Monday, February 18, 2013


In my last post, I mentioned that I had returned to Wisconsin's State Capitol in Madison on February 15th.  In that post I focused on my attempts to take some HDR shots--with mixed results.  But I also wanted to see if I could improve on or extend what I got last time, which I posted on February 1st.  To a large extent, my images were a repeat of what I got at the end of January, but there were some differences.

Here is the first shot I took--of the exterior of the dome.

The day was cold but mostly sunny.  Although I had my tripod, given the ample sunlight, I took this as a handheld shot at 1/400th second.  I actually intended to capture only a portion of the dome in the shot.  I'm beginning to think that there can be a real advantage in leaving some of the primary subject out of the shot.  This allows more focus on the subject's detail and gives the viewer the satisfaction of filling in the balance of the subject.  The flag provided context.

Here are a couple of shots toward the dome from one of the main corridors leading from the rotunda.  I took similar shots last time.  However, I thought these did a nice job in projecting the space involved.

It was a technical lesson to me that these shots were taken at apertures of f/8 and f/9, respectively.  I mention this because these are really in the mid-range of apertures.  As a result, there could be some compromise in depth of field as compared with a smaller aperture of, say, f/22.  Nevertheless, there is good focus throughout both of these shots.  When one can, one should use mid-range apertures for a couple of reasons.  First, a more open aperture translates into faster shutter speeds, leaving less opportunity for something to "go wrong," such as some sort of disturbance leading to camera blur, during the exposure.  These shots were taken at shutter speeds of 1/5th and 1/15th second, respectively.  Second, the mid-range of apertures is generally in the lens's "sweet spot" in terms of its overall resolution.

I am a sucker for circular ceiling shots and generally try to get a symmetrical shot, usually by placing the camera on the floor pointing straight up and taking the shot by remote shutter release.  I have not been very successful in this case.  I do not have a camera-lens combination that gives me a truly wide-angle view and I have not been able to photograph the full dome because of that.  This time I tried to narrow the shot to the mural painted in the center of the dome.  Again, I was not satisfied with the result.

Although the circular perimeter of the mural is in good focus, the mural itself is quite "soft."  Moreover, there is what appears to be a partially deflated helium balloon in the lower left corner of the shot.

I did take an off-center shot of the dome ceiling, actually a number of such shots.  Here is one of those.

I liked this shot because of its asymmetric composition.  I will also confess that I was inspired to take this shot because a similar image was on one of the postcards for sale in the capitol.  There was a very significant difference in light between the ceiling and the windows encircling it, and I had to work fairly hard in post processing to keep the windows from being "blown out."

Here are a couple of vertical wide-angle shots taken from the third level above the central rotunda.

Admittedly, these shots are very similar.  The primary difference is that the second shot is not quite as wide-angle as the first.  The second shot puts more emphasis on the quality of the light illuminating the major arch, while the first includes more of the sides of that arch.  I worked very hard both in setting up the shot and in post processing to make these shots as symmetrical as possible.

Here's another shot--with Bucky Badger in the background--that, I think, does a fairly good job of projecting the very large space in the wings off the central rotunda.

This was taken at f/11 for 1.6 seconds.

And here is a shot of the ceiling of a major hearing room on the third level, revealing the large skylight offering additional light for the room.  The murals reflect the extraordinary amount of specialized labor that went into the construction of this magnificent building.

Finally, here are a couple of "detail" shots.  This first is a bust of "Fighting Bob" LaFollette.

And here is one of the bronze eagles that adorn the pillars surrounding the rotunda.

Although this one looks a little knock-kneed, a closer inspection reveals that those are just its folded wings.  This beak-on shot also makes the eagle look a bit benighted.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


On Friday, February 15, I returned to Madison to take some more photos of the State Capitol.  (I will do another post that includes some of those photos.)  I have been playing around with some high dynamic range (HDR) software and decided to take a number of shots as HDR candidates.  The HDR software I am trying is Photomatrix Pro.  Their licensing arrangement allows me to try the software indefinitely on a trial (free) basis.  However, the HDR images produced on a trial basis include the Photomatrix watermark.  In each case, I took three shots, one at standard exposure, one two stops underexposed, and one two stops overexposed.  (A technical point here--in each case the aperture is kept constant and exposure is changed by changing the shutter speed.)  These three shots are then blended by the software and presented as a single image.  Photomatrix offers a great amount of customized modifications to the HDR images.  The program also offers a large number of preset renderings that vary a great deal in their departure from a standard image.

