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.

January Skies

Clearing Winter Storm, McLean County, IL

A little grab shot from the passenger seat taken while riding from Colfax to Gibson City. The church where my wife works chose a day of dramatic skies to go Christmas caroling to their members at various nursing homes between Bloomington and Gifford. Please excuse the grunge (particularly noticeable in the dark clouds at left); I couldn’t put the window down but I didn’t want to lose the moment.

Visiting Warsaw (Sort Of)

When I posted about my thunderstorm picture, I said that I wanted to take more time to demonstrate that rural Illinois is not boring, and possesses rather a subtle beauty. Of course, you can always wait until blue hour to really amp things up.

Warszawa Sunset

The Warsaw family owns this land, right across the tracks from the church where my wife works. The church’s fall festival/potluck had just completed and we were on our way home, when I saw the moon rising over this barn and needed to turn back. The mosquitoes were fierce and I had not prepared with bug spray; I consider it a miracle that I brought back anything usable.

At the tail end of blue hour the full spectrum of white light can be seen painted across the sky, as it was when I photographed another crescent moon in a sunset two years ago. Back then, I discovered that the Cross Process 2 preset in Lightroom 4 did just the right magic to separate out the colors, and I used it again here. The image above is layered from three “prints” of two exposures:

  • First exposure for the grass and barn, tonal modifications only.
  • First exposure for the barn with the Cross Process 2 preset, to get a little bit of the wild sky colors into the white paint.
  • Second exposure for the sky, with the Cross Process 2 preset.

The Warsaw clan is numerous here, and the daughter-in-law of this farm’s owners, who is a photographer herself, asked for a print before she even saw the result. She still wants it having seen the result 🙂 and I’ll be happy to oblige.

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.


Filling Up

We stopped at this gas station in Atwood, CO early on our return trip so my older son could use the restroom. I waited outside while my wife took him in, and as I watched the road I thought “Wouldn’t it be nice if a truck came by?” Mere moments later, this Wal-Mart rig obliged.

As a child, I went through several inflatable Sinclair dinosaurs. Most summers we’d take a trip somewhere that had a Sinclair station, and I’d insist on getting a shiny new dinosaur because I’d loved the previous one to death. In the hope of perpetuating the tradition, I asked my wife to see if this station had any, and behold! she emerged with two of them. They’re not as big as the ones I played with, but my boys were thrilled, which is good enough for me.

Colorado River

While planning our Colorado vacation, I had conceived a tremendous desire to visit the source of the Colorado River. That would have involved either a long hike, for which I was not prepared, or a drive twice as long as the one we took, which my family was not willing to make. Shortly after we crossed the Continental Divide, we came upon the parking lot at the Colorado River trailhead, and I knew I had to try to get a picture.

To the Sea

After entering the park I had thought to buy the NGS trail map, which showed me that I only had to walk about half a mile to get to a little bridge over the upper reaches of the river. The map didn’t show that the first few hundred feet of the trail went steeply upward, before it leveled off for the remainder, but I managed.

The hike was beautiful, filled with quiet solitude of a kind I rarely get. At this point, the Colorado is a pebbly mountain stream, not the mighty water it becomes in the Southwest, and I flatter myself that my picture is equally unpretentious.

It was past dinnertime by my kids’ body clocks when I got back to the car, and we were close enough to the western end of Trail Ridge Road that we decided it was time to call it a day. I heartily enjoyed my first visit to Rocky Mountain National Park, and I will go back someday when I don’t have to move quite so fast.

Sprague Lake


I have wanted to visit Rocky Mountain National Park since I was a child. When I was 13 my parents took me to Denver, and we had time for everything except the park. It seemed incredibly unfair; we made it to Mount Rainier on a trip to Seattle, so why couldn’t we do the shorter drive from Denver to RMNP? Twenty years later, I was determined to finally get there, and I succeeded.

We started out with one of the family-friendly trails, which circles Sprague Lake on the eastern side of the park. It was a nice day, not too hot, with a pleasing mix of clouds and sun.

Mountain Cheese

I found myself alternating cameras throughout the day. For this walk, the Fuji X100 was perfect, for two reasons: 1) it didn’t encumber me if I had to pick my kids up, and 2) the leaf shutter and fill flash made people shots a snap, as you see above.

But there was much, much more to see down the road….

ο κήπος των θεών

My wife and I spent our honeymoon in Colorado Springs, and we have long intended to go back there with our children, to show them the Garden of the Gods and take the train up Pikes Peak. The train had to wait for another trip, but we had a nice walk through the Garden on a sunny day.

Me and Mini-Me

The nice thing about the Garden of the Gods is that it’s not a tourist trap. Sure, there are gift shops and kitsch if you want them, but if you don’t, you can just park your car and walk around, along with the locals who enjoy doing the same thing.


The sky begged for a polarizer to bring out the color. (I also discovered just how dirty my sensor is. 🙂 )


Did the kids like it? They complained a lot, but I think they were glad in the end. Besides, we had another, longer nature trek already planned.

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.