Tuesday, March 4, 2014


The Wisconsin State Capitol is one of my favorite architectural subjects.  Yes, it's a little over the top, but it possesses so many diverse opportunities and is so easy to shoot.  The most significant drawback, for me at least, is that it takes 1-1/2 hours to get there.

I would have liked to take some shots of the exterior, but the weather has simply been too brutal for me.  The morning I drove over to Madison the temperature was hovering around zero with wind chills in the range of minus 15 to 20 Fahrenheit.  It just wasn't worth it to set up for any exterior photos, at least this time around.  But in the bright sunlight the interior was spectacular.

The building is structured with four large wings extending in compass directions from a central rotunda capped by an impressive dome.  My favorite feature is, of course, the dome.  When I initially shot the dome, my goal was to set up at the very center of the rotunda, point the camera straight up, and get a symmetrical shot.  But I have since felt that an off-center perspective can be more interesting.  (Or maybe it is, in part, because I simply don't have a lens with a wide enough angle.)  At the risk of overkill, here are a number of shots that approach the dome as a subject from a number of different perspectives.

The following is perhaps the most conventional of these shots, featuring both the texture of the dome proper as well as the windows that encircle the dome's base.

The next few shots are a bit less conventional.  I liked the following shot for its asymmetrical inclusion of a portion of the semi-cylindrical ceiling of one of the side wings.

And here are a couple of shots that are symmetrical but off-center.  In think the second shot, in particular, reveals great depth.

For the record, most of these were taken at apertures of f/8 or f/11.  With the morning sun the interior was fairly bright, but even so the exposures needed to be fairly long, ranging from 1/20 to 1/4 second, necessitating use of a tripod.

Here is another shot featuring the conjunction of the dome and the ceiling of one of the wings.

The building went through a major restoration in the 1980s, and this and the shot below illustrate the amount of craftsmanship that went into the building's original design as well as its restoration.

And that raises a question:  As spectacular as this and other government buildings can be, is this money well spent.  I realize that this was built in the first part of the 20th century, when the cost of such craftsmanship was much lower, but it is clear that this degree of ornateness would never have been supportable in today's economy.

Here are some wider angle shots that show the building's complexity.

I especially liked the light in this latter shot.

Here is a shot of the end of the corridor leading to the supreme court chamber.

And a look in the court chamber itself.

High on the wall at the end of each wing is none other than Wisconsin's state animal, the badger.


I also found myself shooting some of the staircases, including this one of a handrail . . . 

. . . as well as this view through an archway on a side corridor.

One of the challenges that interior architectural photography commonly poses is the enormous range of light that one has to deal with.  Many of the shots require choosing between, on the one hand, reducing exposure in order to keep the bright areas from being "blown out" and, on the other, increasing exposure in order to brighten sufficiently the dark areas.  Admittedly, the above shot posed substantial issues because the light fixture was telling my camera to underexpose the scene, but the stairway was really poorly lit.  As a result, I wound up working hard in post processing to bring out the detail in the stairway without overexposing the remainder of the image.  I actually wound up liking this shot--as modified--quite a lot.

I have been in a photography drought lately, and this excursion really did my heart good.


1 comment:

  1. I just love the winding staircases. You do such great work taking pictures.