Custard Moon

Custard Moon

The owners of Jarling’s Custard Cup are looking to retire after more than 35 years of making yummy treats. They want the business to continue and are actively seeking a successor, which I fervently hope they find. Just in case, we’ve been sure to take the kids over when we can this year, and I got this image of the building while doing so earlier this summer.

Philo Gloaming

Philo Gloaming

When we were first married, my wife was the organist at St. Thomas Catholic Church, Philo, IL, and in the course of her job we did much driving around southeastern Champaign County. Because of the Embarras River, which rises on the south side of Champaign and then flows southeast, this part of the county has gently rolling land, very gentle but enough to make it noticeably prettier (to my eye) than the rest.

We paid a visit recently to St. Thomas for Mass and were rewarded with this scene on the way home. I had forgotten how much I liked the area, and I’m inspired to go back for some less spur-of-the-moment pictures later this year.

Stormy Weather

My best man’s son, who lives in Denver, got married in July, and I wanted to give him and his bride a framed print as a wedding present. I wanted to use the occasion as a spur to make a landscape image, and I wanted something that said “Illinois”; the idea of a thunderhead looming over a cornfield was the obvious way of satisfying both conditions.

August Thunderstorm, Champaign County, IL

This rather simple-looking image was anything but simple to assemble. Since I don’t own a camera or lens capable of tilt/shift movements, I could not carry focus simultaneously in the corn and clouds; an in-focus exposure had to be made for each one separately. The corn was also much lower-valued than the sky, so the corn-focus exposure would need to be “developed” accordingly, and it was windy on the evening I took the picture, so the silhouette of the corn did not match between the cloud-focus and corn-focus exposures.

I could not get sharp detailed corn cleanly bordering on sharp detailed sky in Lightroom alone. Layering two TIFFs, one “developed” from each candidate exposure, yielded masking and gradient artifacts on the lower cloud and corn edge. Ultimately, I had to layer three TIFFs:

  • The sky-focus exposure
  • A copy of the corn-focus exposure “developed” identically to the sky-focus exposure
  • A second copy of the corn-focus exposure “developed” for the corn

Using my trusty Wacom tablet in the GIMP, I then had to manually mask in the edge of the corn with a small soft-edged brush, taking care to leave no edge artifacts. This may be the single most tedious task I have ever undertaken. To prevent eye and hand strain, I had to break it up into multiple small chunks over the course of a few days rather than go for it in one marathon session. I consider the labor and patience well spent, though, as the result is far superior to any other method I attempted.

Many people say that rural Illinois is boring. Subtle it may be, but boring it is not, and I only wish I had more time to go out and make images that justify my opinion. Consider this one small step in that direction.

Working Together

Janus Februarii

I had to walk under the Main Line of Mid-America one morning on the way to rescue my wife from a minor automotive emergency. We’ve seen the street art I call “Graffiti Dude” before. I was on the opposite side of the street from him this time, and the notion of pairing him with a pedestrian, framed within the overlapping arches of the viaduct, popped into my head. I had no time to wait and no camera on me that morning, but I held onto the idea until I found myself in the area again one evening, camera in hand.

A lot of dodging/burning was necessary to bring out just the right distribution of tones, but the sunset light worked much better than my original morning conception, and it prints very nicely at 17″ on my Epson 3880.

Planes of Corn

Planes of Corn

My wife used to be the organist for a couple parishes that shared a pastor in southern Champaign County. Weekends involved a lot of driving, including driving a much younger John around if he fell asleep between Masses. One Sunday morning in 2010, while in pursuit of naptime, I drove past the ATC radar tower on the west edge of Willard Airport and visualized the photograph above. It took me two tries to succeed; the first time around I came too early and the rich warm colors of the sunset had not yet appeared, but this time I remembered to set out later and nailed it.

Patience, preparation, persistence — leave any one of them out and you miss the shot you want.

Red at Night

I was sitting at home one evening a couple weeks back, a bit tired from the day, not really in the mood to take pictures. I glanced out of the front window and saw the neighborhood suffused with a curious red light. From experience I knew this could mean only one thing: an oddball sunset, a lucky alignment of atmospheric phenomena. I got off my keister, grabbed camera and tripod, and went out to try to do something with some fascinating light that, as it turned out, lasted all of 5 minutes.


If I had been able to plan and set up for this shot I would have gotten something more dramatic; instead we have this little serpentine wisp of cloud, isolated from the sky with a long lens, contemplative in its presentation. Nonetheless, I took Galen Rowell’s advice, and didn’t let the sunset pass without trying something. Perhaps that’s the most important thing.

Shade On The Corn

After a one-month gap in posts last July, I went for a topical post rather than a retrospective of what I had shot that month, which means one of my favorite pictures from last year was left unblogged:


We had driven my wife over to Smith Memorial Hall so she could practice while I took the boys on a stroll, and we had barely gone one block before I saw this, the best subject I had for the rest of the walk. (I took other pictures, but none I liked as well.) The corn in front is planted in the Morrow Plots, the oldest experimental cornfield in the Western Hemisphere, which is also the subject of a funny song by The Other Guys from which I derived the title of this post.

This picture does not exhaust the meaning of the place where I live, but it captures a unique part of it: without the intersection between agriculture and learning which the University provides, Champaign-Urbana would be an entirely different place.

Sacred Details

Now that the sun is setting later in the evening, I have time to get over to Holy Cross after dinner and make use of the light. I used my 90mm macro for some detail shots, which didn’t need the close focus but made good use of the sharpness.


On a sunny evening, the stained glass is like magic mutable paint, splashed in gaudy streaks all over the baldachino.


I originally thought that I’d have to come back with strobe or a flashlight to re-do this next shot, but Lightroom tamed the candle flames and pulled all kinds of detail out of the shadows.


I am blessed to be a member of a parish with such a lovely place to worship.