Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The sun went down ...

Self portrait at twilight

I've been away for a few days. To stand. To watch. To ponder. And grab some pictures of what I saw while standing, watching and pondering.

I specifically made a trip to Door County, Wisconsin to fill a few holes in the selection of photographs that will hang in a gallery there from May to October. The theme is twilight and night scenes around the county.

The scene above is a self portrait taken at the marina in Sister Bay. I had wrapped up shooting the sunset and as an afterthought, decided to plop down the tripod, set the self timer and walk to the end of the pier for a shot.

A few stubborn chunks of ice hang around the harbors, slowly falling victim to the warm winds that blow from the south. Their days are numbered. Buds are budding. Grass is greening. Taps and buckets are attached to sugar maple trees. A season ending, another beginning.

Late winter sunset

Technical stuff: Graduated neutral density filter used to balance sky and foreground tones, 30cc magenta filter to warm up the sky. Photographs © 2010 James Jordan.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Hello, Dewey

Meet Dewey

More from yesterday's early morning communing with nature. Hoping to capture some more signs of spring this weekend.

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

I got sunshine on a cloudy day


I noticed yesterday that the jonquils and daffodils are about ready to bloom in my backyard. I made a note to get out there today and shoot the not-quite-there blossoms in the warm light of the early morning sun. Only one problem. It rained last night and the day started out gray.

So I manufactured my own sunshine. I put a gold diffusion dome on a flash unit, placed a 1/4 inch grid on top of that to create directional light, clamped the flash unit to a spare piece of 2x4 lumber, placed it on the ground about four feet to the right of the flowers and fired it with a wireless trigger on the camera.

Voila. Highlights a-plenty with a touch of backlight on the blossoms and enhanced color in the background. With a nice warm glow to boot.


Have you seen those photos in magazines that show the sunshine streaming in through a window? Chances are, that light was created by a gelled flash unit or two or three. I gotta do me that sometime.

Photographs © 2010 James Jordan.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010



Yeah, it's Photoshopped. Couldn't resist.

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The need for speed

Feeding time

I'm naturally averse to using high ISOs. Blame it on my days as a film photographer shooting landscapes. The grain (or noise) associated with pushing film to the upper limits of speed was a price that I was seldom willing to pay. I determined never to go beyond 400 ISO. That "speed limit" was something I carried over in the switch to digital.

I'm more willing now to pay the price for the ability to shoot in low light conditions. Being paid to cover events and weddings in less than ideal lighting does that to you, I guess. You do what you gotta do to get the pictures people want. 800 ISO became my new friend, along with a software program designed to reduce digital noise.

This fella was shot at 1600 ISO -- formerly a no-man's-land for me. A very small amount of on-camera flash was used to give the bird a catchlight in its eye, but that's all. The heavy lifting was done by my camera's sensor.

Not sure that I'll make a regular practice of shooting at 1600, but with photography, at least, I've learned to never say never.

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Meet Spike

Meet Spike

I'd say he's looking pretty sharp today.

Mitchell Park Conservatory, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Oh, deer

Oh deer

I'll betcha that if you had told this king of the forest that he would spend his afterlife overlooking the display of camoflaged boxer shorts at the Bass Pro Shop, he would have laughed in your face.

Maybe he'll listen next time.

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.

Thursday, March 18, 2010



Also known as "that funky plant that everybody photographs at the plant place." Often mistaken for Aloe. The juice of this particular plant can cause a rash.

And that's pretty much all I know about agave.

Photograph taken at Mitchell Park Conservatory, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. © 2010 James Jordan.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Pat's Day

Irish dancer

We interrupt all the photos I've been posting of green stuff to bring you ... more green stuff. Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Note: This photo was used to promote an Irish dance festival in Australia.

Photo from last September's Long Grove, Illinois Irish Days. Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sticking up kind of stuff ...

African milk tree
African milk plant. Euphorbia trigona

... at the Mitchell Park Conservatory, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Prickly pear
Prickly pear. Opuntia

Slipper plant
Slipper plant. Pedilanthus macrocarpus

Photographs © 2010 James Jordan.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Palm pattern 2

Palm pattern

Plump and prickly

The landscape around northern Illinois is beginning to display patches of green. I decided to take a short cut and hang out where green is a constant.

