Friday, February 19, 2016


I confess that I am a bit frugal when it comes to museums.  The Milwaukee Art Museum recently reopened after a major expansion, and I took advantage of the continuing monthly free admission day (now the first Friday of each month) to pay another visit with my camera.

For this post some of the artworks I am showing are pieces that I have not posted previously, including the following.

This second portrait is interesting for its subjects, who appear to be siblings.  But the question is are they men or women.  They appear to have some male characteristics, but they are wearing clothes and jewelry generally associated with women, including earrings and hair decorations.

I loved the following piece of whimsy with the title "King of Sniffles."

I also liked the following painting by Wisconsin born Georgia O'Keefe that is in some ways atypical for her, at least as to subject matter.

Here is a bust of Oliver Cromwell.  I liked that I was able to pose the profile against a dark background and then in post processing to convert the image to a black & white.

And then there were some works that I have shot before.

For me, the real star of the museum is the museum itself.  Here are a few shots that I took this time.

The couple helped to make the above shot.

This last is of the skylights above the corridors leading from the Calatrava atrium to the main museum galleries.  It helped here, I thought, to convert the image to a black & white and to crop it to a narrow horizontal.

I know that I previously included shots of one of the new stairways in the redone gallery area, but I do like how the lighting has been handled in the following.

Finally, the following is of the atrium system of skylights.  I wanted to feature the external "spike" visible through the skylights in the center of the shot.

Probably a shot only an amateur photographer could like.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Since my first visit 3 or 4 years ago to the Basilica of St. Josaphat, located on Milwaukee's south side, I have returned probably 8 or 9 times.  The basilica is not without it's flaws--much of the interior is faux marble and there is just too much going on.  There is also a lack of diversification in the interior's color palette.  Even so, it remains a stunning space.  I find myself returning periodically, as if it were a pilgrimage.  It had been 8 months since I had last done a photo shoot there, so the other day I returned, hoping to get something fresh or at least to improve on what I had shot previously.  (Secretly, it is as much just the act of trying to capture the space as it is to do something new.)  Here is what I got.

As typically happens, my first shots were taken from the back of the nave looking past the holy water angels and down the central aisle.  Here are a couple of those shots.

Even though the first shot captures more of the basilica's upper reaches below the dome, I liked the second shot more.  I think it was by reason of the fact that it was taken from a very low angle (in this case with the camera actually sitting on the floor).

I always look to take a shot of the dome from directly beneath.  To do that I need to locate the spot that is directly beneath the dome's center.  I then position the camera to point straight up (which can also be a bit of a challenge) and use my remote to trigger the shutter.  On this occasion I wanted to shoot the dome on the diagonal.  I didn't quite hit the angle, but I pretty much nailed the camera's location, minimizing any cropping.

The upper portion of the apse is really very nice.  However, it is behind the sanctuary, which is off limits.  On this visit I switched to my 70-300 mm telephoto to "get" a little closer to that feature.  Here is an overall shot of the apse ceiling and a second shot showing detail of the coffered arch, mural, and stained glass skylight.

The basilica includes a number of very nice stained glass windows.  Here are a few of those.

I especially liked this last shot, though it presented challenges because the light coming through the window was so much brighter than the surrounding interior features, which were fairly dark.  Once again, the Lightroom software helped a lot to compensate for these extreme differences in light intensity.

I also took a few sculpture detail shots.  The first is of an angel on the side of the altar piece at the back of the apse.

And the following are of sculptural details at the base of the pulpit.

I was quite close (2 feet, perhaps) when I took this last shot, which made it easier to separate the sculpture from the background via depth of field.

A few more comments:  White balance can be a real challenge when there are multiple sources of light that vary in temperature.  In this case there was light coming through the basilica's stained glass windows, but the facility's incandescent lights were also on.  In post processing, I tweaked the white balance some based on my memory of the interior's colors.  Fortunately, I shoot in RAW, which means that whatever the camera does can be overridden in post processing.

I was really pleased with the quality of the resolution of the photos in this shoot.  For the most part I credit my equipment, the Nikon D750 camera and the Nikkor 24-120 mm f/4.0 lens.  Because I was using my tripod, shutter speed was not a critical problem, as it would have been in a handheld situation.  That made a huge difference in terms of resolution quality that would have been sacrificed as ISO was ramped up to offset what would otherwise be an unacceptably long exposure.  On this occasion all the photos were shot at an ISO of 200.

As typically happens, I take a lot more shots that I wind up keeping.  On this occasion I took about 90 shots and am now down to about 20 keepers.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016


Hartford, Wisconsin, a small town 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee, boasts an under-publicized, but excellent classic car museum.  Last weekend I paid a visit with my camera.  The personnel there were a little reluctant to allow me to take photos; they thought my camera was too big!  But when I explained that my photography was entirely amateur, they let me in and in fact allowed me to use my tripod as well.  That was important because the museum, like many such venues, was relatively well lit but at a level much lower than an open air venue would provide.

