Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Brady Street is the closest Milwaukee has to a "camp" neighborhood and retail district, which probably isn't saying much.  Each year the merchants sponsor a one-day festival.  Most of the vendors on the 6-8 block stretch are for food, crafts, and kitsch.  But I thought it might be worth a visit with my camera.  And besides, it's free.

The one downer--I had to park a good half mile from the festival.  Not all bad, as I came across an odd-looking residence on my way to the festival proper.  The building's facade facing the street was curiously devoid of windows but had an interesting set of double doors.

Just as I snapped the first shot, the door opened.  A little embarrassing, as one never knows how someone will react to having his residence photographed.  Not to worry.   I asked the individual if it was OK to shoot the interesting doors and he took one look at my camera and said it was fine because I was shooting a Nikon.  If I had had a Canon, he said, he would have kicked me off the premises.  he then offered to show me is camera equipment, which was pretty high end.  Fun.  Plus, he told me that the building was formerly a Seventh-day Adventist church that had been decommissioned in the 1970s.  So I had something else to relate to.

And that sort of set the tone for the excursion, as most of the shots I wound up taking had less to do with the festival than with the neighborhood.  As in the next shot of a detail of an interesting residence.  Looking at the shot, I'm not sure how you would characterize the architectural style of this place.

One of the establishments on Brady is the following:

Thirty-five years ago, when I was still taking the bus into work, I would ride past this place each morning.  It's a great name and it's still there.

Speaking of nostalgia, here's another sign that must predate Art's by a number of decades, a mosaic that was built into the brick wall of an otherwise unremarkable building.

Another place I was drawn to was Brasil on Brady, whatever that is.

It had to be the colors.  And, yes, that was "laundry" in matching colors hanging in a courtyard.

Finally, perhaps the artsiest shot I got was of a fire escape that was creating shadows on the wall below.

The light helped, but the best feature, I thought, was the shadowing against the multi-colored bricks of the wall.  Even so, I thought it worked also as a black and white.



I had intended to take some photos at a classic car rally last evening, but when I spotted unusual looking clouds over Lake Michigan, I decided to head instead for nearby Virmond Park on the bluff overlooking the lake to see if I could get a few shots.  As I was walking toward the bluff, another man with a camera who was just leaving commented, "Great clouds!" I may have been a little late to the show, but the clouds were still interesting enough, I thought, to post a few here.

The sky was quite overcast, and, although sundown was still 90 minutes away, it was fairly dark.  Originally, I set my aperture at f/8 at an ISO of 100.  That translated to an exposure of 1/13 second.  Pretty slow, and I was concerned about blur both from camera shake and from movement of the clouds, which were scudding right along in a strong wind.

This first shot turned out OK, but I decided to open the aperture a bit to f/6.3 and to increase the ISO to 200.  I also sensed that I would want to darken the shot some, so I set the camera to underexpose the shot 2/3 f-stops.  All of that increased the shutter speed to 1/80 second, which was clearly in the acceptable range for handheld.  Here are two more shots that I took at those settings.

I took all three of these shots within a two-minute period.  Not very long, but the sky was changing fairly rapidly.  Even so, I didn't think the particular formation I was shooting was going to change significantly, so I wrapped it up.  It's difficult to spot, but there is a bird visible in the last shot, about 1/3 of the way from the right side and in a bright area fairly near the top.

White balance was also a bit of an issue.  I always shoot RAW, so color choices are theoretically just a matter of post processing.  Even so, my setting of "cloudy" didn't seem quite right when I downloaded the files to my computer.  I played around with white balance in post processing and finally settled on "auto" as coming close enough to what I remembered.  Maybe it's not quite right, but it looks interesting.   Also, for the record, I increased the contrast and further underexposed the shots in post processing.  I think it improved their dramatic quality.

I decided to convert the shots to black & whites also, and here those are.

These, I think, are interesting, but the color, even though there wasn't much of it, just seemed to add something.  There is a fair amount of noise in these images, despite the fact that the ISO settings were at 100 or 200.  I think the culprit was the waning illumination from the overcast evening light.

One final comment: Ideally, I would have liked to have incorporated a foreground element to provide some context.  That didn't work at Virmond Park.  Next time I might try Concordia University.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014


I know it's lazy to look to the Mitchell Domes for doing macro nature photography, but, given its available diversity of flora and the fact that there is generally little or no wind, it is easy and reliable.  So last week, once again, I found myself going back for more.  This time I focused on floral subjects and used both my macro and my telephoto lenses.  Most of the telephoto shots were handheld, which meant ramping up the ISO to keep shutter speeds at a reasonable level.

Often I find that the back of a flower is an easier, and perhaps more interesting, photographic subject, as with the following flower.

I took this with my macro set to f/3.5 to blur out the background.  This meant that the depth of field was so shallow that only parts of the flower are in good focus, including the peek at the front side of one of the petals shown at the bottom of the image.  But I thought it was more important to eliminate background distractions than to bring more of the flower into focus.

