Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Every Tuesday evening during the summer months, the Highland House, a restaurant a couple of miles from our home, sponsors a classic car rally, and I have gone a number of times this summer to take photos of the cars.  I thought I would do a post on some of the shots I took that I wound up converting to black & whites.

I'm never sure which shots are going to work as B&Ws and which aren't.  In some cases the color of the car or some accessory or component is what attracts me, so color remains important to those shots.  In other cases color is needed to reveal properly the play of reflected light off the car's body.  Color can also be important in establishing the line between the car and background elements.  On the other hand, background distractions, such as someone's colorful shirt, can sometimes be reduced by converting the image to B&W.  Also in some cases the primary elements of interest are patterns of lines, and the use of B&W may serve to bring out those lines.  My best bet generally is to play around with B&W in post processing to see if that is the better option.

Here are a few of the classic cars shots from this summer that I thought worked better in B&W.

One of the cars at a recent rally was a very classic and classy MG.  The car was in great condition, and I thought that its black color showed off well in B&W.

In this first shot, B&W served to eliminate some distractions from people in the background.  This was shot at an aperture of f/8, and in retrospect I probably should have opened up the lens's aperture to f/4 to put the people a bit more out of focus.  My other regret on this shot was that the license plate was a bright orange and it would have been nice to have highlighted its color.  But I'm not enough "into" Photoshop to try to get that result.  Besides, then the photo would have been about the plate rather than the car itself.

Here are a few more shots of that MG.

In the above shot I focused on the MG emblem but wanted also to incorporate the horizontal reflection playing off the car's hood.  I could have done a better job lining up the shot from directly in front of the car.  The shot below is better in that respect.

In these latter shots, background distractions weren't an issue, but I thought that B&W was consistent with the car's vintage.  After all, this car was from an era when color photography essentially didn't yet exist.

That was not the case with the following cars, a Porsche (I think), a Jaguar, and a Shelby Cobra.

In these detail shots I was most interested in the lines or emblem and thought B&W served the purpose well.  I liked that I placed the Jaguar emblem off center in the middle shot.

The following is a detail shot from the hood of a 1957 Chevy that routinely shows up at these rallies.  Here I was especially interested in the surreal way that light reflecting off the chrome "spear" was playing in the concave oval underneath.

In the shot below, I was most interested in the simple pattern being formed by the ventilating strips.  But I was also happy with the modest amount of contrasting reflections apparent in the image that broke up the monotony.

Finally, here are a couple of shots of hoods, the first of a Pontiac GTO that had been nicely restored.

I took special care to get this shot centered to show off the hood's symmetry.

This last shot of the hood of a Corvette is, unfortunately, not as well centered.  I wound up cropping this shot down a fair amount, in part to disguise the lack of centering, but more importantly to highlight the quality of the reflections off of the hood's raised portions. 


Tuesday, July 30, 2013


On the same rainy Saturday that we visited the James J. Hill House on St. Paul, we also visited Minnesota's Capitol building, including taking one of their tours.  We had a great time, actually.  The building is gorgeous, and I found myself taking a lot of photos.

First, I did manage to take a couple of shots of the exterior of the building as we were leaving, despite the rainy weather.  Here is one of those.

Not a great shot as I was way too close for a proper perspective or to capture the entire building.  Moreover, the day was very overcast (raining actually) and the photo looks very "flat" as a result.  At least I got the building centered in the frame.  I would have done better to have limited the shot to the dome (or just part of the dome) along with the gold-covered statues that grace the front.

During our tour our guide escorted us to the roof just to the left of the statues and I was able to get a few shots in the rain.  We were in fact so close that I was not able to get all of the statues into a single shot.  As a result, the best shots were close-ups, including the following.

I felt pretty good about both of these shots.  By the way, according to our guide, the statues are covered with a total of over six pounds of gold.

The remainder of the shots were from the building's interior.  As is usually the case, dealing with the light (or lack of it) inside the building was challenging.  I didn't have my tripod, so everything was taken handheld.  To compensate, I ramped up the ISO to the 1000 range, which seemed to provide a fast enough shutter speed in most cases.  The color of the lighting also varied significantly, but I was able to make changes in post processing to correct where needed.  All of this was made a lot easier because I shoot everything in RAW.

I have spent some time photographing Wisconsin's capitol building, and I saw many similarities between the two.  Both are dominated by a central dome, and both have very ornate, beautifully restored interiors, dominated by the use of a variety of granite and marble stonework.  Wisconsin's capitol building was completed in 1917; Minnesota's in 1905.

One of the first aspects of the building's interior that one notices are the painted ceilings in the hallways, as illustrated in the following couple of shots.

In this second case, I used my technique of placing the camera on the floor, pointed up, directly under the intended area.  I would have used the same technique for the central dome except that the center of the rotunda floor was roped off.

