Monday, March 30, 2009

Where the redbud blooms


It's a sure sign of spring when the redbud is blossoming in the southern U.S. I'm so there. Really ... I am. I'm taking a spring trip in central Tennessee, visiting family and friends on the Cumberland Plateau, home of bluffs, rocks, rivers and waterfalls in abundance.

Internet access is sporadic here at best, so I'll post when I can this week. I'm posting this from a motel parking lot where I'm glomming off their wireless internet.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Bird noir

Bird noir

Playing around with some old camera equipment I inherited -- it's funny when you become known as "that person" -- the computer person, the musical person, the artistic person or the photo person or whatever -- somehow stuff that relates to your personage finds its way to you.

The conversation usually starts off, "I don't know if you could use any of this, but ..." and then a presentation of "this" follows. In my case, I've recieved a number of lenses and accessories for Nikon cameras over the years. The above photo was taken with a 135mm prime lens which was given to me after a friend bought it for $10 on eBay and a 2x teleconverter that was given to me along with various filters and a very sweet 50mm f1.8 lens (it has to be used on my digital SLR in manual mode since it's too old for the camera to recognize via its onboard computer, but boy does it do a nice job - but I digress).

The 135mm/teleconverter created an effective 400mm telephoto combo that captured the redwinged blackbird sitting in the top of an oak tree in my backyard.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

More street photography


More images from my trip into Chicago last week. Above, a homeless man picks up his possessions to move on. I don't know where, but wherever it is, it will be temporary, just like the last place, and the place before that.

Below, a gentleman surveys the cityscape from the nook he staked out.

Temporarily closed
Temporarily Closed

And one more, taken as I was leaving Central Camera. If you look closely, the gentleman about to enter the store is eyeballing my camera. I can only guess what he was thinking. Mentally comparing my camera to his? Wondering what I was doing with a flash bracket, flash unit and diffuser (which I had just purchased) on my camera hanging around my neck on a fairly bright day? Wondering if the touristy looking Japanese dude actually took his picture? I like that I caught the guy in the side window looking at his cell phone.

Call again
Call Again

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Best buds

Best buds

A couple of weekends ago I participated in a community photo event. The idea was to go out and photograph within the confines of Elgin, Illinois and a 24-hour span of time. The theme of the event was "End of Winter."

I started out pre-dawn near the Fox River in downtown Elgin, then moved to Tyler Creek. I got lots of shots of ice and heavy frost in the early morning light. Not necessarily condusive to the "End of Winter" theme -- maybe more like "Winter's Cold Dead Fingers Need to Be Pried Off."

Later in the day I happened on a bush sporting large, bright red buds. The contest theme and the Red Rule beckoned simultaneously. You can't see it, but I'm counting on the fact that the jury of the competition will somehow feel the ankle-deep mud I had to slog through to get this photo.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cana Island Lighthouse

Cana Island Lighthouse

This was taken last October during the same trip to Door County in which I made contact with the owner of an art gallery in the village of Gills Rock. This photograph and several others of mine will be on display (and hopefully sold) from May through October of this year.

This was taken about 5 o'clock in the morning. The moon was just a couple days past full. Exposure time was about three minutes. The weather was just about perfect. Clear enough to see some stars (six of the seven stars of the Big Dipper can be seen in the upper left), just enough mist to catch the light beam from the lighthouse and a few clouds drifting behind the lighthouse.

The only adjustments I made to this photo (aside from the conversion to black and white) were to remove a telephone pole to the left of the lighthouse and fix a light spot in the lower right corner which was caused when I accidentally shone my flashlight into the lens while checking the time on a small kitchen timer I bring with me on night shoots.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Killer commute

Killer commute

One morning a couple of weeks ago, I was out photographing in a suburb that tries hard to retain a rural feel. This scene is in Sleepy Hollow, Illinois, just a mile or so from Elgin, a city of more than 100,000 people.

I had just photographed an old barn and was waiting to cross the road to get back to my car. The bicyclist peddled along in the middle of a string of cars headed for the city.

I like the fact that he is traveling in the middle of the lane and not giving any ground to vehicles that outweigh him by a ton or two. The little sign telling motorists where to go is a nice touch, too.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Happy vernal equinox

Happy vernal equinox!

I thought I'd celebrate with the traditional balancing of the eggs. On green. For spring. And St. Patrick's Day, on which I didn't do much that would qualify as being Irish.

