Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Gold among the brown

Gold among the brown

That time of year when nature reminds us that we all eventually must return to the earth.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Out of bounds

Out of bounds 1

A morning glory not paying much attention to the boundary established by a picket fence.

Love the luminous quality of the three blossoms -- one spent, one open, one yet to come.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Late bloomer

Late bloomer

Seen in the chilly early autumn air. You go.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Let's get classic

Let's get classic

Kind of makes you want to go on a road trip, doesn't it?

Have a great weekend.

Classic car show, Sturgeon bay, Wisconsin. Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Golden field


On Wisconsin route 83 north of the town of Mukwonago lies a field of soybeans turned golden with the chill weather of early autumn. A lonely tree stands nestled between rises in the landscape.

Also in this location is a puzzled farmer who probably still wonders why the guy with the camera stopped to take pictures of his soybeans. He stood in his driveway watching me the entire time.

If he could only see the view from his place.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The covered bridges of Ozaukee County

Covered bridge

Okay, make that bridge, singular. Ozaukee County, Wisconsin is home to exactly one covered bridge -- the last one still standing in Wisconsin. So, in one fell swoop, I managed to photograph every covered bridge in the state. Whew.

The bridge is a neat piece of engineering, it is held together with wooden pins -- no nails.


So why did they cover bridges? Local folklore holds that teams of oxen got skittish when crossing a bridge with a view of the flowing waters in the creek below. This bridge is situated on Cedar Creek near the town of Cedarburg, itself a place filled with the history of the German immigrants who settled there in the early 1800s.

UPDATE: A little Googling has revealed that there are in fact more than 40 covered bridges in the state. What the heck? Even though the majority of the bridges are less than 30 years old, this discovery makes me suspicious of the Wisconsin towns that claim the invention of the ice cream sundae, Flag Day and the Republican party.

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Creation, Day 3

Sunrise, Cave Point

What the dawn of time may have looked like. Taken at one of my favorite places on earth -- Cave Point, Door County Wisconsin.

Taken with a circular polarizer, 2-stop neutral density filter and graduated ND filter. Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Embracing the backlight, or how I lost my fear of blown out backgrounds

Study in backlight 1

I admit I've suffered from OCD when it comes to avoiding the bane of digital photography -- blowouts. Areas of pure white in an otherwise nicely exposed photo slap me in the face and force me to look -- and once I do, I can see nothing else in the photo. Nowhere is the blown out highlight more evident than the backlit photograph. I would either A) try to avoid situations where the light was behind my subject or B) become faniatical about checking the highlight mode of my LCD display. I'd dial down the exposure until every last black blinkie disappeared, then hoped that I could recover the remains of the shadows later in post processing.

I'm a whole lot better now. It all started while photographing guests arriving at a wedding a couple of weeks ago. I stood on a covered walkway, bouncing a flash off the white "ceiling" to throw some light on my subjects. One couple stopped in a pool of sunlight and I fired. The result was one of those "I think I'm on to something" moments. The couple were lit perfectly by the flash in front of them. Behind them, the background glowed. Their shadows were thrown forward. The effect was cool. From that point on, I waited for arriving guests to reach the pool of sunlight before I clicked the shutter.

Study in backlight 4

Fast forward a couple of weeks. I'm shooting some street photos at a fall festival. I'm walking up the street into the morning sun and people are coming at me. I remember the "ain't it cool" photos I shot a couple of weeks earlier. I set my exposure value to +2 to compensate for metering into the sun, set a manual focus to about 5 feet in front of me, selected an aperture of f/8 for moderate depth of field and fired away whenever I saw someone who looked interesting in front of me.

Study in backlight 2

Study in backlight 3

The effect is graphic -- everything in shadow looks normal. Everything else is transformed to almost pure white. Shadows reach out from the subjects toward the camera. Complex scenes are simplified.

Study in backlight 5

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Life goes on

Autumn dawn

Some time ago, I granted permission to display the above photograph to a web site dedicated to helping survivors of suicide deal with their grief. I hadn’t thought about it much until I received the following e-mail today:

Just had to tell you I ran across your photos on the Suicide Survivor website. They are ABSOLUTELY breathtaking! Your work is BEAUTIFUL-brought tears to my eyes! Much gratitude –Lisa

This particular photo was taken just a few days before my father suddenly took ill and passed away in October of 2007, so it holds a high degree of meaning for me. I’m happy that it and others are helping someone else like Lisa deal with her own grief.

UPDATE: I wrote to Lisa to thank her for her kind words about my photography. She wrote back:

My brother killed himself on the 4th and your pictures are very peaceful, calming and soothing. I saved your site so I could keep looking at them-I can’t tell you what comfort they bring-Incredible.

Thank you again for your beautiful work-it does make a difference to someone.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Uno mas

On the pinnacle

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.



Taking advantage of some beautiful September weather to do some rock balancing. Tyler Creek Forest Preserve, Elgin, Illinois.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fall balance

fall balance

I know, it's an oxymoronic headline. It really should be "Autumn balance," but hey.