The reason the museum is located in Hartford is because that community was the site of a major car manufacturer of the 1910s and 1920s, Kissel.  I don't recall ever having heard of them before, but this museum includes the largest collection of Kissel Kars anywhere.  Here are a few of the shots I got of those cars.

Partly it was the venue, which dictated a cluttered background in wider shots, but as usual I found myself shooting details, where I had better control of the overall image.  Here are a few of those, again of Kissels.

I think Kissels were a victim of the Great Depression, and most, but not all, of the other cars exhibited are of more recent vintage.  Here is one of a 1938 Chevrolet with a great grille.

In addition to the Kissels, a large portion of the other cars were also "orphans," including Hudsons and Nashs.

But for me the star of the show was a 1937 Studebaker that was in spectacular condition.

Despite some flaws, I really liked the composition of this shot--my favorite of the series.  There is clutter both left and right, which was unavoidable, and I cut off the bottom, including the tires (though I did this to avoid including the yellow cording fronting the car).  But by shooting this from as close as possible and moving my lens to as wide an angle as possible (24 mm) I was able to distort the car's image, exaggerating the size of the front fenders and making the cabin look more diminutive.

One other interesting vehicle was this 1970 Subaru.

This car is actually much smaller than it appears.  Funky, I thought.

The museum is more than simply classic cars.  A number of related antique paraphernalia are also scattered around the display area.

I particularly liked a very worn-looking, very large (standing perhaps three feet high) gasoline can.

This is a cylindrical can so, relatively speaking, the edges were significantly further away from the camera than was the center of the can.  So I used a small aperture (f/16) to increase depth of field.  Here is a close-up of the crown emblem.

But my favorite piece of memorabilia was essentially unrelated to the automotive industry, a classic jukebox that showed off well and was suitably well-worn looking.

One thing I learned from this shoot.  The museum featured cars from the very earliest years of the 20th century through the 1970s.  What I found myself gravitating toward were cars from the 1930s through the early 1960s.  I think the reason is that before the 1930s cars were built from a pragmatic perspective and style took a back seat.  Style became much more important beginning in the 1930s.  And perhaps beginning with the 1960s I have been a little overexposed to, and am personally a little too close to, the styles that have emerged.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016


Milwaukee's Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist has an unusual floor plan.  Rather than having a traditional arrangement featuring a sanctuary at the front of the nave, St. John's features a sanctuary near the center of the nave, with seating both in front and behind the sanctuary, which features a white marble altar beneath a very contemporary crucifix suspended from the ceiling.

On my most recent visit I focused on the altar, which was being nicely lit by a brilliant late morning sun streaming through the side windows.

Here, first, is a wider shot of the altar along with the crucifix above.

Here is another photo taken from behind the sanctuary looking toward the back of the nave.

My favorite shot, though, was one taken from the front entrance side of the nave that managed to catch the sunlight streaming through the side windows.

By underexposing the shot, I was able to isolate it nearly completely from the background, creating a nice chiaroscuro effect.



It had been a while since I had done a photo shoot at Milwaukee City Hall and decided to return last week to take a fresh look.  In many ways the building, dating from the late 19th century, is architecturally distinctive, both inside and out.  On this visit, considering that the ambient temperature was hovering around 15 degrees, I spent my time inside.  Here is what I got.

First, I took a shot of the skylight from the center of the ground floor.

On this visit, I rotated the camera about 30 degrees to maximize the scene with my 24-120 mm lens.  This photo is flawed in that there is a fair amount of flare (not counting the bright light in the lower right.  I think the main cause was bright sunlight leaking into my lens from somewhere.

As I have mentioned before, the building's footprint is actually quite irregular but in general is in the form of a trapezium, a 4-sided figure with no parallel sides.  That made the attempt to center the camera under the skylight more challenging and to some extent arbitrary.

The north and south ends of the building's atrium are quite narrow, inviting abstract shots of the building's eight cascading floors, as in the following shots.

After taking shots on the ground floor, I moved up to the fourth floor to take a few panoramic shots incorporating both floors above and below.

Here's a similar shot that I converted to black and white.

Finally, I moved to the top floor to take a few shots of the mosaic gracing ground floor.

I thought it would help to feature a few patrons for perspective, as in the above shot.  I was using a tripod and so had not been concerned with shutter speed.  However, my first several attempts to include individuals in the shot wound up blurring the individuals.  I finally realized that I would need to increase the ISO to increase shutter speed.  The shot above was taken at an aperture of f/4 and an ISO of 800, producing an exposure of 1/50 second.

Before leaving the top floor, I took a few photos of the ornate brass railing surrounding the atrium at each floor, including a full panel, as well as a detail of the dragon sculptures.

The backgrounds were cluttered, to be sure, but I opened up the aperture to minimize those distractions.  These were shot at f/4 and f/6.3, respectively.

Maybe it was my camera equipment or maybe it was because he is currently running for re-election, but Mayor Barrett, walking out of the building at the same time as I, said hello.  I didn't bother to say that I don't actually live in Milwaukee.