Friday, October 31, 2008

Fallen fire

Autumn flame of fire
Fallen from a home on high
Flickers in the grass

My annual autumn haiku. Last year's here.

Click on this post's headline for image EXIF data. Click on pcture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Lost in thought

Think back. Way-y-y-y- back. What's the earliest experience you can recall in your life? For me, my earliest recollection is when I am a crawler. I've found an open jar of pennies and I am fascinated by the shiny coins. I pick up a small chubby handful and place them in my mouth, experiencing all the metallic copper goodness my young taste buds can process. Then I am making gagging sounds. I don't recall experiencing any sense of panic. Perhaps I am too young to know that I am choking to death on a mouthful of pennies. My mother rushes into the room, making a number of loud, rapid vocal noises. I am whisked up, my mouth is cleared of coinage and eventually all is well.

The only other thing I remember is a neighbor asking what I thought of my new baby sister the day she and mom came home from the hospital when I was about three. As I recall, I didn't have that strong of an opinion at the time. I made some kind of noncommittal answer and went about playing with my stuff.

I see young children and wonder what's going through their heads - what thoughts and experiences will they look back on years from now? We are all the sum total of our experiences, good, bad and otherwise. The building blocks that are laid today will pretty much determine the structure that will be standing years from now.

Just a thought.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Kindred spirits

Every year, I try to take some sort of offbeat picture for Halloween and more often than not, it includes fire in some form. It's a way to release my inner pyromaniac, I suppose.

How to do it: Set your camera for a long exposure - this shot was set for 15 seconds at f5.6 and 100 ISO. Set the self timer and fire off the shot. While the picture is exposing, move some type of flaming object through the frame. In this case, I covered an oil candle with black electrical tape, then attached it to a long black metal rod. It'll probably take several shots to get the flame where you want it in the shot. Digital cameras are indispensible for the instant feedback you can get - I used to do this with film by guess and by golly.

Photo blogging: I'm a contributing editor to the photo site Innovative Digital Photographers. My current post there reviews the work of Lucie Debelkova, who produces some phenomenal travel photography. Lucie travels the world making images that capture the viewer with vivid colors and light. Take a look and prepare to be amazed.

Click on this post's headline for image EXIF data. Click on picture to enlarge (1440X900). Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Eagle Bluff Lighthouse

Racks full of postcards draw me like a magnet when I'm out traveling. When my wife notices that I'm no longer walking with her through a store, she knows the first place to look for me. Postcards are a good reference source to see how different photographers approach subjects that have been photographed a million times already.

So, here are some of the things I've learned from postcards about photographing landmarks:

1. Photograph at a time of day when the fewest people are likely to photograph. This is usually around sunrise. Your photo will have a look that relatively few other photos will have.

2. Show the landmark in its surroundings.

3. Isolate the landmark from its surroundings.

4. Photograph the landmark at a time of year when relatively few other people will photograph it. Early spring, peak color in autumn and mid-winter are good choices.

5. If the sky is doing something dramatic ... bonus!

6. Stick to the rules of composition. Or not.

The above photograph of the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse in Door County, Wisconsin is a bit too typical of a "postcard" shot, but it was begging to be taken. Mid-morning on a fall day when the colors had reached their peak. Sun illuminating the lighthouse through a clearing in the surrounding trees. Blue sky creating a contrast of color to the gold and orange leaves. A spot of sunlight hitting the juncture of the split rail fence. I was there with a camera. What else could I do?

Click on this post's headline for image EXIF data. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Cana Island Light

There's something about standing alone on the shore of Lake Michigan in the middle of the night, miles from the nearest town, that puts your senses on full alert. The "fight or flight" response lurks just beneath the surface as your mind nags you about the distinct possibility of a large animal or person with evil intentions emerging from the trees along the shore.

If you can push those thoughts into the background far enough, what's left is a pure appreciation of the sights and sounds of the moment - the light breeze coming off the lake, the sound of waves breaking on the shore, the points of light far away in the night sky and the lighthouse tower, doing the job it was designed to do more than a century ago.

