Sunday, August 30, 2015


My city, Mequon, has a population of about 23,000 souls.  However, it is one of the largest cities in the state of Wisconsin--geographically, that is.  The eastern side of the city is essentially fully developed as a bedroom community for the Milwaukee metropolitan area and is largely residential, combined with retail and commercial developments.  The western side of the city is largely rural and includes a good deal of undeveloped woods and open land, as well as operating and hobby farms.

One of the places I have looked to for landscape photography is a horse farm located on the west side of the city.  And that is where I headed the other foggy evening, hoping for some possible mood shots.  The quality of the light was just not very good, so the mood shots weren't working.  However, I did notice a vegetable farm directly across the road from the horse farm.  In addition to the fog, there were some lingering showers and  the farm lane that I ventured on was quite muddy.  Even so, I was impressed with the rows of mature--and very large--cabbages of different varieties growing on the farm and got a couple of decent shots in the waning evening light.  The next morning--still foggy but without any rain--I returned and spent a bit more time trying to capture the cabbages.  Here is some of what I got.

I did take a few shots of individual cabbages.

The rain/dew was still on these cabbages, which I thought added to the images' interest.  Cabbages are very three-dimensional, and I thought it was important to keep as much as possible in good focus, so I shot most of the photos at relatively small apertures, ranging from f/16 to f/22.  Fortunately, I had brought my tripod.  Moreover, there was very little wind, so I really didn't worry about the duration of the exposures.  On the other hand, there was enough light that exposure times were surprisingly short, ranging from 1/4 to 1/8 second.

The other factor that I thought helped was the heavy overcast.  That may sound counterintuitive, but not having any strong light source actually helped to create more saturated colors.  It also eliminated concerns about shadows that would create too great a contrast between lighted and shadowed areas.  As a result, I was able to bring out better the interesting texture of the cabbage leaves.

My broader landscape techniques need work.  Here are a couple of my attempts.

I am still having difficulty understanding what to incorporate in a broader landscape scene to create an interesting image.  I have learned that, as a general rule, broader landscapes are helped by having significant foreground objects to create depth and context.  Here I positioned the camera close to the first cabbages to emphasize their interesting leaf structures.  In the first of the two shots above, for example, the cabbage leaves in the foreground occupy virtually half of the overall image.  On the other hand, something still seems to be missing.   I'm not sure if I need to include more of the scene above the horizon, as these shots seem to lack balance in that regard.  Or should I have positioned the camera higher off ground in order to give a better understanding of the scope of the overall field?  Perhaps there needs to be more elevation change, as this field was quite flat.  This is something I need to work on.

My best success, with cabbages at least, was of closer shots that included leaves but not the cabbage heads, as in the following shots.

These were my favorite shots of the group. 

Interestingly, these shots were taken at different times.  The first was taken in the evening; the second the next morning.  They were both of the same kind of cabbage.  The only difference was in the quality of light on the two occasions.

One final comment:  These cabbage fields, obviously, were located on private property.  My visits were in the evening and in the relatively early morning, and I did not meet anyone on either occasion. However, I was a little uncomfortable walking around on someone else's land, even though if I had been approached I would have explained that I am just an amateur and was taking pictures for personal purposes.  I would hope that that person would be understanding.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Earlier this week my wife received a bouquet of sunflowers from a friend.  These were not the massive six to eight feet tall, dinner-plate-sized sunflowers that one sees nodding in farm fields.  These were smaller versions with blooms five to eight inches across.  I liked the way the bright orange petals were catching the light and decided to capture a few images.

First, here is a "group shot" of a few of the flowers, just to give an idea of what they entailed.

I intentionally took this as a tight shot so that none of the flowers was shown in full.  Essentially, I wanted the flowers, with their gorgeous colors, to fill the image.  The nice thing about having the flowers in the house is that I could move them around to better capture the light, and I thought the petals might show better if they were being backlit.  Here is one of those backlit shots.

Now the petals are more exciting and have a fiery aspect to them.  However the central portion of the flower was simply uninteresting at close quarters, and I found myself cropping that portion down, as in the above shot.