Playing with the composition of shapes, lines and patterns as presented by the flora of the Mitchell Park Conservatory in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The conservatory features three glass domes, which pretty much guarantees interesting light in which to shoot photographs.

I kept a 70-200mm zoom lens on the camera and a watchful eye for converging/diverging lines in the vegetation. Used aperture priority wide open for minimal depth of field with a slight underexposure to saturate the colors.

More flora to come.

Photographs © 2010 James Jordan.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Who's entertaining who?

Who's entertaining who?

Simultaneous primate entertainment at the ape/human exhibit, Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison, Wisconsin.

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Zoo photography can drive you batty

Hanging around

Cuz the light's seldom right. This cuddly little guy was hanging around the bat exhibit at the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin. The exhibit itself was dimly lit with red light, just like an old photographic darkroom. Shadowy winged creatures of the night hung from various objects in the glass enclosure.

I lit the puppy up with a hand held flash unit to the left side of the enclosure. If I had more time (and permission), I would have gridded the light to form a tighter spot of light on the bat then added a second flash with a red gel and fired it at the background to up the creepiness factor. Oh, well, maybe next time.

Lone honeybee

Ms. Honeybee was located in one of those beehive-behind-glass-in-a-dark-corner-of-the-room displays. Several hives were going at once, some with a ton of bees, some not so much. I shot a couple of the crowded hives with flash held at nearly a 90 degree angle to the glass for some nice sidelighting. One hive contained just a handful of bees, and I framed up a lone worker on the honeycomb.

To me, the shot speaks to the decreasing bee population worldwide and could be used to illustrate articles on the subject or environmental issues in general. At least I hope the photo editor who reviews my submission at Getty Images sees it that way.

One more selection of zoo shots coming up tomorrow to round out the week.

Photographs © 2010 James Jordan.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

At the zoo #2 - BYOL*

Box turtle

*Bring your own light. Cause they sure don't have enough light at most indoor zoo exhibits without having to crank your ISO to some unreasonable level.

Of course, anybody who has tried to make a flash picture of animals in glass houses knows that you get a nice bright flash of white reflected right in the middle of your picture when you try that. Two things you can do to fix that -- 1) move the camera so as to shoot through the glass at an angle or 2) use an off camera flash and move it at an angle to the glass while you shoot from straight on, or whatever angle you need to in order to get the shot you want.

Option #1 limits your field of view, so I chose #2.

Mr. Turtle was lit with a flash unit hand held by my wife to the left of the camera. A wireless trigger (which can be had for as little as $60) synched flash to shutter. The result is a flash photo that doesn't look so much like a flash photo. Same with Mr. Red Poison Dart Frog below.

Red poison dart frog

Another so-dark-you-can-barely-see-these-guys exhibit. Again, flash held at an angle to the glass (about 45 degrees) at low power to give the camera a fighting chance at a picture.

Still had the ISO cranked up in order to catch some ambient light in the background so as not to be totally flash lit, but nowhere near as high as I would have without the flash.

A couple more flashy zoo pics to come.

Pictures from the Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison, Wisconsin. Photographs © 2010 James Jordan.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

At the zoo


Zoos. Gotta love 'em. Gotta hate 'em. Sometimes I think the last design consideration, if it was made at all, was to photography. Zoos are rotten places to try to get photos of the inhabitants. I kept bumping into the limits of my equipment at the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison Wisconsin. It's not just that particular zoo, I've spent plenty of frustrated moments at zoos all over the country.

Poor light. Even worse color balance of that poor light. Reflective glass. Bars in the way. Argh.

The shot of the tiger was taken through thick, bluish, scratch-covered glass while the big fella paced through the snow near a chain link fence. Most of the time, I try to eliminate all vestiges of captivity when framing up a zoo shot. I watched the big cat pace back and forth and noticed he made a turn at a particular spot in his enclosure. I framed up that spot with a telephoto zoom lens(200mm) through a not so reflective area of the glass and shot several passes of the cat. The best shot had a split exposure -- the part of the tiger below his nose was partially obscured by a reflection in the window. Photoshop to the rescue.