Here is one of the photos that I took--in this case a single shot that I modified in post processing.

And here are two HDR renditions.

Admittedly, I spent some time in post processing modifying the first (normal) image, but frankly I think it has a more dynamic quality than either of the HDR versions.  And there is quite a bit of work involved in creating the blended HDR image, even though Photomatrix streamlines the process as much as possible.

Here's another example.  First, the "normal" shot.

And now the HDR version.

Again, not much difference, and the standard shot seems to have more depth to it.

Here is another image, this time of a portion of the central dome.  (I like this shot quite a lot.)

Here is a fairly normal looking HDR version.

Frankly, not much difference.  Here are a couple of other HDR versions that represent greater departures from "normality."

This last is, in my opinion, too cartoonish.

Another example.  Again, first the normal shot.

Here is an HDR version.

There is an interesting quality to the "golden" color of the primary arch in the above shot, and the colors generally are quite a bit brighter.  (Not sure why the above image did not include the Photomatrix watermarks.)  Here are a couple more extreme versions.

There might be a place for a shot such as the above in special circumstances but not in my portfolio.

Here is another example: Standard . . .

and HDR.

I would admit that this last image has an attention-getting quality, even if the colors are garish and not realistic.

One final example.  Normal . . .

and HDR.

The first HDR image is fairly realistic but doesn't offer anything beyond the standard shot.  The latter HDR image seems dark.

In each of these examples, as I stated, I had spent some time modifying the standard image.  But in all the cases I tried, the "tame" versions of HDR didn't seem to add anything to the version I could create with normal post processing.  And in most cases the more unusual versions came across as too extreme and cartoonish for my tastes.

I will do some more experimenting, but at this point I am not willing to pay for any HDR software.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


A review of the posts on my blog would reveal that I have a major penchant for nature macro that presents opportunities in recognizable abstracts--patterns that are abstract but at the same time are somehow recognizable.  On a recent visit to the tropical section of the Mitchell Domes, I "discovered" a plant whose leaves provided such an opportunity.  Here are a few of the shots that I took.

I really like these abstracts.  It's pretty obvious that these are leaves (I think), but the patterns also have a great abstract quality to them.  These images were not without problems, however.  First, the leaves had a number of blemishes that I decided either to crop out or to "remove" in post processing.  Perhaps more importantly, I had not been able to obtain shots that were in good focus throughout the image because it would have been difficult in each case to position the camera at right angles to the plane of the leaf.  As a result, the shots are not as crisp as I would have liked them.  Note, for example, the lack of focus in the lower right of the shot of the green leaf.

As a result, a few days later I returned to the Domes to try to get better shots.  On my way, I noticed another leaf that presented an interesting abstract in a different color.

Despite doing a bit of post processing on this image, this is more or less the leaf's actual color.  One of the points of interest in this shot was the strip on the right side of the image.  I appears to be an area where the color got "bleached out."  And close inspection reveals that this bleached area has a green tinge in the brown portion of the leaf.  I think what was happening was that the brown portions were the result of a blend of red and chlorophyll green, and in the strip the red pigment was bleached out.  As a result in the pink area the leaf had turned white, but in the brown area the bleaching out of the red left the green remaining.

Here is a close-up of the same leaf.

A close look reveals some texture visible in the brown areas.

OK, when I found the leaves I was looking for, the first thing I realized was that the difference between the green and the brown leaves was simply a matter of which side of the leaf I was looking at.  The top sides of the leaves were green, while the undersides were brown.

This time I was a little more aggressive in repositioning the leaves to get shots where the camera was closer to being perpendicular to the surface of the leaves.