Then I noticed the back of the flowers with their sepals that looked a bit like reptile scales with hairy edges and began shooting the backsides of the flowers rather than the fronts.  Here are a few of those shots.

And here, finally, is a shot at a wider angle.

There is a prominent flaw in one of the petals, but I still like this shot, as well as some of the earlier ones, a lot.  

For the record, these photos were shot at very high f-stops, ranging from f/45 to f/51, for exposures of 2-1/2 to 4 seconds.  I found that I needed to underexpose these shots 1 to 2 f-stops to bring out the full colors of the petals.

I thought this series was serendipitous.  I only take credit for recognizing what I had and attempting to take advantage of it.



Virmond Park is situated on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan in Mequon, Wisconsin, where I live.  It includes a small woods, playground areas, open fields, and a prairie preserve area.  Nothing special, but it is convenient and close to where I live.  Here are a few photos of my last couple of visits to the park, all handheld.

The first couple are effectively nature macro shots that I converted to black & whites.

Queen Anne's Lace is a difficult subject photographically.  It is relatively flat when viewed from directly above the blossom, and that means that from that point of view depth of field is not a serious issue.  However, that is generally not a particularly interesting perspective, although the above flower does exhibit an interesting spiral structure.  But trying to photograph the flower from the side creates a significant depth of field problem, one that I have not been good at solving.  One more thing: Queen Anne's Lace is a relatively tall and spindly plant with a large flower at the top.  The problem with that is wind.  Even a zephyr can lead to the flower's swaying, making crisp focus especially difficult.

And below is an indifferent leaf arrangement.  I was able to blur out the background by shooting this at f/4.  But there is just not enough contrast to make this interesting.

Below is another shallow depth of field shot that is a bit more interesting, I think.

This was shot at f/6.3.  This allowed the white flowers (actually Queen Anne's Lace) in the background to add some interest to the shot.

And here is another one of my vertical pan shots.

As I've said before, it seems like these shots are most effective when there is strong contrast in the direction of the panning.  In this case there was a building on the left, that is essentially unidentifiable, that I kept in the shot.  For the record this was shot at a shutter speed of 1/20th second.  Here aperture is not particularly important.

Finally, I caught this candid shot of a couple sitting on a bench at the edge of the bluff above the lake.  Because of the contrast between the sky, on the one hand, and the people, bench and trees, on the other, it was easy to convert this into a black & white silhouette.  The figure pointing and the tree were what made this shot work.



I have been to the Mitchell Domes conservatory literally dozens of times looking for nature macro opportunities.  They seem to be getting more difficult to uncover.  It's not for lack of a variety of flora.  At this point the issues are more ones of limited access with a camera on a tripod and lack of control over lighting.  Over my last couple of visits I have tried to focus on overall composition.

The casual visitor to the Domes is usually drawn to the floral displays, if for no other reason than their diversity of colors.  And they are an easy target.  Here are a couple of floral shots that are very different from one another.  The first is a  photo of a solitary flower.

This flower was fairly "flat" so I could afford to open up my lens to f/4 to reduce depth of field and, in  effect, blur out the background.  Here I focused on the flower's central portion.  As a result, the petals are just a bit "soft," but the effect is a nice one, I think.

This second photo was shot at a nearly wide-open f/5.  However, in this case I was considerably further from the flower, resulting in a significantly greater effective depth of field.  I wasn't able to eliminate the background, even though it is quite blurry.  So I decided to embrace it as context and placed the flower toward one corner to feature the greenery as an element of the image.

When I feel I have exhausted the flowers, I turn to ferns.  They can make good photographic subjects because they present interesting abstracts that are generally bright against a much darker background.  Plus, importantly, they often present a relatively flat surface, and I can position the lens to be perpendicular to that surface.  As a result, I can often get by with a shallower depth of field than I would otherwise be limited to.  These factors pertained in the following shots.

Finally, I liked the following cluster of succulents that were located in the Desert Dome.

In this case in post processing I emphasized the color variations that the plants exhibited.  I also decided to crop the cluster down, leaving just enough to include the centers of all four plants.



