Thursday, November 29, 2012


For the past couple of months Whitefish Bay's water tower has been under wraps, covered by a full-length curtain.  I finally learned that the tower was being repainted and that the shroud was intended to prevent any debris from the sandblasting or spray paint to drift on to neighboring homes.  Once the paint job was completed, I decided to see what photos I could get.

First is a shot of the tower from longer range.

The tower is fully accessible--no chain link fences--so I was free to walk directly under it.

Although this shot is asymmetrical, for most of the shots I took I found myself attempting to create a symmetry.  Here are a few of those, which I converted to B&Ws.

Here is a wider view that includes part of the cloudless sky.

I converted this to a B&W also.

I liked that I was able to darken the blue in the sky for this shot.

And here is a "detail" shot of some sort of bolted hatch at the base of the tower's central support.

Generally, I was disappointed with how these came out.  Although there is some interesting geometry in these shots, they don't do a very good job of capturing the tower.  I think I am going to have to go back and give it another try.

Taken with my Nikon D7000 with Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 lens and Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 lens.


I had a free afternoon on a sunny day earlier this week and headed back to the Mitchell Domes for a little macro "fix."  As usual, I found myself reshooting some of the same subjects as in the past--still hoping for that great shot.  But I also spotted a few new opportunities.

Here is one of my old favorites, a variegated coleus leaf.  (At least I got the name of the plant this time.)

I loved the wine-stain color in this leaf.  What I didn't notice until post processing was that there was a piece of thread almost in the center of the image.  Fortunately, I was pretty much able to excise it with my spot removal tool.

Another old favorite is a large plant (notice my failure here to get the plant's name) in the desert dome.

In the past I have taken closer shots that had a simpler composition, but this time I moved back a ways to get this shot.  I realize that there is no flower in this shot and it isn't really a macro shot, but I'm really happy with it.  This was taken at an aperture of f/36 with an exposure of 1.6 seconds.

Here are a couple of shots of blossoms in the tropical dome.  The business end of these flowers is, frankly, a bit messy, so I decided to take my shots from the rear.  The first is a blossom that was still opening.

Sunlight was nicely backlighting the petals and as a result the camera underexposed anything otherwise visible in the background, turning it black.  Here is a blossom that was open fully.

I like the first shot better perhaps because of its richer color or because it is a little more intimate.

In the desert dome I also spotted a leaf that was perhaps 8 inches long and 1-2 inches wide.  I was attracted to this subject because of the combination of orange and green colors that the leaf displayed.  The leaf was "cupped" from side to side, and I was interested in creating a sense of depth by allowing the back edge of the leaf to go out of focus.  I set the camera up perpendicular to the leaf with the focus on the front edge of the side closest to the camera.  In this first shot the lens was about as close as possible to the leaf and still maintain good focus, perhaps 3 inches.  Even though the aperture was a narrow f/16, the back edge of the leaf--at the very top of the image--was very much out of focus.

Here is another shot taken a little farther back from the leaf at an aperture of f/20.

As an abstract, I think I like the first shot better than the second.

And here is another study in depth of field from the show dome, which is now presenting its holiday display.

Here is a shot of a cyclamen blossom that I liked because of the way the petals were nestled together.

(This is actually a color shot, not a black & white.)  Again, the camera was positioned only a few inches directly above the blossom.  Because the camera was so close, depth of field was a real issue.  This was taken at an extremely narrow aperture of f/57.

Here is another shot of the same blossom taken at f/8.

I focused the lens on the left edge of the outside blossom, which also caught a bit of the lower edge of the inside petal.  Otherwise, just about everything else is out of focus.  Even so, I like this shot better than the first image, I think because of its abstract quality.

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

Monday, November 26, 2012


When Geri and I were in the Twin Cities in early October to see her dad, we visited the Walker Art Center.  It was a major disappointment.  It was smallish and primarily limited to contemporary (that is to say experimental) art.  (See my post of October 15.)

We returned to the Twin Cities over Thanksgiving weekend.  This time, on the advice of a friend, we visited the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.  This museum was magnificent.  It included a diverse collection of uniformly interesting art housed in a facility that is architecturally appealing.  Moreover, general admission is free--all the time.  The current special exhibit (which does include a charge for admission) is China's Terracotta Warriors, and features a number of original warrior and horse statues, as well as other artifacts, from Xian, China.  They, and the exhibit generally, were stunning.  Unfortunately, photography was forbidden, so I have nothing to post from that exhibit.  However, I did take a number of photos elsewhere in the museum, and am sharing some of those here.  More specifically, I took over 160 shots, of which I have retained about 90.  However, I am trying hard to limit those posted to my blog (to avoid viewer fatigue).

