Tuesday, August 22, 2017

POPE FARM CONSERVANCY

The Pope Farm Conservancy includes 105 acres of beautiful land in the Town of Middleton, about 15 miles west of Madison, Wisconsin.  Some 13 years ago the land was permanently set aside as a nature conservancy open to the public.  It is most notable for the approximately 10 acres of the property planted each year in sunflowers.  The flowers generally peak in August, giving the public a chance to view the spectacle of a field of some half million sunflowers in full bloom.

Alerted to the sunflower display by good friends, I managed to get to the conservancy on Sunday, August 20, the final morning of the sunflower display.  The conservancy is over 100 miles from home, and I realized that I would not be able to photograph the sunflowers in the evening, so I drove over to the conservancy early Sunday morning, leaving home a little after 5 a.m.  As it turned out, that got me there perhaps an hour later than I should have to take advantage of the best light.  Even so, the flowers were spectacular.

When I arrived at 6:45 a.m. the parking lot was filled with cars and there were literally dozens of others there armed with their cameras.  Many had tripods and a few had brought ladders to get above the level of the sunflowers, many of which stood more than six feet tall.

Here is some of what I got.  First, was a path up a hill toward the field of flowers that was bordered by a stone wall of some age.


I generally liked the composition of this shot, even though the light by this time left a lot to be desired.  There was also the wire and stakes along the wall to keep people from climbing on the wall. Still, I was happy with my new lens for this shot which shows good depth of field from the grass and path at my feet to the tree in the distance.

And then there was the field of sunflowers.


Without having significant elevation above the field, it is difficult to capture the field.  This shot was OK, I thought.  And in the following shot I wanted to fill the image with flowers to give a sense of the mass of flowers.


I also focused on individual flowers, as in the following shots.



One thing I learned is that, though immature sunflowers are heliotropic and will follow the path of the sun during the course of the day, mature flowers virtually all permanently face east.  Since this was morning all of the flowers were facing the morning sun.  So I took a couple of shots of the sides and backs of flowers in an attempt to capture the yellow petals being backlit.



Finally, is a closeup shot of the front of one of the more prominent specimens, a shot that I liked for its compositional value.


John

Monday, August 21, 2017

WISCONSIN STATE CAPITOL, AGAIN

The Wisconsin State Capitol is, in my experience, architecturally outstanding, and I have photographed it at least a half dozen times.  I was in the Madison area this past Sunday and took the opportunity to photograph it once more, using my new wide-angle lens.  Here is what I got.

I took a few obligatory shots of the exterior, but my primary interest was of the ornate interior.



I was looking forward to shooting the dome interior from directly below, but the above shot reveals that there was an exhibit occupying the center of the rotunda. Grrr.  So I did the best I could, positioning myself as close to the center as possible and shooting handheld.


A careful examination reveals that the shot is just a bit off-center.  I could have gotten a bit more "reach" by setting the camera directly on the rotunda floor.  Even so, I was happy with the results, considering that it was handheld and I had to shoot at a relatively high ISO to avoid camera shake.  For the record, this was shot at an ISO of 2500 at f/5.6 for 1/200 second.  Perhaps it was the complexity of the image, but I thought the amount of noise present in the shot was really quite low, considering the ISO.  Because of the nature of the lens (wide-angle) it has greater depth of field at a given aperture, and that shows in these images, as the resolution is very crisp, though that may not be apparent in the lower quality images that I post online.

Here are a couple more shots that featured the dome area.



There is some lens distortion, which I anticipated, but perhaps the shots are interesting as semi-abstracts.

Here is another photo taken from the third level, which illustrates the lens's wide-angle reach, as the opening above the rotunda begins to look like a hole at the second floor level.  This was taken at the lens's widest focal length of 15 mm.


Finally, I liked the following shot that I doctored a bit in post processing to reduce perspective distortion.


John

Sunday, August 20, 2017

EVENING URBAN SCENES

Last Friday evening was warm, and I took my camera downtown to capture some of the urban scene.

The new Northwestern Mutual business tower is a handsome, glass-faced building that is opening soon.  I have found it difficult to photograph.  Here I positioned the building behind a young locust tree.  Mediocre, but with my new, wide-angled lens, at least it was not difficult to keep both the tree and the tower in fairly good focus.


