Thursday, December 24, 2009


Icy 2

Pictured here are some of the results of a Christmas Eve ice storm here in northern Illinois. I headed out around my house this morning armed with a hand-held flash unit and a blue gel to throw a little more chill into these pictures.

Icy 1

Icy 3

Things will warm up and the ice should be gone by midday. (N)ice while it lasted.

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sophie, the pug-nosed reindeer

Sophie the pug-nosed reindeer

My wife and I visited family in Michigan over the weekend. While there, I got a bunch of photos of my brother's pug, Sophie. He suggested that I do something with a set of jackalope antlers he had, so we staged, shot and Photoshopped our own holiday pug-a-lope.

No pugs were harmed in the making of this picture -- pug and antlers were shot separately, then joined on the computer. Interesting challenge photographing a pug -- their little wrinkly black faces just suck up the light. You almost have to overlight in order to get any kind of detail in the face.

I used a shoot-through umbrella on the main light, with the umbrella set about halfway up the shaft. Choking up helped to keep the light more focused and I aimed it slightly in front of the pug so as not to overdo the light on the chair and wall. A second light with a grid put some tight directional light on her head.

Posting here may be a bit light in the run-up to Christmas. Hope you have a great time with your own friends and family.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Winter silence

Winter fog

All I heard on this foggy winter morning was a gentle sigh of the wind -- the measured breathing of the world as it lay asleep under a blanket of white.

Sleep well.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Thursday, December 17, 2009



Missing someone this Christmas? Yeah, me too.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Silent sentinels

Silent sentinals ...

The old guard standing watch over the foggy winter morning.

Photograph taken last week at the Paul Wolff Forest Preserve near Elgin, Illinois. After the candle photos taken with a strobe setup, these straight-up shots were a breeze. A warmer, drier breeze to be exact.

More fog photos to come, and at least one more candle shot. Stay tuned.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Monday, December 14, 2009

This little light of mine

Shine a light (vertical)

I've been thinking about this shot for a while. Ever since I did the red Christmas ornament shots a week or so ago, I've been pondering what to do next and thought of photographing a candle out in the woods. I've just been waiting for the right time. The right time being either a fresh coating of snow or a foggy winter day.

The foggy winter day came today, so I packed a candle, lighter, camera, boom stand, flash, gels and grid and headed out to a local forest preserve. It was a pretty straightforward shot once the light was set up - the boom allowed me to place the flash directly above the candle to create a ring of light with a grid attached. A double layer of CTO gels allowed me to shift the color balance to incandescent to simulate twilight while maintaining a warm white light on the candle -- this was shot mid-morning.

The setup for the flash is shown below. After that it was just a matter of laying on my side in the melting snow until I framed up a few shots that I liked. Then home to change out of my wet clothes.

'Shine a light' setup shot

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

A holiday twofer

Holiday diptych

Some holiday tchotchkies have been hanging our house for years. In the case of Mr. Snowman, it's been nearly three decades. I'm guessing your house also features some longstanding decorations that have hung around year after year.

Playing around with lighting featuring a lightbox to throw some uplight, a couple of strobes fitted with honeycomb grids, one for the key light and one with a green gel set up behind the subjects to throw a circle of color on the black foam board backdrop -- I still can't get over how a grid makes the light from a rectangular flash head into a circle, but I'll take it. Some strategically placed white foam board reflectors round out the lighting setup.

Hoping that things are going well for you in the runup to Christmas.


Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Friday, December 11, 2009



Black and white conversion of a color photograph.

Have a great weekend. Stay warm.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Snowman (with bokeh background)

Let it bokeh, Let it bokeh, Let it bokeh,

Christmas is the season of lights (oops, I mean the holiday season is the season of lights), and I can channel my inner Clark Griswold and light up the house like nobody's business. I can also play with out-of-focus circles of lights because there's just so many lights to make out-of-focus.

Bokeh is a photographic term used to describe the quality of the out-of-focus background produced by any given lens. You can get a thorough explanation here.

This photo was lit with a single strobe camera right. White reflector placed just off-camera to the left to add fill to the shadows. Silver reflector used to throw more reflected light onto the dark hat of the ceramic snowman (oops, I mean person of snow).

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Snowy day decor #1

Snowy day decor 3

Was out this morning shooting some of the overnight snowfall. Took a red plastic Christmas bulb with me for some Red Rule action. Played with available light as well as some off-camera strobe. Last time using the Nikon D90 with the 17-55mm f/2.8 -- gotta go back to the rental company today. Sigh. It's been a nice camera/lens combo. Used it at a gig over the weekend. It rocked. Sample pictures here. (While you're viewing the photos, become a fan of my photography page on Facebook -- you won't be sorry.)

Snowy day decor 2

Used a hand held flash with a grid and full Color Temperature Orange gel to get some warm spotlights on the cold snow. Played with color balance as well to get different effects. Now I gotta shovel my driveway before the big freeze hits later today, then head to a FedEx location to send the camera back.

Snowy day decor 1

Photographs © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009



At some point in the distant past, it was important for this wire to encircle this post. It set apart something of value from the wider world around it; it marked the personal property of the person who tied this and other strands of wire across the countryside.