I stood where horrific wrecks and daring rescues took place in days long past. A place where intense storms pummelled the rocky shoreline. But this night was reserved for the contented sigh of the breeze, the blanket of night pulled snug and a light signaling that all was well.

Click on this post's headline for image EXIF data. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Friday, October 24, 2008

I believe I can fly

For the past 63 years, Door County has thrown a party every October to celebrate autumn. The Fall Festival takes place in Sister Bay and draws people from across the Midwest. The crazy thing is, I've been traveling to Door County for the better part of a decade and I had never heard of the Fall Fest until this year. And I only found out about it when the receptionist at the motel I booked mentioned it as the reason that rooms were particularly scarce.

I hung around the festivities on Saturday morning, which featured a parade, activities for the kids and all the bratwurst one could possibly want. I skipped the bratwurst, took some shots of the parade and hung out at the bungee trampoline.

Many kids enthusiastically got buckled in, then, when it was time to bounce, took a few timid hops, using most of their alloted time (at six bucks a pop) to get the feel of what they were doing. Not this girl. She got right down to business, soaring high into the air and performing a continuous string of back flips. It was fun to watch and photograph. It took several shots for me to get the timing right to catch the high point of one of her flips, but I finally caught one.

I lost my zest for being anything other than vertical with head above feet a long time ago. For a few moments, though, I was taken back to a time when I believed that anything was possible.

Update - I've been Polymeme'd: Tracking some of my photos via Flickr's stats feature and discovered a couple on the news aggregator site Polymeme. Glad they like.

I'll soon be Smashing: Was contacted by a writer for Three of my photos will accompany a future article on winter photography.

Click on this post's headline to see image EXIF data. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Taking flight

After witnessing the blazing fall colors in Door County, Wisconsin last weekend, the trip home seemed anticlimactic. Stiff winds from the previous day had stripped many of the leaves from the trees. The sky hung in sheets of gray. A squall line of clouds formed over the open water of Lake Michigan where cold air from Canada tussled with the warmer air at the water's surface.

My wife and I stopped in the small town of Kewaunee to take a look at the lighthouse. I have photographed it a number of times and I wanted to try to capture it against the late fall/early winter sky.

I set up a tripod and shot a few frames with a telephoto lens from just off a parking lot in a small beachfront park near the light. I wanted to get a low angle view of the lighthouse behind some old pilings in the water and decided to head down to the water's edge to set up. I picked up the tripod and set off. As I crested a small sand dune I came face to face with a large flock of resting gulls. I stopped dead in my tracks hoping not to disturb them, and for a second it seemed to work. As I considered my options for getting to the water's edge without agitating the birds, one gull decided the guy with the tripod and camera was sufficiently threatening to demand action. It spread its wings and flapped toward the water. That's all it took for several dozen birds to loudly follow suit.

I ran several steps down the dune, chunked the tripod's legs into the sand and quickly fired off three shots as the gulls headed for the pilings. This shot is what I consider the best of the three - the first shot, actually, as the gulls flew in somewhat of a formation. The second and third shots document the gulls going off in all directions.

It was good to get away, to witness the beauty of God's creation and make some good contacts while in Door County (I'm in job seeking/freelance gig mode almost all the time now). The owner of an art gallery expressed enthusiastic interest when I described a series of Door County photos I have been working on for the last two years. If all goes well, I'll be represented in her gallery next spring.

We'll see if that opportunity takes flight.

Click on this post's headline to see the image's EXIF data. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wallpaper Wednesday #3

A large stand of birch trees occupies a corner of Peninsula State Park in Door County, Wisconsin. Just enter the park at the Fish Creek entrance. You can't miss it. It's beautiful at any time of year, but autumn adds a colorful backdrop to the long, thin black and white tree trunks.

Shot on an overcast day and given a touch of Orton processing. Click on the picture for a 1440x900 size image for your computer desktop background. Other sizes here: 1280x1024, 1280x800, 1024x768 and 800x600.

