Sunday, February 22, 2015


I have been complaining that architectural photography is particularly challenging, given the limitations of my camera and lenses.  Well, I finally got my new camera, a full-frame sensor Nikon that allows me to capture a wider view than the "crop sensor" Nikon I had.

Armed with my new camera, I visited one of my old friends, the atrium of the downtown branch of the Milwaukee Public Library.  I have shot this venue a number of times previously because of its extraordinary beauty but have always lamented not being able to capture it in wider angle.  My new camera helps to solve that problem.

I thought I would demonstrate the difference by comparing a couple of similar shots.  One of my tactics for shooting ceilings has been to set the camera in the center of the floor pointing up and shoot with a remote release.  Here are a couple of photos of the library dome taken with my prior camera.

I realize there is a significant difference in white balance, but try to ignore that (it can always be altered in post processing anyway).  I think these are great shots, but I have wished that I could capture more of the surrounding walls to provide more context and depth.

So here are roughly equivalent shots with my new "toy."

I think the addition of the support pillars add a dynamic quality that was simply unavailable previously.

One "technical note": When I place the camera on the floor, it is important that it point precisely vertically.  Otherwise, I need to crop out some of the image's edges so that the overall image is centered properly.  I didn't do such a hot job with these photos.  If I could be more accurate in getting the camera vertical and properly centered, the difference would be even more striking.  I'm working on it.

In my mind the library is most notable for two features, its dome and its extensive marble work, including its numerous balustrades.  Here are a number of shots of the balustrades.  In this first I wanted to capture the detail of the balusters on one of the staircases, but I also wanted to include the stairs for context.

I then decided that it might be better to capture a wider view and to show the balustrades leading into a corner of the image.

I thought the lines in this shot might work as well in black & white.

I took several photos of small numbers of individual balusters straight on, but, though the balusters were beautiful, none of those shots really worked out.  I did, though, get a couple of OK shots of larger arrays.

In the above shot I liked how the light was creating different colors.  I also liked trying to capture the zig-zag lines that the balustrades created.  I think I would have done better to have elevated the camera to reveal more of the balustrade in the rear.

Finally, here is a shot of a balustrade that I cropped severely to emphasize the robust lines of the individual balusters.  OK, I thought.

Earlier I said that one of the library's outstanding features was its dome, featured in the photos at the top of this post.  Here are a few more shots that included the dome.  The first is a "traditional" shot taken from one side of the first floor.  It serves to show off the wider views available with my new camera.

The following are less orthodox.  I did like the overall feel of the shot below, even though I mis-positioned the camera just slightly off the corner of the support pillar.  

The following are also unorthodox, in this case taken from the third floor balcony overlooking the atrium.

Novelty abstracts that I did like quite a bit.

Finally, here are a few shots of the third floor hallways.  In the first below my goal was to highlight the varying curves extending from the right side of the image.

I didn't quite catch what I was aiming for, but I still like the idea.

I wanted to highlight the repetition of arches on the third floor and had taken a shot that only featured the arches.  But it didn't really work because it needed the floor as an "anchor."  The following worked better, I thought.

The final shot is of another hallway next to one of the stairways.

I felt particularly good about this shot because I thought centering the photo on the railing extending away from the camera worked really well.  Also positioning the camera just above the railing served to create more depth.

One of the techniques I employed in this series of photos was to set the camera so that when I took a shot the lifting of the camera's mirror was separated in time from the activation of the shutter.  This served to eliminate any vibrations resulting from the lifting of the mirror before the actual shutter release.  It worked particularly well, as the images are all very crisp.  Of course, this only makes sense if you are using a tripod rather than shooting handheld.


Friday, February 13, 2015


St. Mary's Catholic Church, situated on a hill overlooking the picturesque town of Port Washington, Wisconsin, is lovely both inside and out.  I have visited the church a couple of times in the past for photography, but it's been a couple of years.  The weather has been seasonally cold, and, wimp that I am, I chose to focus on the interior.

Here are a couple of wide angle shots toward the sanctuary.

The sanctuary was actually quite dark and I was able to lighten it some in post processing.  I wanted to include the pews in the shot, so I took these shots from about 15 inches above the floor.  I'm not sure that this perspective worked the way I expected.

Here is a complementary wide angle photo looking toward the back of the church, this time with the camera elevated to eye level.

One of the outstanding architectural features of the church is its array of support pillars, shown in all of the above shots.  So I took a few detail photos of them.

I liked how the ceiling features behind the pillar appear a little "softer" in comparison to the pillar in the above shot.  I converted this to a black & white  and lightened the exposure a bit.

I also took a few shots of portions of the ceiling.  The ceiling is relatively plain, as church ceilings go, but I thought the "edges" of the following shot added a little helpful context.

I also rotated the camera (sitting on the floor pointing up) to bring portions of the adjacent window and light fixture into play.

