Friday, October 30, 2009

Smile and say "Cheese"


Self portrait with a Kodak Brownie box camera, circa 1910 (subject is circa 1958). Everything on the camera appears to work. Only the size of roll film the camera uses is no longer manufactured. Someday I'll get some 4x5 black and white film, cut it to size and try some shots, then get a photography student from one of the local colleges to develop it for me. Some day.

Taken with three flash units. One was set up camera left with a shoot-through umbrella at 1/4 power tethered to the camera with a pc cord, one behind the subject with a short snoot at 1/32 power to throw a circle of light on the backdrop and one placed camera right and behind the subject, bare, at 1/16 power to add some edge light to my hand and camera. The two lights behind me were fired by optical slave, which detected the main flash and fired at the same time. I wuv me my flashes.

Weekend's here. Don't forget to smile.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Against the storm

Against the storm

Racine, Wisconsin.

Kitchen sink processing -- five-image HDR from a color RAW file, conversion to black and white (figured out what a blue filter can do) with sepia filter applied. Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Getting my black and white on


I finished my first season as a gallery artiste recently. I've had several photographs hanging in an art gallery in Door County, Wisconsin since May of this year. A few brave souls even found it within themselves to part with some money to be able to take my work home with them.

The gallery is now closed for the season and it's time to start making plans for next year. I'm refining my black and white digital processing techniques to put a higher level of visual impact in my fine art photos.

Things I've learned so far (and didn't necessarily know going in to my first season as a b&w fine art photog):

Always convert color files to b&w. Yeah, I know digital cameras come with a b&w mode. Don't use it. Why?

Because back in the days of film (you remember those days, don't you?), serious b&w photographers would use color filters to translate what they saw in the chromatic world into an image comprised of shades of gray. They used red filters to darken the sky, yellow or orange filters to play up foliage and green filters to enhance skin tones. Blue filters? I don't know. Maybe if you were shooting someone wearing an Oakland A's uniform. Indoors.

Today, image editing programs like Photoshop allow you to run hundreds (nay, thousands) of possible color filter combinations over your color file before locking it in to b&w. You don't necessarily need to know the difference between what a yellow filter does as opposed to a red or green filter when converting a black and white image -- a couple of adjustment sliders will display an infinite number of variations -- just pick the one that looks good to you and you're good to go.

This image of gingko leaves was shot as a color RAW file. In Photoshop, the image was converted to black and white by way of two Hue & Saturation adjustment layers. One changed the color image to b&w, the other acted as the filter that enhanced tones. Below, you can see the difference that filtering makes.

On the left is a straight grayscale conversion of the color image file. On the right is the "filtered" version. The tones across the leaves are smoother and richer and there is more detail in the shadow areas.

B&W comparison

I finished the photo at the top of this post by adding a slight Orton effect and then applying a green color filter at 25 percent strength to add a silver gelatin print effect to the image.

Can't wait to have another go at the gallery stuff.

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Taking flight


As the days grow shorter and chillier, migratory species begin to exhibit Zugunruhe, an anxious restlessness that compels them to take flight. The phenomenon will return next year as the days grow longer and warmer.

Photo taken as the restless geese passed the lighthouse at Wind Point, north of Racine, Wisconsin, a symbol of all that is unchangeable and unmoveable.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Faded remembrance

Faded remembrance

What can I say? I like to wander through cemeteries. In a way, they're not much different than the living community save the silence of their inhabitants. There is evidence of class and status. Some were loved and respected. Some lived spare and simple lives. Some were nearly forgotten altogether.

There are stories. Stories of those who died too soon. Those who lived a long and full life. Those who served their country. Those who lived lives of ease. Those whose lives ran aground on the hard rocks of fate.

Some have friends and family that continue to carefully tend to their memories. Others whose monuments have outlasted those they left behind, the vestiges of their existence on earth slowly becoming one with the same.

Cemetery marker, Burlington, Wisconsin. Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Harbor lights

Harbor lights

A pair of lights mark safe passage into the harbor at Racine, Wisconsin while storm clouds pass over Lake Michigan.

