Tuesday, December 31, 2013


As I did in 2012, I thought I would finish this year with a post of some of my favorite photos from 2013.


Personally, this was not a great year for macro.  Perhaps I am running out of ideas or readily available material.  Or perhaps I am beginning to realize that I need to create more than just abstracts.  In any event, I took each of these shots at the Mitchell Park Domes.  The first was of a prominent lion's tail agave in the Desert Dome that I have shot numerous times.  But I liked this photo because I was able to highlight the plant's tip by positioning it against a broad leaf behind it, and I was able to keep dark the background between the plant's leaves.

This plant is very three-dimensional, and I set the aperture at f/36 to keep everything in acceptable focus.

The second macro is of a flower that was actually in the lobby area at the Domes, and might have been for sale.

I liked that I captured only a portion of the flower and cropped the image as a square, letting the viewer fill in the missing two-thirds.

But my favorite macro subject this year was a peacock plant located in the Tropical Dome.  Because this is a low-lying plant, I basically had to get down on my hands and knees to position the camera to be more or less perpendicular to the surface of the leaf.  I liked the fine network of lines that the leaves produced--even if the result is more or less just an abstract.


While 2013 was not the year of the macro for me, I did find myself taking a lot of architectural photography.

One of my repeats was of the Milwaukee City Hall.  This was not new ground for me, but I did like the following shot, which was actually a blend of three separate shots taken at different exposure durations and blended with HDR software.  The result was not so much an exaggeration of contrast or over-saturation of color as it was of variations of color in the undersides of the building's balconies at different levels above the ground floor.

Early in the year I traveled twice to Madison to shoot the interior of Wisconsin's Capitol building, which I found to be gorgeous.

I wound up taking 200-300 shots over the two visits, but I especially kept coming back to this shot that featured concentric arches.  I only wish that I had greater wide-angle range with my current equipment.

I visited two other state capitol buildings during the year, the Minnesota State Capitol, in St. Paul, and the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City.  Here are shots from each.

Technically, these shots are not as good as the ones from Madison, primarily because I did not use my tripod for either.  However, I did like that the shots had a lot going on and managed to tell "stories," about an unusual staircase in Minnesota and a prominent skylight in Utah.

One of my favorite photo venues has been the Calatrava addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum. And though I have taken the following shot a number of times, I did like how this one worked as a black & white.  I particularly liked the contrast in lighting between the left and right sides of the ceiling and the way the light from the "prow" of the atrium shone off the polished floor.  The figures in the image also helped greatly to provide perspective.

And here is a shot of a side corridor of the Calatrava addition.  The light coming through the west-facing windows had created an interesting pattern on the corridor's floor that I was able to capture.

But my favorite aspects of this shot were the bench that I positioned in the lower portion of the image and the dark slanted support structures in the upper left.  It didn't bother me that the dark supports actually occupy perhaps 1/3 of the overall image.

Another venue I have returned to a number of times is the downtown branch of the Milwaukee Public Library.  The entrance rotunda features a dome that I have shot any number of times.  However, on my last visit, I got a shot of the archwork above a side corridor that I converted into a black & white.

The shot is pretty simple, really, but I thought the black & white helped to emphasize the clean lines that the arches had created.

Finally, during the Doors Open Milwaukee 2013 weekend in September, I discovered a real gem in downtown Milwaukee, the Loyalty Building, which has recently been restored and converted into a boutique hotel.  The interior is gorgeous.

I actually returned later in the fall to take more photos and got this shot on my second visit.  I chose this photo because of its unusual perspective, looking nearly straight up at the interior windows.  I was able to position the camera to create excellent symmetry, and the reflections in the windows also helped a lot.


I really hadn't taken much in the way of landscape photos during the first part of the year and was lamenting that the Milwaukee area's geography simply didn't offer much in the way of dramatic landscape photography opportunities.  But later in the year things picked up.

First, the weather cooperated.  I'm not talking about clear days here; rather I am talking about fog.  One of the subjects that I have returned to a number of times is a smallish tree in Virmond Park, on the bluff above Lake Michigan.  I shot the tree a number of times but chose this shot for the way that the fog served to distance the line of trees at the edge of the bluff, particularly the trees in the right of the image that, as well, serve to balance the fact that the tree is positioned to the left.  I also liked that I managed to keep the tree itself in crisp focus while allowing the background to take on a soft texture in this pre-dawn shot.  It's a bit simply, but I think it works.  Of course, the fog helped.

Later the same morning I was lucky to catch the sun, distorted into an oval by the atmosphere, just as it came over the horizon that the bluff created and before it got tangled in the lower branches of the tree.

