Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Cooler by the lake

Weekenders at the marina

Weekend sailors enjoy the late afternoon at Reefpoint Marina in Racine, Wisconsin. This particular day, the cool lake air mixed with the hot humid onshore air to produce thick fog over the water.

Ghost ship coming around the point

But the fog didn't hamper the sunset in any way.

Sunset over the harbor

Photographs © 2010 James Jordan.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Christopher Kenosha

Chris and the flower girl

Harbor Park in Kenosha, Wisconsin is a nice place to spend a summer Saturday. Expansive open area on the shore of Lake Michigan, nearby museums, beach, lighthouses, a trolley, and weddings. Lots of weddings. The cars, limos and sometimes buses pull up, wedding parties get out and photographers start doing their thang.

This little flower girl wandered around in front of the Christopher Columbus statue and fountain in the center of the park while waiting for her turn in front of the camera. Portions of the wedding party were getting their photos taken on the other side of the fountain. As she wandered in front of the statue, I saw a nice picture about to line up and I had a camera in my hands, so what the heck.

As my wife and I strolled further, we saw a photographer working with a bride and groom. The photog just finished a series of shots of the couple with Chris's backside behind them when we heard a trolley clanging along behind us. The photographer quickly jumped into position in front of the couple, told them not to move and got a couple of shots of the b&g with the trolley passing behind them.

Good man.

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The aviator

The Aviator

My wife had a hankering for photographing dragonflies. I had a hankering to photograph storms expected to sweep through the lower tier of Wisconsin counties. What to do?

Make a stop at Volo Bog, near Ingleside, Illinois, just a few miles from the state line on the way to the Badger State. They got dragonflies aplenty there.

This fella (we could tell because we could hear the beating of his wings) continually circled a stand of wildflowers near the parking lot. He would dart about, then hover and glide, then take off again. After a lot of trial and error, I found that I could focus on him while he hovered. I moved around the bed of wildflowers, getting a good angle on the sunlight as well as a clear shot of the sky and waited for Mr. Dragonfly (a common green darner) to circle back and hover. One hover brought him to within a few feet of me and I was able to fire off three shots. This is the best one.

Dragonflying complete, we headed into Wisconsin to visit Kenosha and Racine.

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The light at the end of the storm

The light at the end of the storm

Let me start with a disclaimer. I don't advocate that anyone go out looking for storms without a lot of advance preparation, a plan and a backup plan. In the case of the line of severe storms that rolled through northern Illinois last evening, I had been keeping tabs on reports from NOAA most of the day and keeping Accuweather's rolling radar map within a couple of mouse clicks. NOAA let me know that developing storms would likely follow a path along the top two tiers of counties in Illinois after afternoon surface heating added the final ingredient necessary for the formation of a mesoscale convective system (MCS) -- fancy weather talk for a really big storm. By 4:00, things were developing rapidly along the Iowa/Illinois border. By 5:00 my wife and I had wolfed down a quick dinner and were in the car.

The plan was to drive west while staying north of the storm, then dropping south to catch the back side where hopefully things would be quite picturesque (and safe). While driving, my wife monitored the radio for reports of storm locations as well as warnings from the National Weather Service that we subscribe to on our cell phone.

After some zigzagging west and south and skirting the edge of the storm, it became clear that the extreme amount of moisture in this system would obscure most of the cloud formations in the storm cells. Bummer. By this time, we were in Elburn, Illinois and a wall of rain was coming in from the west. We decided to punch through it on state route 38. We were treated to an amazing lightning show along the way. We emerged from the rain just east of Dekalb.

Stormy weather

I set up a tripod and set about to capture some lightning. The best way I know to do that is to frame up an area of the sky that is pretty active, set the camera ISO as low as it will go, close the lens aperture all the way down and let the camera pick a (hopefully) long exposure time. I had gotten it down to about a one-second exposure, then just kept clicking away, hoping that lightning would strike while the shutter was open. Out of about a hundred shots, lightning showed up in about a dozen. The image above was the most extensive lightning bolt I was able to capture.


