Monday, July 30, 2012


Last weekend, I found myself back at the Milwaukee Art Museum and took some more shots of the Calatrava addition as well as a few of the fountain area in front of the addition.  These are really pretty mundane shots that have been done a million times.   The difference for me was that the brise soleil was open.  Every other time I have been taking photos, the brise soleil was down for one reason or another.

For this first shot, I positioned one wing of the brise soleil against the partly cloudy blue sky, which I darkened a bit in post processing.  Unfortunately, the wing is a bit lost in the larger cloud in the lower left.

I took a few shots from the side of the addition, this time showing the brise soleil in the elevated position.  I thought these worked better as B&Ws.

I didn't give myself enough of a border to the right and the top in this first shot.

This second shot shows the Hoan Bridge in the lower right background, though ideally I would have preferred isolating just the Calatrava addition.

This best shots were those taken from directly west of the Calatrava. as in the following.

From experience, I realized I had to take great care to ensure that the camera was positioned exactly in line with the center of the structure.  Maybe I should have taken some intentionally off-center shots as well.  Because the lines of the structure are so important, I decided to make these B&Ws also.

I did not have my tripod, so all of these shots were taken hand-held.  Even so, the brise soleil came out in very good focus.  Of course, it helped that it was a bright day and the exposure was a quick 1/400 second at an aperture of f/10.

Even though I did not go through the exhibits in the museum this time, I did pay a visit to the atrium to get some shots of the terrific architectural detail that if provides.  Here are a couple of shots of the upper portion of the atrium.  Again, I tried hard to get the camera positioned in the very center of the space.

Finally, I took a few shots of the fountain area below the pedestrian bridge leading to the Calatrava addition.  I liked the pattern between the fountain and areas of shrubs and grass.

I did a better job in the first shot of positioning the camera.  However, I liked the photographer in the lower shot, whose presence provides great perspective on the dimensions of this space.

There is a bit of an optical illusion in this last shot.  I was careful in cropping this shot to position the line of fountains to run exactly down the center of the image.  However, because the dark shrubbery runs at an angle, the line of fountains appears to be running diagonally from lower right to upper left.

Taken with my Nikon D7000 with Nikkor 24-120 mm f/4 lens.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


OK, here's a quick quiz.  What is this a picture of?

For all those entomologists who know their Latin and who paid attention to the title to this post, the answer is Japanese beetle, more specifically the back of a Japanese beetle that was browsing on one of the coneflowers in our garden.  

I was just wrapping up a shoot of some coneflowers in our garden when I noticed the beetle on one of the flowers.  Unlike with most of my experiences in trying to photograph animal life, including insects, this guy didn't take off just as I was getting set to take its picture.  It did do a bit of crawling around, so I found myself "chasing" it around the flower.  This may not sound like much, but since I use a tripod, I was constantly trying to adjust everything, including the focus on the insect.  My other excuse was that there was a bit of a breeze, which made using a narrow aperture (to gain depth of field) something of a problem because of the corresponding longer exposure required.  That is, I was coping with two possible movement problems--the meanderings of the beetle and the movement of the flower in the breeze.   Excuses, excuses.  

Here is a photo of the full monty, if you will.

This was actually a good shot except the beetle had ducked its head just under the tip of one of the bristles of the coneflower.  The coneflower does provide some idea of the size of the beetle, which was probably about 3/5 inch long.

Here are a few more photos that worked out OK.

The above photo does a great job of capturing the detail in the insect's back, but the white feathering at the insect's tail is blurred out.  The following shots do a better job of capturing the tail feathering, but the antennae are not in great focus.  Keep in mind that the practical depth of field of an image is not just a function of the aperture of the lens but also of the distance between the lens and the subject.  In other words, the closer I got to the insect, the shallower the depth of field became.  All of the shots in this post were taken at a fairly narrow aperture of f/13, and all of the shots, by the way, are fairly heavily cropped.