Nearby there are a couple of high-rise condo buildings that were, frankly, built too close together.  


While I was taking a few shots, one of the residents drove up and questioned what I was doing and my right to be there.  I'm not sure what right I did have to be there, but I wasn't going to give in to the resident, who wound up driving off in a bit of a huff.

Nearby were some petunias that I liked.


Then, as the sun was setting, I made way over to the Milwaukee River.  I liked the composition of the following shot along the city's Riverwalk.


The river is a busy place on summer weekend nights.  Here I wanted to capture the lights reflected in the river.




These were taken with a tripod.  There was a breeze ruffling the river, which created a bit of a metallic quality to the light reflected in the river.  Generally, the longer the exposure, the smoother the appearance of the river reflections.  These shots involved exposures of about one second each.

John

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A NEW TOY FOR AN OLD FRIEND

I bought a new toy, a wide-angle zoom lens for my camera, and took it to one of my long-time favorite venues, the Basilica of St. Josaphat, on the south side of Milwaukee.  It was fun and I was happy with the results.  Here is some of what I took.

First, a view from the back of the nave that includes two angels that offer holy water, a composition that I couldn't have obtained with my general go-to lens.


As a former government building that was dismantled in Chicago and moved to Milwaukee over 100 years ago, the basilica is domed.  My wide-angle lens allowed me to capture more of the overall ceiling, including the dome, as in these two shots.



Perhaps a little busy, but that's the way it is.

Here is a shot across the side of the nave. that also shows the central dome.  This relatively standard shot shows the perspective distortion that occurs when the camera is tilted up or down relative to horizontal.  Wide-angle lenses tend to exacerbate that distortion.


Dramatic, though.

Here is another image that was shot horizontal.


This is also an HDR (high dynamic range) image.  I took the same shot three times at different exposures and then blended them in post processing.  Sometimes this technique doesn't work.  This time I thought it actually added something.

One of the support pillars includes a fairly dramatic crucifix that I have shot before.  Here is how it looked using my new lens, incorporating more of the complex ceiling and surrounding walls.


I did take a few exterior shots as well.  The building's exterior is not particularly attractive to my eye, in part because it was originally a federal post office, not a church.  I thought it generally worked better to convert these shots to black & whites.


I liked the lines of this shot.

Here is another shot from across the street that I took in color and also converted to a black & white.  The morning sun was bathing the east side of the building in light, so I darkened the clear blue sky in the black & white version to increase the dramatic quality of the image.



The interior of the basilica is incredibly busy, a complexity that can be overwhelming and is not to everyone's taste.

John

Monday, August 14, 2017

MINNESOTA NORTH SHORE

Last week my wife and I traveled to Minnesota's North Shore to attend the wedding of the daughter of good friends of ours.  The wedding was held in Lutsen, which is 90 miles northeast of Duluth and a 500 mile drive from our home in Wisconsin.  The drive from Duluth along the Lake Superior shore has gorgeous scenery, and I tried to take advantage of the opportunity.  The trip up was rainy (very rainy, actually), but the following two days were beautiful.

On the morning of the wedding, I took advantage of the weather to enjoy a three-mile hike in the hills above the lake on what is known as the Oberg Mountain Loop trail.  Here is some of what I got.

First up was a tree along the trail that I was drawn to for the texture of its bark.


I converted this to a black & white to emphasize the detail in the bark and to avoid the distraction of the color of the surrounding foliage.  I actually thought this was a better shot than it appears at first glance.

The sun filtering through the trees along the trail also provided opportunities to capture the mood.



I also took a couple of closeups of the vegetation.



Along the way I met an individual who is a considerably more dedicated hiker than I.


His trail name was Buffalo Jump Sly, based on a spot with the name of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump located in Alberta.  Sly was hiking from the Canadian border to Duluth, a distance, including trail loops such as this one, of some 300 miles.  He was averaging about 18 miles a day.  He admitted that he previously had hiked both the entire Pacific Crest Trail and the entire Appalachian Trail.  It was a real pleasure to spend an hour of conversation and leisurely hiking with Sly.

Here are a couple of more vista views along the trail.