From there, it was a matter of capturing some of the incidental clouds to the system, then sticking around for the aftermath -- in this case, a sky full of mammatus clouds at sunset.

A few hangers-on

Mammatus sunset

Post-storm sunset

Photographs © 2010 James Jordan.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Apocalyptic sunset

Apocalyptic sunset

I finished a photo assignment at a local hospital a couple of nights ago, then met my wife at a nearby shopping mall for a snack and a little walking inside. Afterward, as we headed to our cars in the parking lot, I glanced at the western sky, which until now was under a heavy cloud cover. A small section of the sky appeared to be a boiling mass of pink, similar in appearance to the sky in the movie Independence Day just before the alien ships arrived to destroy the planet.

I joked to my wife that we should hurry home because it appeared that Dekalb just got nuked. We watched the swirling mass grow, then slowly open to reveal pink and gold clouds beyond the portal. Rays of sunlight streamed out of the hole. I shot a few photographs from the parking lot, but having a Home Depot as a foreground wasn't quite cutting it for me. I wrote it off and decided to head home, while my wife drove off to a grocery store to pick up a few items.

Apocalyptic sunset

I shot a few more pictures of the Home Depot apocalypse, then climbed into my car and headed out of the parking lot. My cell phone rang. My wife had called to tell me that the view was spectacular where she was. I turned west and onto the road she had just taken. She was right -- the hole was now closer, larger and shooting rays of light in a gigantic laser light show. My only problem was finding an unobstructed view.

I turned into a subdivision hoping for a clear shot of the sky over some rooftops. No dice. I gave up again and left the subdivision, turning east to head home. I glanced at the rearview mirror then decided to pull over. I got out and got a couple of shots of the roadway and trees beyond. A police car pulled up and asked if everything was OK. I explained I was getting a few shots of the sunset and Mr. Policeman nodded and drove off. I got another dozen or so shots, all hand-held, before the light faded.

Apocalyptic sunset

Photographs © 2010 James Jordan.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I got peace like a light bulb ...

I got peace like a light bulb

These things were pretty popular back in the 1970s. Light bulbs that contained symbols, messages, logos, you name it. They didn't give off much light, but that wasn't the purpose. You could have bought one for a couple of bucks back then. They're going for around 20 dollars on eBay these days.

I got hold of a couple of oldies but goodies from a friend to see what I could do with them, photography-wise. This was the first thought off the top of my head. A composite photo. Shot the lit bulb in a lamp fixture, then took a shot of my hand holding the same bulb. Put 'em together in Photoshop.

Speaking of "off the top of my head" ... I have an idea ...

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Storm story

Severe thunderstorm warning

My wife and I followed the progress of a storm system most of the day last Friday. OK, so I followed it. I just kept my wife updated throughout the day. I think she knew that if things got interesting that I might want to go out and meet the storm as it approached our area. The storm eventually cut a path across six states leaving flooding, downed trees and power outages in its wake.

We received a severe thunderstorm watch alert on my cell phone early in the day. From there I logged onto the NOAA weather site, which provides a daily forecast briefing that meteorologists across the country use as reference in preparing their forecasts. The briefing indicated that a large flying wedge of thunderstorms was sweeping its way across Iowa and heading to Illinois and points east. This storm was a surprise -- it had not previously shown up on any of NOAA's computer models.

A combination of strong convection within the system and high velocity winds aloft meant a pretty good show was on its way. The NOAA site hinted at the possibility of the existence of wind shears, which meant that all the ingredients were in place for the formation of supercells.

I hit for their rolling radar pictures. Using their time stamps and a trusty old road atlas, I calculated the speed of the storm at about 60mph. Whoa. Nothing to do but keep an eye on the weather reports and wait for our uninvited guest to blow in.

Later that afternoon, when the system approached to within 60 miles of my home, I set out to meet it. My wife came along to monitor the radio and keep me out of trouble. The plan was to photograph the approaching storm, then skedaddle our way back home ahead of it. The whole thing was like one of those algebra story problems -- a severe storm with high winds and heavy rains is heading east at 55 mph. A Ford Escape with a crazy man inside is heading west at 50 mph. Where will the two meet?