The corridors leading from the rotunda invited all sorts of shots that emphasize the complex symmetries of the building's interior.  Here are a few of those, taken at various levels.

And here is a shot of the detail in the area where a corridor ceiling is joined to the base of the dome.

I did take a few nonsymmetrical shots, including this one that shows off some of the numerous marble pillars that grace the building's interior.

Again, very reminiscent of similar construction in the Wisconsin capitol.

One of the benefits of taking a tour is that one gets to visit some of the government chambers, including the supreme court, senate, and house of representative chambers.  They too were gorgeous.  Here is a shot of the senate chamber.

And a detail shot of the ceiling in the supreme court hearing room.

The tour spent the most time in the house of representative chamber.  This is a wide-angle view that shows both the floor and ceiling.

 And here are a few more shots that feature some of the ceiling and archwork detail.

And here, finally, is a shot that I particularly liked of an arch leading to a stairway.


Monday, July 29, 2013


James J. Hill was one of the robber barons of the late 19th century.  Born in Ontario in 1838, he moved to St. Paul, Minnesota at the age of 17 and made his fortune in the transportation industry, eventually creating and expanding what came to be known as the Great Northern Railway.  His home was completed in 1891 and Hill lived there until his death in 1916.  One could say that Hill needed a large home for his family that included 10 children.  But a home of 36,000 square feet, including 13 bathrooms, 22 fireplaces, and a two-story art gallery, would seem to be more than ample for family life. In fact, it became one of the centers of the social scene in the upper Midwest.  Eventually the house was  acquired by the St. Paul Archdiocese of the Catholic Church, which used it for offices until 1978, when it was transferred to the Minnesota Historical Society.  The Society gives tours of the house, and Geri and I recently spent a cold and rainy Saturday afternoon doing just that.

The house has been wonderfully restored basically to its condition when the Hills lived there.  The exterior was built in a Romanesque style including a dark red sandstone that I did not find particularly attractive.  As usual, I neglected to get a wide-angle view of the house (my excuse being that there was a persistent light rain).  Here is a shot of the front as seen through the foliage at the street.

I think I was trying to be artsy.  Maybe the shot is interesting, but it does nothing to show the house.  Here is another shot of a porch at the rear that does reveal the red sandstone construction.

At nearly 100 feet in length and 2000 square feet in area, the home's main hall is as large as the entire house of most families.  Here is a shot of one of the staircases leading up from the hall.

It was fashionable for a home of this calibre to include an art gallery, and the Hill house was no exception.  In this case the room was two stories high and featured a pipe organ.

The above shot includes our guide who did a superb job during the nearly 1-1/2 hour tour.

As usual, I found myself primarily taking shots of interior detail.  This was a challenge because of the low-light conditions in the house.  Built in the 19th century, the house's windows did not draw in nearly the amount of light that would be found in more contemporary homes.  Moreover, as I indicated, the the day was overcast, further reducing the light.  I had to ramp up the ISO level to the 1000 to 1250 range to get reasonable shutter speeds for the shots, all hand-held.  This led to some graininess in the shots, but it was not bad unless I looked at a loupe view of the images.

Here is one of the first shots I took of ceiling applique in a reception room.

As I mentioned the house includes 13 fireplaces, and most were framed in tile applied in a "subway" style.  Here are a couple of shots of that tile . . .

including a few damaged tiles that for some unknown reason I found interesting.

The walls of the formal dining room were done in a special covering with a three-dimensional texture.

The house includes a number of stained glass windows.

It was refreshing to shoot some secular stained glass after spending a number of sessions recently inside various churches.  

I did take a few shots of the house's furnishings, including the stove . . .

. . . and a washboard.

And here is a kitchen pot that was nicely placed on a side table near a window.

The tour included a look at some of the house's infrastructure, including the boiler.

The home cost nearly a million dollars to build at the time, which would translate to $25-50 million on an inflation-adjusted basis.  However, that figure does not take into account the enormous amount of hand-crafted woodwork and plasterwork seen throughout the house that would cost considerably more to create today, if it could be done at all.  The woodwork, stained in relatively dark tones, proved very difficult to capture, and I didn't retain any of those shots.  But the plasterwork, being lighter, was easier to shoot, and I was happy with some of those, including the following.

These are my favorite shots from the shoot, as the work was being illuminated from windows to the side, creating a nice contrast that served to highlight the detail work.  These were shot at f/6.3 for 1/20th, 1/40th, and 1/25th second, respectively, at an ISO of 1250.

Finally, here is one of a number of portraits of Hill in the house.  

It's hard to know what kind of guy he was, though he must have been extremely driven to have built the fortune that he did and have fathered--and raised 10 children--while doing so.  My guess is that he had little patience for lack of ability.