Five-image HDR from a single RAW file.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The domes

Mitchell Park domes, small

The Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory opened in the mid-1960s. The conservatory consists of three beehive-shaped domes (the world's first conoidal domes) covering 45,000 square feet of displays and thousands of plant species.

The Show Dome features rotating seasonal exhibits, the Arid Dome houses desert plant species of the Americas and Africa while the Tropical Dome is home to plants from warm, moist environments. The Tropical Dome also houses a number of tropical bird species.

This image is a three image panorama stitched with Hugin and converted to HDR via levels adjustments in Photoshop and compiled in Photomatix. You can see the panorama bigger here.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Birch tree-o

Birch tree-o

A three-pronged birch tree in my neighborhood in Elgin, Illinois. Played with really narrowing the depth of field. This shot is a panorama of 38 separate images shot with a 135mm f/2.8 lens and stitched together with a software program called Hugin (free download). By the way, Hugin is nice in that it takes into account the focal length of your lens and camera sensor's crop factor before starting the stitching process to ensure that distortion in the final image is kept to a minimum.

The cemetery shot from yesterday was also made using this technique and was composited from 26 separate images. Useful if you realllllly want to separate a subject from its background.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Autumn cemetery

Cemetery in Burlington, Wisconsin.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Up in smoke

Up in smoke

Motorists making the drive from Chicago northward into Wisconsin on I-94 will see a plume of smoke rising a few miles past the state border. The plume belongs to a coal burning electric power plant in Pleasant Prairie, just south of Kenosha.

The plant just completed a test of technology that can reduce carbon emissions by more than 90 percent. It's unclear whether the plant will permanently adopt the technology due to the cost of maintainance and the need for a place to store the tons of carbon particulates that are trapped by the filters. Can anyone say NIMBY?

Meanwhile, the plant continues to belch away 24/7/365.

Five-image HDR from a single RAW file. Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Friday, October 16, 2009



Happy weekend. Play it safe. Don't lose your head.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

From soft to scary

One-light portrait

Wal-Mart has the right idea, kinda. I passed the photo studio in a local Wally World and stopped a second to check out their setup. One huge softbox with a jillion watts of light hanging seven feet in the air directly over the camera. That was it. A nice one-size-fits-all lighting solution. Except we all know that one-size-fits-all doesn't. If you have nice tight clear skin, Wal-lighting will make you look like a million bucks. For the rest of us in the 90 percent who aren't blessed that way, such light only enhances our shortcomings. But I digress.

The child portrait above employs the one soft light approach, except I chose to move the light low -- the bottom of the umbrella was set to about the child's height and placed slightly to the left. A reflector was laid on the floor just in front of the model to throw a little bit of light under his chin.

Having been a natural light kind of a guy for so many years, playing with multiple strobes, umbrellas, reflectors, gels, snoots and grids is a whole new ballgame. Sometimes it can be downright scary ...


Now, off to get my morning coffee. I can be such a monster without it.

Bottom photo: Three strobes - two LumoPro 120's set as optical slaves on stands behind me left and right, 1/16th power. One strobe on camera with a diffuser. ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/80th. Five image HDR from a single RAW file. Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Looking to the future

Looking into the future

As promised, much better looking subjects in my subsequent strobe-at-night photos. This is from Thip and Suli's engagement photo session. Great couple, fun and energetic in spite of the cold temps. My wife assisted, acting as the equipment bearer and steady-er of the light stand, because the wind can play havoc with an umbrella. Who knew?

At the gates

We started by wandering around Festival Park in downtown Elgin, Illinois then moved to the Riverwalk on the Fox River, stopping at interesting locales to shoot a few photos of the couple.

Da bling

The top shot was taken at the Elgin Riverwalk's overlook of the Fox River dam. Light stand and wife was just out of the picture to the right. I was on the level below the overlook with camera tethered to the light via a 16-foot cable draped over the retaining wall from above. Someday I gotta get me a wireless flash trigger.

Buss and bokeh

The final shots were taken from the overlook. I joined everyone back at the top to get catch some city light action behind Thip and Suli. Then it was time to head home and thaw out.

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Self portrait with garage and driveway, 6:30 a.m.