Approaching storm

We met just west of Illinois Route 47, a north-south road in western Kane County. As we got closer to the storm, the visual turned from a shapeless mass of dark gray to layers of churning clouds, including a rather impressive shelf cloud riding underneath the stack. Walls of rain hung from the snarling mass along the horizon like sheets on a clothesline. I turned onto a north-south road, located a red barn to frame against the sky, turned the car around so it pointed toward home, then hopped out into a corn field to get some images.

Storm clouds

I've shot enough approaching storms to know when enough is enough. I called to my wife, who sat in the car with her window open (I presume to yell to me to get back in at the appropriate time), and let her know that when the lead clouds hit a certain point on the southern horizon, we would make our exit. That would be our cue to get out fast. The clouds didn't quite make it there before I could hear the slow sizzle of very large raindrops striking the leaves of corn on the opposite side of the field. Time to go. I ran back to the car and just got inside as the rain began to fall on us.

The rain eased, then stopped as we raced eastward, raising my confidence that we could outrun the storm if things worked out for us at a couple of stop lights along the way. At stop light number one, we found ourselves waiting for green behind a farmer on a small tractor hauling a trailer tank full of water. Either he hadn't heard or ignored the weather reports -- there was plenty of water about to be delivered today. Either way, he was about to learn a hard lesson. When the light turned, the tractor pulled out ahead of us at a painfully slow pace. A line of cars the opposite way prevented me from passing the tractor as the rain caught up with us. The tractor hinted at pulling off the road to let us pass, but then swerved back on as the farmer likely rejected the idea of becoming a sitting duck on the side of the road in favor of continuing as a crawling duck. Big raindrops began hitting the roof and windshield as we finally pulled around the slow moving tractor, leaving the farmer behind to deal with his fate.

About three miles from home, any hope of outrunning the system disappeared. A section of storm to the south had raced ahead of the mass behind us and closed in on us in a big wet sloppy hug. We slogged though pouring rain and howling winds the rest of the way, dodging fallen trash bins that littered our subdivision like so many casualties in the streets.

Little damage was sustained in our neck of the woods, although many other areas saw uprooted trees and a few are still waiting for power to return. More storms are in the forecast for the next several days.

I'll keep an eye on them.

Photographs © 2010 James Jordan.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Little bump on the prairie

Little bump on the prairie

A small glacial kame rises above the surrounding flatland at Moraine Hills State Park near McHenry, Illinois. A foggy morning helps to define the contours of the kame against the wooded backdrop -- I had been to the park several times and never really noticed this formation until this day.

Kames are formed by the flow of water through a narrow tunnel in a melting glacier. Dirt and debris form piles at the bottom of the glacier and are revealed as the glacier recedes. Kames can be the dominant feature in a post-glacial landscape.

So in this instance, it kame, it thawed, it conquered. Ba-dum.

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

He feeds the sparrows


OK, so I helped a little. Psst, hey buddy ... you got some doughnut crumbs on your beak, there.

Outside the Apple Haus, Long Grove, Illinois.

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010



A young red winged blackbird surveys the fog-shrouded landscape. Moraine Hills State Park, McHenry, Illinois.

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Occupying a thin slice of time and space

Shallow depth of body

But then again, aren't we all?

A butterfly on a wall fits neatly into the shallow depth of field of a telephoto lens. Peck Road Farm butterfly house, Geneva, Illinois.

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Gimme shelter

Flowery shelter

A spider hides out under the petals of a coneflower. Moraine Hills State Park, McHenry, Illinois.

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Candid shots

The minstrel

From the Port Washington Pirate Festival last weekend. The minstrel making music and telling tales of life on the open seas ...

The merchant

The flaunter of flasks in the marketplace ...

The magician

And the sorcerer, using his silver box of magic to capture people's souls.