I tried for a different effect in post processing this time.  By increasing the contrast the images took on a patchy "painterly" effect that I liked quite a lot.  The resolution of these shots is significantly better than the prior set.  The leaves still had a number of blemishes and I considered leaving them in, but in the end decided that they might serve as unwanted distractions and either cropped them out or removed them through post processing.

I also tried one of these shots as an HDR, by blending three images that were identical except for shutter speed.  Here was the result.

Not much different except for some color differences in a few places.

I also took some shots of the underside of one of the leaves, again being more aggressive in repositioning the subject leaf.  Here are the results.

Not great but better technically than the prior time.  I think the green (upper) side shots proved more interesting.

Friday, February 8, 2013


Milwaukee had its biggest snow of the winter on Thursday.  We got about six inches in our neighborhood.  Frankly, not a whopper, but, since we really haven't had much snow this year, I wanted to take advantage of it.  Thursday afternoon it was snowing fairly hard, and one of the effects I decided to try to get was a shot that would capture individual flakes in the foreground, allowing the background to go out of focus.  The key to such a shot is to put the camera on manual focus and set the focus to an arbitrary distance that will capture a plane of falling flakes in the foreground.  The shutter speed also needs to be very fast to avoid turning the flakes into streaks.

Here is an early shot I took out our front window looking at our neighbor's roof.

Kind of an interesting shot.  I did manage to capture individual flakes, and I liked the diagonal lines of the roof, though the moisture draining off the roof appears a little funky.  I realized that one of the keys to such shots is the background, which is almost necessarily out of focus but needs to be representative and, hopefully, interesting in its own right.  To increase shutter speed, I significantly underexposed this shot and then brought exposure back up in post processing.  This shot had a shutter speed of 1/800th second.  I also converted it into a B&W.

Here is another shot that I took in the neighborhood, also at 1/800th second.

Here are some shots that I took from my car in front of the pond in our subdivision that is backed by a handsome stand of woods.  I know, I know, I'm a wimp for not getting out of the car with my camera, but with the snow coming down at such a heavy pace, I didn't want to get my camera soaked by the wet flakes.  In any event, here is a standard shot focused on the woods.

And here is a similar shot focused, instead, on the flakes in the foreground.

This last was taken at f/5 for 1/500th second.  I think the background is recognizable.

Here are a couple more shots taken with a vertical perspective, the first focused on the woods.

I actually liked this shot quite a lot.  And here is a second shot, focused (manually) on the foreground, that was substantially underexposed to increase the shutter speed to 1/250th second.

OK, so there are different evergreens in the two shots, but you get the point.

And here is one more shot of the woods I took when the snow was really coming down.

A close inspection of this image reveals a lot of complexity in the texture of the woods that is attributable to the snow between the camera and the trees.

In all of these shots the evergreen serves the important function of creating a point of interest.  I wanted to make sure that they were placed off-center in each of the shots.  I also thought it was important that the blanket of snow on the ground in front of the woods created a pure white base.

Finally, I was able to capture the following shot in a nearby neighborhood--again from the relative comfort of my car.

A few comments about the shot, which I like a lot.  First, I liked the three strong trees in the relative foreground that create a diagonal line of interest.  The line of trees in the left also add some interest, in part, because they appear faded by the snow in the air, creating depth.  They also help to give the shot balance.  The evergreen leaning to the left also adds interest, as does the small dark tree to the left of the largest tree.  I also kept the shot's overall exposure relatively dark and definitely in the cool color range, to create a sense of mood.  One minor drawback was the presence of a birdhouse close to the center of the image.

OK, so the next morning revealed that the snow was wet enough to cling to everything.  So I took my camera back out.  Here are a few more shots that I got.  First is a shot of the woods in front of our pond.

Quite a different look from the late afternoon before.

And here is a stand of trees next to our subdivision that had gotten plastered by the snow.

Finally, I made my way to nearby Virmond Park.  There I took a few shots of a dense stand of trees/shrubs.

I was lucky to get a shot that included an individual out for a walk in the snow.

I'm pretty sure she saw that I had snapped a shot in her direction, but when she walked by, she simply waved hello.  I was pleased with the resolution of these shots, which were taken with my telephoto zoom at f/8 and f/7.1 respectively.