Have a good weekend.

Eggs can balance on end on the vernal equinox. They can also do it any other day of the year. It just takes some patience. A scientific look at egg balancing can be found here. Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Takin' it to the street

Under the El
Under the El, Chicago

I had a couple of errands to run yesterday in Chicago. One, pick up my daughter from Roosevelt University to begin her spring break. Two, pick up some equipment from a certain 110-year-old camera store.


Since I was bringing my camera with me to try out some accessories at Central Camera, why not engage in some street photography while I was in town? I've described my technique before -- camera hanging around my neck, wide angle lens, thumb on the shutter as I walked along, waiting for something interesting to happen near me and tripping the shutter as it happened. The lighting was wonderful -- overcast day, no hard shadows -- I set the camera on manual exposure and fired away.

It's hit-and-miss photography. One the one hand, since I'm not looking through the viewfinder, I can't really tell what I've captured until I review the shots later. On the other hand, if I had the camera pressed to my face, I would not have gotten the shot above, top -- as I prepared to photograph the lady on the street corner, I saw the bicyclist coming down the street out of the corner of my eye, reset, then waited for him to get into range before pressing the button. The framing you see is exactly SOOC -- no cropping. Lucky enough to be good or good enough to be lucky?

After a while, you can get pretty good at being able to "see with your hands." More shots to come tomorrow.


Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Shades of night

Shades of night

More artistic than photographic. Or is it using photography to create art? I photographed the birds in the trees fully intending to place the moon behind them from another photograph I had taken earlier.

I've written about axis mundi before and I've noticed that many of my photographs fall into that category of imagery. Maybe that's why I like doing this.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Sign of spring 2

The icy tentacles of winter slowly release their grip upon the earth. Though they may wage another battle or two against the forces of spring in the days ahead, the outcome is becoming clearer by the day.

For reasons unbeknown, we're celebratin' all things Irish today (it's pronounced OY-rish by the denizens of OYR-lund, by the way - just a tip so you sound authentic -- no need to thank me). I'll be doin' my part by having a corned beef sandwich for lunch. And that's about it.

Hopin' you byes and garls have a good one today.

Photo blogging: One of my photographs showed up on Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish blog last weekend. The Dish is one of the top 100 blogs in the world, according to, which tracks such things. The photo accompanied a post that reviews a review of a book that deals with deriving meaning from the beauty of nature.

Oh, and there's an amusing post that precedes the one on beauty. A chin-scratching type wonders if God's perfection is somehow diminished if one lives apart from Him. For some reason, I can't imagine that God is sitting somewhere wringing His hands wondering, "Why don't they ever call me?" Shows what happens when we make us the standard of perfection.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sign of spring

Sign of spring

A new daffodil pushes its way through the layer of decay that winter has left behind. So I push on despite the uncertainties through which I pass.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these."

Matthew 6:25-29

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan

Friday, March 13, 2009

Today's post ...


... was standing in front of an old barn about a mile from my house in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. The edge of the Chicago metroplex is an eclectic mix of city, suburb, rural, growth, decay, new and old - a lot like my photography these days.

This week's postings have been a hodge podge of rural landscapes, assignment photography and technical tryouts on my part. On the one hand, I apologize for the eclecticity of this week's postings and thank and congratulate you for sticking with me. On the other hand, I've been pretty transparent about where I currently stand as a photographer - trying to find the balance between my personal photographic vision and professional image-making assignments. That this blog appears somewhat jumbled is an accurate representation of my current state.

The personal photography began with landscapes and nature. The professional involves products and people. The trick is to meld the two into a single unified style that I can call my own, then go out and sell the heck out of it.

This weekend will be interesting. I'll be out shooting three assignments this weekend - a product shot, a portrait session and a series of shots for a photo competition. It's either a perfect opportunity or a perfect storm. We'll see how it turns out.

Hope you have a good one.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

This picture makes me happy

This picture makes me happy

Not that operatic death scenes are particularly cheerful. At least I'm pretty sure this was a death scene. After the woman sang her part, she collapsed in a heap to the floor, and then a burly doctor-looking dude came on stage and belted out "Morte!" then everyone else looked sad and sang some type of something in a minor key before the curtain came down.

You can probably tell by now that I don't know much about opera. The reason I'm happy is that I was able to pull off a very difficult photo assignment at Roosevelt University last night -- a student production of three scenes from famous operas that I only previously knew by name of composer and title. This one was written by a German French fella. ("Offenbach. Jacques Offenbach.")