The show dome has a micro-pond, and I liked this relatively large pond flower, which I shot with my telephoto because of the placement of and distance to the flower relative to the visitor path.

I could have cropped this as a square image, but I wanted to include some of the pond lily leaves as context.  There was bright sunlight on the flower, so shutter speed was not an issue for handheld.  This was shot at f/5 (the widest aperture available with my telephoto) at 1/2000 second.

The pond also included a larger, more dramatic flower, which I captured in the following shot.

This is really quite a nice shot.  I was able to position the light flower against a mostly dark background.  As a result, the camera overexposed the flower a bit in its attempt to achieve an overall balanced exposure.  Then in post processing I reduced the exposure on the flower petals to bring out more of the texture in the petals.  This flower must have been 7-8 inches across.  Interestingly, this was shot with the lens at a wide open f/5, but the distance was so great that the flower looks as though all of it is in focus.  This points up the fact that depth of field is a function of a combination of aperture and distance to the subject.

A close look at the flower in the above photo reveals the corner of a green cup-shaped seed pod peeking out from near the top of the flower, two other examples of which are featured in the following shots.

The pod in the second shot was in a fairly advanced stage of decay, but the image resolution on the upper surface of the pod was great.  These pods appeared to be 3-4 inches across.

I also stumbled across this pair of blossoms in the tropical dome.

Because of their height off the floor, these were practically inaccessible with my macro lens, so I took the shot handheld with my telephoto at f/5.3 for 1/160 second with an ISO of 400.

One of the plants that I had never noticed before was sporting the following seed displays.  (These are not fake.)

They were hanging down by vine-like extensions on a large bushy plant that was otherwise nondescript.  (I couldn't find a sign anywhere identifying the plant's name.)  These seed pods were quite large, perhaps 6-8 inches across and 12-18 inches long, and just as colorful as is shown here.  Again taken with my telephoto but this time on a tripod.

Near the end of my visit I came across this lovely blossom in the tropical dome.

This was a very "three-dimensional" blossom, and I wasn't that far away, so I thought I should set my lens at a fairly narrow aperture to keep as much of the flower in focus as I could.  Because the photos were shot handheld with my telephoto, I ramped up the ISO, this time to 1250, to avoid any blur from camera movement.  Shutter speeds were 1/320 and 1/500, respectively.  I converted the second shot to a black & white, which I thought worked quite well.  I also underexposed the shots one f-stop which served to darken the background, which I further darkened in post processing.

I realize these images are quite "soft."  However, I felt that so long as a portion of the subject is in sharp focus, the viewer will be forgiving of the out-of-focus quality of remainder of the image.

Finally, in the tropical dome I noticed a jumble of banana leaves that were being backlit by the sun coming through the dome's glass panels, and I took the following shot, which is cropped somewhat.  Once again, I took this handheld with my telephoto at f/5.6 and an ISO of 320 for 1/500 second.

I realize that this is not a flower shot, but it is my favorite of the bunch, mostly I think because of its intelligible abstract quality and because of the diversity of its colors (which are not fake, by the way).


Friday, July 25, 2014


It had been at least 15 years since I had last been to Old World Wisconsin (OWW).  Located about 40 miles southwest of downtown Milwaukee, OWW consists of homes and various other buildings originally built in the 19th century in Wisconsin.  All of the buildings had been dismantled and then reconstructed on site at OWW.  The buildings were all appropriately decorated and furnished with items from the particular era.  In addition, staff located at most of the buildings were dressed in authentic garb and were happy to provide additional information about the facility, the building where they were stationed, or the role they were portraying.  I was primarily interested in taking photos during my visit, but it was fun talking with the staff, as well.

Although it has been a long time, OWW hasn't really changed much from how I remembered it.  The buildings are clustered primarily by nationality--German, Polish, Finnish, etc., and the different clusters are quite far apart.  Anyone going should be prepared to do a significant amount of walking.  There are shuttle buses that circle the facilities for those who aren't into or aren't up to a lot of walking, though I didn't take advantage of the buses during my visit.

OK, on to the photography.

My first stop was a lovely little church, the first Catholic church built in Milwaukee, originally erected in 1839.

Here I was trying to include a foreground item to add some perspective, but I think this fence is a bit too prominent.

The church included some lovely, unpretentious statuary.

The interior was surprisingly bright, and I was ably to take the above shot at f/4 with a shutter speed of 1/25 second and and ISO of 100.

The church also included a nicely restored, centrally located wood stove.  Here is a detail from that stove.

Following is another black & white of a gothic-styled side window.

Clean but a bit too simple, perhaps.

As stated, there were ample grounds that were set off with fences to give the feel of farmland.  Here was a simple little shot of some wildflowers along one of the fences.

When I took this shot I was concerned not to include any distractions in the background, so I took it with the aperture at a wide open f/4.  This was a mistake because, given how close I was to the flowers, I could have narrowed the aperture to bring more of them into focus and not worried about any distractions in the distant field behind.

