Friday, February 27, 2009

Hungry and homeless?

Hungry and homeless

I took this photo back in July. It was on State Street in Chicago and my daughter and I were in the city for the morning. We had brought a sack of food with us and still had quite a bit left over after we had finished eating, so I gave what was left to a homeless man at State and Madison.

We passed this girl several blocks south and my suspect-o-meter went off. She looked too well groomed and dressed to really be in need. A nice jacket lay nearby in case the morning air got too chilly. It was slung over a fairly large backpack. She sported a nice set of shades and was probably trying to conceal an iPod. And the sign - neatly lettered, with swirlies, no less. And she was working a Sudoku puzzle. What homeless person does that?

I'm now approaching my sixth month of unemployment. And I'm not as judgmental as I was back on that July morning in Chicago. These times have created a whole new class of the homeless. And that includes people with nice shades and who know how to work a Sudoku puzzle.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Rockin' the white background

Rockin' on white

Foth Derby, circa 1940

Cell structure
I'm using my down time in between looking for a job, looking for freelance work (and actually doing the freelance projects I'm finding) to work on fine tuning some studio photography skills. These shots were taken on white posterboard ($1.50 at Office Max). The cell phone was placed on a mirror ($12 at Home Depot) with a sheet of white foam board held at an angle to reflect a white background into the shot ($1.99 at Office Max).

They were lit with a 4-foot fluorescent light fixture ($9.50 at Home Depot) and two 40-watt daylight-balanced fluorescent tubes ($9.95 at Home Depot). A small scrap of white foam board was used to reflect some light into the shadow areas (cost negligible) and an old school on-camera flash unit was bounced off the ceiling to provide some extra fill and blow out the background (the flash unit was a Christmas gift in 1984).

When your photography game has mostly been natural light for twelve years or so, the transition to artificial light is simultaneously daunting and liberating. It helps that I have all that expensive lighting equipment at my disposal. (Actually, disposal is where I find a lot of my equipment.)

And a big thanks to those of you who let me know what you think about the new blog template. Nobody reported any problems with how things showed up on your browsers, so that's a good sign. I spent some time yesterday tweaking the HTML code to move things around - I know just enough about coding to be dangerous. I guess you could say the same thing about my lighting technique.

So far so good.

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

New day on the blog

Early morning flight

I'm testing out a new template for Points of Light. For a while now I've not been happy with the way that Blogger displays photographs - too small and at too much of a loss of detail. I've tried to reconfigure my old template to no avail. I've just now upgraded to a newer and larger template and am trying to find the sweet spot between what looks great on my computer screen and what a fair number of visitors would see when they come here.

I'm staying with Blogger because I've invested almost four years into this blog and built up a lot of link love, a decent Google page rank and a goodly amount of search-friendliness. So I'm using the larger template space and linking directly to my photos on Flickr, hopefully to get the best of both worlds.

I've got some fixin' to do on my sidebar stuff, much of which disappeared in the switchover. Fortunately my feathers are numbered for just such an emergency. Do let me know if you spot anything funky on your browser.

Onward and forward.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Whatchoo lookin' at?

Whatchoo lookin' at?

Several simple and compound eyes glared at me while I took several shots of this grasshopper. There wasn't much this guy could do about it. It was a chilly morning and being a cold-blooded creature, Mr. Hopper wasn't able to go anywhere quickly.

In-your-face street photography, meadow-style.

55-200mm zoom set at 55mm with a +7 stack of closeup filters attached. Strobist info: Medium yellow star to camera right about 92 million miles.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Game of sixes

Here's another game you can play with pictures. Go to the place on your computer where you stash your photos. Select the sixth folder. Then select the sixth photo in that folder and post it. If you're the tagging sort, you can then tag six friends to do the same and so on and so forth.

Here's my six and six photo. Taken last October at the Fall Fest parade in Sister Bay, Wisconsin.