Self portrait with garage and driveway

So why am I taking pictures of myself in my driveway at 6:30 in the morning? Because I can, that's why. Actually, I have an engagement photo session this evening and want to try out some off-camera strobe-assisted shots of the happy couple in an urban setting around sunset. So I'm using myself as a guinea pig to test some lighting setups.

I'll be working simply -- one strobe with an umbrella on a stand, balancing flash with ambient light. Shooting pictures of myself over the last couple of days in different scenarios has helped me to be able to quickly determine my camera settings when faced with a tricky lighting setup. This shot, which includes interior and exterior house lights, a strobe and the pre-dawn sky, took just three shots and adjustments to balance. It has also helped me to come up with a routine to quickly set up, tear down and move the strobe/umbrella combo from location to location. I may even try something in the middle of the street at a crosswalk.

And I'll have better looking subjects to work with.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Monday, October 12, 2009

In storage


An old truck (just barely) protected from the elements. Seen near Viola, Tennessee. Black and white conversion of a color photograph. Created a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer in Photoshop to adjust gray tones.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Don't know what I was looking at, but I kinda liked how it looked

I didn't know what it was, but I liked how it looked

Was at the Mitchell Park Conservatory in Milwaukee last weekend. Saw this plant with a long skinny pineapple trunk and propeller leaves in front of a humongous palm leaf thingy.

Shot it with a 200mm lens and an off-camera flash on a bracket to throw a tad more light into the fuzzy propeller tree and separate it more from the palmy whatsit behind it.

Bet you can't tell that I never studied horticulture, can you?

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Thursday, October 08, 2009



Mitchell Park Conservatory, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Available light plus flash at 1/4 power with diffuser on an off-camera bracket to add some fill and separate the flowers from the background.

I've been blogged. Darren Rowse at Digital Photography School has selected a couple of my photos as part of 21 featured "Impressive Tree Images." Head over and check out all the fantastic flora shots.
Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Flashy fingers

Flashy fingers

Experimenting with a two-flash setup combined with ambient room light as the third light source.

Not easy to do when you are both the model and the photographer. Used a light stand to mark the focus point. Set the camera's self timer and situated myself so my left hand was in focus. Played a little riff while the timer counted down. Chimped the shot on the camera's LCD, reset lights and camera settings as needed and started all over again.

Flashy, huh?

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The things that remain

The things that remain

This is the remnant of a pier located at the Wind Point lighthouse north of Racine, Wisconsin. I had gone there hoping to catch the moonrise, but the area was socked in with clouds. So I shot what was there.

Yeah, the processing is severe on this shot, but it was done on purpose to ramp up the surreal feeling I wanted to get across.

We all have things that were once a vital part of our lives that have fallen by the wayside. Although the waves of time continue to wear away at them, they continue to sit below the surface, still influencing, still guiding. And sometimes still tormenting.

I think this shot would make a great cover for a great book on this topic.

Five-image HDR from a single RAW file, exposed to retain highlights. Straight and graduated neutral density filters used to even out tones of water and sky and allow for a long exposure to smooth out the water. Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Keeping watch

Keeping watch

I admire those who don't flinch when things get tough.

The lighthouse tower at Wind Point, north of Racine, Wisconsin. I had gone there hoping to catch the harvest moon rising over Lake Michigan. This works, too.

Five-image HDR from a single RAW file. Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Primary colors

Primary colors

A sign in the clouds. Rochelle, Illinois.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Watching the watchers

Catching the sunset

Sunsets are a spectator sport in Door County, Wisconsin. The descending solar orb draws a crowd at marinas and other easily accessible vantage points along the peninsula's western shore on Green Bay.

My first inclination this particular evening was to take in the sunset from a more remote location. I knew the perfect place -- a rocky beach at Nelson Point, within Peninsula State Park north of Fish Creek. I arrived only to find that rising lake levels had submerged the beach.

With that option gone, I headed into town and decided to visit a small village park that was built especially for sunset viewing. Dozens of others had gotten that idea ahead of me. Instead of shooting the sunset, I decided to photograph the sunset watchers. It wasn't hard. Everyone had a camera, so I blended right in. I could get right up to people and click away, since they likely assumed I was after the sun and not them.

After the sun dipped below the horizon, the crowd broke out in applause and began to filter out of the park.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.