Stage lighting that ranged from too low to too bright, weird color balances and lack of reliable auto focus at times (it doesn't work too well in near darkness) flew into the engines of Flight Automatic. I had to call "My Aircraft," grab the controls and guide the photo shoot to a safe landing in the Chicago River. This photo could have been a noisy, blurry mess (and a lot of shots were), but continuous evaluation and button pushing throughout the evening resulted in about 100 to 120 good photos (out of 300 shots taken).

Man, it could have been me singing that death song.

Missed It By That Much Dep't.: I received an e-mail from National Geographic Adventure magazine today. They're looking for hiking/biking/camping photographs taken in Newport State Park in Door County, Wisconsin. Wouldn't you know there is just one state park in the county in which I've never pulled out a camera? I referred the photo buyer to several other DC photographers whose work I admire. Ah, well.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Morning in the meadow

Morning in the meadow

May your day begin and end in peace.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Every so often, I sneak up on myself with a camera ...

Every so often, I sneak up on myself with a camera

... and take a picture of me. I was testing out a lighting configuration and needed someone to photograph, so I chose the only person in the room to be the model. Here's the process:

Set up a chair with a four-foot fluorescent lighting fixture ($9 at Home Depot) with daylight balanced tubes to the left and slightly behind a chair, white reflector to the right. Flash unit on camera set at 1/4 power bouncing off ceiling. Hang a sheet of light blue cloth behind the chair just out of range of the main light. Set focus on camera on back of chair. Set self timer on camera. Press shutter. Walk to chair. Sit down. Make a Tim Conway face into a mirror next to the camera. Wait for shutter to trip. Get up, walk to camera, evaluate the picture. Adjust light and reflector as needed. Reset self timer and repeat the above steps until an acceptable image is obtained.

Open image in Photoshop Elements. Throw the kitchen sink at it. Someday when I have time, I'll explain "kitchen sink" photo processing. It involves inverted layers, tone compression, color saturation/desaturation, vignetting, gaussian blur, texturing and unsharp masking. I've explained many of those individual techniques on my photography tips blog. As in the case of this photo, you can combine those actions to your heart's content.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Of the land

Of the land

I returned to an old barn that I photographed a month ago. It's as worn and bedraggled as the trees and field around it. The only difference is, in another month or so, its surroundings will spring to life while the barn will still be old and bedraggled.

To the left, just over the rise, are a lamppost and a corner of a suburban CVS pharmacy adjacent to where this barn sits. Over the hill to the right is a subdivision of homes. More a piece of history than anything useful, the barn waits for it and the land on which it sits to make a common transformation into something new.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Spring ahead

Time change tonight in most parts of the U.S. Turn the clocks in your digital cameras ahead one hour to keep your EXIF data accurate.

Video: Time lapse created on a digital camera (Fujifilm Finepix s700). Approximately 600 still photos, taken via continuous shooting mode, compiled in time lapse freeware and finished in Windows Movie Maker. Video © 2008 James Jordan.

Friday, March 06, 2009



I'm warming up at the local park for the outdoor rock stacking season. Looks like the gang was there too -- warming up for the tagging season.

Yes, it's balanced. No tricks. Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Late winter, early spring

Late winter, early spring

Spring's coming ... just over the horizon. Two weeks to go.

Need a smaller version of the image? Click here.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.



The curtain of night pulls back to reveal another day. Make the best of your time on stage today.
Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Making the rounds

Light and beauty

I shot this photo of the planet Venus behind the Wind Point Lighthouse in Racine, Wisconsin in June of 2007. You'd think it would be an easy thing setting up a tripod on the beach to line up the tower and planet in a nice arrangement. Nope. I tried a half dozen different positions, taking several shots from each, tweaking the tripod's height and moving ever so slightly left and right trying to get something that worked for me. Then there was the timing of the lighthouse's rotating beam.

People have asked if the points on the planet were added later. Nope. That's just a characteristic of the lens I used. You can see some of the same effect on the tower light. The photo has appeared on a number of astronomy-related web sites and has been used as backgrounds for MySpace pages. I received an e-mail last week from the editor of the Racine Post, an online news site, for permission to run the photo. It seems that the editor in Racine saw the photo on the Earth Sky web site. Venus is about to make a disappearing act as the evening star until 2010, when it reappears as the morning star. The lighthouse adds the "local angle" that all editors seek.

