Saturday, June 23, 2012


When our night photography class made its first field trip, I got some interesting images of reflections in the Milwaukee River in downtown Milwaukee.  The other night I decided to go back to see if I could improve on the shots I got the first time.

Not as easy as I thought.

I ran into a few problems.  First, this was June 21, the sun did not set until nearly 8:30 pm, and it wasn't really dark enough for good shots until close to 9 pm.  Second, it was extremely windy, which created major choppiness on the river.  That was not a good thing, as it tended to spread out and diffuse the reflections.  Third, it was a warm evening and there was a considerable amount of traffic on the river, further disturbing the river's surface.  I wound up taking over 90 shots, keeping only about 15, as I experimented with a number of variables to get the best results that I could under the circumstances.

Here is one of the early shots that I kept.

I liked the rich colors in this shot, and it was a plus that there were some deep blue reflections from the sky on the right.  Here is a closeup of a portion of this shot, which shows the interesting texture in the reflections.  I have not been able to figure out yet what was creating the patterns in the reflections.

This shot had an exposure of 0.4 seconds, and exposure time proved to be an important factor.  Any shot with an exposure of a second or longer was simply too diffused to be interesting.  On the other hand, in shots shorter than about 1/4 second the reflections tended to consist of small, disjointed patterns that I thought also generally lacked interest.  To keep exposures in the "sweet spot," I had to juggle apertures and ISOs, the other two components that determine the overall amount of light.  I also found myself setting the camera to underexpose by one or two f-stops what the camera's light meter was telling me was the proper exposure.

Here is another shot that came out well.  This had an exposure time of 1/4th second and was set for a 2 f-stop underexposure.  I was able to bring out the dark blue reflection in post processing.

In the following shot I intentionally included more of the reflected sky.

This was taken at an aperture of f/10 with an underexposure of 2 f-stops.  The shutter was set at 0.4 seconds.  Here is a close-up detail from this shot.

Although most of the lights on the river were yellow-orange, there were some red lights.  However, I found it difficult to capture those reflections under the circumstances.  Here is one of the shots that did work OK.

And here is an atypical photo from the shoot that featured waves that were reflecting off a support pier of one of the bridges.  This shot covered more territory than the others.  The pier was round, which I think was responsible for the circular waves.

And here is another "different" shot that reflects a somewhat shorter exposure time of 1/5th second and that included a smaller surface area that I was able to shoot more directly down on.  The reflections are less "connected," but I liked the effect quite a bit anyway.

Here is one of the final shots I took.  I think the sky had gotten sufficiently dark that there was no remaining blue to reflect.

I think my favorite shot of this series is the one I placed at the top of this post.  I felt it had the most interesting combination of colors and patterns.  Here is a closeup detail from that shot.

Although I didn't get the shots I had hoped for, I am pretty happy with what I did get.  I will definitely do this again.  However, when I do I will want to make sure of the following:  First, I will wait for later in the summer when sundown comes at a more reasonable hour (for me, at least).  Second, I will make sure the winds are light.  And finally I will make sure the sky is clear so I can capture those deep blue reflections.

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