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.

Friday, June 15, 2012


We visited with Geri's dad last weekend at his retirement community in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota.  It happened to be the weekend when the facility was celebrating its 10th anniversary.  As part of the celebration, the facility had arranged for a display of about a dozen classic cars in the parking area at the front of the facility.  I virtually always bring my camera on our excursions, so i decided to take some shots of the cars.  I did not have my tripod with me.  However, it was a very bright day, and most of the shots were taken at a very fast shutter speed.

Here is a shot of a 1953 Buick.

In those days each make of car seemed to have one defining style element, and Buick's was a series of three or four "portholes" on either side of the engine.  Theoretically, the portholes functioned to provide air for the engine, but these are obviously ornamental rather than functional.  I liked how I was able to show the reflection of a powder blue 1957 Chevy in each of the chrome medallions.

One of the first cars to arrive was a 1955 Chevy.

I had some affection for this car, which had been very nicely restored, because my first car was a 1955 Chevy.  That was in 1963, and the car was in much worse shape, even though it was almost 50 years younger than this car.  Here is the car's identifying logo.

Another attractive car was a 1955 Studebaker, also nicely restored.  Here is a portion of the car's hood, showing its distinctive jet/rocket hood ornament.

I think the Studebaker was gone by the early 1960s.

Here is the front end of what I think was a 1950 Ford.

And here is what I think is a portion of the car's trunk lid.

The shot is perhaps a bit simple, but I did like the clear line of the trunk lid.  Here is a similar shot of the back quarter section of another car.

One of the things I was attempting was to get shots that would show other cars being reflected in the polished chrome or sheet metal of the cars.  Here are a couple of my successes.

Finally, the oldest car in the collection was a 1930 Ford Model A.  I believe all Model As were black, as was this, and I worked hard to capture the reflections in the car's highly polished sheet metal, but nothing seemed to work out.  I did, however, get a good shot of the car's radiator.

Monday, June 11, 2012


I am taking a class on night photography.  This is something that I have not had much experience in, so I am hopeful that the class will get me started in this area.  In any event, last week we took a "field trip" along the Milwaukee River as it runs through downtown Milwaukee.  My attempts to capture time exposures of headlights were not very successful--pretty pathetic, rally.  However, as the evening progressed, I started taking shots of the city lights reflected in the river, where my luck was better.

Some of my earlier shots were of larger expanses of the river.  The photo below includes some of the city scene, including a bridge across the river, providing context for the shot.

This was taken at a shutter speed of 1.6 seconds.  I have a strong penchant for abstracts, so most of my river shots wound up being confined to the reflections, as the following photos.

In some ways the second shot is "unbalanced, as there is a bright area on the right but not on the left.  However, I decided I liked it that way.  I also liked the little section of green in the lower right of the shot.  There photos were taken at an exposure of 0.6 seconds.  I also underexposed these (and most of my other reflection) shots by one f-stop because I thought that the dark aspects of the water were fooling the camera's light meter.

 I soon found myself focusing in on smaller pools of reflective light, as in the following shots.

Again, these were underexposed by one f-stop, and each had an exposure of 1/3 second.

Eventually, I found the following shots.  I'm not sure what was creating the reflective lines, but the effect was, I thought, quite striking.

These shots were taken at a wide-open aperture of f/4 coupled with a one f-stop underexposure to get the length of exposure I was looking for (a relatively short 0.6 seconds).  This seemed to be long enough to create the "lines" of light but not too long to "blur" out the effect.  I liked that there was a reflection of red light that was an an angle to the predominant yellow light.  Also, I liked the blue haze on the right of this last shot.  These shots are lacking a bit in depth of field because of the wide open aperture.  My alternative would have been to increase the ISO, and maybe next time I will try that.

One of the last shots I took was of a broader scene that was reflecting the blue lighting that was prevalent in that area of the river..

And finally, here is another broad shot that combines a variety of reflections.

The additional turbulence in the lower portion of this photo was created by a passing boat.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


I had gone downtown on Tuesday evening because telescopes had been set up at the central branch of the Milwaukee public library to offer those interested a chance to view the transit of Venus, an event that will not occur again until the year 2117.  I did get to see the transit and then stayed down to do a little evening photography.  I headed to the Milwaukee Art Museum and as the light started to decline I took a number of shots of the Calatrava addition to the museum.

I have photographed the Calatrava a number of times and close up I have trouble coming up with fresh images.  The lines are dramatic and I find myself converting the shots to B&Ws to take advantage of those lines.  Here are a few of the B&W images.

These somehow brought to mind the story about the blind men trying to figure out what an elephant looks like by only feeling separate parts of it.  In other words, these are essentially abstracts, and one would be hard pressed to figure out what the overall structure looks like based on these shots.  I am OK with this.  I have taken more interesting B&Ws, but at least these are a bit different.

The remainder of the shots were more comprehensive of the overall structure, which I have photographed dozens of times.  So to create something different, I was looking to add elements beyond the structure itself.  In this case I was looking to the colors of the sky in the diminishing light.  Here is one of the shots illustrating the evening light.  In the past I have taken similar shots from this point precisely in line with the center of the walkway leading to the addition.  In this shot I moved the camera a little to the right to show off the cable structure.  Not a cloud in the sky, and in the evening with the museum closed I had the whole scene all to myself.

My favorite shots were those I took just a little later in the evening, when the sky had turned a mellow golden color.  These include the shot I placed at the top of this post, as well as the following two shots. In these shots the cables of the "mast" occupy a large portion of the image and the brise soleil is sort of tucked into the lower portion of the shot.  However, I am OK with the use of the sky as an element of "negative space"--even though the museum is the primary subject, the sky plays a strong supporting role here.

Although the Calatrava is in excellent focus in these shots, the light has created a soft feeling.  Another nice aspect of these shots is that I was able to isolate the Calatrava without any other objects in the image, other than the sky and the lake (except for a sailboat in the photo at the top of the post).

And here is a final shot from later in the evening when the light in the sky was failing and the lights in the structure had been turned on.

The sailing masts of the Denis Sullivan are visible in the lower right.  I do not mind that the top of the "mast" of the Calatrava is cut off, but I do wish that I had not cut off the corner of the brise soleil in the lower left corner of the image.  It would have been great if the shot had also included a rising full moon.