In terms of architecture, the museum seemed to reflect a diversity of styles.  Parts were very traditional, with Greco-Roman interior concrete columns, while other sections were more modern, including an interesting rotunda, leading me to believe the museum had been added to more than once over the years.  Here are a few shots that show some of the architectural detail.

I liked the clean lines and simplicity of this stairwell.

I also like to include shots of the general museum scene.  Here is one of those.

Although I took--and have kept--a large number of photos of the wall art, I found that I enjoyed more taking photos of statues and other three-dimensional art.  I did, though, find interesting the following stained glass window with Jewish symbolism.

One technical comment on this shot.  The window was situated above eye level, which meant that the photo as originally taken had the sides of the window appearing to lean in, since the top of the window was further from the camera and therefore appeared smaller.  I used software to "rectify" this perspective artifact so that the sides appear vertical, as they would if I had been at the same level as the window.

Always looking for a different angle, here is a shot I took of a statue made entirely of corrugated cardboard.  Although the piece as a whole was interesting, I found myself trying to capture the corrugation, as in the following shot.  This is not the shot that most people would have taken.

I took a number of shots of the following statue, which was actually a very dynamic piece with the nude figure thrusting out his arm.  Here is a shot that shows that pose.

Even though the sword the warrior originally held in his right hand is missing, the statue has great power.  However, in the end the shot I liked the best was one that I turned into a black & white that featured the subject's head looking away from the camera.

I took this shot, focused on the figure's hair, with the aperture wide open to eliminate background distractions and to get a faster shutter speed.  Even so, this wound up with an exposure of 1/6th second--really slow--so I was fortunate to get a fairly sharp image.  I was really taken by the expression on the figure's face.

The main entrance foyer to the museum includes an impressive Chihuly.  The piece is actually a uniform yellow with what appears to be red interior lighting.  I had a hard time capturing this piece, impressive as it was.  I think part of the problem was the fact that all the glass was the same yellow hue.  I wound up taking a close-up that I then turned into a false-color green, which served to emphasize the contrast between the glass that the lighting.

This false-color green is not playing cricket, but I liked the effect anyway.

The museum includes a large number of pieces of oriental art, including the following figure of an individual driving a carriage covered by an umbrella.

Here I wanted to emphasize the subject and allow the umbrella to fall out of focus.  This was taken at f/4 with an exposure of 1/8th second.  The focus on the subject's face is excellent, a testament to my lens's technology.

And here is a buddha-like figure with what appears to be an apple intaglio engraved in his forehead.  This figure was made out of multiple pieces of painted wood.

I especially liked that I was able to position the statue with the Minneapolis skyline as a backdrop.  What struck me most about this figure was not the apple intaglio but the way the figure's hands were positioned, so I focused on one of the hands with the face as a backdrop.

The museum includes a large section devoted to Prairie School art and architecture.  What caught my eye were some metal grilles that were positioned directly in front of a window looking out on the Minneapolis skyline.  I wanted to capture the design of the grille work but at the same time show the skyline as a backdrop.  Here are a couple of those shots.

I actually like these shots quite a lot.  These were taken with the lens wide open at f/4 and obviously focused on the grille work rather than the skyline.  In retrospect, it might have worked better had I used a narrower aperture to give a bit more definition to the skyline.  In the first shot the skyline is pretty abstract, although in the second, wider perspective it is pretty recognizable.

Finally, here is a shot I took out of one of the museum's windows overlooking its parklike grounds.

In general, I thought this shot worked very well.  I tried cropping the skyline out but decided that it added to the narrative.  I do wish that there had been more than just a dusting of snow and that there had been a few people in the shot.  Overall, though, I like the way that the tree canopy separates the snow-convered ground from the skyline.  I also like the contrast between the dark of the tree trunks and the white of the lawn.

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

Thursday, November 22, 2012


When I am driving somewhere, I often find myself looking for photo opportunities.  In fact, I would refer to this mindset as obsessive.  Unfortunately, generally when I do spot something I either don't have my camera; or Geri and I are going somewhere and it wouldn't be fair to spend the time to stop, get set up, and take a number of shots from various angles; or I just don't feel I have the time; or I'm just feeling lazy.  However, when I was returning from my excursion to Holy Hill on Tuesday, November 20, none of these objections applied--I was alone, I had my camera, and I had plenty of time to take advantage of any opportunities.

