Saturday, December 31, 2016


As I have done the last few years, for my final post of the year I am reprising some of my favorite photos for the year.  We did not take any major trips this year, and there were plenty of other distractions to keep me away from photography, but I did manage to take some photos to include in this yearend post.


We spent a few days in Tucson early in the year, and here is a shot of the city's old city hall, which is in the process of conversion to a museum.

I also made another pilgrimage to Wisconsin's State Capitol.  I took the usual shots of the dome's interior, but this shot of a side corridor was my favorite.

I also spent some time shooting the federal courthouse in Milwaukee.

I thought this worked best as a black and white.  A few days later I returned to the courthouse hoping to better the first set of shots.  As often happens, the second set was not as good as the first, I think because of a difference in the light.

I also revisited Milwaukee's Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist and got this great shot of the venue's altar, bathed in morning light.

I thought the chiaroscuro effect of this shot worked particularly well.

In June we spent a few days in Washington, D.C.  The two best venues for photography on this visit included the Library of Congress and Union Station.  Here is a shot of the ceiling of a side hall at the Library of Congress.

And a couple of shots I took at Union Station.

Finally, is a shot of Milwaukee's Art Museum.  It's a great subject for architectural photography, but I may be running out of fresh ideas.


In past years I have paid multiple visits to the botanical gardens at Milwaukee's Mitchell Park Domes.  However, the domes were closed for most of 2016 for structural repairs, so I only visited the facility a couple of times.  Only one of the shots I took made the cut for this post, a cabbage-like plant that showed nice detail.

The other two shots were more serendipitous.  The first was of some leaves in a large street planter in Milwaukee that I spied while photographing some public art in the neighborhood.

I intentionally underexposed this shot a bit and wound up liking the metallic sheen that the leaves displayed.

The other photo was of some heavily frosted weeds that I spotted while out on a late fall morning walk.  After my walk I returned with my camera to get this shot before the sun burned off the frost.


I am not good at taking photos of people.  However, I have included a few family photos, not because of their technical qualities but for their natural spontaneity and overall composition.


Finally are some shots that don't fit into any of the other categories.

Some grapes at a farmers market that I liked for their variety of colors.

A black and white of alfresco chairs and shadows at a local restaurant.

Part of a mysterious piece of antique farm machinery that I liked for its steampunk qualities.

A solitary broom in a restored residence at the Pioneer Village in northern Ozaukee County, north of the Milwaukee metro area.

The foot of a bear at the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City.

And a splitrail fence in a snowstorm at Virmond Park in my hometown of Mequon.


Thursday, December 29, 2016


On our trip to Utah over Christmas I had a window seat on the leg from Minneapolis to Salt Lake City and grabbed a few photos out the window.  For nearly the entire way the landscape below us was snow-covered, and it was interesting to see how the landscape changed over the course of the trip.  There was little in the way of color, at least from the height of the flight, so converted the photos to black and whites.

The first was of farmlands--and a little hamlet--in eastern Nebraska, I think.  I find it interesting to consider the lives that are being played out in the scenes below me.

I felt fortunate that these shots worked out as well as they did, as my view was to the south, which required shooting into the mid-day sun.  I was also contending with the usual scratches and the other defects in the window.  I tried to minimize those defects by putting the camera right up against the window.

The remaining shots were of more rugged country.

What was striking to me in the above shots was that this land is so empty of any evidence of human activity.

Human activity is evident in the final shot, below.  This is my favorite of the group because I was able to capture the sunlight glinting off the river meandering through the scene on the right of the composition.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Even though our fall in southern Wisconsin has been incredibly mild, winter is inevitable, including another frosty, but snow-free, morning.  Here are a few more photos that I got of the frost.

In the first shot, I chose to include a young sprig as a point of interest.

In the second, I was more concerned with the overall compositional balance.

I wound up liking the second shot more, despite the fact that it had no specific focal point of interest.

The elements of the third shot below were more diverse, including both new and old and a variety of colors.


All of these were shot with the aid of a tripod.  I thought it was important to keep as much of the image in good focus, so I chose narrow apertures, running from f/16 to f/22.  As a result, exposure times were from 0.3 to 0.6 seconds, much too long for me to take on a hand-held basis.

Finally, while I was at it, I grabbed a photo of my favorite park bench in Mequon, this on the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan in Mequon's Virmond Park.  Colorwise, there wasn't much going on, so I converted the shot to a black & white.


Sunday, November 27, 2016


The Mitchell Park Domes, Milwaukee's indoor botanical gardens, have been a mainstay of mine for getting macro shots of flora.  Unfortunately, last winter it became apparent that the facility was going to need major repair.  The Domes were closed for several months to install netting as a stop-gap measure to prevent chunks of the glass-paneled domes from falling on visitors.  Recently, all three domes were re-opened, and this weekend I paid my first visit since last winter.  Here is what I got.

