Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Last weekend while we were visiting Geri's father in the Twin Cities, we happened upon a classic car rally.  These events are organized by classic car enthusiasts who arrange a time and location to bring and show off their classic cars.  These are open to the public, but most of those attending are just the owners of the cars and their families and friends.  This one was held, fittingly, in the parking lot of an auto parts supply store.  There were perhaps 40-50 cars, ranging from 1930s restored roadsters to custom hot rods to 1970s muscle cars, with perhaps a preponderance of the last.  I thought it might present an opportunity to take some photos.

This proved a lot more difficult than I thought it would.  It was bright and sunny that Sunday afternoon, making for very "flat" light (my first excuse).  A lot of the cars had great paint jobs that had been brought to a high polish.  And I thought that that could provide opportunities for interesting reflections.  I soon discovered that reflections could be not just of other cars but of me--not what I was looking for.  Here is an early shot in which I was seeking to take advantage of reflections:

Not so good.  First of all, the reflection includes too much asphalt, as well as an ugly sign, and not enough cars.  Second, I should have incorporated more of the car, including the wheel so that the viewer has a better sense of what's going on.

There were a couple of really ugly cars, including a very small 1954 Nash, shown below.  Why anyone would spend the money to restore such a car is a mystery to me.

It probably would have been better to have photographed this car from the side, but I was taken with the license plate--and the oversized trailer hitch on the rear.

Another truly ugly car was a Studebaker.  I regret that I did not get a shot that shows that car's unfortunate lines.  I will admit that the car was very nicely restored and I did get a shot of the car's front end.  Nice paint job.

Speaking of paint jobs, one vehicle that caught my eye was a 1950s truck that had been restored and painted an electric green.  Here are a couple of shots of that truck:

It was evident that the owner of this truck had had a lot of fun bringing this one back.

Here are a couple more detail shots of other cars in the rally:

Unfortunately, you can see my reflection in the lower right of this first shot.  The shot below is of a customized Corvette with a great eagle on the hood:

Two of my favorite cars in the rally were a 1957 Cadillac and a 1957 Chevrolet, perhaps because that was the time (1957) when I first became conscious of car styles and when car styling had become an important part of automobile marketing.  Here is the 57 Caddy:


And here is the 57 Chevy:

In reviewing the photos that I took, I feel that I should have taken more photos that were either full body shots or else smaller details.  Additionally, I think I should have taken more wide angle shots from close range.  This would have provided better depth of field and could have created some interesting distortions that are characteristic of very wide-angle shots.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


The other morning I noticed a little patch of dew drops on one of the shrubs outside our front door, glistening in the 6 a.m. sunlight.  At least I assumed they were dew drops.  We have an underground sprinkler system that runs overnight and that might have been responsible for the water drops, but I would prefer to think of them as dew drops.  A closer look revealed that the drops were actually suspended in some spider webbing.  So I thought I would try to get a few shots.

Photos of water drops suspended in spider webbing are legion, and I realized I was not going to be creating something new or unique, but I did want to see what I could get.  Here is the first of the shots that I took.  It might be noted that all of these photos were of a very small area, somewhere between one and two square inches.

[Keep in mind that you can enlarge a photo by clicking on it and can return to the blog by hitting the back arrow.]

One of the major challenges with macro photography is depth of field.  Theoretically, there is only one focal plane that is in focus, and objects become more and more out of focus as their distance either in front of or behind that focal plane increases.  Narrowing the aperture of the lens reduces the rate at which objects not in the focal plane fall out of focus, referred to as increased depth of field.  Conversely, as the aperture of the lens is widened, the depth of field is reduced.

The nature of the optics of macro lenses is such that depth of field for a given aperture is generally quite shallow.  It's also important to keep in mind that the focal plane is perpendicular to the line of sight of the lens, that is, parallel to the back of the camera.  Ideally,  the subject of the shot should be flat, or at least shallow front to back, and the camera should be positioned so that it is perpendicular to the subject of the shot, so that the subject is all on the focal plane.  If the camera is at an oblique angle to the subject or if the subject has significant depth, there will be degradation in the depth of field.

In terms of my dew drops, it would have been ideal if the webbing presented a flat surface, for which I could position the camera so that the lens was perpendicular to that surface.  In my case I was able to position the camera to be perpendicular to the webbing, but the webbing was not flat; rather, it sagged downward in the middle so that the center of the webbing was further away than the periphery.  