It was also in the late fall that I "discovered" a beautifully maintained horse farm on Mequon's west side that offered up its fencework for photo opportunities.  This first shot initially seemed a bit washed out by the early morning haze.  However, I came to like the shot because the faded appearance of the trees in the background contrasted with the more saturated appearance of the fences in the foreground.  I also liked the column of smoke rising on the far left of the image, although ideally I would have preferred that it be a bit further to the right.

The following shot of the same farm was taken on a very foggy morning.

I kept looking at this shot because of the way the fence line on the right faded into the fog and because the large bare-limbed oak in the background (which really wasn't that far away) was nearly invisible in the dense early morning fog.

Fog really helped the following shots taken in a dense woods also on Mequon's west side.  The blue light in this first shot was natural, a function of the way the fog was filtering the pre-dawn light.

I found myself continually returning to the knot of stunted branches in the tree on the left.

The following two shots were taken later the same morning when the light had changed but before the dense fog had lifted.

The fog is really a great friend of the landscape photographer, as it both creates depth and reduces or eliminates background distractions.

Finally, I had spotted a small tree farm northwest of the Milwaukee metropolitan area and had returned to get a number of shots, again in early morning, this time without fog but with a heavy ground frost that added a bit to the overall dynamic.  This was my pick shot of that series.  I cropped it some both top and bottom to center on and accentuate the line of trees toward the rear that had fuller branchwork.

This and That.

Although macro, architecture, and landscape photography are perhaps a bit easier to categorize, I spent a good deal of time in 2013 taking other types of shots, as well.

We spent March in Arizona and one of the places we visited was the Musical Instrument Museum, located in northern Scottsdale.  It's a real gem.  Here is one of the shots I took of a brass saxophone.

I thought this shot worked for two reasons.  First, I limited the image to only a portion of the instrument, and, second, I liked how the sax's polished bell reflected the surrounding scene.  The fact that the background was dark also helped, I thought.

In early summer I discovered an abandoned coke factory on Milwaukee's South Side and returned three or four times to capture what I could of the decay, trash, and graffiti that the location offered.  Here are a couple of shots that I thought exemplified what was available, including one wider-angled shot that was cluttered and complicated . . .

. . . and one detail shot that was quite simple.

I enjoy taking photos of sculpture because of the options that three-dimensional artwork offers in terms of depth of field and background elements.  Here is a shot of a sculpture that was located in the courtyard of the lakefront Festival of Art that I converted to a black & white.

I intentionally cut off the top and bottom of this sculpture because I wanted to focus attention on the piece's facial features that I thought might be lost in a wider shot.

And finally, I include a portrait of my grandson, Stanley, who turns seven months old as I am writing this.  I seem to have caught him in a very pensive mood, or maybe he's just eyeing a toy beyond his reach.

How could a brand new grandfather not include a photo of his first grandchild among his favorite shots of the year?

I estimate that I took at least 15,000 photos in 2013, and I am including 24 of those in this post.  There were others that I also liked quite a bit, maybe 300 shots in all.  Still, at 2%, that doesn't seem to be a very high success rate.  But maybe that's typical.  I do know that I have been getting more selective in what I retain, not because I am running out of storage space but because I just can't imagine coming back to a lot of those shots.

Let's see what 2014 brings.


Monday, December 30, 2013


On our recent trip to Utah, I twice visited the main branch of Salt Lake City's library and took photos.  The library was built in 2003 and so is 10 years old.  It is architecturally complex.  That is to say it is made up of a number of different components that do not necessarily feel compatible.  And, at least on my initial visit, I was underwhelmed.  Having said that, I was more impressed on the second visit.  And I think the difference had as much to do with the improvement in light on the second visit as on my gaining a better understanding of the overall architectural design.

The most striking component of the building is a series of connected archways that serve as the backbone of the overall structure and that extend in a curving fashion into the grounds to the south, much as would an animal's spinal column that extends into a tail.  Hard to explain in words, but here is a photo that may illustrate this feature.

This shot was taken from the interior of an expansive foyer area looking out at the "tail."  Here is another shot that features both the foyer and a bit of the exterior tail.

One, hopefully, can see that the archway spine continues as one of the walls of the foyer.  Here's another shot from the front entrance area, looking in the other direction.  Both the spiral staircases and elevators are "exposed."

The pedestrians in these shots really help to provide perspective, I think.

Following are a couple of shots of the "tail" taken from the exterior.  The snow-covered mountains of the Wasatch range were gorgeous during our visit.

The glass feature on the left in this last shot that is reflecting the archway tail is one side of an unusual lens-shaped structure that consists of curved glass walls on both sides of the "lens."  The only utilitarian aspect of this "lens" is that the children's library is located on its lower floor.  The portion of the lens above the floor rises perhaps 50 feet and is entirely open to the glass roof except for white hammock-like canvas strung above the floor, presumably for sound control.  One can step out on a stairway above the hammocks.  Pretty eerie.  Here is a black & white shot I took on my first visit, which was on a very overcast day.