A look at the photos, particularly the one that is cropped into a square, reveals that this beetle has experienced some misfortune during its brief life: There is a major dent in its right "shoulder."  (Actually, I'm not sure that insects technically have shoulders or, if so, how many they have.)  Don't know if it got it in a fight or a fall, or whether it is a congenital problem.  But it makes for a distinguishing mark.

Once again, I was really pleased with the resolution that my macro lens provided.  Here is another closeup of the beetle's back which highlights that resolution, including the little dimples and the iridescence in the upper portion of the insect's back, as well as its "war wound."

Taken with my Nikon D7000 and Tamron 90 mm macro lens.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


My prior post featured coneflowers located in the parking lot of the nearby Unitarian church.  We also have coneflowers in our own backyard garden, so I had another opportunity to get some macro shots of these interesting and unusual flowers.  Our flowers also included the characteristic magenta petals, as in the following shots.

These shots feature a choice in cropping.  I like putting the central portion of the flower off center to create some interest, as in the first image, but there is also something to be said for the symmetry of the square shot.  These flowers are actually quite large--the central bristle portion is perhaps 1-1/2 inches across and the petals bring the total width to around 4 inches.  As a result, I chose to clip the tips of the petals to emphasize the bristles in the central portion.  These shots were taken at an aperture of f/4 to eliminate background distractions.  The focus on the petals is quite soft, but I am OK with that.

I tried a few side view shots, including the following showing what I assume are grains of pollen that are situated near the periphery of the central portion.

So-so, but I decided that shots from directly above were more interesting and provided better opportunities for abstracts.  In the following shot, I wanted to place the center of the flower in the upper right corner and to show a portion of the magenta petals.  This was taken at an aperture of f/9.

I decided, too, that by overexposing the shots, I could bring out some of the variations of color, adding to the surreal quality of these shots.  Here are a couple of those.

There are portions of the above shots where the color of the petals is largely blown out.  But I am OK with that because I think it adds to the overall wild nature of the shots.

And below, finally, is a closeup of one of the above images, emphasizing the interesting spiraling of the bristles around the flower's center.

I liked how I was able to have the camera peer straight down on the tops of the bristles and how I was able to darken the spaces between the bristles.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


I haven't felt very inspired in my photography lately, and I am still waiting.  The other evening I paid another visit to the natural area behind the Unitarian Church.  Really didn't see much, but I did notice that the coneflowers are starting to bloom and there were a number that were nicely lit by the evening sun.

Coneflowers have a cone-shaped cluster of very stiff "bristles" in the center surrounded by a single circular row of purple petals.  Either the petals were already spent or had not fully blossomed, but they were largely nonexistent in the flowers that I saw.  On the other hand, the bristles were nicely developed.

After playing around with different perspectives, I settled on shooting from directly above.  In the very tight shot above that I cropped as a square, I liked the way that bristles were lined in in rows that were spiraling in toward the center, particularly on the right side of the image.

One of the decisions I had to make was depth of field.  Here is a shot taken at a wide open aperture of f/3.5.

The central bristles are in good focus, but those on the periphery are not.  Here is the same shot taken at a narrower aperture of f/10.

Now the peripheral bristles are in much better focus, but the leaves below are also more of a distraction.  I like this second shot better, I think.

I decided to try my hand at a couple of high dynamic range (HDR) shots.  Generally, this means taking 3 or more shots of the very same scene but at varying shutter speeds so that some of the shots are overexposed while others are underexposed.  Then the shots are blended with the help of specialized post processing software.  The result can be quite striking--or garish--depending on one's tastes.

Here is a single shot of one of the coneflowers.

And here is the HDR shot blending the above shot with one 2 f-stops overexposed and one 2 f-stops underexposed.

Not that different, though if one looks closely the second shot is more contrasty.

And here is another attempt at HDR.  Here everything was a little overexposed.  First, the "normal" shot.

And here is the HDR shot.

Not that different, although the colors are a little more vibrant.  This is the same flower that appears at the top of this post.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


During my night photography class I took some lucky shots of reflections off the river in downtown Milwaukee.  I returned a week or so later and discovered that getting interesting photos was more difficult than I thought.  On that second night it was very windy and I attributed my relative lack of success to the wind and to a great deal of traffic on the river.