This first shot was taken at a mid-range aperture of f/9 and presents a few problems.  First, although the right side of the shot is in good focus, the left is quite out of focus.  Second, the foliage behind the dew drops, although quite out of focus, is a little distracting.  Finally, even where the dew drops (at least the portion of the drops closest to the lens) were in good focus, the complex of webs supporting the drops was only partially in focus.

In an effort to increase the depth of field to bring more of the dew drops into focus I narrowed the aperture to f/25.  This brought more of the drops and the webbing into better (but not perfect) focus.  However, it also brought the foliage into better focus, creating further distraction from my main subjects, the water drops and webbing.  In addition, I noticed that a couple of small twigs were embedded in two of the larger drops--interesting, perhaps, but not what I was looking for.

Not satisfied with what I had, I returned to the dew drops and noticed that there was a secondary patch of webbing that was "flatter" and was at a significantly greater distance from the foliage behind it (perhaps 3-4 inches rather than 1-2 inches)  The configuration of the webbing was not as complex, but the shooting conditions were a lot better.  Here is one of the shots of that section that I took:

This was taken at a extremely narrow aperture of f/57.  Because of the "flatness" of the array, the drops are in very good focus across the image.  In addition, because of the narrow aperture, the webbing is also in good focus.  Unfortunately, the foliage is also in fairly good focus, creating a major distraction.

Because depth of field is generally a matter of compromise, I often bracket several shots at different apertures to compare how they appear on the computer.  The next shot was taken at a wider (but still narrow) aperture of f/25:

In a way, I like this shot because the foliage is blurry enough that the viewer is drawn to the drops and webbing which are in good focus, while the foliage tells a bit of a "story" about the context of the picture.

The next shot (which has been cropped a fair amount) was taken at a wider f/8 aperture:

I liked the fact that the foliage, even though totally out of focus, provides some interest in the form of a variation in color saturation.  As indicated, this shot is cropped quite a bit.  I would have liked to have a larger number of drops in the image, but the drops were not uniformly in sharp focus, so I chose to crop the shot down to those at the best level of focus.  It's interesting that the drops in this shot are nearly all spherical.  I like the surreal nature of this shot quite a lot.

Still not totally satisfied, I went back out the next morning (its only about three steps outside my front door) and took a few more shots.  Here is the best of those shots:

There is more complexity in the webbing and the drops, which added interest.  With the aperture at f/9 and given the distance between the webbing and the underlying foliage, the latter was basically not an issue.  There was more sun on the drops when I took this shot--not necessarily a good thing as the perimeters of the drops were a bit blown out.  The differences in the sizes of the dew drops adds both interest and apparent depth to the shot.  Although when I see spiders they don't seem to be doing much, they obviously must get busy from time to time.

Monday, August 8, 2011


Milwaukee Lakefront Revisited.

A primary reason I wanted to go back to the Milwaukee Lakefront on Saturday, August 6, was to take additional photos of the lakefront itself.  Here are a couple of shots from my earlier visit:

Here are some additional shots from my visit last Saturday:

For this last shot I could see that the powerboat was going to cross in front of the coast guard station and timed the shot so that the boat was entering the scene rather than on its way out.  The boat serves to balance the station. 

For one of the shots I focused on the large rocks lining the shore, with the coast guard station in the background.  

I reduced the aperture to f/22, the smallest available on the lens I was using, to try to keep everything in reasonable focus.  The fact that the coast guard station is just a little out of focus actually helps, I think, the viewer to "see" that the station is at a substantial distance from the rocks.  I also wanted to include the clump of weeds in the lower left to provide perspective on the size of the rocks.  I like this shot because of its unusual perspective and the fact that the rocks fill nearly 2/3s of the image.  For purposes of these shots, I wish it had been a brighter day to provide more contrast between the rocks, the water, and the sky.

Here is another shot of the coast guard station taken through the rigging of the Denis Sullivan, which is docked to the south of Discovery World.

Negative Space.

Several of these shots illustrate the use of "negative space," one of the composition techniques that I have been trying to work on.  I have come to realize that I don't need to fill every shot from edge to edge with content, that open space can help to frame the shot. Basically, negative space consists of the use of a relatively large expanse of a uniform area, which opens up the shot and serves to draw attention to the primary subject of the shot.  Here is another shot from the lakefront that illustrates the use of negative space:

. . . maybe too much negative space, particularly considering the featureless overcast sky that was reflected in the relatively calm water inside the breakwater.  Here is another shot of the same scene that provides a bit more content:

Here are a few more older shots that illustrate the use of negative space:

Negative space doesn't have to be light in color.  It can be black . . . 