I liked the reflections of the hammocks (which might each have been about 4x6 feet in size) in the curving glass wall (actually the other side of the lens from the glass wall shown in the prior photo).  Interestingly, I took a very similar shot on my second day, one of bright sunshine.  I thought it might produce a more contrasty image, but in fact the bright sunlight actually created a confused shot.

OK, back to the "spine."  Here are a few more shots that I thought worked out.

I liked the standing figure in this second shot.

Another unusual feature of the library was a small, circular theater attached in the north side that had a ceiling that looked like it was about to collapse, presumably for acoustical purposes.  Here is one of the shots I got of the theater.

In the courtyard on the south side of the building is a small sculpture garden that features African art. The weather conditions were not the best (six inches of snow on the ground), and we didn't have a lot of time, but here are a few examples of the art.

Finally, I have included a shot of the front entrance of the library from the foyer interior.  The lettering was intended to be read from the exterior rather than interior, so it was backward in the original shot.  I just flipped it to a mirror image with my Lightroom software.

Of course, the tail is curving in the wrong direction, but who would know.


Sunday, December 29, 2013


We spent Christmas with our son Jeff and his family in Salt Lake City.  Although I didn't get as much photography time in as I might have, I managed to get out with my camera a few times.  Here is a potpourri of shots that I thought were worth adding to my photo blog.

On one of the first nights there, Jeff and I visited an architecturally interesting pedestrian bridge on the University of Utah campus.  Conditions weren't the best, but I did get one "keeper," sort of.

I hadn't brought my tripod, and in order to get a reasonably fast shutter speed (actually only 1/15th second), I had to increase the ISO setting to a whopping 3200, creating very grainy effect.  It did help, though, to have a few pedestrians in the shot.

Geri and I revisited The Leonardo, a museum in downtown Salt Lake City with something of an identity crisis that we had visited when it first opened a few years ago.  It has elements of both art and technology but doesn't excel in either, although I felt it had included some interesting exhibits when we had visited it the first time.  The problem this time was that it was hosting a traveling Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit that we had visited a couple of years back when it had been in Milwaukee.  Unfortunately, this meant that most of this smallish museum was taken up with the special exhibit that we chose not to revisit, and as a result there wasn't much else to see.  Our visit lasted little more than half an hour, which included time we spent stuck in an elevator, finally pressing an emergency button to get "rescued."  Here are a few of the abstract shots that I did get.

I know, I know, not much.

I also revisited the Utah State Capitol, which I had last visited on our prior trip to Utah in August.  Interestingly, this time I found myself taking shots very similar to those I had taken in the summer.  But most of them weren't quite as good, primarily because the day was very overcast and the light in the building simply wasn't as good as it had been in August.  At least I hope that was the reason.  In any case, I did get a few shots that I thought I would post here.  This first is really quite similar to ones I had taken in August, but I found myself going back to capture the converging arcs that encircle the rotunda ceiling as viewed from the side.

I also took a few photos of some of the statuary on the upper floor walkways, including this of a Native American.

At least I realized that I needed to position the light colored marble against a dark background to ensure that the lines of the statue in profile would stand out.  It also helped to take the shot with the aperture at a wide open f/4.

I did like the following shot of a bronze statue at the building's "back" entrance.  The combination of bluish exterior light and yellowish incandescent interior light helped to make this shot more interesting.

I had seen this shot as a possibility when I first walked into the building but had to wait for two separate wedding parties to finish shooting before I could take the photo.

The staircases at either end of the building are among the most interesting aspects of the capitol's architecture, and I got a number of shots of them, both with and without people.  Here are a couple of the shots sans visitors.

Although the staircase is the focal point for each of these shots, it is the surroundings--the pillars and side corridors in the first shot and the skylight in the second--that I think make these images work.


Friday, December 20, 2013


Serendipity is usually defined as the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it.  Here are some unexpected positive photo surprises from this past year.

I only visited the Milwaukee County Zoo once in 2013, on a mild day in January.  And while the photo of the tiger in the following shot was not an accident as such, I was extremely fortunate that the tiger happened to be lounging directly behind the glass separating him/her from the patrons.  Moreover, the glass was relatively clean, letting me get this shot.  It also helped that he/she was basically looking right at me.

2013's winter was relatively mild, but on one bright, crisp February morning following an overnight snow, I took my camera over to Virmond Park hoping to shoot some snow scenes.  I was focusing on one stand of trees and shrubs that were frosted by the snow and cold when another individual also enjoying the morning walked into my composition.  I only got one shot but her presence really helped to establish perspective for the scene.