I'm not going to tag anyone to do the same, but if you wanna do this, feel free and let me know so I can see your six and six photo.

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

I've been gamed

While checking links to my photo of a red barn on a snowy morning, I noticed one from Facebook. Some of my photos provide the backgrounds for numerous MySpace pages, I thought, so why not?

I followed the link and discovered that the photo was used to play “The Album Game.” According to Rebecca Dennison, the game is played thusly:

Go to Wikipedia and select “Random Article.” The first random article’s heading is the name of your band.

Next, select “Random Quotation.” The last few words of the last quote on the page is your album’s title.

Go to Flickr and select “Explore Interesting Photos from the Last Seven Days.” The third photo, no matter what it is, is your album cover picture.

You can then put it all together in the design program of your choice, then post it to Facebook and tag three friends to do the same.

Kind of an unfortunate choice for the name of the band, but I like the title and it all seems to work in a strange kind of way.

Ah, to have that much free time.

EDIT: Okay, I took some free time to play the game. I couldn't find a random quote generator on Wikipedia, but I just Googled for a quotation site and took the first one that came up. Ok, done.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Winter dream

Winter dream
Wake me up when spring gets here.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A word about lighting hardware

Antique camera, detail

I spent some time yesterday working on my studio lighting techniques. The only problem is that I don't currently own any studio lights. Up until the last few months, I've been a natural light kind of a guy. I've had a few still life photos rejected by iStock because they weren't up to par with photos taken with a bank of lights and soft boxes. Ok, fine.

I came across the blog of a pro photographer who uses some unorthodox (and cheap) lighting methods. He also shoots for some big time clients. And his photos are good. I'm sold.

One trick - he frequents that well-known photography supply store, Home Depot, where he picked up a couple of 4-foot fluorescent light fixtures and some daylight-balanced tubes. Instant studio lights. I did the same, and got a two-light fixture for about nine bucks plus tubes.

For this shot, I set up the fixture vertically to the camera right and took some test shots. The fixture lit the antique camera well (a Kodak Brownie Box Camera from about 1910), but the twin tubes created two streaks of light in the camera's lens, which I found distracting. I have a round five-way reflector (you can get one for as little as $50 at a camera shop that carries them) in which one of the ways is white translucent. I placed that in front of the light fixture to ty to soften the light. Perfect.

A piece of white foam board to the camera's left reflected some light into the shadow side and a flash unit bounced off the ceiling rounded out the lighting for this shot, which is very nearly SOOC (straight out of camera). Just a very small amount of levels adjustment and cleaning up some dust specks on the mirror was all that was needed.

I'll probably be heading to the Photo Home Depot soon for another fixture. Next step, portraits.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Thursday, February 19, 2009



Lake Michigan can never be confused with a surfer's paradise by any stretch of the imagination, but it can throw up some pretty impressive tubes from time to time. This photo was taken in Door County, Wisconsin in late October, when the approaching winter sent some stiff winds over the Great Lakes. Gusts were clocking in at 40 mph and being out on the beach on a day like that was akin to being sandblasted.

I arrived at the parking lot of the county park that provides this view of the Sturgeon Bay Canal Pier Lighthouse at the same time as a group of four visitors. I hopped out of the car and opened up the rear hatch to prep my camera bag for the trip to the beach. The people in the other car opened their doors, sized up the weather situation, closed the doors and drove off.

Leaning into the wind, I made my way to the beach. I set up the camera on a tripod about a foot off the ground to emphasize the size of the waves. Using a telephoto lens, a large aperture and a fast shutter speed, I was able to place the focus on the waves while throwing the lighthouse behind them slightly out of focus. I used my free hand to try to shield the lens from flying sand, which was plentiful and painful, and shot a couple of dozen exposures, trying to catch the waves just as they were breaking. Most of the shots show water in various stages of mush. This one and a couple of others show some shape to the breakers.

Always happy to provide inspiration My photo of a semi-dilapidated red barn inspired an artist to do a rendering which she posted on her blog.

