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.


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