Apparently not the case.  It seemed just as difficult when I returned the other night, even though it wasn't nearly as breezy or busy.  The problem was with the length of the exposure.  Anything longer that 1/2 second seemed to create reflection patterns that were too dense.  To reduce exposure times, I found myself opening up the aperture as far as it would go, underexposing by one or two f-stops, and even increasing the ISO rating.

I took nearly 100 shots and wound up keeping only about 10.  Even so, I liked some of the shots quite a lot, my favorite being the one at the top of this post.  It really makes a great abstract.

I did take, and keep, some wider angle shots . . .

including one featuring a boat that was churning up the water.

However, most of the keepers involved close-up abstracts, such as the following:

This latter shot involved two different light sources.  A close look reveals that the red reflections are solid but the yellow are intermittent.  I really have not figured out what causes the loopy patterns generally.  My guess as to the intermittent patterns is that they involve lights that are pulsating rapidly, but I don't really know.

Here is another shot that I like quite a lot.

And here are a couple of shots of smaller reflections.

For the record, these were shot at f/4.5 for 1/2 second, underexposed 2 f-stops, with an ISO rating of 320.  Again, I have no clue what is creating the doodle-like swirls in the reflections.

As I was taking all of these shots, seemingly by randomly shooting into the river, a fellow came up to me and asked what I was taking pictures of.  I had a hard time explaining that I was taking photos of reflections off the water.  I showed him a couple of the images on my camera.  I don't think he was impressed.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


 Belatedly, I have been going to the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center to take advantage of my membership before it expires (which I have since renewed for another year).  One of the paths in the center take me past "Mystery Pond."  Not sure what the mystery is, but the pond is full of frogs.  Some of the frogs were very reluctant to have their pictures taken and would leap into the depths of the pond as soon as I approached with my camera (and tripod).  Others seemed to be content to float a few feet offshore.  To make sure I got at least some photos, I would take shots at a reasonable distance from a frog, in case it got skittish as I approached.  The first day I came in the evening and the light was great.  Unfortunately, I only had my 24-120 mm lens, so the shots, even at maximum focal length, required quite a bit of cropping.  I was fortunate that the frog in the shot above was looking directly at the camera (assuming frogs can be said to be looking in a particular direction, given that their eyes are basically on the sides of their heads).  Here are a couple more shots of this same frog.

I cropped these shots to show the entire frog, including the portion underwater.  And here is a shot of another frog on that evening.

I'm not sure why I shot this photo with the aperture set at a wide open f/4, but at least I focused on the frog's eye.

Because of the attractive light, I wanted to see if I could  get some interesting shots of the pond lilies.

I think i would have been better served by my telephoto zoom for the lily shots also, as both of these shots are fairly highly cropped.  I was doing some shutter speed bracketing, over- and underexposing some shots, so I decided to try my hand at converting one bracketed set into a high dynamic range blend.  Here is the result.

It probably would have been better if I had spread out further the over- and underexposed shots.  I like the color that the blend created, but a close look reveals some chromatic aberration.  Still, this shot seems to have done a better job of capturing the warm color of the evening sun on the surface of the pond.

I went back the next morning and this time brought my 70-300 mm telephoto.  That helped quite a bit, even though the light was not as interesting.  In this first shot I included all of the frog.

The resolution on these shots is excellent.  Here is another shot of this same frog.

This was taken at an aperture of f/10.

And here is another frog along with two bugs,  one in the middle of its back and on top of its left eyeball.  I would have preferred that the insects not be there, but I didn't have the patience to out-wait the bugs.

Here is another shot of this same frog.

In both of these shots, there is a bright spot at the base of the frog's right eye.  A close look reveals that the spot is actually where sunlight has entered the frog's eye and been focused by the eye's lens to a spot at the base of the inside of the eye.  The resolution in these shots is very good.

I also took a few more lily shots.  Pleasant but nothing special.