This first was a more or less traditional shot of a chrysanthemum (or similar) flower from the Show Dome.

The next was of a trio of pincushion cacti in the Desert Dome that I converted to a black and white.

I intended this to be a symmetrical shot that would include the "centers" of all three cacti, but it didn't work out that way, and I decided I was happy with the asymmetrical composition.

This following was of a simple leaf in the Tropical Dome that I also converted to a black and white.

Because the leaf was relatively flat, I could go with a relatively wide open aperture of f/3.5 to eliminate any background distractions.  The conversion to black and white seemed to bring out more of the subtle texture in the leaf's surface.

My preference in these shots has been to crop the composition.  This serves the function of allowing more emphasis on detail and leaves to the viewer the task of completing the overall composition.  That could be said as well for the next shot, also of a leaf in the Tropical Dome.

My goal in the following shot of a detail of a large banana leaf was to bring out the fine pattern in the structure of the leaf, which was being backlit by the late morning sun streaming through the glass dome.

My favorite of the shots from this visit to the Domes was of what appeared to be a chard-like plant in the Show Dome.

In this photo, because it was shot at close range (less than a foot) and because the plant's leaves had quite a bit of depth, I used a very narrow aperture of f/40 to preserve as much depth of field as possible.

John M. Phillips

Saturday, November 12, 2016


This fall weather in Wisconsin has been very kind, and it was only this morning that we had our first real frost in the Milwaukee area.  On my early morning walk in the crisp, calm air, I noticed the heavy frost in the fallen leaves along the quiet streets, so as soon as I got home I grabbed my camera to capture some of the heavy frost before the sun burned it off.

The morning was sunny, but I realized that the colors would be richer in the shade than in the sun.  Moreover, including both sun and shadow in a shot would create distracting contrast.  So I focused on shaded areas.  I wound up taking about 35 shots, but as often happens, I kept only a few.

Generally, I try to stick to "unstaged" scenes, which is what I did here.  I did think to bring my tripod, which was important because I wanted to keep as much of the scene in reasonably good focus.  That meant that I needed to employ narrow apertures for the shots, requiring relatively long exposures.


Friday, October 21, 2016


I first read H.D. Thoreau's Walden when I was about 15 and then reread it for a literature class in college.  But until earlier this month, I had never visited the site of Thoreau's memoir.  We had spent the weekend at a "retreat" in the beautiful hills of central Massachusetts, and our flight back to Milwaukee was scheduled for late on that Sunday evening, so we took the time to visit Walden Pond for a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon.  It was a beautiful fall afternoon and the place was lovely.

The National Park Service has, I believe, done a great job of maintaining the pond in as natural a condition as practicable, given the amount of tourist traffic it must receive.  The pond is about 60 acres in surface area and is largely surrounded by deciduous woods.  Surprisingly, the shores of the pond are sandy and one can circle the pond entirely on the shore.  It is approximately 1.7 miles around the pond.

Alternatively, there are well-manicured paths through the surrounding woods that also circle the pond.

The woods were in great color, as the following photos indicate.

The site of Thoreau's cabin has been located, perhaps 200 yards from the shore, and is marked by stone posts.

The footprint for the cabin appears very small.  My guess is that it was about 10x15 feet.  The site also included this slightly damaged sign, containing a quote from Walden.

Following is another photo I took from the path circling the pond looking out toward the water.  I thought it worked fairly well.

Not perfect, though.  I wanted to overexpose the water to create a blank, non distracting background, without overexposing the foliage.  But the small, reddish-leaved tree remains a little washed out.

Finally, on the way back to the car, I caught this sign.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Last weekend we enjoyed our first trip to central Massachusetts, a visit that coincided nicely with the fall color season.  We had a great time.  I thought I would post a few of the photos that I took during our visit.

Some 75 years ago Massachusetts dammed a river in the middle part of the state creating the Quabbin Reservoir, a large, beautiful body of water nestled among the hills of the central part of the state.  Unfortunately, I didn't get any decent broader landscape shots, something I simply am not particularly good at.  Instead, I offer the following.

Paw prints in the sand.

Some lovely ferns along with a sprinkling of pine straw.

A sampling of the fall color leaves.

We also had a wonderful picnic lunch along the Swift River, the stream that was dammed to create the Quabbin Reservoir.

I also took some shots of manmade objects.

I know, I know, this is at the kind of shot that only the photographer could like.

Then there was the sign in a convenience store, Ye Old Grog Shoppe, near where we stayed.  Seriously.  (And the owner of the shop admitted that he did not know what grog actually was.)

A dilapidated duplex that was for sale, along with a closeup of some failed paint.

Finally, the entrance to a lovely stone church that was under renovation.

This last shot I liked for the rose colored doors, the ornate black hinges, and the symmetry.