Rock balance in Tyler Creek in Elgin, Illinois. Hints of autumn are evident.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Seeing in black and white

Suter Falls black and white

I'm writing an article on digital black and white photography for a web site devoted to providing tips to beginning- to intermediate photographers.

This photo is the result of an exercise in using adjustment layers with Hue and Saturation to make the conversion. Worst thing you can do is shoot in Black and White mode or simply change the color image to grayscale in a photo editing program. Original photo in color is here.

I'll link to the article when it gets posted.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Under cloudy skies

Chicago under the cloud deck

The city of Chicago, as viewed from the waterfront of Evanston, Illinois to the north.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Green (energy) acres

Green energy acres

With a kid in college in Urbana, Illinois, my wife and I occasionally make the trek from our suburban Chicago home to visit. Taking the backroads route down Illinois highway 47 this spring, we noticed dozens of wind turbines standing in the fields south of the town of Dwight. We recently swung by again so I could grab a few photos of the windmills.

The answer to some of the energy needs of northern Illinois, along with how to increase county revenues appear to be blowing in the wind. Iberdrola, an energy company headquartered in Spain, paved the way for the launch of several wind farms in a four-county area southwest of Chicago.


Between the towns of Emington and Odell, 65 turbines of Iberdrola’s Cayuga Ridge Wind Farm have sprouted since last fall, located in farm fields along with corn and soybeans. Motorists on Illinois Route 47 can view many of the towers.

Farming the wind

The company plans to finish the installation of a total of 150 towers over 15,000 acres of land sometime in 2010. Several other energy companies, taking advantage of incentives provided by Washington, D.C., are in the process of planning additional wind farms in the development zone, a cooperative effort of the four counties involved.

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Red ... rules

Red zone

I was looking through my archive of images from Door County, Wisconsin last night to pull some submissions for a publication when I came across this photo of a maple tree north of Sister Bay, taken last October.

There was some major red rule action going on here. I took several shots of the tree at various focal lengths, but this particular crop seemed to do it for me the most. The result is a natural abstract image, a tapestry of red and black.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Meanwhile, back at the alpaca ranch ...

Young alpacas

Cross another item off my life list of things to do. Visit an alpaca farm. Check.

The Waldron Grove alpaca farm is located a couple of miles west of Elgin, Illinois. Susan and Ron Waldron love their herd of wooly wanderers. They are now spending their retirement caring for dozens of alpacas, while building a business around Susan's alpaca fiber art.

Curious alpaca

Susan designs wall hangings, scarves, shawls and sweaters using hand-dyed alpaca fiber graciously donated by members of the Waldron herd. The Waldrons recently were afforded an opportunity for wider promotion of their products and Susan contacted me about creating some professional photographs of her products.

Friendly greeting

After meeting the herd and taking a close-up look at Susan's work, I'm enthusiastic about heading back to the ranch next week to do the photo shoot. More to come.

Waldron Grove is located at 39w856 McDonald Road in Elgin, IL 60124. Susan's designs can be seen here.

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The green leaves of summer ...

The green leaves of summer

... won't be green for very long. The leaves are beginning to turn here in northern Illinois. Autumn's coming.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Stolen moment

Stolen moment

After all the fussing, fretting and furious flurry of activity surrounding the wedding ceremony becomes a thing of the past, the new bride and groom relax and simply begin to enjoy the moment. I love being there when it happens.

Photos from Carlecia and Philip's wedding this past Saturday. The bride was originally from Elgin, moved to New York City and made a career in city government. She returned to Elgin with the man of her dreams and was married in the presence of friends and family from both locales. A reception will be held this coming Saturday in NYC. I'm processing several hundred photos and making selections for a slideshow to be shown at the reception. Two down, lots to go.

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Fleet feet

Irish dancer

I don't know too much about my father's ancestry. I do know that the name "Jordan" has origins in the UK, and that when I was young, I saw a lot of people with red hair and freckles at our family get-togethers. So I will go on the presumption that there is some smattering of Scotch or Irish ancestry in my blood.

That may explain my affinity for all things Celtic. Over the Labor Day weekend, my wife and I dropped in on the Irish Days celebration in Long Grove, Illinois. We took in some music, storytellers and dancers.

Irish dancer

As far as I can tell, to be good at Irish step dancing, you need to keep your upper body nearly stationary while utilizing the universal joints in your ankles and knees to twist, kick and bend your lower extremities at impossible angles and at lightning speed. An ability to levitate is also helpful.

Irish dancer

Oh, and to do everything while maintaining a bright smile on your face the entire time counts for bonus points.

Irish dancers

A number of local Irish Dance studios stepped up and performed on a stage decked with a large flag of Ireland for a large crowd of appreciative folks who all claimed Irish ancestry, at least for a couple of days.

Irish dance triptych

The challenge in photographing Irish dancing is to freeze the action while catching the steps at the peak of their action. Easier said than done. After watching a few dances (and just missing with dozens of shots), I got pretty good at anticipating when certains steps were coming up. I also shot several sequences where I simply tripped the shutter in time to the music, since the dance moves would coincide with the beat. Even so, several hundred exposures yielded just a handful of keepers.

