Thursday, April 30, 2009

Coming unhinged

Inside door, unhinged

I returned to an old one-room schoolhouse in Door County to hopefully get a closer look at what remained of the building. The story of how I originally stumbled onto this structure is here.

I walked around the building, peering into a window or missing door here and there to get a photo of the decay within. At one point, I leaned a bit too heavily on the exterior wall while trying to photograph the interior and the entire building shifted a few inches.

The building had two entry doors, both of which opened into the single room inside. I imagine that boys and girls used separate doors to enter the schoolhouse, but don't quote me on that. This is one of the twin foyers that lead to the large open room beyond.

This is the room beyond:

Inside view

Somewhere along the way, this building was used to stash a large number of paint cans and lids after much of the floor had been removed.

Entry door into the other foyer:

Front door

The view through the rear window:

Through the rear window

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sit a spell

Sit a spell

During the peak tourist season in Door County, Wisconsin, a little piece of Americana greets hundreds of tourists each day as they head north on highway 42 on their way to catch a ferry to Washington Island. It's been decades since Gus Klenke tuned an engine or chatted with a traveler while filling his car's tank with gas, but Gus' legacy remains -- a fading sign that bears his name in 12-inch letters.

The corner lot in Ellison Bay features Klenke's white wood frame building, a faded blue chevy pickup truck -- always festooned with flowers and other artifacts reflective of the particular season -- and a formerly green metal chair, a reminder of the days when buying gasoline was as much a social event as a business transaction.

"Have to run so soon? Folks are just so busy these days."

Around the corner

Photos taken in "worm's eye" mode -- camera held two or three inches off the ground, thumb on shutter button, pretty much guessing where to aim it. It can take several attempts before catching something worth keeping, but the end result is always a unique angle on the world.

Note: A comment from Nate caused me to take another look at the Photomatix settings I used when creating these and other recent HDR photographs. I discovered that Light Smoothing was set too low, which resulted in haloing in areas of adjacent high contrast. The photos have been reprocessed and replaced. Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rocks, wind and waves

Rocks, wind and waves

Every trip to Door County has to include a stop at Cave Point County Park south of Jacksonport, Wisconsin on Lake Michigan. I've been there in all sorts of weather and at all times of day -- sun, rain, winds that threatened to blow me off the cliffs, wind chills of 30 below zero.

It's an ongoing display of the primitive forces of nature that have sculpted Door County over the years. The only thing missing is the glacier from the last ice age.

The bluffs, caves and ledges are all part of the Niagara Escarpment, a shelf of dolomite rock which stretches across eastern North America from Minnesota to the St. Lawrence seaway.

An overcast day provided soft light that allowed photos to be taken in virtually any direction. This shot was set up low -- the tripod held the camera about a foot off the rocky surface. The two rocks graciously provided some foreground interest against the "table" formation in the middle ground and the waves breaking in the background. A small aperture kept everything in focus and provided for a slow shutter speed, which blurred the breaking waves in the distance.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A few days on the road

Door County road

My wife and I spent the weekend in Door County, Wisconsin. The prime objective was to deliver a number of photographs to an art gallery in Gills Rock. Eight black and white prints of Door County scenery in the twilight hours will be on display starting May 2 and will remain for the season which ends in October.

The pieces were well received. So well, that the gallery owner and I are discussing the possibility of a 5-week solo exhibition next year. I'm slowly building a photographic presence in the county. A lighthouse photo of mine runs across two pages of this year's official county visitor's guide. The same lighthouse (different photo) graces the introduction page of the city of Sturgeon Bay's promotional magazine.

The secondary objective was to add to my overall volume of Door County photos. The photo above is one of those new photographs. This is Clark Lake Road, which travels across the Door peninsula. It crests the high point of the county, passing farms and fields along either side. This is the view from the top on a cold, misty, early spring day.

In between rain showers, I was able to photograph some old buildings and cars, capturing an older, weathered side of the county.

Oh, yeah. I was able to stack a few rocks here and there.

To the sky

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

All that jazz

Rob Parton

I've been fortunate enough to have an ongoing assignment for Roosevelt University in Chicago to capture images of the various performing groups at the school's Chicago College of Performing Arts. Earlier this week, I photographed the school's jazz emsembles at the Jazz Showcase, a landmark of the Chicago jazz scene.

The club is currently situated in the Dearborn Station section of Chicago, which looks like it could function as a location for a 1940s vintage movie. Since 1947, jazz luminaries have passed through the club, which has the photos and news clippings on display to prove it.

