Monday, November 30, 2009

Make-A-Wish Monday

Make a wish 2

Fun with a wishbone left over from the Thanksgiving festivities. Yeah, it's kinda small -- we served cornish game hens with a wild rice stuffing. Mmmmm. Anyway, I thought I could do some photographic-type stuff with the bone and try out a new set of flash grids in the process.

The photo above has the flash set at 1/32 power with a 1/8 inch grid attached. The grid creates a strong directional light that wonderfully outlines a subject when placed perpendicular to the camera-subject axis. A sheet of white foam board is standing just out of the frame to the right to reflect some light back onto my fingers.

Make a wish 3

Same flash setup as above, only this time the flash is pointing directly down at the subject and is about 2 inches away. This time the grid creates a circle of light with a graduated falloff to black. Both this photo and the one above were shot at or on my dining room table at night. Normal room lighting was on the entire time -- I simply adjusted aperture down and shutter speed up to turn the ambient light to black and let the flash do all the work. No need to make the family sit around in the dark while I fiddled with some shots.

Last photo also taken at the dining room table. Afternoon sun is coming in through the window blinds behind me. White foam board propped up to catch the slats of sunlight and reflect some of it back onto my hand.

Make a wish 1

Here's wishing you a good Monday.

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Home is where the hearts are

Heart lights

Have a Happy Thanksgiving. There's a lot to be thankful for.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dried lace, tree and prairie grass

Dried lace, tree and prairie grass

In that order, in diminishing degrees of focus. Late afternoon light (which comes dreadfully early this time of year).

Shot with 50mm f1.8 lens. Love the shallow depth of field this lens provides. Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Autumn journey

Autumn journey

If you haven't noticed, today's image is a little different than what's usually posted here. Or is it?

The photographs I make and share with the world are not so much depictions of things -- they are depictions of the feelings created by viewing those things within a particular setting. At least that's the goal I have in mind when setting out to create pictures.

The photo above started as a contrasty, lens flare-y, moderately underexposed shot of the hillside, the tree and the hiker against the afternoon sun. I punched the contrast even further, added a background photo layer of dried field grasses (blurred beyond recognition), then added another photo layer of stone tile to add some texture.

The result is an image of a person leaving the comfort of a life that is past (note the windmill in the lower left) and beginning an arduous journey into an uncertain future that grants no promises (note the dead tree) while at the same time harboring hope that things will work out well (note the bright sunshine amid the chaos).

In many respects, this photo is a self-portrait.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Portrait of November #5

Winter sleep

An autumn tree situated on a glacial kame, Glacial Park, Ringwood, Illinois.

When I was in art school, one way the instructors taught us how to make better choices regarding our illustrations was to force us to use a limited pallete of colors. It helped instill some discipline when confronted with hundreds of possible choices regarding color and prevented too much of a reliance on any one particular color in our work.

Every so often I try to limit my photographic options to break an over-reliance on a particular mode of operating. I pretty much live with a wide angle lens on my camera. During the visit to Glacial Park, I put a 55-200mm zoom on camera and forced myself to view the world through a tiny 200mm window. With all the possible views available at the park, I wanted to forego wide-angle shots in favor of detailed "pieces" that could convey the sense of the end of autumn and the onset of winter.

I think that for the most part, I succeeded.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Portrait of November #4


I wonder if Stephen Covey is a photographer? The second of his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is "Begin with the end in mind." I find that I employ that nugget of advice practically every time I trip the shutter on my camera. I usually have a very well developed idea of the finished version of every frame I snap. That vision guides my choice of settings on my camera and the frame that I capture is well within the range of that which I envisioned. Usually.

As I considered these two subjects at Glacial Park in McHenry County, Illinois, I imagined that these two photos would "sing" with a deep twilight sky in the background. The only problem being that at the time I took these, it was three o'clock in the afternoon on an overcast day. I took them anyway, intending to lay in some color later.


The sky color came from another photo taken in precisely the conditions I imagined -- deep twilight on a clear evening. I sampled several areas of the sky in this photograph that I took last summer and used the colors as the basis for a graduated fill, which was layered and blended over the nearly white sky in the two photos above.

I used to be a photographic purist who only accepted what came out of the camera, for better or worse, with no manipulations afterward. Back then, I probably wouldn't have taken these photos in the first place, and if I did, they probably would have gone unpublished. These days, I let my vision be my guide and when necessary, employ Mr. Covey's sixth habit -- Synergize.

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Portrait of November #3

Gone to seed

More photographs from Glacial Park, north of Ringwood in McHenry County, Illinois. If you're wondering why I placed the subject where I did in the frame, the answer is simple -- I didn't have much choice. A brisk, chilly wind tossed the seed head back and forth. Since I was using a telephoto lens, I had to chase the pods back and forth, snapping as I went and hoping for a good shot. As it turned out, this shot was the most sharply focused of the several that I took.

Nature abstract

The second photo was much easier to accomplish. The wind was gusty, but not enough to move the fallen branches (thankfully). I took my time and composed the shot to juxtapose the diagonal lines of the fallen tree against the verticals of the foreground grass and background trees which continue to live while the dead tree returns to the earth to nourish future flora.

Photographs taken with white balance set to "Cloudy" to add warmth and color to the scenes. Levels adjustments and slight color saturation added in post processing. Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Portrait of November #2

November color

"Great minds run in the same channel." Or is it "All fools think alike?" No matter. Over at Listing Through Life, Roger is posting photos from Glacial Park that were taken the same weekend that my wife and I visited. Rog shot up the place on Saturday, I ionized a memory card there on Sunday.

We took our photos in basically the same weather and lighting conditions -- overcast. Roger had the foresight to visit the place on a warmer day. I lost the feeling in my face about a third of the way through my visit.

