It prevails.

Standing as I do at the midway point of my life, I find myself wishing that I knew ten or twenty years ago what I know now. Sometimes you have to experience some tough times and tackle some tough lessons in order to gain wisdom. I’m a bit more gnarled and scarred than I was in my twenties and thirties, but I have more wisdom to show for it now.

This is another experiment in exposure blending – this photo is the blending of two exposures, one for the foreground grass and one for the branches and foliage standing against the late afternoon sun. An Orton effect was added in post-processing.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A Simple Brown Leaf

Wasn’t it just yesterday that the leaves were new and green and summer seemed a million miles away? Time has flown. This leaf has served its purpose for the tree from which it came, and now lies fallen with its comrades. It now serves another purpose – nutrient for the soil in which the tree grows.

In the imaginative mind of short story writer L.J. Davis, leaves sometimes perform extra duty.

The wind picked up and tenderly plucked the simple brown leaf from the tree which it called home. It was unsuspecting. Moving gingerly back and forth in the gentle breeze, flittering casually as the wind tickled its papery form, the leaf did not expect to be taken away so soon. It did not seem that long ago when it first unfolded from sprout to maturity. How could time move so quickly, it thought.
Read the rest of L.J. Davis' short story A Simple Brown Leaf.

Monday photoblogging: You may feel the entire world is out to get you, but don't go down without a fight.

Photograph: Fallen. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Autumn: What the squirrel saw

Yesterday was a beautifully sunny autumn day. In the late afternoon, the sun created patterns of light across my backyard, so I grabbed a camera and took a walk around the house, looking for interesting sights to photograph.

The low angle light created some brilliant backlighting on the grass and some of the oak leaves that lay on the ground. The best way to capture it was to get close to the earth. So I did.

After I had taken this photo I was reminded of those times when I played in piles of leaves when I was young. So in this instance, capturing the present included a bit of reliving the past.

Maybe that's the way it always is.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Friday, November 02, 2007

End of the season? Or what goes around comes around

Rental boats sit on the beach, ready to be placed into storage until next year. This was also taken at Shabbona Lake State Recreation Area (yesterday's photo) with my dad's Canon TL. The last time I had used this camera was in high school, more years past than I really care to mention. But let's put it this way; back then, a 50s greaser ruled the TV airwaves, Sylvester Stallone made his best movie ever - at the time it was his only movie, so I am technically accurate - Peter Frampton came alive and Time and Newsweek simultaneously proclaimed a guy named Springsteen as the "new Dylan." But I digress.

Or maybe I don't digress. Maybe it is appropriate to revisit the passage of time. Like these boats or my dad's cameras or even our own memories, things get put away for a while then are rediscovered, taken back out, dusted off and enjoyed again for a season, then the cycle repeats.

Back then I never thought that 30 years hense, I'd look back on those things that seemed so important and cool and just shake my head in wonder that we fell for that kind of stuff. But then again, today we have a musical about 50s greasers burning up Broadway, AARP member Sylvester Stallone still capitalizing on that first movie, Frampton has come back alive more times than a zombie in a B-movie and Mr. Springsteen is in his umpteenth reinvention.

OK, so maybe the more things change the more they stay the same?

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Last leaf

A lone red leaf hangs on in a stand of sumac bushes at Shabbona Lake State Recreation Area near DeKalb, Illinois.

My family decided that I should have my dad's photo equipment. I looked through cabinets filled with cameras and I returned home with a 60s vintage Canon TL, the camera I cut my photographic teeth on when I was in junior high school. I also returned with an old Polaroid 340 Land camera. I'd like to experiment with some black and white shots. Some marvelously inventive Polaroid shots can be found here.

This photo was taken with the TL, a very basic camera, and using a 135mm prime lens. The lens creates an interesting bokeh (background blur). It's not smooth, but the roughness works in this particular case, I think, adding a harshness to the environment in which our lone leaf finds itself.

The camera's battery has long since expired, so the light meter is not functioning. The beauty of a manual camera is that a battery is optional if you know basic exposure settings. I may get around to replacing it someday soon.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.