I arrived at the gig fully expecting to shoot the two school ensembles scheduled that night and not much more. What I forgot was that college-level jazz concerts usually feature professional guest artists who jam with the band.

So, while struggling all night with low lighting and a stage that limited my shooting angles, I got to hear some excellent players who thrilled a nearly full house -- Trumpeter Rob Parton, who also serves as Chairman of the school's Jazz Studies Department and leader of the ensembles, local Alto sax man and RU faculty member Mike Smith and the evening's featured guest, Tenor and soprano sax artist Dick Oatts.

Alto and tenor cats
Mike Smith (left) and Dick Oatts

The night's shooting was a delicate tightrope act -- I pushed the ISO as far as I dared and shot with an 18mm lens (so I could hand-hold the camera at shutter speeds of 1/30 of a second or so) and a 135mm 2.8 prime with a monopod for closeups. The slow shutter speeds increased the odds of motion blur (those cats moved while they played - you can see Mr. Oatts in action here), so I just kept shooting shot after shot, trying to time the shots to their movements and the music. Out of nearly 400 shots, I was able to keep about 150 or so. By the way, these shots are as original as the conditions allowed -- no cropping, just some slight levels adjustments and a trip through Neat Image noise reduction software.

Lots of processing and noise reduction ahead of me. For a change of pace, I'll be listening to classical music while shooting the college's Wind Ensemble tonight.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

More Bean

Chrome and clouds

Passing rain clouds added some drama to the skies over (and the reflections on) Cloud Gate, aka The Bean, in Chicago's Millennium Park.

And then the sun came out.

Bean Illuminated

And it made people smile.


Technical stuff: Photographs are single-image HDR. Individual RAW files processed into three separate images with 2-stop exposure difference and merged in Photomatix Pro. Original RAW images exposed for highlights, which diminishes stereotypical HDR artifacts like grayed-out highlights and halos around objects of high contrast.

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Bean. In the rain. Yesterday.

Cloud Gate

I stayed up way past my regular bedtime last night to photograph the Roosevelt University Jazz Ensemble at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago (the pictures are still sleeping in my camera). I budgeted an hour and a half to two hours to get downtown from Elgin since I was heading in during rush hour. I got there in a little over an hour. Amazing.

That left me with an extra hour to kill, so I headed over to Millennium Park to photograph the Cloud Gate sculpture, aka The Bean before heading over to the jazz club. The day was cloudy and misty, and I hoped that I could make the best of the atmosphere. Even with the overcast sky, the difference in brightness between the sky and buildings/Bean was too much -- exposing The Bean properly turned patches of the sky completely white. Exposing the sky properly turned The Bean too dark.

I had just finished writing an article this week for Digicamhelp that deals with how to solve the problem (it will be posted in a week or so -- look for it or subscribe to the site's RSS feed). I decided to take my own advice. I switched the camera to RAW format (this technique works with JPEGs, just not as well) and exposed for the sky. Afterward, you can adjust the dark areas with the Shadows and Highlight feature of photo editing programs like Photoshop. Free web-based editing programs like Picasa and Picnik also have this feature that can be used to rescue muddy shadows. Shoot at the lowest ISO rating as you can when you do this; it cuts down on digital noise (graininess) in the final image.

I took this photo a step farther and processed the RAW file into three JPEG files -- one at the same exposure, one at one stop brighter and one at two stops brighter and imported them into Photomatix 3.1, which blended the exposures together to get the result you see above. Photomatix is available as a free download, although the free version places watermarks of the name onto the finished image. A downloadable "key" is available for $99 which disables the watermark.

More of the Bean and my night of Jazz to come.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Southern hospitality

Southern hospitality

Seen on a rural road in central Tennessee. Paw done got an itchy trigger finger. Y'all don't come back now, y'hear?

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Ducks on the town

Ducks on the town

The town being St. Charles, Illinois to be exact.

She: "Dear, are you sure we can afford to do this?"

He: "Don't worry babe, I'll have them put everything on my bill." Ba-dump.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Trolley triptych

Number 715

Three photos from the Fox River Trolley Museum in South Elgin, Illinois.

Keep your wheels safely rolling this weekend. Have a good one.