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

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Like a red, red rose

Like a red, red rose
Taken at the dining room table. Orton processing applied.

Click on pictures to enlarge. Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A barn that time forgot

A barn that time forgot

I live on the edge of the Chicago metro area. It's not too unusual to see an occasional barn situated among the subdivisions and strip malls, a reminder of the way of life that used to be prominent here. I stopped at a CVS Pharmacy a few miles north of where I live. This old barn sat on a lot adjacent to the parking lot. Homes and businesses had been built around it and a neighboring barn to the south.

The Red Rule was calling to me (If you see red, shoot it) and I had my camera close by, so after I finished my purchase inside the store, I walked to the edge of the parking lot and took four shots of the barn, surrounded by trees covered with a fresh coating of snow, a metaphor of time - slowly settling, simultaneously obscuring and revealing.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Model Solar bicycle lamp

To a country that traveled largely by horse and by foot, the arrival of the bicycle from Europe in the late 1800s touched off a craze in America. The demand for personal modes of transportation fueled a new industry in the United States and paved the way for innovations in manufacturing that eventually resulted in the automotive and aeronautic industries.

From 1897 until 1926, the Badger Brass Manufacturing Company of Kenosha, Wisconsin produced the most popular bicycle light – a model it called the Solar. As many as two million Solar lights were produced. The rear compartment held water which was carried by a cotton wick to the lower compartment filled with calcium carbonate. This produced acetylene gas, which emitted a brilliant white light when lit.

The Solar and its many copycat competitors were noisy, smelly and dirty, but that did little to dampen the spirits of intrepid nighttime travelers. The acetylene lamps were eventually replaced by mass produced battery powered electric lights.

Click on pictures to enlarge. Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

From the Museum of Kitsch

Painted ceramic
Approximately 26” tall
Artist unknown

A simple work of art with a simple name belies its complex texture of coincidence and contradiction. This work in ceramic, by an unknown artist, reveals its functional nature by the inch and a half long slot in its upper bank. Clyde is a bank. A piggy bank to be precise.

But not content with the traditional visage of a simple, unadorned pig to dominate the work, the artist has chosen to imbue Clyde with additional qualities appropriate to his duties of guarding a stash of money by depicting the porcine protector as an old west sheriff, complete with six guns and bullets on his belt, his itchy trigger fingers at the ready to plug the first varmint that threatens to make a move. Or perhaps the position of Clyde's hands is simply in trying to keep his pants from falling down. Clyde is identified by the name primitively engraved on the large buckle on his belt.

Far ahead of its time, some would even say prophetic, is the fact that the artist chose to depict a law enforcement officer as a pig. Then again, if this piece was constructed in the late 1960s, the artist, perhaps an anti-war activist himself, may have harbored a grievance that inspired his choice of occupation for Clyde.

A soft smile and goo-goo eyes are at odds with the serious nature of Clyde’s mission, and his five-pointed sheriff star contradicts the fact that sheriff stars traditionally consist of seven points. The inclusion of a lopsided bandanna hints at an informal exterior that masks a will of hardened steel – or hardened ceramic, as the case may be. The careless placement of the bandanna may also indicate a character flaw - Clyde is, after all, a pig.

That the name of this piece hails from one half of a famous duo of bank robbers only adds to the richness of its incongruities.

Clyde resides in a private collection in northern Illinois and has fallen into a state of decay. There are currently no plans to restore the piece to its former glory.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Tuft love

During last weekend's photowalk, Roger and I were walking along a wire fence looking for photo opportunities when he spotted tufts of coarse hair embedded in a twist of barbed wire at the top of the fence. Roger determined that the hair belonged to a deer that had jumped over the fence. The only thing is, this particular fence stands about six feet high, and at 5' 8" I had a lot of stretching to do to get this shot.