Not so anymore. The property is no longer, the post and wire relieved of their duties long ago. Rusting and rotting, protecting nothing.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Bordering on winter

Bearing the weight of winter
I'm usually not one to add borders or any other decorative elements to my pictures. I like to let the image stand on its own. But because of the white background of both this photo and the blog page, I decided to add a drop shadow to help define the photo's boundaries.

It also seems like we in the upper Midwestern US will cross the boundary into winter this week. Snow is in the forecast. Brace yourselves. Here we go again.

Have you ever thought you've figured out how to do something, then picked up some new information that makes you wonder how you ever did the things you thought you had figured out in the first place? I picked up a piece of Photoshop wisdom that has pretty much revolutionized how I do my post processing. Two pieces, actually, but I'll only cover one for now.

When adjusting levels, holding down the ALT key (on a PC -- I believe it's the Control key on a Mac) while moving the left and right sliders shows how much pure black or pure white is in your image. That made it very easy to know when the background of the photo above was sufficiently adjusted to white without adversely affecting anything else. Conversely, the combo of ALT plus the black slider helped me know when the pine needles and cones had maximum amount of definition without overdoing it. The result is an image with a very tasty amount of contrast

Up until now, I kept the sliders at the edges of where the histogram began to show image data. Visualizing the blacks and whites allows you compress the tonal range and add punch to any image. The above photo looks like it was taken in a studio under controlled lighting. In reality, it was taken outdoors on an overcast day following an overnight snowfall.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Friday, December 04, 2009

The obligatory "first snowfall of the season" shot

First snow ...

Because the first snowfall of the season happened overnight and I needed a photo to post today. Taken with a rental Nikon D90 fitted with a 17-55mm f/2.8 lens. That lens alone is a honkin' big hunk of metal and glass about the size of my D60 and its kit 18-55 lens together. But it do take some sharp, purdy pitchers.

I'd love to have both items on a permanent basis, and I probably could if I could talk all of the companies I pay bills to each month into letting me go a month without sending them any money. Hey, I'm just one guy and they probably wouldn't even miss it.

"Worm's eye" photo taken by holding the camera an inch from the ground (even I'm not crazy enough to lay on my belly in the snow, even though I've done it before to get a picture). I let the D90's 11-point autofocus do its thing.

Let's see. Wireless flash triggers, Nikon D90, mondo lens. I wonder if Santa reads blogs?

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Temporary toy

Nikon D90 w/17-55mm f/2.8 lens

I got these goodies to play with for a few days. It's a Nikon D90 with a 17-55mm f/2.8 lens. I discovered, an online camera equipment rental site that only charges you a very reasonable rental fee -- most other rental outfits put a hold on your plastic equal to the retail value of the equipment until it's returned.

Camera and lens, which includes all of their in-the-box accessories, insurance plus shipping both ways all adds up to about 20 dollars a day. Not too bad. I'm renting this to use on a photo gig this Saturday and am taking a couple of days to get acquainted with it. For about 10 dollars a day more, I could have rented a Nikon D3x, a top of the line pro camera, but I figured the learning curve may have been a bit too steep for shooting an assignment only two days after I've touched one for the very first time.

The photo of the D90 was taken with my trusty D60. Used three strobes, one with a honeycomb grid placed above the subject and another, also outfitted with a grid, to the right. A third strobe was placed six feet to the right and slightly behind the subject with a red gel to add some color highlights. This strobe was triggered via a synch cord. The other flashes were set to slave mode to fire when they detected the flash from the first strobe.

Maybe Santa will bring me a set of wireless flash triggers this year. I've been a good boy.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Cape Neddick lighthouse

Cape Neddick lighthouse

Every once in a while, I have a reason to dig into my archive of negatives and slides to hunt for a picture. I received an e-mail from a gentleman in Iowa looking to purchase prints of lighthouses. He supplied a list of the specific ones he is looking for and I happen to have photos of five of the lighthouses on his list.

The one I had to work hardest to find was this one. It's the lighthouse at Cape Neddick in York, Maine. This shot was taken in August of 2001 during a trip through several New England states. I was still learning the intricacies of exposing film properly, and had the courage (or foolishness) to shoot the entire trip on slide film, which leaves little room for error.

After examining the scanned hi-res file, it looks like the rookie did OK. This shot was a tad overexposed, but it works. Actually, the photo above is a black and white conversion from the color transparency. The color version can be seen here.

Back then, I was about three years into following something inside me that made me want to learn everything I could about photography. I have to say that nearly nine years later, the fire is still there, continuing to push me onward. It's nice to go back every once in a while and take a look at some of the mile markers that have been passed along the way.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009



I've seen these kind of shots done before and wanted to try them out, but didn't have the equipment or the knowledge of how to do it. Thanks to the interwebs, I picked up the knowledge part. Thanks to seriously getting into portrait and wedding photography, I picked up the equipment part.

There's quite an involved process in getting smoke shots, from lighting (two strobes firing simultaneously from left and right against a black background) to playing with background colors in Photoshop (invert smoke image, choose a background color, invert it, layer inverted smoke image over it, multiply, flatten and invert). But the result is kinda cool.

Now to play around with colored gels on the flashes, inserting objects into the smoke trails and yada yada yada without burning the house down.

Photograph © 2009 James Jordan.