South Shore Line

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Light rain

Light rain

Water flows like liquid light at the base of Suter Falls in the South Cumberland Recreation Area in Tennessee, high on the Cumberland Plateau. The 1000-foot-tall escarpment rises a few miles west of Chattanooga and extends midway across the state, traversing it from north to south and stretching into Alabama and Kentucky.

Numerous rivers and streams cut into the tableland of sandstone and shale, producing hundreds of waterfalls, caves and sinkholes.

Suter Falls

Suter Falls is categorized as a 30- to 50-foot tall waterfall, depending on the water flow over the caprock. Heavier flow pushes the falls out farther and deeper, which is what is was doing when I visited in early spring. The flow eases in the hot summer months and the falls can be nonexistant by early autumn.

For some tips on how to get the most out of shots of moving water, take a look at an article I wrote for Digicamhelp, a web site devoted to beginning-to-intermediate photographers. I'm a contributing writer to the site, which is filled with tons of helpful advice for aspiring shutterbugs. Check it out.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Garfield Farm

Garfield Barn

One of the perks of living on the northwestern/western edge of the Chicago suburbs is that I’m never very far from open land and farms. My wife and I were heading back home from our recent trip to Tennessee when I noticed a nice sunset developing. At the time we were about 4 miles west of Geneva, Illinois driving through a developed area of retail stores. We turned west on a state highway and headed for open space.

We’ve chased sunrises and sunsets before and learned that once you are clear of suburbia, you need to turn perpendicular to the sun (head north or south) as quickly as possible in order to find something of interest to frame against the sky. Driving toward the sun just doesn't work unless you want a picture of a road and the sun.

I determined to take the first road that allowed a turn north of the highway we were on and see what turned up. What turned up was a 1840s vintage barn and farmstead. We had stumbled onto the Garfield Farm Inn and Museum located west of Geneva, Illinois.

Timothy Garfield and his family built a brick inn on the family farm in 1846, which became a center for community activity. The inn hosted hundreds of teamsters and travelers, served as a ballroom for 4th of July dances, a meeting place, and a place to drop in for good company and a mug of cider.

Three original buildings -- the 1842 hay and grain barn, the 1849 horse barn and the 1846 inn -- survive along with three barns built between 1860 and 1906. The farm is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites.


We arrived just as the site was closing for the day, but a worker graciously allowed me to take some photos of the sky behind the barn and other buildings. I took a number of shots of the barn with the sun setting behind it, bracketing my exposures and blending them together in a software program called Photomatix Pro (available as a free download and a $99 upgrade). The result is a high dynamic range (HDR) image that captures a much fuller range of tones than a single digital image, coming close to what the human eye can distinguish in a scene.

The site is extremely picturesque and we’re definitely heading back sometime for more photos. On purpose.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Getting one more thing off my back ...

Off my back ...

The tax forms are complete and in the mail. The U.S. government can now breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Laurel Falls

Laurel Falls (with a touch of Orton)

From our recent trip to the Cumberland Plateau in eastern Tennessee. I'm still making my way through hundreds of photos in addition to several dozen more taken since we got back. Whew.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

While the stars pass silently by

While the stars pass silently by

More abandoned trucks high atop the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee at night.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

That summer place

It’s not too early to be thinking summery thoughts. Check out the Summer Group on Squidoo, where you can find ideas for traveling, recipes, parties, all things swimming and beachy -- you name it. Find and share ideas in a virtual garden party.

Heidrun, the Summer Group lensmaster from Germany, is a longtime follower of Points of Light.

Friday, April 10, 2009



When I was little, I thought of Good Friday as the day the light went out and the world sat in darkness. Easter was the day the sun came out again.

It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last. - Luke 23:44-46

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” - Romans 5:6-8

Thursday, April 09, 2009

What'd you expect ...

Rock balance 1

... that I would travel to a place that had a gazillion rocks and not try to balance one ...

Rock balance 2

... or two?

The top photo, also posted on Flickr, garnered a comment from Bill Dan, the person who inspired me to give rock balancing a try last year. Bill does some phenomenal rock balancing, and is even branching out into balancing other items. Check out Bill's photos on Flickr.

I've got the spirit: My photograph of the Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin Pier Lighthouse won the "Spirit of Winter" prize in a competition in the Shield of Excellence group on Flickr. Getting up early in subfreezing weather has its rewards.

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Rod's wrecker redux

Rod's wrecker redux

My, oh my!
Look how the time flies.
Look how the world changes
in the blink of an eye.

My, oh my!
Look how the years have flown.
Turnin’ around before you know it --
Up and gone.
Oh my, oh my, oh my.