I thought the second shot was much the better of the two.  I tried to incorporate the evergreen in the first image as a foreground element, but it didn't really work, and the shot is quite blah.  I took the second shot from close to the ground to include the rock and low-lying vegetation.  It tells more of a story, I think and also includes better color.  I do wish the tree to the right was not in the shot.  But I doubt that I am ever going to revisit the spot to capture a different perspective.

Later in the day we visited Grand Marais, a charming tourist town north of Lutsen, for lunch and a little shopping.  The town included a shop "impaled" by what I believe is a gigantic northern pike.


And then there was the shot in one of the antique shops that only I would love, some plates silhouetted in front of a backlit glass-block wall that presented an interesting texture.


The wedding was held that evening at a mountaintop chalet that was accessible by gondola.


The wedding featured a terrific bluegrass band and a spectacular view . . . 



particularly later in the evening.


The following morning we made our way back home, stopping to view the Split Rock Lighthouse.  We were too early to pay a visit to the lighthouse, but I did get a couple of shots from a viewing area to the south.



There was some residual morning mist at the time, which drained most of the color from the actual lighthouse, so I converted the shots to black & whites in order to minimize the distraction created by the more saturated color of the surrounding vegetation.

Our final visit was to Gooseberry Falls State Park, which I highly recommend to anyone driving along the North Shore.  I had brought my tripod in an effort to capture longer exposure shots to provide a sense of movement in the water.  


This shot involved an exposure of 1/5 second, long enough to blur in the flow of water, an impossibly long time to shoot handheld.  It was a bright and sunny morning so I narrowed the aperture to f/22 and chose the lowest ISO to extend the exposure time.  Here's another shot that I converted to black & white.  This one involved a 1/4 second exposure.  I artificially darkened the image some in post processing.


John

Sunday, July 30, 2017

TRACY AVIARY

On our visit to Salt Lake City last week, we took the grandkids to the Tracy Aviary, located in the city's Liberty Park.  A visitor to the aviary should be warned that there is a fairly high entrance fee (around $10 for seniors), but I thought the facility was well worth it.  The aviary is large, nicely laid out, and clean.  If there is a complaint it is that the diversity of species could have been greater, given the facility's overall size.

Unfortunately, I had not brought my telephoto lens on the trip.  The only lens I had was my workhorse 24-120 mm lens.  As result, even at 120 mm, a lot of the birds appeared really small.  Fortunately, even with hefty crops, I generally had enough pixels for the cropped image to appear sharp.  Here is what I got, more or less in the order we saw them.

First up were some pelicans.  One of these birds (the one in the back) had a "growth" on its bill, which apparently was normal.  Like many of the shots, this one was heavily cropped and appears a bit messy.


Next up was a ruddy duck, the male of which has a bright blue bill, a bird I had never seen before.  (Again, heavily cropped, but serviceable.)


One of the challenges when shooting captive animals, especially birds, is dealing with intervening wire netting.  That was the case with the following bird whose species I failed to record.  The caging behind the bird is obvious, but I was able essentially to eliminate the caging between me and the bird by opening up the lens's aperture to f/4.0.  Often my camera's autofocus would get a little confused between focusing on the bird and focusing on the wire caging.


The aviary had a wide variety of owls.




Note that this last,  the long-eared owl (who must have had its ears tucked back), has a major problem with one of its eyes.

One of the cages contained a number of macaws, both blue and red.



Here the caging between me and the birds was more noticeable, but not terribly distracting.

Far and away my favorite bird during our visit was the king vulture.  Not only was he the ugliest bird in the aviary, but he seemed happy to perch quietly while I took some photos.


Again, the caging was a bit of an issue.  Here is a closeup of his gorgeous (??) head.  A face only a mother could love.


Following the vulture, we visited the flamingo pond.  I liked the composition of this first shot.


I also got a second shot of a couple of flamingos that were having a heated discussion, with a third flamingo refereeing the argument.


Finally, a stately bald eagle that also seemed content to pose for me.


The grounds, both of the aviary and the surrounding Liberty Park, were nicely landscaped, and I got the following floral shots of corn flowers (I think) and a very large (perhaps 8 inches across) hibiscus.



John