Photo: Autumn birch. Click on this post's headline for image EXIF data. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

New kid in the neighborhood

Young pine in the forest - Peninsula State Park, Door County, Wisconsin. Took a drive through the park, stopping often to shoot pictures. The morning sun played peek a boo with the cloudy sky, but came out long enough to backlight this little pine tree for me. Tried to contrast the little guy against the giant trees in the background. A photo of potential, the promise of things to come.

Click on this post's title to see image EXIF data. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Moored for the night

Door County, Wisconsin is my favoritest place to be. And autumn is my favoritest time to be there. And the locals that I spoke with while I was there this past weekend say that this year's fall colors are the richest in recent memory. And yet some of my favoritest pictures taken this past weekend of this favoritest place at this favoritest time of year had nothing to do with fall colors. Go figure.

Yes, I shot plenty of trees and colorful leafy scenery while up there, as the previous photo can attest. But I also shot some twilight and night photos and some pretty bodacious Lake Michigan surf - onshore winds on Sunday gusted well above 30-40 mph, kicking up some pretty impressive tubes and at one juncture, threatened to blow me off a rocky crag at Cave Point. I'll go into that later.

But today I'll go with something a little more on the tranquil side. The photo above is of the Anderson Dock in Ephraim on the Green Bay side of the Door peninsula. This shot was taken about a half hour after the sun had set. The sunset itself was pretty dull - the clouds you see in the photo pretty much obscured the view. But I thought that the clouds themselves were interesting enough to risk sticking around to see what would happen as the light faded.

What happened was an interesting juxtaposition of the dark swirling clouds and the calm mirror-like surface of the water in Eagle Harbor. It's as if the safe haven of the dock makes the moored boats immune to the turbulent forces of nature which lurk above. I remember feeling that way when I was a young boy. A storm outside our house may have raged, but all was well because my dad was not afraid.

This was also a poignant weekend because it was one year ago that the raging storms of life claimed my father. He passed away after complications following a kidney surgery. Now it's my turn to stand calm in the storm as my family sees the trees bend and hears the wind howl.

I had a good role model.

Click on this post's headline for image exposure data. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Walking a crooked mile

But then again, aren't we all? Don't you wish the road wad perfectly straight and clearly marked all the time? Of course, if it was, you might miss the scenery along the way.

Have a good weekend.

Click on this post's headline for image EXIF data. Click on oicture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Rocks on the Fox

Rock balance on the Fox River in downtown Elgin, Illinois.

There comes a point when trying to balance a rock when you think to yourself this is not going to work - give it up. Especially when people are watching. But if you stick with it, slowly adjusting the contact point of the top rock with the surface of the rock beneath it, you'll eventually hit a point where you know that the rock will stand - you'll feel it, and it's only a matter of time and ever-so-slight adjustments before the rock stands on its own.

I'm more than a month out from losing my job and have done the things that job seekers have to do to find work. Resumes, job boards, search firms, networking and answering countless ads. I'm waiting to hear back from a couple of interviews. Along the way I've heard how tough things are job-wise in this economy. I've more than once thought to myself this is not going to work.

But I'm going to stick to the plan, make adjustments where needed and push through this, trusting that at the end, I'll be standing on my own.

Click on this post's headline for image EXIF data. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Wallpaper Wednesday

Here is some autumn color for your desktop on this week's edition of Wallpaper Wednesday. Taken last weekend in Geneva, Illinois along the Fox River. We're having one of the most colorful autumns in recent memory here in northern Illinois.

Click on the photo for a 1440x900 size image. Right click and set as your desktop background. Other sizes are available here: 1280x1024, 1280x800, 1024x768, 800x600.


Click on this post's title for image EXIF data. Photograph: "Turn, turn, turn" © 2008 James Jordan.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


This is an actual photograph. It's the surface of the Fox River in downtown Elgin, Illinois as the waters approach a dam. The surging water slows as it encounters the barrier and forms smooth ripples on its surface.

I photographed the phenomenon two years ago during an all-day photography event sponsored by the city of Elgin. Today is the third annual installment of Elgin 1440 (the 1440 being indicative of the number of minutes in a day). Photographers are criss-crossing the city today gathering images that will be submitted to a jury for an exhibition to be held in November.