Three impressions: 1) Deer can pretty easily jump higher than their height. No reason to let a measly six-foot-high fence get in your way. 2) Speaking as a male with belly hair, this had to smart. 3) If the jumper was a buck, there was probably a doe close by saying, "You just HAD to do that, didn't you?"

Happy weekend. Be a dear. Valentine's Day tomorrow.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Leaving the tangled world of the past behind.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Here be giants

Trees stand like sentinels at the edge of a meadow at twilight.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


More from the full moon photowalk with Roger. This was one of the last shots taken before darkness closed in. I wanted to catch the texture of the barn against the flat blue sky along with the small red accent of the glass ball on the lightning rod.

I like the vision of a world at rest as twilight deepens at the end of the day. My Flickr collection of twilight shots are here.

Full disclosure: I'd like to say this was SOOC (straight out of camera), but alas, no. I knew going into this shot that getting the detail in the barn would wash out the sky and getting the sky right would make the barn too dark. I exposed for the barn, then selected and darkened the sky in post processing. Before doing so, I de-selected the glass ball so it would not be darkened along with the sky. In fact, after darkening the sky, I lightened the ball a tad. Shadows in the barn were lightened and highlights darkened to bring out the texture and create a more antique looking white.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Monday, February 09, 2009


Happy Moon Day. The full moon - the Snow Moon - makes its appearance today. I went for a photowalk with Roger last evening to try to catch the full moon rising. Hazy clouds hid the lunar disk for a while, but it did manage to peek through once or twice, though never really at full strength.

A quick set up when it did show itself enabled me to make one picture of the moon with a lone tree making a friendly gesture toward it. Other than a couple of levels adjustments in post processing, this is how the shot came out of the camera.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

February thaw 2

Note to self: Valentine's Day is Saturday. Plan accordingly. A nice warm holiday in the middle of a cold month.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

February thaw

Spring-like conditions are making an appearance this weekend. This is a formation of melting ice under an ice shelf over Tyler Creek in Elgin, Illinois. The surface of the creek froze quickly after storms in December raised the water level. The creek subsided under the sheet of ice, leaving a foot or more of space. This was taken through a hole in the surface of the ice and backlit by the afternoon sun.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Peers on a pier

A photo taken on one of those warm hazy days on Lake Michigan when the sky and water merge into a single backdrop of blue. I'm so there.

42 days until spring.

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

Thursday, February 05, 2009

No clowning around

Meet one of my former bosses. Just kidding. Slightly. Today marks five months since I was downsized out of my job. Since then, a few million others have joined me and are doing anything except clowning around.

I’m hearing from friends and contacts in a number of companies and the picture on the inside is not cheery either – they’re insanely busy trying to pick up the slack left by staff shrinkage. Working harder and harder to get less and less done, and losing pay and benefits in the process.

I’m regularly finding job listings that look like they’ve melded two or three jobs into one position and at less pay than any one of those jobs paid a few years ago. When companies are in survival mode, all bets are off, apparently.

So in times like these when nobody is escaping the economic earthquake and its aftershocks, it’s best to remember the sage advice of one Wavy Gravy - clown, activist, Woodstock emcee (the first one) and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor:

"We’re all bozos on the bus, so we might as well sit back and enjoy the ride."

We're all in this together. Lose the pretense, be real, tell it straight. Otherwise you just come off looking like a clown.

Photo: Fall Fest, Sister Bay, Wisconsin, October 2008. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

My year in review

Okay, so I’m a little late in posting this, as year-end reviews are usually posted, well, at the end of the year. But I ran across a quote by Ansel Adams that got me thinking. The dean of American nature photography once said, “Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” Of the hundreds of shots he made annually, if St. Ansel managed to capture about one good picture a month, he was a happy man.

I estimate that I easily took more than 3,000 photographs last year, maybe closer to 4,000 (I made the jump to digital photography – I never would have been anywhere near that output with film). So, did I end up with 12 pictures that I could call “significant?” I’m defining “significant” as a photo that breaks new ground in some way, whether it’s a technical, artistic or technological jump.

