Friday, February 1, 2013


It had been a very long time since I had been in Wisconsin's state capitol in Madison.  I have been in Madison many times over the years and the capitol building is hard to miss as it effectively dominates the city's skyline.  Here is a shot I took of the building's exterior.  Pretty standard fare, actually, for a state capitol, with a dome modeled after the nation's capitol in Washington.

The building, actually Wisconsin's third capitol building, was completed in 1917 as a cruciform-shaped structure with four branches extending from a central dome.  The building has undergone extensive restoration work over the years.  The most recent work involved restoration of the central rotunda and dome in 1998, at a cost of $9 million.

My recollection (from nearly 30 years ago) had been of a dark and somewhat dingy space.  Nevertheless, I decided to make the 1-1/2 hour trip from Milwaukee on Tuesday, January 29th, a day of record warmth--and rain--in southern Wisconsin.  As soon as I walked into the building, I knew I was on to something really good.  Here is the first interior shot that I took, in one of the wings leading to the rotunda.

Nice.  And here is another early shot that I liked for its strong diagonal lines.

The interior's lines begged for symmetrical shots, and I had learned from experience that it is critically important to position the camera very carefully along the lines of symmetry.  It is also a good idea to make sure the camera is horizontal, as any deviation from level can require significant cropping.  But if the camera isn't positioned properly along the axis of symmetry, then no amount of cropping can wholly rectify the situation.

When there is an interesting ceiling, one of my routines is to shoot the ceiling by placing the camera on the floor pointed straight up.  Here is the shot that I took at the capitol.

Not a great shot, really, as I do not have true wide-angle capabilities with my current equipment.  Here is another shot of the dome that I thought worked better.

To me this is the more intriguing image.  The lack of symmetry creates some interesting tension.  Moreover, only showing a portion of the dome allows the viewer to fill in the rest of the picture by extrapolation.

Here is the shot featuring perhaps the longest perspective.

My eyes aren't perfect, and I thought perhaps the animal featured in this shot sitting atop the pediment was a frog, though that didn't really make sense.  But on further review, it is clear that this animal is actually Bucky Badger, Wisconsin's state animal.  Of course.

Intricate details abound in the building, as the stairways and lighting fixtures attest.

The above shot took some patience as the stairway was quite dark, taxing the camera's autofocus system.  Moreover the shot required a fairly long exposure, 13 seconds in the case of the above shot.

This was another 13-second exposure.  Note that the light at the top of the stairs is reflected in the marble wall to the right of the stairs.

I particularly liked the simplicity of this last shot, a five-second exposure that I took with the camera about halfway up the stairs.

The interior also featured plenty of color, as in the following shots.

Although most of the shots I took were symmetrical, these were two of the shots that I chose to take from an oblique angle.  Here are a couple of other, symmetrical shots that feature the strong colors.

And here is another "long-range" shot.

This was an HDR shot, one of several I took during the shoot.  I was not impressed with most of the HDR shots--they didn't seem to add much to the already high-contrast images.  But this shot did seem to offer more in the way of high contrast.

Below are two of my favorite shots.  In addition to the multiple arch lines, they include some interesting under-lighting.

I am especially pleased with this last shot.

I have been trying to analyze why I am so drawn to these very ornate architectural opportunities. The ample opportunities for creating abstracts, I think contribute to that appeal.  It is also the case that the building is not going anywhere and I can generally take my time to set up and capture the shot.

This, as well as St. Josephat's Basilica and the Milwaukee Public Library are similar in their style and degree of ornateness and all were created around the same time.  There are other examples of this style, including the Grain Exchange in Milwaukee's Mitchell Building, but those venues are not generally available for amateur photography.  What is especially striking for me is the incredible amount of craftsmanship and skilled labor, both in terms of design and in terms of implementation, that went into these structures, something that would be prohibitively expensive today.

Overall, I spent 2-1/2 hours taking about 120 shots.  Even so, I did not get shots of any of the major chambers.  I could easily spend another couple of hours next time.

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