What's interesting is the way we're approaching the photos -- pretty much the same things photographed in similar conditions. Roger decided to embrace the monochrome -- since the palette of November is limited to begin with, why not take it further by going black and white?

Meet Barb

Me? I decided to try to wrest every bit of color out of the landscape that I could. I set my camera's white balance to "stun." No wait, that's my phaser. White balance was set to "Shady" to pump some warmth into the photos and take advantage of the amber backdrop of prairie grasses. And -- confession time -- I pumped some additional color into some of the photos via Photoshop. None of the photos posted thus far have been enhanced. I'll let you know when I post the color boosted pics.

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Portrait of November #1

Above and beyond

Over the weekend, my wife and I hiked a couple of the trails at Glacial Park, just north of Ringwood, Illinois, near the Wisconsin border. The area has been described as "biological eye candy" and I can see why. The park is a mixture of rolling kames, prairie, ponds, kettles, bogs and oak savannahs. Nippersink Creek meanders its way through the northern reaches of the park.

In early autumn the prairie grasses turn a burgundy color. By this November day, it had settled into an amber hue. Large flocks of cranes circled overhead.

Until next year

I had recently decried my annual photographic funk that hits in November. If ever there was a cure, this was it. What emerged from the day is a composite portrait of the month of November. While on the surface, everything appears still and asleep, if you look long enough, you'll see signs that life continues. The juxtaposition of the end of life and the continuation of it is what makes November what it is, and is what I'll present here over the course of the next few days.

Stay tuned.

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Friday, November 13, 2009



As I think back on those months of the year when I struggle the most, photographically speaking, I've concluded that the worst photography month for me is November. Maybe it has to do with it being an in-between time -- the splendor and glory of autumn is over and it's still a while before snow arrives to blanket the barren landscape. My November pictures just kind of sit there, unadorned, blah.

I've got to think of something to pump some life into this month's pics. Hey, I know, maybe I can do some night shooting, when you really can't see how boring the landscape is. Hmmm. Maybe put some people in the shots. Uh huh. Play around with some off-camera flash. Yeah. Maybe do all three at once. That's the ticket.

Night comes around every day. Got my flashes. Just need to find some victims folks willing to model for me. Hmmm.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Somebody get Hitchcock on the phone

Somebody get Hitchcock on the phone

A massive flock of starlings circling over a marsh at the Pingree Grove Forest Preserve near Pingree Grove in Kane County, Illinois. The vortex of black birds twisted and turned the entire time my wife and I were there, making a loud racket while so doing.

I took several shots each time the avian tornado approached our position, and this one best establishes the density of the flock.

Just glad they weren't directly overhead.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Under the sunset tree

Under the sunset tree

More abstract nature pics from Pingree Grove Forest Preserve near Pingree Grove and Gilberts, Illinois.

The area near these two northern Illinois communities has seen an explosion of new subdivisions going up in recent years. Glad to see that part of the plan was to preserve a few hundred acres of open space in the middle of it.

And I'm sure the wildlife that was displaced by all of the construction appreciate it, too.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Driven to abstraction

Natural abstract

I've taken several walks with my wife through the Pingree Grove Forest Preserve in Plato Township in Kane County since it opened in October. The first couple of times, I looked for interesting objects to photograph and was pretty disappointed with the results. Literal representations weren't cutting it for me. So, the last time we wandered through, I looked for interesting patterns in the scenery to photograph.

These backlit arched stems and grasses caught my eye, so I caught them right back. A combo of late afternoon sun, which occurs way too early in the afternoon anymore, long lens and big aperture for shallow depth of field makes the picture.

More abstractions to come.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Bombs away

Bombs away

Ah, creatures of flight. So graceful. So poetic. Hey, what's that speck in the picture?

Happy Monday.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Autumn ivy

Autumn ivy

It's too late to see fall colors on the trees in southeastern Wisconsin. The leaves have fallen. But there are still patches of colors in other places. This was spotted on the exterior wall of the Stage Coach Inn in Cedarburg, Wisconsin.

For the most part, autumn has put away its coat of many colors and settled into something more plain and simple to await the arrival of winter.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The view

The view

A couple take in the view from a bluff overlooking Port Washington, Wisconsin. The dog would rather keep moving.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Main street

Main Street

Port Washington, Wisconsin. Somebody's home town. And like every other home town, it has some residents who can't wait to leave it. Some who would never think of leaving. Some who treasure every day spent in that town, and others who let life pass as a blur.

I didn't have to stand in the middle of the street to get this shot. This was taken from a parking lot. A telephoto lens compresses the space and accentuates the downhill view. The wall of green beyond the houses in the upper left is a bluff that rises above the downtown area.

The view from there tomorrow.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Fright night


My wife and I had heard about the Pumpkin Walk that the village of Cedarburg, Wisconsin holds each year. Along with a fantastic array of Jack O'Lanterns along its historic main street, the local businesses stay open late to dish out treats to young trick-or-treaters.


I decided to try my hand at some camera trickery -- using a hand-held off-camera flash to capture the spooky fun. I set my camera's white balance to incandescent to give the ambient light a blue cast, then placed a full CTO (orange) gel over the flash to get a proper white balance on whatever the flash lit up. The flash was tethered via a pc cord to the camera. I held the flash at arm's length away from the camera and slightly above the subject.

Little monsters

It took a few tries to get aperture and shutter speed coordinated to balance the backgrounds and subjects (as well as perfecting my aim with the flash while composing the shot), but once everything was in place, I was able to fire away.


A complete set of shots from Halloween in Cedarburg can be seen in this set on Flickr.

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.