This last is a photo that I took at Doctors Park in Fox Point.  The background (negative space) was actually a very small pond area close to the beach that was a medium to dark blue and that I was able to de-saturate and darken much further through post-processing.  A close look at this shot reveals that there is a lady bug sitting on the mostly horizontal length of weed just where the diagonal section is attached.

Friday, August 5, 2011


The second field trip that my travel photography class took was to Cedarburg, Wisconsin, a modest-sized, charming town about 20 miles north of Milwaukee.  Cedarburg is surrounded by rolling farmland and is characterized by a number churches in addition to a well-preserved shopping district.  Historically, the initial economic foundations of the town centered on milling operations located on the MIlwaukee River, which flows through the town.  There is no commercial milling operation remaining, but the historical buildings have been nicely preserved.

The focus of the class was to create photos that provide a sense of place.  This is not a natural strength of mine.  I am usually looking for shots that have some sort of artistic component and in many cases may, frankly be abstract.  The class has been good in that it has sensitized me to the need for creating a sense of place, at least with respect to some of the photographs that I take when traveling.

Following are a couple of photos intended to represent a sense of place because of signage that places the photo in Cedarburg.

There is a dam on the MIlwaukee River where it runs behind the old mill building, creating a glassy surface ideal for reflection shots.  I was very much attracted by the red building on the right.

This first shot takes advantage of the reflection in the river.  However, it seems to have just too much going on.  Another problem with the shot was the presence of a large green dumpster located in front of the red building.  To reduce the "clutter" and eliminate the green dumpster, I took a shot that centered on the two buildings on either side of the chimney and that cropped out the dumpster:

There are things to like in the simplicity of this shot, which highlights the red building.  However, perhaps there just isn't enough going on; moreover, the reflection in the river is missing.  The third shot provided a focus on the two buildings adjacent to the chimney and included the reflection in the river, but I could not exclude the dumpster.

I specifically decided not to try to incorporate the full height of the chimney, which appears to be leaning slightly away from the red building.  In retrospect, it might have worked to have a created a narrow vertical image to capture the full height of the chimney.  A pleasant image, but pretty "cliche," and there is that dumpster.

Cedarburg's downtown offers ample opportunity for detail shots, including the kitschy craft sculptures for sale.  Here are a few that I took:

I liked the way the wreath in the third photo was lit by sunlight filtering through a nearby tree.  The last shot includes the wall of a building that had recently been painted a brilliant and startling blue.

The Cedarburg Winery is one of at least three wineries in the area, and I tried to get some interior shots.  I was not really happy with any of them.  Here is one featuring a long row of wine bottles.

As with most interiors, the lighting was not good, and I knew that I would have to open up the aperture and would lose good depth of field.  I decided to focus on the first bottle in the series and let the rest go gradually out of focus.  The idea was good, but there were (at least) two things I should have done differently.  First, I should have turned the label on the first bottle to better show the name of the winery, as well as the type of wine.  Second, I should have positioned the camera lower and at the left side (bottom) of the bottles rather than the center.  This would have provided more dramatic lines of perspective.

As stated, Cedarburg is surrounded by gently rolling farmland, and I felt that part of the Cedarburg travel experience included that farmland.  I went out early (6 a.m.) the morning following the group field trip and caught the following "farm" shots:

The warm sunlight and long shadows of the early morning helped these shots.

Finally, I took a number of shots that really could not be termed travel photos, including another neon sign:

As well as some "abstracts":

This last is a shot of a portion of the water falling over the dam on the Milwaukee River.  The bright spots at the top are reflections of the sun.  I took a number of shots at different shutter speeds to see if it would be better to give the water a softer appearance.  I finally decided that I liked capturing the complexities in the turbulence of the water.  This photo was shot at 1/400th of a second.  I liked a lot how this shot turned out, but I may be all alone in that regard.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Our daughter Michelle and her friend Tobias were here for a visit this last week, and on Thursday, July 28, the three of us went up to Harrington Beach State Park for the afternoon.  Tobias is a professional photographer, so we took our cameras along to see what might be available to shoot.  When we left home the temperature was in the mid-80s.  When we got to the park, which is on Lake Michigan 25 miles from our home, we were surprised to find that a breeze off the lake had sprung up and that the temperature had dropped to the low 70s.  The high humidity had generated a significant amount of fog, which affected the kind of shots we began looking for.

In presenting some of the photos I took, I thought it might be helpful to show how I wound up manipulating them in post-production.

One of the first shots I took was of a clump of grass perhaps 30 yards back from the edge of the water.  I took the shot at a low angle, more or less directly behind the grass, facing the fog-shrouded lake.