These lyrics fit the picture of the abandoned old wrecker truck in more ways than one. It's the chorus of a song recorded by a country music duo that called themselves The Wreckers.

Photo blogging: is a Web site devoted to helping beginning to intermediate photography enthusiasts get the most out of their digital camera equipment. I've been a contributing author to the site since January -- you can check out articles on everything from basic exposure and composition to post-processing and visual effects. You can sign up for Digicam's newsletter and alerts for new posted content.

Picture too big? Here's a smaller version. Hand held flash unit fired six times around the truck during a 30 second exposure at deep twilight. Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Northcutts Cove Chapel

Northcutts Cove Chapel

The Cumberland Plateau features communities nestled into the many coves that cut into the rocky outcropping. Northcutts Cove, north of Altamont, is a mixture of farms, new homes and old shacks in a quaint, picturesque setting.

Northcutts Cove Road winds its way from Altamont down the plateau through thick woods. As you enter the clearing of the cove, one of the first sights is the Northcutts Cove Chapel, built by members of the Church of Latter Day Saints in 1909. LDS missionaries began their work in Grundy County, Tennessee two decades earlier. The chapel was built by volunteers who donated the materials for the building.

Shortly after the chapel's opening, a local Church of Christ minister named Mansfield challenged the LDS' southern states leader, Charles Callis, to a debate on the beliefs of Mormonism. The debate took place over the course of three days in October of 1909. Reverend Mansfield was apparently not too successful at dissuading people from their Mormon beliefs since Grundy County to this day has the highest percentage of Mormons in the state of Tennessee.

The cove was named for the Northcutt family. H.B. Northcutt formed a family business of building coffins, which makes a great segue into the photo above, taken behind the chapel in the first light of morning. No doubt some of the Northcutts' handiwork lies beneath the earth's surface in this photograph.

The chapel, along with H. B. Northcutt's home in Altamont, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Greeting from Greeter Falls

Greeter Falls, lower falls
Lower Greeter Falls

The Cumberland Plateau is a vast tableland of sandstone and shale that rises 1000 feet above the Tennessee River Valley and stretches across eastern Tennessee from Alabama north into Kentucky. Over time, flowing water has carved deep ravines, forming a network of hundreds of caves and waterfalls, many of them in remote areas accessible only by long, arduous hikes.

Greeter Falls is located in Grundy County near the town of Altamont and was named for the Greeter family, which owned a nearby homestead. Firescald Creek drops over a 15-foot ledge, advances about 40 yeards, then plunges 50 feet into a pool before continuing along its rocky creekbed to meet Big Creek.

Greeter Falls, upper falls
Upper Greeter Falls

Access to Greeter Falls requires a half mile hike through fairly steep terrain and a descent into a gorge via a metal spiral staircase and a set of wooden stairs, which are usually wet from mist from the falls.

Greeter Falls was the first waterfall stop on a recent trip to the Cumberland Plateau and an all-around learning experience in terms of traversing the rugged landscape, caring for camera equipment in a moist environment and exposing the cascading water properly (i.e., mistakes were made here that were corrected at later waterfall stops).

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Under the stars

Under the stars

This old wrecker truck was my muse during evenings on the Cumberland Plateau in south central Tennessee last week. I spent the daylight hours wandering some of the backroads or exploring hiking trails that provided views of high bluffs, rocky coves and roaring streams tumbling over stony outcroppings while making their way down to the valleys 1000 feet below.

When night fell, I turned my attention to several abandoned trucks on the property adjacent to the place my wife and I stayed. I experimented with an old flash unit, which I fired by hand while walking around the vehicles during long exposures. Clear moonless nights on the plateau revealed an amazing array of stars, which I wanted to capture.

The plateau is wild and rugged. The people who live in small towns are descendents of the first settlers who tried to wrest a living from the rocky soils, abundant trees and veins of coal in the area. Some succeed, many fail, as attested by the numerous decrepit shacks along the roadways. At the same time, development is creeping atop the plateau as people discover a place to build second homes in advance of their retirement.

Over the next couple of weeks, I'll share photographs and thoughts picked up from one of the largest geographical areas of its kind in the world -- and one that most people have never heard of.

Photo info: Exposure - 1 1/2 minutes at f5.6, ISO 400. Hand-held flash unit fired six times - three times at the front and side of the truck, twice inside the cab with a blue filter placed over the light and once under the hood. Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.