Other times, I try to make it very apparent that the subject is in captivity.


For the most part, I stick a 55-200 zoom on the camera and leave it there. It gives me the ability to be selective with my focus.

This time out, I brought along a flash unit. Fitted it with a wireless trigger and had my wife act as a voice-activated light stand, holding the flash unit off to the side while I shot away indoors. It worked out quite nicely. Those pics to follow.

Photographs © 2010 James Jordan.

Monday, March 08, 2010

The spring thing


As if months of cabin fever doesn't do the trick, there's nothing like a trip to a conservatory to make you pine for spring.

Bolz Conservatory, Madison, Wisconsin.

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Of ice and rocks

Ice and rocks

A winter day on the shore of Green Bay at Peninsula State Park in Door County, Wisconsin.

I'm digging into the recent archive for this shot -- gotta get out and do some shooting for myself.

Yesterday was a busy one for photography. I covered an event for the Chamber of Commerce to which I belong. One shot will show up in a local paper. Later I did a portrait session for a health and nutrition counselor for use on her web site and marketing materials.

I've settled into a string of receiving regular monthly royalty payments from Getty Images. It's interesting to see what's selling. Lately, they've been shots of balancing rock stacks. Who would think? Once the ice clears for spring, I'll get out and balance some more. There seems to be a demand for that sort of thing.

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

A light on the veranda

Light on the veranda

Some architectural detail from the Ellwood Mansion in Dekalb, Illinois.

Isaac Ellwood was a barbed wire baron in the late 1800s/early 1900s. He made his fortune the old fashioned way -- he took someone else's idea, bought a share of it and proceeded to buy out all his competitors.

Ellwood did improve the process of manufacturing barbed wire and his company successfully sold millions of pounds of the stuff to western ranchers who were initially skeptical that two pieces of wire with a little bitty barb wound in could hold back a Texas longhorn. It did very well, thank you and so did Ellwood and his partners.

I love the styling of the lamps hanging from the porch that wraps around the Ellwood mansion. You'd expect a barbed wire man to have pointy things around his house.

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.

Thanks a million, everyone

Sometime before the month of March is over, my online photographs will have logged their one millionth view. That's pretty heady stuff for a guy who was thrilled to death when a handful of visitors stopped by back in May of 2005 when I started posting my work for the world to see.

I've grown and improved as a photographer in that time. Concepts and techniques that had me sweating and scratching my head back then are second nature to me now. I find myself more in control of what shows up on the LCD screen than I used to. Which now means, if the photo isn't any good, I can't blame the camera.

No way that I'll know which photo was number one million, but when the counters here and at Flickr add up (I'm about 18,000 views shy at this point), I'll let you know.

Thanks for coming by.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Little mansion on the prairie

Ellwood Mansion

Isaac Ellwood was one of the first men to successfully mass produce and market barbed wire back in the 1800s. He made a fortune from his home base in Dekalb, Illinois. Today, his home is a museum that pays homage to his twisted passions.

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.

Monday, March 01, 2010

A moment of daylight

To sleep

Saturday was gray. Low clouds blocked any hint of the existence of the blue sky beyond them all day long. But toward sunset, a small opening, a slit in the clouds, opened on the western horizon. The descending sun burst through that opening and shone for all of five minutes, then disappeared.

A half hour earlier, I had been wandering around the Isaac Ellwood mansion, home to one of the barbed wire barons of the late 1800s, taking in the Victorian architecture and snapping the occasional photo. Under the gray sky, it seemed more of an exercise than a meaningful gathering of photographs.

Heading back to meet my wife, the sun made its brief appearance, bathing the city in soft, warm light. I had just passed St. Mary's Cemetery on the city's north side. I turned around, headed back to the cemetery and pull up just as the sun disappeared. I hopped out of the car, framed some grave markers against the fading sky and fired off a few shots. And that was it. Color gone, gray sky fading to black. Sleeping grave markers all around, worn from a century or more of memorializing the lives of people long forgotten.

Life is as brief and fleeting as those few moments of brilliant sunlight. I just hope that my time will be seen as having brightened up the skies of those around me, if only for a little while.

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.