The photo is the lead photo on the Racine Post site and blog today.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

"He nevers asks if I'd like a double tall split skinny with a whitecap"

Biding his time

While traveling through Wisconsin last fall, my wife and I stopped at a coffee shop. It had internet access, so I went back out to the car to get my laptop computer and camera to edit and upload a photo I had taken just a few minutes before.

When I went back out to the car, this fella was running around the back of an SUV barking at me while his owner sipped a hot drink while playing cards with some folks inside the shop. I grabbed the computer and camera, then saw that the light was good so I pointed the camera at the dog. He immediately struck a pose for me, let me take the picture, then resumed running around and barking.

I'm thinking I should do a series of "dogs waiting in trucks" photos. It seems like in Wisconsin, every parking lot has at least one pickup truck or SUV with a dog waiting inside at any given time during the day.

Photo blogging: The Getty Images jobs web site proudly celebrates its “community of creative, intelligent and interesting people.” Over the course of the next 60 days, Getty will be reaching into that community and tossing a number of creative, intelligent and interesting people out on the street at it eliminates jobs following its acquisition of Jupiter Images.

But there is a bright spot. Getty is now hiring a photographer. They’re looking for someone with the ability to "deliver product that is in line with overall corporate objectives" while striving to "understand and manage the various budgetary issues that may affect the ability to deliver product" while simultaneously utilizing an “ability to build alliances” and interfacing “with management to ensure needs are met."

And I presume that when you’re not doing all that, you should be out taking pictures.

I’ve read hundreds of job postings and help wanted ads in the past six months since I was jettisoned from the good ship Corporate America. And still, a little part of me dies when I read an ad written in corporate-speak. Creating prose that is not only vague but dull is a true art form that is not to be envied.

UPDATE: The job posting has been removed from the Getty web site and various job boards. Hopefully at the insistence of a copy editor.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Do you ... Erhu?

The erhu is a two-stringed traditional Chinese instrument. One of the top erhu players in the world is Yang Ying, who rose to musical prominence in her native China, then emigrated to the U.S. where she plays traditional tunes and original compositions that range from Mongolian folk tunes to jazz to funk to Led Zeppelin to Eric Clapton – and sometimes all mixed together. Ying played at the 2008 Planet Arlington World Music festival last September to wide acclaim.

But enough about Ying. That’s my son playing drums behind her on her original composition, Uninhibited. He’s a jazz studies major at the University of Illinois, working on his doctorate in music administration and does a fair job with Mongolian-Chinese-jazz-fusion in 11/8 time.

Bling it on

Rings 'n' things - 2
I’ve been cooped up inside a lot lately. Not able to get out and get any naturey-type shots. Not that late winter/early spring is terribly inspiring here in the upper Midwest. What isn’t white is brown. Ah, well. Eighteen days until spring.

So in the meantime, I’ve been tinkering with my Home Depot-inspired studio lighting setup, and am just about ready to take it out on the road for some portrait sessions. Along the way, I got a chance to shoot some bling shots as part of an engagement photo package for a lucky couple (lucky that they’re getting married, not necessarily lucky that they have me for a photographer).

So I thought I’d post a few samples of the bling shots and a couple of self portraits to show you what can be done with a four-foot fluorescent light fixture, daylight-balanced tubes, a reflector, and a beat-up 25-year-old flash unit. The portrait background is fabric that was on sale at Jo-Anne’s held up by a frame built with less than ten dollars’ worth of PVC pipe from HD and held in place with three spring-loaded hand clamps that cost 98 cents each.

The ring shots were taken with the same basic setup. The top shot shows the ring on a mirror. A white sheet of foam board was used to reflect a white background. The ring and Bible shot was lit by a small LED flashlight.

Me, myself and ...

Chic on the cheap. Gotta love it.

Photo blogging: Sure, I’ve shot pictures of waves. It’s tricky. You gotta time them just right. You’ll wind up with very few keepers -- most of your shots will look cruddy. Now I’ve just discovered another trick to photographing surf. Instead of photographing breakers from the outside looking in, you really have to photograph waves from the inside looking out. And that’s why I will never be an outstanding wave photographer. Be sure to check out the site's home page, which shows the photographer at work. That little teeny person in the lower left of the picture holding the yellow thingy about to be clobbered by a 20-foot wave - that's the photographer.

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.