There was strong sunlight coming through the stained glass windows on the left side of the church, and I noticed that the light was creating some interesting patterns on the floor.  So I took a few shots that combined the strongly lit rows of pews with the light and shadows they cast across the church's central aisle, to create abstracts.

Like most Catholic churches, St. Mary's includes a healthy dose of statuary.  Here are a couple.

OK, I hate to say it, but Jesus and John the Baptist seem to have an even closer relationship than we had thought.

The church also includes a standard array of stained glass windows.  Here I chose to look at details rather than at the larger scene.

One of the nice features of the church is its pipe organ, which sits at the back of the balcony at the rear of the church.

Here are a couple of closeups of the organ, which make nice intelligible abstracts.

I spent about an hour in the church.  Not once during my visit did I see another person, even though the church was fully available.


Sunday, February 8, 2015


Recently, I returned to the Milwaukee Art Museum in search of different photo possibilities.  The museum's Calatrava addition has been photographed so many times that it is doubtful if there are any remaining shots that are truly original.  Even so, I found a few that were new to me.

I also decided to reflect on the post processing changes I made to some of the images I took, to illustrate the choices available in my post processing software of choice, Adobe Lightroom, as well as to add a word or two about why I made the changes I did.

First is a shot of a man in a corridor making a call on his cell phone.  Here is the unedited RAW file.

I did like this shot.  However, it had a few problems.  The white balance was very blue; the camera was not quite vertical; and the image was underexposed.  I also thought it could use a bit more contrast.  Here is the result.

The most obvious change is in the color, which is one of the easiest changes to make.  One of the big advantages in shooting RAW is that when I take a picture the camera doesn't alter the original image.  That leaves me with the maximum flexibility in modifying the file in post processing.

The next shot was of a marble bust in a glass case in the stairwell leading to the parking garage.

Again, there were problems, not the least of which was that in this instance the white balance was much too warm (as opposed to being too cool in the prior photo).  I also had problems with reflections off the glass case, both front and back.  There wasn't too much I could do about the reflections.  In the end, I decided to convert the image to black & white.  I also cropped it a bit to center it more.  Here is the result.

The next image is of a smallish bust of a very intimidating Puritan with piercing eyes.  I took a number of shot of this guy, who was a very glossy black.  Here is one of those shots.

Well, first, the background color is simply wrong and, worse, unpleasant.  In addition, I was hoping to highlight a bit more the reflections off the sculpture's shiny surface.  In the end I decided to convert this image to a black & white also.  In addition, I ramped up the contrast to accentuate the reflections.  Finally, I centered the sculpture in the edited image.

The next image was of an artwork I have shot a number of times, a large nude located in one of the side corridors.  It was important to me to isolate the statue from other pieces situated in the corridor.  To do that I had to shoot it against the bright background.  Here is the result.

The first problem was that the statue was leaning a little, an easy fix.  More troublesome was the fact that the dark statue was underexposed because of the backlighting and contained little apparent definition.  However, in post processing I was able to lighten the statue considerably without blowing out the background.  Finally, I warmed up the color a little.

Quite a bit better, I think.

Next up is a shot of one of the Calatrava addition's strangely shaped corridor windows, which I like for their abstract quality.

Again, not quite straight or centered but, again, an easy fix.  I also decided to crop the image down a little.  This image doesn't really have much color, other than that center "bump."  In the end I decided the bump color was distracting and to convert the image to a simple black & white to emphasize the clean lines.

What appears to be cotton is actually a layer of snow covering the outside of the window.  I like the futuristic look of this image, although my wife says it reminds her of a bathroom fixture.

I also took some photos of the glass skylight in the Quadracci pavilion.  The brise soleil above the pavilion was extended, and I liked the contrast between the bold support ribbing between the glass panels of the skylight and the more subtle tubing of the brise soleil.  Here is one of the shots.

Not bad for a "different" shot, but I thought I could improve it by increasing the contrast and warming up the white balance.

Finally, I noticed the distorted reflections in one of the side corridors and thought the scene would make an interesting abstract.  The original shot, though, was a little dull.

I did like the way the lines drew the eye to the upper left of the image.  I felt, though, that I could improve the shot by warming up the white balance a bit and, more importantly, increasing the contrast.  I also thought the darker area in the upper right corner was a bit of a distraction, so I cropped it out of the final image.  There is a colored reflection in the lower right of the image that I wish was not there, but I couldn't figure out any easy way to remove it.

Still, not a bad shot.

To complete this post, I thought I would add a few other photos that I took during my visit.  First are a couple of shots of a simple mobile set against the typical Calatrava addition background.

Although the mobile was the presumed subject of the photos, the backgrounds shared honors.  And then there were a number of slightly bizarre sculptures located in one of the corridors.

As I often do, I zoomed in on only a portion of the latter two pieces because I wanted to emphasize their unusual lines.

Finally, here is a shot of the parking garage on my way out.

I liked the juxtaposition of contrasting lines as an abstract.