Herewith is a collection of my significant photos from 2008, beginning with the photo at the top of this post. It's significant in that it was one of the first digital photographs I ever made after more than a decade of shooting film only. Shortly after getting a Fujifilm Finepix s700 for Christmas, my wife and I took a trip to Door County, Wisconsin. I was still getting acquainted with the camera when I shot the Sturgeon Bay Canal Pier Light just before dawn. Plenty of mistakes in the picture, but plenty of potential, too. The composition makes up for some technical problems (focus, noise). A cleaned up version of this photograph will be published in this year's Door County Visitor Guide.

Technical and technological achievement. Capturing a nearly full moon (technical) and inserting it into an existing photo via Photoshop (technological).

Being in the right place at the right time. The odds of that happening increase the more you actually get out and look for pictures. And don't miss a chance to shoot photos when it's foggy.

If the clouds are doing something dramatic, grab your camera and get out there.

Pictures don't have to be complicated.

Right time, right place, dramatic clouds, simplicity all in one picture.

Let the picture evolve. This park sits at the end of a pathway through a wooded area in Fish Creek, Wisconsin. I took photo after photo as visitors came and went, then kept the photo with the most interesting configuration of silhouettes.

Backlighting from a nearby window combined with a sheet of plack foam board with a string of colored lights inserted, Lite Brite style.

Drama in the sky, stillness in the water.

Exploring macro and natural light using a sheet of black foam board as a backdrop. Shot outside in the shade on a sunny day.

Same black backdrop/shade configuration as previous photo. This daylily was one of many growing by a neighbor's garage.

We all walk a path that takes some twists and turns. I had already taken a number of shots of the winding road when a gentleman out for a walk passed by. We exchanged greetings and I waited for him to make his way to the top center of the composition.

These 12 photos represent a whole lot of learning in a year's time. Three of them are award winners, several have been published and together they've garnered more than 30,000 online views.

Click on pictures to enlarge. Photographs © 2008-2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Eyes on the conductor

A bassist concentrates on the conductor during a performance of the Roosevelt University Symphony Orchestra. I shot photos of the dress rehearsal under ideal stage lighting and was assured that the levels would be maintained during the actual performance. What I discovered when the stage lights came up for the performance was that the level was about one stop less than during the rehearsal, rendering one lens useless and placing me on the brink of disaster with two others.

I had come prepared for the worst, and I was now dealing with it. A monopod helped steady my shots, which needed to be carefully timed to prevent motion blur. I shot the first portion of the concert from the front row of seats, then moved toward the back of the auditorium. During the intermission, I moved to the balcony.

All in all, I got the shots that the school was looking for. It was just a little tense for a while.

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

Monday, February 02, 2009


Another photo from the Roosevelt University orchestra shoot. During the dress rehearsal, I wandered the edges of the stage and took a number of shots with a medium telephoto lens. To say that this horn player was connected to her instrument would be a statement of the obvious, but for musicians studying at a high level, there is almost a complete connection to their chosen intrument.

After tens of thousands of hours spent tuning, practicing, adjusting, maintaining and thinking about an instrument, it becomes a source of identity, an extension of oneself. Neither the instrument or the player is complete without the other.

Happy Phil Connors Day I've been a fan of the film Groundhog Day for a number of years. I discovered it long after its 1993 release, as did most of its fans - it's a movie that grows on you. It does that because underneath its somewhat gimmicky plot device about a selfish weatherman who is forced to relive the same day over and over again, is a tale about redemption.

In the movie, the act of taking doomed Phil to an eternity of sameness. Phil initially took advantage of the situation for his own gratification, then fell into despair, trying to kill himself in a number of ways, only to find himself starting the same day once more. It's after Phil dies to himself, that he begins to turn outward and sees the needs of those around him. Attending to those needs then becomes a regular part of his daily activity. The acts of giving eventually set him free.

Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.