I was out this morning photographing the daybreak. I'm taking a break to attend to some business, then I'll be back out this afternoon. And yes, I'll be posting photos here and on Flickr.

Click on this post's headline for image EXIF data. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Duck! It's autumn

Same place, another day. This photo was taken at the same spot as the photo in the previous post. This time, several preening ducks occupied the place. One finished with a flourish and was captured against the reflection of fall colors on the Fox River.

Happy Columbus Day, U.S.

Happy Thanksgiving, Canada.

Click on this post's headline for EXIF data for the image. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Autumn rocks #2

Jack Frost has been a busy guy around these parts, painting the trees in red and golden hues. I'm continuing a series of photos featuring autumn colors without actually depicting the trees themselves. Taking a walk along the Elgin, Illinois riverfront, I took a number of pictures of the colors reflected in the waters of the Fox River.

I found a rock along the river bed that was just begging to be balanced and carried it with me until I came upon a good spot for a photograph - a hospitable base rock and a colorful background in the water behind it. The low angle of sunlight didn't hurt, either. It took a couple of minutes to get the rock to balance, but once standing, I took several shots from different angles.

Photo tip: The natural inclination is to shoot a closeup of an object from, well ... close up. For this shot, I stepped back several yards and used a telephoto lens to bring the object to me. This changes the viewing perspective ever so slightly and can result in a shot that is a bit different than what we may be used to seeing and may compel a viewer to stick with it a bit longer than they would have otherwise. It's worth playing with as you're out shooting.

Click on this post's headline for image EXIF data. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Autumn rocks

It's shaping up to be a nice colorful autumn here in northern Illinois. The usual routine is for the trees around here to go straight to brown, then lose their leaves. Thanks to an abundant amount of rainfall late in the summer courtesy of hurricanes Gustav and Ike, the trees are happy and are showing their appreciation with a display of golds, oranges and reds not often seen in these parts. Lots of photography fodder for a change. I like.

I'll be catching those golden hues, albeit in an indirect way. The large photo above is the first in a series of "Autumn rocks" images, that will feature ... well, rocks ... but with a touch of autumn thrown into the mix, like the gold heart-shaped leaf sitting atop the subject as Tyler Creek flows by.

I was out this morning catching some more rocks and fall color and will post those here in the days ahead. If you're the curious type and can't wait, head over to Flickr to get an advance peek.

Click on this post's headline for the main image's EXIF data. Click on pictures to enlarge. Photographs © 2008 James Jordan.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Wallpaper Wednesday

Yeah, it's a departure from the usual type of photograph I post here. But if you've been following Points of Light for more than a year (and there are a few of you), you'll know that I post some kind of weird picture around Halloween, and the picture usually involves fire in some way.

I picked up a small plastic skull in the Halloween section of a grocery store a few years ago for about three bucks. You don't often see toy skulls that are correctly proportioned any more. Or that haven't been painted with all sorts of garish faux-spooky colors. Or don't have goofy looking eyeballs in the sockets.

Anyhow, I suspended my anatomically correct, non painted, eyeball-less skull in front of a black backdrop while I passed an oil candle around it during a 20 second exposure. The result is pretty much as it came from the camera. Maybe a slight adjustment of the overall levels, but that's it.

If you're really into skulls, there's this person (Noah Scalin) who posted an artsy skull on his blog every day for a year. Those creations have been published in a book, Skulls. The second year of his blog features skull art contributed by readers. Take a look if you dare.

Oh, yeah ... the Wallpaper Wednesday bit: I'm starting a new thing where I offer photos that you can use as desktop wallpaper on your computer screen every Wednesday, starting today. We'll see how long I can keep this up. The pictures on Wallpaper Wednesdays are yours for the taking. Well, actually, the pictures I post here are yours for the taking every day. How am I going to know who snitches them? The only difference is that on Wednesdays I'll provide pictures in five sizes to accomodate the five most popular screen sizes of computers that visit here.

Click on the picture above to open a 1440x900 size version. Right click and select "Set as background" or whatever your browser denotes as setting your desktop background.


