Capturing Moments in Time

Above: Monarch by photographer Jim Burnham, on display at Peoria Magazines

Any photographer will tell you that getting the perfect image is the result of being in the right place at the right time. Jim Burnham is no different, admitting that serendipity plays a major role in some of his best photographs.

His photograph “8 Seconds,” for instance, was a reaction to an unexpected change of scenery. He and some friends from the Peoria Camera Club had gathered one evening on the East Peoria riverfront to capture the supermoon behind the Peoria skyline. Not entirely satisfied with his shots, Burnham noticed something more dynamic was about to happen as the moon moved south. Grabbing his equipment, he raced to position himself up on Fondulac Drive overlooking I-74.

“Once up there, I had no more than five minutes to set up and take some extreme telephoto shots of the moon as it set over Bartonville, with the ADM plant and city lights in the foreground. It turned out to be the best of the bunch.”

Those eureka moments are what keeps Burnham motivated and inspired although you could say it’s in his blood. His father, Keith, is a photographer, and as a kid, Jim would hang out in his dad’s darkroom while he developed photos. “When the lights went off during exposing and developing, I saw the glow-in-the-dark tape light up like the night sky," he explains. "I guess subconsciously that instilled a sense of creativity in me—an interest in the process of creating."

Burnham chose a career in IT as a computer programmer because it gave him a chance to create and make a living. “I developed the photo bug when my Dad gave me his 1960s Nikon FT3 and taught me to roll my own film canister.” That was it! He was hooked.

In 2017, upon visiting Mitch and Charli Gregory’s wildflower garden in Washington, Burnham was inspired to create a time-lapse video to highlight its growth and seasonal changes from April through December. The project not only required special equipment—much of which he designed and constructed—but a lot of troubleshooting along the way.

Using solar-powered batteries, a car lighter socket, and other materials as a power source, he placed a camera inside a custom-fit case and mounted it to a pole. “The object was to have a self-contained system that could run itself indefinitely, as long as there was enough sun,” he explains. “I started it on April 1, 2017, taking one photo every minute. There was no other programming I could do, so it ran continuously 24/7.” He checked it every week, replaced the memory card, and took notes.  


A pair of Burnham photos, Jellyfish and Thread, on display at Peoria Magazines

But he encountered several issues along the way that were out of his control. The power cables were inadvertently cut by a weed wacker, causing him to lose a week’s worth of photos; a rabbit built a nest inside the battery box; and there were challenges keeping the battery charged. Over time, he remedied each problem and perfected his system so that he only needed to check the camera once a month. When the shoot was complete, it took another four months to assemble the footage, but the resulting video, featuring 148,853 photos, is astonishingly beautiful as it encapsulates the four seasons in just under eight minutes.


Burnham’s “Wildflower Garden Mega Time Lapse.” Music by Simeon Amburgey

Many of Burnham’s photos have a distinct focal point; when enlarged, they can look almost painterly and ethereal, such as his orchid and monarch images, the latter of which was taken at the wildflower garden. But as he’ll tell you, it’s always a game of trial and error getting the right shot. “I may have taken 50 photos of something over the period of an hour and come away with one or two I liked,” he explains. Though he can become obsessed with one thing on any given day, he enjoys the freedom of shooting many different subjects. “Some people photograph the same thing over and over, day after day. I can’t do that. I need variety.”

Several of Burnham’s photos are on display and for sale in Peoria Magazines’ office at 4736 N. University Street in Peoria. We encourage people to stop in and view his work, along with that of artists Elizabeth Davis and Natalie Jackson O’Neal. For more information, call (309) 683-3060. To view more of Burnham's photos, visit his website. PS

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