Sunday, February 19, 2017


Saturday, February 18, set records for high temperatures in Milwaukee, and I decided to visit the Milwaukee County Zoo to take some photos of the animals.  Here is what I got.

Early on I visited the primate house and took a few photos of the spider monkeys.

This second shot reminded me of a Notre Dame gargoyle in its pose.

I also visited the aviary, despite the fact that the sign at the entrance declared that it was closed.  First up, the rhinoceros hornbill.

I could only speculate on what sort of evolutionary factors led to this bird's second, fake bill.  The mottled appearance of this shot is the result of a screen that I had to shoot through.

Another interesting bird was the Victoria crowned pigeon.  This bird seemed content to pose for me.  I probably took 15-20 shots, retaining these.

I know I am supposed to focus on the animal's eye, but here I was most intent on bringing the crest plumage into focus.  I'm not sure it made any difference.  For the record, these were shot at f/5.6 at an ISO of 4000 and a shutter speed of either 1/160 or 1/125 second.  Sometimes high ISOs can create a great deal of "noise," but these shots looked pretty good.

I took this shot of a Guam kingfisher because the docent stationed near it told me the bird was near extinction with no remaining specimens in the wild.

Finally, for birds I liked the following tropical bird that I thought would have been comfortable in a cartoon.  Perhaps it was the combination of outrageous beak and fake-looking eye.

The only animal I am featuring from the reptile house was an iguana.  The lighting in the reptile house was especially dim.  However, reptiles tend to be relatively good photo subjects because they are slow movers.  This one seemed content to rest, just occasionally moving its head up and down.

My goal here was to capture the texture of the iguana's scales and, well, warts.  That proved harder than I thought because I had to shoot at a fairly wide open aperture, reducing the depth of field.  One more thing.  Because the animals in the reptile house are fairly close (though behind glass), I switched from a telephoto lens (70 to 300 mm) to one with a more standard focal range (24 to 120 mm).  The telephoto required that I be at least five feet from the subject, while the more normal zoom let me focus from as close as a foot or so.

Then it was on the the big mammals.  So I switched back to my telephoto and was able to use lower ISOs and somewhat smaller apertures.

First a caribou with an impressive rack.

And a polar bear more intent on pacing than posing.

I did take a few shots of one of the elephants, this one I converted to a black and white.

Just so-so, I thought.  I had better luck with the hippo, an incredibly ugly animal, imho.

I took these at an aperture of f/5.6, which seemed adequate to provide broad depth of field, considering the distance to the subject.  The texture of the animal's skin came through with great clarity.  The ISO for these shots was a low 100 and the shutter speed was 1/320 second.  Adequacy of light can make such a difference.

The giraffe was a long way off, so I included the whole animal and got a surprise visit from a juvenile poking its head out for a visit with the adult.

Here are some shots of the big cats.  The light was lower, but the technical quality seemed decent.

Technically, the leopard shot was the best, but I thought the lion shot, despite his being positioned away from me, was more dramatic because of the lighting and the lion's regal pose.  The definition on the lion's mane, being backlit by the sun, came out great.

Easily my favorite photos from this visit were of the mandrills in the primate house.  First, a female (males and females, I learned, are differentiable by the differing coloration of their snouts.)

Nice beard for a female.

Then the male,

who was looking right at me, as evidenced by this cropped closeup.

I need more practice photographing animals.  I am used to photographing inanimate objects--architecture, landscapes, etc.--because they generally don't move.  Animals typically keep moving and I have trouble "pulling the trigger," worried that I am not getting the ideal shot.  So I often miss the shot.  There are other issues with photographing animals, including in a zoo setting.  First, they generally don't pose for the camera.  They may be facing away from me or may be constantly on the move.  Second, particularly in colder weather, they are often indoors, where there is much less light or the color of the light may be an issue.  I can generally compensate for white balance (color) issues, but quantity of light requires some compromises.  I must either open up the aperture, reducing depth of field, or ramp up the ISO or hope for the best with a slower shutter speed, or some combination of the above.  Finally, the animals are often behind barriers--glass or screens.  Glass can include reflections and smudges, and screens create opacities and can confuse my camera's autofocus system.  OK, so much for the excuses.  In the two hours of my visit, I took over 200 shots, retaining about 30, or 15 percent, about par for the course.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017


A couple of weeks ago, I was happy to observe an unusual dense morning fog and took some photos in a nearby municipal park.  This morning we were "blessed" with another foggy morning, so I got my camera out again and took some more shots.

The first two are of the same stand of woods at the same municipal park, Virmond Park.

The first thing to note here is that both of the photos are in color and not in black and white.  The morning light, together with the fog, served to blunt all color.  I didn't convert these to black and white because I thought the modest amount of color added a bit of character to the shots.