During our stay in Arizona in March we visited the Heard Museum, well known for its Native American art and artifacts.  But I spent at least part of my time taking photos of the museum itself, which is gorgeous.  In composing a shot of one of the building's exterior corridors of archways, I took momentary advantage of the fact that one of the museum employees was sauntering down the far end of the corridor.  I was lucky that I was able to capture his silhouette against the light at the end of the corridor and its reflection in the polished floor before he reached the end and disappeared.

On our return from Arizona we stopped for one night in Amarillo, Texas.  The land in that part of the world is as flat as possible, and I wasn't sure there was anything to shoot, but when I took my camera out for a few minutes, I realized that the water towers across from our motel were being lit by the late afternoon sun but were positioned against a bank of dark clouds.  Light is everything.

I regularly visit the Milwaukee Art Museum both for the art and for the architecture, and I have way more photos of the Calatrava addition to the museum than I should.  But the following shot at least is different.  It is of the entranceway to the museum leading off from the pedestrian walkway that extends from the west across Lincoln Memorial Drive.  I was just lucky (at least in my mind) to see the abstract being created by the almost, but not quite, symmetrical reflections in the glass doors.

In June I "discovered" Pioneer Village, a little historical park in Ozaukee County where a number of mostly 19th century buildings have been restored or reconstructed and are available for visitors on weekends during the warm weather months.  One of the buildings included a screen door and I realized that my best shot was to set my focus, not on the building's artifacts nor on the general scene outside of the building, but on the screening of the door itself.  Sort of a novelty shot, but I thought it worked.

I got the following shot while I was waiting for a red light in downtown Milwaukee.  I was lucky to see that the late evening sun was shining through a pedestrian walkway that connected the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts and a parking structure to the north.  The shadows cast by the walkway against the marble-sided building included pedestrians making their way from the Center to the parking structure.  I happened to have my camera and was able to get off a couple of shots through the open window of my car before the light turned green.

One of my sisters marked a birthday that ends in a zero this July, and my other sister and I flew to Denver to help her celebrate.  We stayed at a Holiday Inn that, while otherwise indifferent, included an atrium that was interesting both for its design and, I thought, its color palette.  I certainly wasn't planning to take any photos of my hotel, but I did have my camera and got the following.

I spent a fair amount of time this summer roaming around Milwaukee's near south side looking, with mixed success, for photo opportunities.  On one of those excursions, I spied an abandoned building in a largely forsaken industrial area on a dead-end road.  The exterior of the building was covered with graffiti.  I took the chance, parked my car in what I felt was a vulnerable spot, and took my camera to the building.  I wound up feeling the site was a jackpot of photo opportunities, even though it was in a very "sketchy" area, and returned three or four times over the course of the summer.  Here is a fairly representative shot from this site.

On another excursion to Milwaukee's south side (Walker's Point) on a Sunday morning, I had decided to get some shots of an older building that had an unusual, triangular shape.  Just as I was setting up, a young man, who seemed to have either mental health or drug abuse issues, decided to sit in the alley next to the building.  I am reluctant to take photos of individuals without their permission,  and I certainly was not going to ask this guy, so I took a quick shot, hoping he wouldn't be looking.  This is what I got.  He seemed to be smoking something and having a heart-to-heart discussion with himself.

On a foggy day in the early fall, I was hoping to get some shots of the apple orchards and pumpkin patches on the west side of Mequon.  On a whim, I turned onto a side road and came across a beautifully maintained horse farm and spent my time there instead of the apple and pumpkin farms.  Here is one of the shots that I got.

On another foggy morning (fog is an important friend of the landscape photographer), before sunrise, I returned to Virmond Park, hoping to take advantage of the weather.  While rooting around for shots, I came across a spiderweb that was decked in dew from the fog.  The air had been still, but now a breeze was springing up and I was concerned that it would interfere with getting a crisp shot of the web (which it did to a modest extent).  But while I was worrying about the wind, the sun came up and added a sun-like flare to my shot.

On that same morning, when I was finished with the spider web, I realized that the sun had indeed crept over the horizon, and I got a photo of the actual sun peeking from below the branch of one of my favorite trees in Virmond Park.  So, while I went out to take advantage of the fog, I was able to add the early morning sun.

In early December, on my way to what proved to be a very disappointing photography excursion, I spotted what I thought might be a tree farm adjacent to one of the freeways northwest of Milwaukee.  I was able to locate it through Google Maps and returned a few days later.  And, despite concerns about trespassing, access, and background distractions, it all worked out.

Finally, early on a very foggy day a couple of days later, on my way back to the tree farm, I passed some dense woods and, on a hunch, stopped and was rewarded with some shots that had a mysterious character in the natural blue light of the early morning.

So, while the above photos weren't exactly mistakes that turned out well, they were shots that succeeded in ways that I had not anticipated.  Maybe it just proves that if you have your camera with you and take enough shots, you will experience some happy surprises along the way.