Next stop was a wheelwright shop.  I took a number of shots of the wooden-spoked wheels both inside and outside the shop, but this is the only one that I kept.

This was in the interior of the shop, and there was not a lot of light.  This was taken at f/4 with an ISO of 1000 to keep the shutter speed to a respectable 1/50 second.  I liked that the wheel was missing a spoke.

I thought some of the smaller outbuildings were the most charming, at least from a photographic point of view, including the following.

I took the above shot from the inside of one of the reconstructed residences.  Here again I wanted to include a foreground element, another fence.  I decided that all of the green foliage in the original shot was distracting, as the building and fence were unpainted and the wood had turned a silver gray, so I converted the image to a black & white.  In the following shot, however, the red of the building was fundamental to the shot.  I also liked the wagon directly in front of the building.

My guess is that the building in the following shot was designed to look tumbledown, though perhaps not as much as it was.

I thought the conversion to black & white helped to bring out the lines of the building's log front.

There were plenty of buildings that featured unpainted, weathered wood, and I took a number of detail shots hoping to bring out the grain.  Here is one of those, again rendered in black & white, though it wouldn't have mattered much considering the silver gray that the wood had turned.

It's interesting that the corner of this building is right at the center line of the image.

One of the more interesting buildings was a Polish residence that featured logs that had been sawn crosswise rather than lengthwise.

The technique made for some interesting grain.

One of the buildings was a town hall that had been set up as a place where children could experience the kind of toys that 19th century children played with.  Situated in the center of the one-room hall was a nicely restored wood stove, and I took this shot that shows how the cast iron exterior of the stove had been "stitched" together.

Finally, many of the homes were set out with kitchenware typical for the period.  It was a sunny day, and I took advantage of light to capture the following "still lives."

The light streaming through the windows in the latter two shots was critical, I thought.

Although I spent over 2-1/2 hours at OWW on this visit, I only covered about half of the exhibits.  But considering that it is an hour's drive each way, I probably won't be returning until next year.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014


I found myself back in Madison last week, hoping to take a fresh approach to the interior of the Wisconsin State Capitol, or if not a fresh approach, at least an unorthodox one.

The capitol, like many ornate buildings, almost begs for a focus on symmetrical shots.  On this trip I was determined to look for unsymmetrical shots.  Here is some of what I got.

It was a very sunny morning, and I took a few of shots of the exterior, including this of the pediment above the east entrance.

OK, that shot was symmetrical, but technically this next shot of the exterior dome wasn't.

It may seem odd to take a shot that clips off a portion of the dome, but such a shot allows a bit more detail of the subject.  And from a psychological point of view, it gives the viewer something to do by filling in the missing portion.  After all, everyone knows what's missing.  It was not a particularly windy day, and I waited until what breeze there was had extended the flags.  I also wanted to make sure that I took the shot so that the flags were blowing into the center of the image rather than away from it.

The capitol building consists of four major wings extending from a central dome and rotunda.  Different government offices are housed in the different wings, but the wings are very similar architecturally.  Here are a couple of shots of the wings' ceilings, which feature skylights as well as a great deal of ornamentation.

These illustrate my attempts to create unorthodox shots.  I also felt that I shouldn't worry too much about including the lower ceilings of side corridors, even if they are relatively dark.  I decided that the viewer's eye is drawn to the more interesting components of the shot anyway and that the darker side components serve to provide context and depth.  I think the above shots illustrate that point.

As with nearly all such buildings, the lure of the central dome is virtually irresistible, and I noted many other visitors pulling out their smart phones to capture it along with me.  Even though the capitol has a relatively bright interior, there is no limitation on the use of tripods, and I had mine along.  Here is a familiar shot, which while technically asymmetrical is fairly orthodox.

Perhaps the shot is too tight to ensure that the viewer understands that it is a lower portion of the dome, but it does provide the opportunity to illustrate some of the dome's detail.

While the above shot is an orthodox one, the following ones are not.

And the shot below includes both the dome and the curved ceiling of one of the wings.

Again, in these shots I didn't mind including portions of what are the undersides of ceilings of side corridors or one of the circular balconies surrounding the central rotunda.

Before wrapping up, I visited a hearing room at the end of one of the wings.  Here is a shot of the room's ceiling, which features a large, handsome skylight.

Although I shot this ceiling with the camera both horizontally and at an angle, I do like this angled shot because it allows me to capture more of the interior surface.  Plus it's a bit more interesting.

Finally, I noted that the room's interior walls were faced with some sort of limestone and one of the blocks included a large (perhaps 8-10 inches across) nautilus-like fossil.  This was behind the table at the front of the room where those conducting a hearing would sit.  But, since the room was not in use, I simply set up my tripod a couple of feet directly in front of the fossil to capture the following shot.

The resolution on this image, shot at f/8 for 0.8 seconds, was really quite good.