Photographs © 2010 James Jordan.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

There be pirates

Pirates of Wisconsin

I headed up to the Port Washington Pirate Festival in Port Washington, Wisconsin last weekend. My main objective was to come back with a number of piratey portraits to feed my portfolio. I figured that anyone willing to go to the effort to turn themself into a pirate wouldn't mind posing for a couple of photos. I was right. I ran into one group of scallawags and wenches that called themselves the Sea Ratts. All I had to do was ask once to take a few photos and I became their official photographer for the weekend. Individual shots, couples, small groups, large group. I came away with shots for my portfolio and Getty Images, they had photos for their web site. Win-win.

The wench

I learned that many of the piratey participants traveled a regular summer circuit of festivals and fairs ranging from Rennaissance to Revolutionary War. One gentleman I spoke to said that since the economy tanked, having something like that to fall back on was not too bad of a way to make a living. He wouldn't go into detail about how they made money -- I presume some made money through selling concessions and others through performance fees, but I'm only speculating.

The gov

This was my favorite subject throughout the weekend. Meet the "Governor" of Port Washington. His job was to act alarmed and comically order his militia to repel the landing of a pirate vessel and subsequent invasion of his port, every two hours on the hour each day. I'd catch him between invasions, and he would always snap back into character as soon as he saw me and my camera. Lots of fun.

I've been meaning to turn my camera more often to the human landscape and this summer I plan to do more of it.

Photographs © 2010 James Jordan.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Against the storm

Against the storm

The lighthouse at Wind Point, north of Racine Wisconsin, set against a backdrop of turbulent skies.

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Storm cell

Storm cell

This past weekend was a turbulent one in the Prairie State. This is the action northeast of Woodstock, Illinois on Sunday afternoon.

My wife and I were returning from Port Washington, Wisconsin and noticed a large storm brewing to the west and north of us. We eventually crossed paths at Lake Geneva. After we had driven through the storm, we kept an eye on it as it drifted eastward toward McHenry. I stopped three times to get photos of the churning clouds.

By the time we arrived home, the skies had cleared and you wouldn't have known that anything dramatic had occured at all.

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Avast me hearties!


The weekend is nearly here and I'm planning a trip to Port Washington, Wisconsin's Pirate Festival. Three days of pillage and plunder and folks dressed up as various scallawags and wenches. Some folks take this thing pretty seriously and travel from all over the Midwest to attend these types of things decked out in their piratey best. Who knew?

I don't plan on dressing as a pirate (I think I get enough points for having my birthday on September 19 -- International Talk like a Pirate Day). I do plan on catching as many piratey portraits as I can throughout the day on Saturday. Arrr!

Hope that whatever swashbuckling you have planned for the weekend turns out well.

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Got pollen?


If not, there's plenty more where this came from.

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Rocking the poor man's macro


A photo of a hover fly, not hovering. The guy was hanging around on a seed pod at the top of a stalk of grass next to my garage (don't ask why my grass is seeding out).

I don't readily have $1000 laying around to spend on a macro lens, so I make do with a couple of cheap 50mm f/1.8s taped together, face-to-face. A new 50mm lens will set you back just $130 or so. When not shooting bugs, the 50mm makes a great portrait lens (on a DX sensor camera, it's equivalent to a 75mm). The other lens is an old manual job from an older film camera that doesn't get used any more.

A couple of people have asked about the setup I use to shoot insect macros. I've posted photos of the lens combo, flash setup and sample pics on the James Jordan Photography page on Facebook. There's a pretty thorough explanation of how I go about using the equipment and how I approach shooting bugs and other small things. And if you're also on Facebook, be sure to "Like" my page, mkay?

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Turnabout's fair play


We've made the turn from spring to summer and with that, it's time for me to do my annual "turn the lens around and shoot something small" photo trekking.

In this case, I gaffer-taped two 50mm f/1.8 lenses together face to face so the back of one of the lenses points toward the subject. I can focus down to less than half an inch with this setup. Add a flash on a bracket that dumps light just past the lens and I can shoot just about anything that will stay still long enough for me to move in. You lose the corners of the frame, but a little cropping takes care of things nicely.

This damselfly was one of dozens flitting about my backyard yesterday, enjoying the warm weather.

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.