Irish dancers

There's another Irish Fest coming up this weekend in a nearby suburb. Maybe I'll try again to see if my right index finger can keep up with flying feet.

And I found this video that helps explain things a little:

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Know when to ditch "Plan A"

Misty dawn 2

I usually head into a photo session with a preconceived notion of what it is I want to capture. Nothing wrong with that. It's actually helpful as a starting point. The trick is to recognize when that plan is just no longer working for you, and as much as you are emotionally attached to that plan, to dump it in the rubbish bin. Otherwise Plan A becomes a dead weight around your neck, creatively speaking.

I stopped by the Bode Forest Preserve in Streamwood, Illinois this morning. Layers of fog lay draped over the trees and I wanted to capture bursts of sunlight streaming from between the branches. It looked oh, so pretty in my mind's eye. Reality, however, was not nearly so cooperative. It just wasn't happening the way I envisioned it.

So did I ditch Plan A to explore the other visual opportunities that lay before me? Of course not. I stubbornly tried to make the landscape bend to my will, wasting a lot of time and memory card space in the process.

I gave up and headed back to my car, passing a clearing that opened to Bode Lake. I stopped for a second, looked at the mist on the water and thought, It probably won't do any good, but I may as well look as long as I'm here. Not much of a Plan B, but there it was. I walked through the clearing.

Can't say the view was particularly spectacular, but I took a few shots using a fallen tree branch as the foreground interest, then decided to go for some "worm's eye" shots holding the camera an inch or so off the ground, pointing it in the general direction of the branch and seeing what would happen. What happened were some very simple abstract images that appealed to my Asian sensibilities. I varied the focal length between shots, and voila!

Misty dawn 1

I meant to do that, yup. Yessir, that's the ticket.

(Side note: I was in Quebec a few years ago, and at my first meal in a restaurant there, the server brought my food and said, "Voila!" It made me laugh because it sounded corny. Then I realized those folks meant it up there.)

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Gettin' some publication love ...

Got two photographs appearing in magazines this month, but you'll have to operate in specific niches in order to see them. The Mortice and Tenon is an architectural mag published in the UK. The magazine features an article on barn restoration in the Midwestern U.S. My photograph of an 1840s vintage barn made the cover.

Communication Director is self-described as a mag that follows "the intersection of politics, media and communication." It is published in Germany. My photo of the Roosevelt University Symphony Orchestra and Concert Choir getting ready to rock out some Wagner accompanies the opening page of an article about "orchestrating" communication strategy.
More submissions coming up later this month. Hopefully more publication love to report on later.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Today's sunrise ...

Sunrise in Sleepy Hollow

... as seen from Sleepy Hollow, Illinois. Yes, there really is a Sleepy Hollow. It's located in Chicago's northwest suburbs. The town is a blend of three-quarter-million-dollar homes and large expanses of open space. If you skip the mansions and stick to the open areas, you can see some very nice views of nature.

"But yesterday you said you were starting a series of insect macro photographs to clear out your backlog of bug pictures." Yes, I did. And I'll hop right back on that tomorrow.

Unless, of course, today's sunset looks promising.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Shy hopper

Shy hopper

Now that we've made the turn into September, it will only be a matter of a couple of months before we say goodbye to our exoskeletoned friends. So I thought I'd close out a summer's worth of insect macro photography (and get to a backlog of archived photos) by posting some of my favorites.

It took a while to get a photo of this guy. Grasshoppers like to split whenever something large, like, say, a photographer with a large camera, lens and flash setup strolls through the meadow. Mr. Hopper hid from me behind a blade of grass. As I moved into position, he would peek at me and move back behind the blade.

After a few rounds of peek-a-boo, he showed his entire face to me and I got the shot. What I love about it, besides the even lighting on Mr. Hopper and the focus on his face and foreleg, is what appears to be sunlight falling on the blade of grass. It's not. It's the flash. The blade of grass was angled in such a way as to catch the light from the flash on both sides. The shadow of Mr. Hopper is actually on the other side of the blade -- being somewhat translucent, you can see the shadow.

I also got the anntenae in fairly sharp focus. I've found that one of the bugaboos of insect photography is that you tend to lose one of the anntenae no matter what you do. Depending on the angle from which you are shooting, it will appear as a blurry line across the head or body of the insect. I hate that.

It's always nice when everything comes together just right.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Dog in truck

Dog in truck

I was riding down the road with a couple of friends back about 25 years ago. One of them shouted, "Look up ahead! There's a dog with a truck under it!" The other looked around in panic. "Oh, no! Where?" It took him a second to realize, once he spotted the pickup truck with the dog sitting in the bed, that he'd been had.

Since then, I replay that scene in my head whenever I see a dog sitting in a pickup truck. And if I happen to have a camera when I see one, I take its picture.

This one was in the parking lot of the Railroad Park in Rochelle, Illinois. Master had come to the park to watch the trains roll through town (Rochelle averages 80-120 trains a day). The dog by default also came to watch the trains. And the squrrels. And the birds. And whatever it is that catches a dog's attention every few seconds.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.