Sometimes a photographic outing works better than anticipated, such as the night photography along the river in downtown Milwaukee I did a few weeks ago.  Other times, probably more often, things don't work out so well.  The latter was the case the other night when I again went downtown in the evening, this time with the idea specifically of shooting buildings that are lit up at night.  In any case, this is some of what I got.

First up was the home office of Northwestern Mutual, a classic late 19th century building.

These are not bad shots for what they are, just not very inspiring, I'm afraid.  This second image as originally shot featured a large amount of perspective distortion, as I was standing at street level and the upper portion was farther away than the lower.  However, in post processing I was able to "rectify" this distortion nicely.  Even though my primary objective was the lighting of the classic pillars, I have learned that I need to ground the image by including ground level in the shot.

I also took a photo looking up at one of the ornate windows of what is now the building housing the local offices of the Northern Trust Company.  The building originally was home to another insurance company, in this case Northwestern National.

There is a carved face in the upper center of the shot that appears just a little ominous in the "up-lighting."  At best, a so-so shot.

I then made my way to the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.  This was a Saturday night and there was a concert underway in the open air Peck Pavilion venue on the south side of the Center.  Here is a shot, not of the concert but of the south facade of the Center.

I retained this shot because I liked the way in which the lighting on the wall was juxtaposed against the Center's trademark diamond-shaped pillars.  I wish the individuals in the lower left had not been there, but I did want to wait for them to leave.

The Performing Arts Center is indeed lit up in the evening and the colors are a bit off-putting to my aesthetic sensibilities.  Here are a couple of photos of that lighting, which, you will note, is selective as to which facets are colored and which are not.

If nothing else, perhaps the lighting makes for an interesting abstract.



Each Tuesday night throughout the summer, one of the restaurants in my town (Mequon) sponsors a "classic car" show.  Usually there is a theme (e.g., "70s muscle cars), but what this means in practice is that anyone who has an older car or just a sporty car that they are proud of can bring it to the show.

I have gone to a couple of the shows this summer just to take photos.  The last show was advertised to feature Asian performance cars.  Well, I have an aging Acura TL Type-S and was offered a spot among the featured cars.  I laughed and demurred.

Usually, whenever I photograph the cars I wind up taking a variety of shots, some of details, others of the entire car.  I am almost never happy with the full monty shots.  I have come to think that I am just better able to "see" details and tight shots.

Here are some of the photos from the shows, beginning with a couple of shots of an old beetle that had been painted an intriguing shade of orange.

I am very poor at identifying the make or model of cars and cannot recall the the following older car was, but I did like the combination of colors and lines that it featured.  Yes, unfortunately, that is me reflected in the chrome of parabolic headlight, a common photographic hazard at these events.

I do recall that the following hood ornament and door handles were from a Model A (I think) Ford.

I also enjoyed another elder statesman of an auto that featured headlights that were really headlamps, this one with an actual gas flame.

Occasionally, I convert the photos to black & whites.  This seems to be the case particularly with cars from the 1920s to the early 1950s, when the use of chrome was more generous.

And here is another black & white of a 1950s car with an exceptional low-gloss-finish paint job.

Sometimes my photographic targets are relegated to iconic grille and hood ornaments, as in the following shots.

A little too spare, perhaps.

And sometimes I get a laugh out of the vanity plates that some of the cars sport. (My car's plate, by the way, reads SKEPTC).

The first of these was pretty obvious.  The second, I'm quite sure, was STOLEN.


Wednesday, August 5, 2015


Milwaukee has a River Walk.  It's modest in scope, but it's a huge improvement over the condition of the Milwaukee River from years ago.  Basically it consists of pedestrian walkways on each side of the Milwaukee River over the eight blocks or so as it passes north to south through downtown Milwaukee.  Last weekend I decided to cover most of the Walk along with my camera.

This is not intended to document the Walk.  Rather, it is simply a collection of some of the images I caught more or less in order along the route.

Essentially, I started on the east side of the river at the south end of the Walk.  Early on I crossed over to the west side and continued to the north.  Close to the north end of the Walk, I crossed back over to the east side of the river and returned to the south end.