Photographs © 2008 James Jordan.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Toft Point

The Toft Point natural area lies just north of Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin on Door County's Lake Michigan coast. The area features wave-cut dolomite cliffs, limestone cobble beaches and marly soils which support more than 440 species of plants, many of them rare and endangered. The site is recognized by the National Park Service as a National Natural Landmark and was designated a State Natural Area in 1967.

As many times as I’ve visited the area, I have never quite gotten a photograph that I thought adequately depicted the rugged, wild nature of the place. I arrived there one more time last month on a day of clouds and spotty sunshine. I noticed an interesting cloud formation to the north and decided to try to capture it against the rocky shore. I camped on a rock surrounded by water, set my tripod low and set my zoom lens to its widest angle. From that position, I took two shots – one of the sky and one of the lakeshore, setting an ideal exposure for each and intending to merge them together later.

I was disappointed with the initial result, which I have bravely posted here. I let it sit for a couple of weeks, then decided to throw everything I had at it to see if I could spice up the image.

In Photoshop Elements 6, I selected the lakeshore and applied an Orton effect – I lightened the image selection by about half, copied it and pasted it over itself on a layer. I put a slight Gaussian blur on the layer, then blended it with the layer beneath using “multiply.” This boosted the color saturation of the rocks and water. I did a similar adjustment to the sky, except this time I converted the adjustment layer to grayscale and cranked the contrast wayyyyy up. I added a slight Gaussian blur then blended the layers using “Soft Light.” The action popped the clouds but added a bit of noise to the sky, which I corrected with Elements’ noise filter. I added a slight vignette to the overall image to finish things up.

The photo was selected as “Photo of the Day” at the Karma Group on Flickr. It’s the third photo of mine selected for that honor.

Click on this post's headline to see EXIF data for the photo. Click on pictures to enlarge. Photographs © 2008 James Jordan.

Monday, October 06, 2008


The calm stillness of the day was interrupted by the slightest ripples of concern, but they quickly dissipated. Hope your day goes the same.

Click on this post's headline for the photo's EXIF data. Click on picture to enlarge (1280x800). Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Busy as a ...

This fella was hard at work and pretty much ignoring the big old camera hovering less than an inch away. Good thing for me, I guess.

I'm keeping busy too. The job search and some photographic gigs are filling up the schedule. Don't know where it will all lead, but it should be an interesting trip.

Blessings to you this weekend. Have a good one.

Click on this post's headline for the photo's EXIF data. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Carbonated dandelion

Some crisp, clean refreshment on a chilly autumn morning - a dandelion seed head looking for all the world like it had been immersed in soda water. Morning dew (not Mountain DewTM) did the trick.

Clicking this post's headline will take you to a page of exposure data. Click on picture to enjoy a larger glass full of the image - see if you can spot the bonus bug. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Web master

OK, so it's actually a web mistress - it's the female of the species of orb weaver spiders that grow large and spin their intricate webs. This particular spider was resting comfortably on a dewy morning - so comfortably that dew had formed on her body overnight. She had good reason to be comfy. Nearby, in her "pantry" an unfortunate grasshopper lay in storage until the next mealtime. Circle of life kind of thing.

Still taking the Nikon D60 through its paces, and loving it so far. I had taken great pride in pushing the old Fujifilm Finepix s700 beyond its stated capabilities, but man, it took a lot of effort. It's very freeing when the technology works with you, not against you. Hopefully it will show in the pictures I make from here on out.

As always, click on the post's headline to see exposure data for these shots. While it only shows one set of info, I used the same settings for both pictures.

Nikon D60 Photo tip: If you look toward the bottom of the column of numbers and codes on the EXIF page, some pictures will say "Low gain up." That's the term for having Nikon's Active D-Lighting feature turned on. Basically, it lightens the tones in shadow areas and helps even out the contrast in the photo. I'm d-lighted to have the feature available, although I made a major unrecoverable error in some night shots a couple of weeks ago because I forgot to turn it off. Live and learn.

Click on pictures to enlarge. Photographs © 2008 James Jordan.