[Recall that each photo can be enlarged simply by clicking on it.  To return to the post, just click on the "back" arrow.]

Perhaps because of the fog, the grass did not have much punch.  Also, the composition lacked balance with not much going on on the right side of the image.  So I decided to increase the contrast significantly and to crop the photo on the right and the top.  Here is the result:

Still not much of a shot, but I did like the hint of another "layer" of grass behind the clump in the foreground and the fact that the fog muted any other features that might have been in the background.

Another early shot I took was of weed/spider web combination that caught my eye.  Here is the original shot:

I took this with a tripod at an aperture of f/4.  That served to blur out everything behind the weed, while leaving it in good focus.  However, the shot looks pretty dull, again perhaps because of the fog and overcast.  So I increased the contrast and also "warmed up" the white balance somewhat.  Here is the result:

I thought this helped the photo quite a bit, allowing the soft, diffuse light to provide a nice three-dimensionality to the main stalk of the weed.

Even though the weather was fairly cool and foggy, there were a number of people enjoying the beach, many of whom were most likely camping in the park.  Here is a beach scene that I shot.  Washed out, to say the least.

I am still uncomfortable taking shots of people without their permission.  I'm also uncomfortable asking for permission.  In addition, it would not have been practical to try to get permission for such a shot.  As a result, I felt that I had to take the shot without spending much time on composition, as is obvious from the fact that people are cut off on both the left and right of the image.  Moreover, everyone is obscured by the fog, as this was taken from a fair distance (at the full 120 mm focal length of my 24-120 mm lens).

To improve the image, I decided to crop out the (half) person on the far left and also cropped the foreground.  Second, I decided to convert the shot to a black & white and to increase the contrast to compensate somewhat for the fog.  Here is the result:

Besides the increase in contrast, the B&W I think creates a very different--almost exotic--feel to the shot. I also like the fact that the shot is totally candid--everyone is engaged in doing whatever without any regard for the camera.  It helps, too, I think, that everyone is looking out to the lake.  I would have liked not to have cut off part of the person on the right.  However, I felt that that little group was too important to the shot to lose any of what I had.  The key focal point, I think, is the girl with the sand pail on the left of the shot.

Harrington Beach State Park is also known for its small lake formed by a quarry operation that ended sometime in the first quarter of the 20th century.  And that is where we headed next.  On the way we passed a clump of trees that were backed by an open area lit by the filtered sunlight.

This shot really didn't seem to have much going for it.  The trees were very dark and largely indistinguishable from one another.  However, when I lightened up and sharpened the image, the light from the left shining on the trees provided some depth, and the open area in the background provided some context that gave definition to this little stand of trees.  I also cropped the left side to provide better balance.  Here was the result:

It helped that there was good depth of field for the trees featured in the shot.

The pleasant walk around the quarry lake is about a half mile long.  Michelle pointed out one of the trees along the bank of the lake that had an interesting "defect."  Here is the shot that I took:

We liked how the light shone on the margins of the defect and revealed an interesting texture on the interior of the defect.  This shot does not show well the features we were seeing, so I increased the exposure and also warmed up the white balance.  Here is the result:

Finally, I took some shots of the trunks of groups of trees along the bank of the quarry lake.  I was attracted by the fact that the fog obscured the lake and opposite bank, allowing focus on just the tree trunks.  Here is one of those shots:

There is very little color in this shot (other than the pine needles toward the top of the image), so I decided to convert it to a black & white.  I also cropped the shot a little on the right to improve the overall balance.  Finally, I lightened and sharpened the shot a bit to bring out more of the texture of the bark of the trees.    Here is the result:

I like the fact that, although the fog largely obscures the lake and opposite bank, there is enough there to inform the viewer of the lake setting.

There are some who feel that any modifications should be minimal and that photos should faithfully reflect what the camera captures.  Others feel that in the world of digital photography virtually anything goes, that the end product, however it is generated, should be judged on its own artistic merit.  Personally, I fall closer to the latter position.  Some modifications are to correct a problem or limitation when the image was captured.  These would include cropping and leveling, changing exposure and white balance, and, to a limited degree, modifying contrast and sharpness.  Other changes go beyond "repair work," such as significantly ramping up saturation and contrast levels or converting to B&W or some variation thereof.  Although I like to "find" the images as they are rather than staging them, I feel that most digital modifications are OK--the test is in their intrinsic aesthetics.  Perhaps that's a reflection of my inability to get things right when I am taking the shot.