Saturday, May 31, 2014


We have been blessed, finally, with warm, sunny weather, and the other evening that made me think about the Granville Petroleum Terminal in the northwest corner of Milwaukee County.  The terminal is populated with a large number of cylindrical petroleum tanks many of which have stairways spiraling up their sides.  Most of the tanks are painted white, and I thought the evening light might create interesting shadows on the tanks' curved sides.

Even though the terminal is blessed with literally dozens of white tanks with curved stairways, there are significant challenges to photographing them.   First, the terminal is huge but the only public streets are on the facility's perimeter.  Second, the terminal is surrounded by a high--like nine feet high--chain link fence that is topped by an extra foot of barbed wire.  So to get a clear shot I was limited to opportunities above the fence.  My only other option would have been to place the lens right in the gaps between the chain links, something I was not brave enough to do, considering the nature of the facility and the fact that I would have to walk onto the property itself.  Despite the challenges, I thought the session was a success.

It was sunny again the next day, and I decided to return midday to get some more shadow shots.  And that's when things fell apart.  I had just taken my sixth shot when an individual from the facility drove up.  He asked if I was working for the government, and when I said no, he advised me to put my camera away and leave--now.  I said that I was just a hobbyist and thought it should be OK so long as I was on public land (a side street).  He stated that the street was actually private and was owned by the terminal facility.  Moreover, he said, it wouldn't matter whether I was on public or private land.  The problem was taking pictures of the facility, period.  He stated that the standard procedure would have been not even to ask me to leave but simply to call 911 and let the police take over.  So, maybe I was lucky.  I apologized and left, and that was that.  But again, I was happy with the few shots that I did get, though it looks like I will not be returning.

Here is one of the early shots I got on the first evening that I converted to a black & white.

I liked the long sweep of the evening shadows, but overall the shot is a little difficult to interpret and just OK.

Below is another shot that includes a patch of stairs viewed nearly straight on.  There is another, darker colored tank in the background behind the stairs.

A nothing shot, really, and a little weird, but I somehow kept it for its simplicity.

Here is another shot that incorporates another structure in the foreground.

It's a little challenging to interpret, but I like it anyway, even though the foreground structure is somewhat out of focus.

Here are a couple of shots from the aborted second session that illustrate the nearly vertical shadows that the stairways were casting at midday.

Both of these shots, particularly the second, nicely illustrate an optical illusion.  It appears that the camera is looking at the top sides of the stairs and that the railing is on the side away from the camera.  But in fact the stairs are above the camera (because I had to shoot over the top of the fence), so the view is of the undersides of the stairs rather than the top sides.  And the railing is actually on the camera side of the stairs (and away from the side of the tank, which makes sense).  The bold dark curved line is actually the shadow cast by the railing.  The illusion is especially effective in the lower portion of the image.  Here is a close-up crop that might illustrate the illusion better.

It appears that you are viewing the steps from above, but you need to concentrate on thinking that you are looking from underneath the step grids and that the white railing is on the side of the steps closest to the camera.

Here two more more shots from the second day that feature yellow railings.  The second shot is pretty close to a black & white except for the yellow railing.

At one point on the first evening, I was so frustrated about the chain link fencing that I took a couple of shots through the fence, focusing on the stairway of the tank and letting the fence go out of focus.

This was shot at f/11.  It might have been better to have set the aperture more wide open to allow the fencing to go even more out of focus, thought I liked the effect that the fencing created.

Although the few shots that I got on the second day featured some nice shadowing, the midday light simply couldn't compare with the light from the evening before.  Here, finally, are a couple of shots from the first evening that I especially liked.

I was OK with letting the right side of the above image go quite dark to accentuate the light reflecting off the descending stairway.

I particularly liked the following shot that I converted to a black & white.

Again I didn't mind that a portion of the image, this time on the left, was dark, as it allowed some of the vertical elements of the railing to be highlighted.  I also liked the streaky texture of the side of the tank.  I thought it worked to put the stair landing off-center in the image.  I'm not quite sure how it happened, but this shot has a much different character than the other shots that I took.

I had visited the petroleum terminal a couple of years ago, and, thinking about it, had gotten kicked off that time as well.  I had posted those other photos on 2/22/12.  I would like to think that these show a bit more complexity than my shots from a couple of years ago.


1 comment:

  1. I remember your being kicked out of the area. Very interesting pictures. As always the black and white are my favorites.