This first shot is pretty basic.  I focused on a padlock (or whatever) at the corner of the railing, and, even though I shot this at f/8, I was quite close to the padlock, effectively reducing the depth of field.  Just OK, but it does provide some feel for the walkway.

  Here is another one of the circular grates that provide interesting abstracts.

I came across this fellow early in my trek.  I'm not sure if he was just resting or was depressed about something.  I'm hoping it was the former.

My goal here was to capture the candid situation and overall scene.  I did not bother to ask his permission.

The lower end of the Walk runs through Milwaukee's Third Ward, which I have shot a number of times previously.  The neighborhood has undergone a transformation over the past 15-20 years, much of which has been to replace often abandoned factories and warehouses with condo developments, particularly along the river.  Here is an example of that gentrification, if you will.

I did this trek in the morning and most of the pedestrian traffic was out for morning runs or walks.

I like this shot and thought it worked well as a black and white.  The upper portion of the shot is a little cluttered, but I liked that I caught the runner in silhouette.  I wanted the focus to be on the runner, who, of course, was moving away from me.  My solution was to focus on the bench and then release the shutter about the time that the runner passed it.

There are actually a number of sculptures along the Walk, perhaps the least of which is this brass duck.


It was a sunny morning and I tried to take advantage of the shadowing that the benches were creating, as in the following shots, which I turned into black and whites.

The second shot is a bit too simple, but I liked it OK.

Here is another black and white shadow shot, this time of the railing along a ramp up to street level.

There are any number of docks along the river.  Even thought it was hard to get interested in most of them, I kind of liked the following shot that featured black and white ropes.  Again, a bit simple, perhaps.

As I said, this is a collection of personal observations, not a documentary.

After I crossed back to the east side of the river, I passed the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, affectionately known as the PAC.  I caught this shot on the south side of the structure.

I like this shot quite a bit, even though nearly 40 percent of it is taken up with what is essentially a blank wall.  There is something about the clean lines that seems to work.  The only problem is the one pillar about halfway down that has a lighter portion.

Right next to the PAC is the Peck Pavilion, an outdoor performing arts venue that is used during the summer months.  It includes a stage, a sheltered seating area, and a more extensive open-air area planted with rows of trees.  Since nothing was happening, at least that early in the morning, I stood in the center of the stage and took this shot of the seating area.

I wanted to get a shot of the lines of trees in the rear, but there seemed to be too much clutter, so I tried a few shots using my recent tactic of panning during the shutter release process.  This is what I got.

Somehow reminds me of Munch's "The Scream."  For the record, this was shot at f/6.3 for 1/25 second.

Here is another sculpture along the Walk.

Interesting, though it was a bit difficult to capture these figures.   Bronze is a difficult medium to begin with, and here there was a lack of a suitable background to pose the figures against.

Speaking of the problems with bronze sculptures, the "Bronze Fonz," a statue of Henry Winkler as the character in the 1970s TV show, "Happy Days," that was set in Milwaukee, is also along the Walk.

Just a little creepy, I'm afraid.  Here I chose to focus on the hand, allowing Mr. Winkler's face mercifully to fade out of focus.

Floral arrangements were plentiful along the Walk.

I shot this at f/4 to blur out the buildings in the background.  I also (inadvertently) overexposed this shot, but, even though the focus is a bit soft, I liked the overall effect.

Here's another dock shot, this time featuring three empty beer bottles, presumably from the night before.

I will confess that the dock was generously dotted with bird droppings.  Initially, I thought I would leave them in for "atmosphere" but in the end decided to excise them in post processing.  Looks deceptively clean.

There is a popcorn cart in the small plaza outside of the Chase Tower, where I spent a 30-plus year career before retiring.  I caught this as representative of the cart's features.

After that, I was retracing some of the same steps I took earlier in my trek, and I got a couple more shots of morning activity along the river.

This was another running shot that I thought worked a bit better than my earlier one.  Even though the upper portion of the image is complex, in this case it actually helps to provide context without appearing cluttered.

There were also some kayakers on the river.  

Here I was interested in showing their paddles as extended and silhouetted against the brighter water.   I just missed with the paddle on the far right that is posed against a shadowed portion of the river.