The first opportunity came when I saw a sign for Glacier Hills County Park in Washington County.  Driving through the park, I spotted a stand of trees that were being lit by the late afternoon sun.

Based on how the trees were situated in rows and were about the same size, I assume that they had been planted.

Initially, I thought I could take these shots handheld, but soon realized that I needed my tripod.  The problem was that I wanted to get fairly sharp images of trees at very different distances from the camera, requiring a narrow aperture--and a correspondingly long exposure.  The above shot was taken at an aperture of f/22 with an exposure of 0.8 second.

I thought the above shot was just OK.  However, when I turned around I realized that the trees behind me silhouetted by the sun provided an even more interesting opportunity.  Here is the best of those shots.

The foreground trees are really the subjects of the photo, but the field, pond, and woods in the background provide a needed context.

This shot posed some challenges in post processing.  The sky was extremely bright relative to the rest of the image (particularly since the camera was pointed in the general direction of the sun) and it was difficult to bring out the colors and textures in the background without "blowing out" the sky.  At the same time, I wanted to make the foreground tree trunks as dark as possible.  After a lot of fiddling, this was the best I could do.  I will also confess to "cleaning up" a bit some debris in the foreground, to minimize distractions.

Feeling pretty good about myself, I got back on the road.  A few miles further on, I passed a mini-orchard that caught my eye.  I thought the dark gnarly limbs of the trees might provide an interesting contrast to the green fields in which they stood, so I turned around and parked my car again.

Here is one of the shots of the trees that I took.

Disappointing really because to exclude the sky and pose the trees against the field only I would have needed to be at a much higher elevation--not possible here.  My other option would have been to crop the shot down to exclude the sky.  Here's how that would have looked.  A little weird, frankly.

However, I then noticed a nice wood fence running along the road over the rolling terrain of the Kettle Moraine.  Experimenting with different apertures and angles, I realized that I wanted to keep as much of the fence as possible in good focus, so I needed to keep the lens's aperture narrow.  This meant, in turn, that I needed to use a longer exposure time to get an adequate amount of light for the shot.  I had left the tripod in the car and should have gone back to get it, but, frankly, I was too lazy.  Even so, I really liked the shots that I got.

This first shot was taken at an aperture of f/22 for 1/3 second, a very long exposure for hand-held.  Fortunately, I was able to use the fence as a brace to keep the camera steady.

This second shot was taken at an aperture of f/22 also, but I wasn't able to use the fence as a brace, so I increased the ISO rating to 500 and wound up with a exposure of 1/15 second.  I was really happy with the composition of these shots, neither of which was cropped in post processing.

Perhaps the lesson is that when you are shooting, keep looking around.  There may be other opportunities.

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Although there were a fair number of visitors who entered the Holy Hill Basilica while I was there, most were just sightseers.  I tried to be as unobtrusive as possible with respect to those who were there to worship.  I felt badly every time my camera made any sound.

Here is what one sees upon entering the nave.

Pretty impressive.

As usual, when I moved inside, lighting became much more of an issue.  While I was able to take a lot of the exterior shots on a hand-held basis, my tripod was a necessity on the inside.  The above shot required a 2 second exposure at f/11.

Here are a couple of shots of the apse.

And here are shots of the back of the nave and balcony, including the organ and choir area.

As I have stated before, one of the challenges with church interiors concerns the fact that the camera is limited in the range of light that it can distinguish.  As a result, one needs to make a choice between capturing the general light bathing the walls, which is low and requires a long exposure, versus trying to capture the details in the stained glass windows, leaving the walls badly underexposed.  (This range can be extended through the use of a technique known as high dynamic range that involves taking multiple exposures and blending them--something I need to work on.)

There was a number of interesting stained glass windows, which I chose to feature individually.

The church has side walkways with interesting arches, and I took a number of shots trying to capture those arches.

I also attempted a number of shots that highlighted the basic architecture common to the structure.

Although I generally worked hard to take advantage of the basilica's symmetry, I did take some shots from an oblique angle.

Interestingly, the oblique shots seem to give a heightened sense of the size of the interior.

Here are a few "detail" shots.

There were actually two of these collections of crutches situated outside a side chapel.  You tell me.

The Holy Hill Basilica is a beautiful church is a beautiful location.  The building is in great condition.  However, it doesn't have the stunning detail on the interior that St. Josephat's Basilica can boast.

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