I actually took perhaps 20 shots in this stand of woods and kept only these two.  My primary criterion was composition.  I was trying to keep some sort of balance among the more prominent trunks, whatever that might mean.  I also thought I had learned something from the prior shoot in terms of limiting the shots to the portion of the trees above the "grass line."  In post processing I didn't have to make many modifications to the shots.

I then visited a small tree farm on the west side of town, and took the following shot (among many others that I discarded).

This shot is a bit too "spare," but it does serve to emphasize the fog.  I thought of cropping the shot more horizontally, but decided to leave the negative space above the trees.  For the record, I did convert this to a black and white.

Finally, I visited a private property further to the west that I have photographed before.  I felt a little uncomfortable (actually very uncomfortable) standing on someone's property to take pictures.  And even though I had my tripod, I took this shot handheld.  I ramped up the ISO to 1000 to reduce exposure time.  For the record, this was shot at an aperture of f/6.3 for 1/100th second.  I didn't mind that the aperture reduced the depth of field, but my main concern was to emphasize the complexity of the foreground tree.  So I didn't mind that the background trees were not in as sharp focus.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017


I had the privilege of doing a photo shoot of the St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral earlier this week.  The venue has an architecturally interesting exterior and a stunning interior--a real gem that I think has been under-appreciated, perhaps because the facility is not generally open to the public.  I called the cathedral offices a number of times to secure permission to spend time photographing the interior of the cathedral.  The personnel, including the priest, were very gracious in allowing me broad access, as well as turning on the interior lighting, a great help in getting good images, and I wanted to thank them for that courtesy.

St. Sava's is located on Milwaukee's South Side on a campus that includes American Serb Hall, as well as a school and parish offices.  Construction of the cathedral was completed in 1958.  As the photos later in this post demonstrate, the interior is literally covered in mosaics, generally of a distinctive Byzantine iconographic style.  The mosaics cost some $3 million in 1950s dollars and took 35 years to complete.

Sometimes I spend all my time shooting the interior of a buildings and then fail to get proper images of the exterior.  In this instance I remembered--at the end of the shoot--to get some photos of the exterior also.  This was relatively easy as the building is generally in an open area.  Here are some of the exterior shots of the building generally.

It is interesting that the first photo somehow conveys the sense that the building is small, almost miniaturized.  That may stem from the fact that it is isolated from other structures that may provide some perspective.

Here are a couple of detail shots of pillars at the front entrance of the cathedral, that show stylized eagles.

Now for the interior.  The first shot is from the center of the balcony, an area where I am not always allowed to go.

Here is another shot limited to the sanctuary area that I also took from the balcony.  It includes a peek of the central dome toward the top of the image.  I liked this shot for its combination of curves, resulting in a semi-abstract.

Following is another semi-abstract that focuses on the space above the sanctuary and apse.  I particularly liked this shot for its combination of curves.  Keep in mind that ALL of these surfaces are totally covered with mosaics.

Here are two more shots from the rear of the nave toward the front of the cathedral.

I like these shots because they feature the bands of sunlight across the central aisle.  The second, vertical shot also features the central dome.  I shot these by positioning the camera about 1-1/2 feet off the floor.

Speaking of the dome, here are two shots taken from directly beneath the center of the dome.

Yes, that is Jesus.  Here is another shot of the dome taken at an oblique angle.

As I mentioned, church personnel graciously permitted me to take photos from the sanctuary, which allowed me to take this shot that features both stained glass and the copious mosaics.

Shooting stained glass is generally a challenge because of the great difference in the amount of light coming through the stained glass compared to the light being reflected off the interior surfaces of the church.  So I had to spend some time in post processing to "balance out" these two light sources.

Although the real stars of this show are mosaics, there were a few three-dimensional pieces, including this simple, elegant crucifix.

For this shot I opened up the lens aperture to blur out the background as best I could.

The remainder of images featured here focus on the mosaics.  Here are two photos of the mosaics on the ceiling of the sanctuary and nave.

These mosaics are larger than they may appear.  They spanned the width of the church.  This latter of the two photos includes a portion of the central dome at the top of the image.  Here is a closeup of the mosaic toward the base of that photo.

And following are some other scenes featured in other of the mosaics.

Below is a closeup of the above image that shows the individual mosaic pieces that were employed in the creation of the scene, in this case an angel.

Here is another example, with accompanying closeup.

Finally, there were numerous mosaics with apparent biblical references:

The twelve disciples.

Raising Lazarus from the dead(?)

And a storm on the Sea of Galilee.

I spoke with the priest following my shoot.  He took the time to discuss how the mosaics were created.  They were designed and put together in Venice and then shipped to Milwaukee in segments that were then pieced together.  He pointed out that, because the mosaics are built of colored glass, they are not subject to fading, though he complained that they do need periodic cleaning.  

This was a very enjoyable experience.  I would recommend that anyone who has the opportunity to visit this spectacular venue.