Season changing texture

The robins are back, intently watching the snow-free lawns for signs of worms and bugs awaking from their winter sleep.  In spite of the brisk cool breeze and today’s sleet, spring does appear to be on the way.  This weekend we visited a couple of the garden spots in Milwaukee to see what’s shaping up for the new season.

The Botanical Gardens are still dormant but there are several pieces of statuary on the grounds that caught my eye.  The sun was hitting two of the pieces just right to give a range of tones.  The irregular nature of the carvings, the rough surfaces, and the angle of the sun gave me a sense of painting rather than sculpture.  So I processed the images to accentuate that feeling.

These are actually photographic images of concrete sculpture, even though you’d swear there are brush stokes on the surface.  The right light can make or break an image.

The garden conservatories in Milwaukee are housed in three domes, each with a different environment.  With nothing but clear blue sky behind, I thought the skeleton of such a structure was interesting, especially where you take the color out.

But what is a day exploring gardens like without a little color?  One dome is full of tropical plants and the low sun was giving some great shadows.  Here’s the heart of the garden in fully glory.

How’s your spring shaping up?


Our brain is very good at pattern recognition, most likely an evolutionary advantage we’ve improved over the millennia.  Wander around the woods long enough and something “unnatural” will catch your eye, a pattern that just doesn’t fit the surroundings.  Straight lines, perfect curves, sudden color changes – these are elements that stand out.  Usually they are the result of man’s incursion into the natural world, bringing an almost inorganic insistence on order and efficiency.

Even when the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line the resulting pattern jumps out from the surrounding area, revealing repetitive acts of movement.

Lest we conclude that only man leaves an imprint where ever his influence is found, look closely at the natural world and you’ll discover there are other creatures who leave their mark.

One admonition you see given people entering the wild world is to take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints.  The assumption is passing through the wild in this way will result in such a minimal impact that the natural world will remain essentially unchanged.  Yet this world is always undergoing change.  A wilderness area off-limits to any human will be different this year than last.  Animals are habitual creatures as well, and follow the same lines of movement through the forest and prairie.  All life generates paths, moving from where they are to where they want to be.  The challenge is to do so in such a way that followers will find the adventure and novel experiences that led us down our paths.

The trend I see in outdoor photography these days is seeking the spot no one has visited, or photographing the scene no one has seen.  I look at some of these images and wonder what effort must have gone into that person reaching that location.  And should they be there in the first place if it resulted in damaging an ecology that hasn’t been touched by man.  Our species is exploratory, as evidenced by our residence in every ecology on the planet.  Exploration is good for the soul – seeing what’s around the next curve or over the distant hill – and images from “out there” help people respect the diversity of the world.  Still, one person leads to another, which in this day leads to hundreds and thousands.  Our desire to “see” suddenly ends up destroying that which we want to see.

Would I leave places unreachable?  Possibly, although with enough money and ambition we know anyone can reach anywhere.  Regulate access more stringently?  Again, this opens up the opportunity for elitism, where only those with connections get to enter.  The system in many national parks seems to work, although there are continued complaints about loving them to death.

I don’t know – it’s a hard question even for an outdoor photographer.  With high resolution satellites, and now drones, there’s almost no reason for anyone to go anywhere in order to photograph a location.  Yet what would a photograph be without the person behind the camera?  That someone stood there, saw the scene, composed the image and pushed the shutter release must add to the sense of the photograph in some way, differentiating it from just another aerial shot.  Yet to achieve that you need boots on the ground and a path to reach the scene.

Northern Lights video

I made a short “video” from a series of images made of the northern lights.  Can’t post a video here but you can see it on my website:

While doing this our eyes were fully acclimatized to the dark and we could see some of the brighter parts of the display, but it was only after piecing together these long exposure images we were able to fully appreciate the rippling and movement in the atmospheric display.

Now I want to travel much farther north and see this up close and overhead!

Sky on fire

The northern lights are shifted very south right now due to a large solar storm that is impinging on our upper atmosphere.  Nothing like the view from Alaska or north Canada, but still a great occasion to see a rare event.  Here’s the best single image I got.

That’s not too bad for being thousands of miles from the North Pole.

Did you see the lights?

A clear line of sight

It’s a good time of the year for sunrise photos.  Daylight savings time just gave me an extra hour in the morning, the sun is almost rising due east, and the foliage hasn’t begun hiding objects.  Especially architectural subjects.  Here’s one I’ve been waiting to photograph for a few months.

Taliesin, Spring Green, WI

Frank Lloyd Wright’s eastern home sits just at the top of a hill overlooking a valley full of farmland and streams.  The home’s name, Taliesin, means “shining brow” in Middle Welsh, and seeing it illuminated by the rising sun confirms the appropriate choice for a name.


Taliesin, Spring Green, WI

I’ve seen images of the house during spring and summer where the trees in the foreground block the viewer from getting a sense of the house’s size.  This is the third structure Wright built here – the previous two burned – and contains around 12,000 square feet in a roughly L-shaped design.  The part overlooking the valley is fully of glass and open space; the other size is a terraced courtyard with trees, flowers and fountains.

As you see, the exterior of the house is colored to resemble the land, stone and trees surrounding it, blending in as if it grew at this spot.  A continual laboratory for Wright, Taliesin represents one version of his organic architecture.

Following more traditional design, and appropriate for a working farm, the Midway Barns would fit on just about any Wisconsin family’s spread.


Midway Barns, Taliesin, Spring Green, WI

The color is Cherokee red, Wright’s signature color that shows up in many of his designs.   The barns are used by students in the Taliesin Fellowship who work around the farm while studying architecture.

A functional building of a very different sort can be found about 100 miles away from Taliesin.  This structure was built, not to explore an organic nature close to the earth, but rather to look to the stars – literally.

Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay, WI

This is the University of Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory, home to the 40-inch refractor telescope, still the largest of its type in the world.  Research on astrophysics has been performed here by such notables as Edwin Hubble and Carl Sagan.  The building dates back to 1895, resulting from the efforts of George Hale and Charles Yerkes.  Hale went on to build the 200-inch reflector telescope at Mt. Palomar in California, for years the largest of its type in the world.

So, as you see, no foliage means you can see the buildings and appreciate their design and setting.  Sure the colors of spring and summer are great for landscapes, but sometimes you just need to see what’s behind them.

Light and dark – and nothing else

Winter was late coming to this part of Wisconsin, at least the visible part that I enjoy – snow.  Finally we did get some coverage which has been refreshed periodically to ensure whiteness is a part of our days.  Won’t be long with us, however, as the daylight is getting longer.  Just about the right time of year to find some afternoon lighting and shadow compositions.

Looking back at myself

Wind whipped statue

Infrared – waiting for spring

Infrared – trails lead to shelter

The more I work with black-and-white the more I appreciate reasons given for designating it as the “art” of photography.  I converted all these images from color to B&W, and then started working on the exposure, tones and contrasts I wanted in order to portray the scene.  Once the color was gone I literally forgot about it.  My attention was on getting separation between the light and dark part of the the image, making sure the edges of objects stand out against the background, and that the elements in the image formed a complete composition as I wanted.  I was never worried about whether the sky was the right shade of blue, or if the snow was the correct shade of white.

I’ve never done much work using B&W film – it never appealed to me and I could never understand the thrall some people seemed to be held in by the mention of it.  Now I find it funny – as I learn to “see” as a photographer I understand how color does get in the way, how we’re seduced by it as Jay Maisel says.  B&W does make it easier to pay attention to the image and not the technology.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not giving up color.  I’ve still got a dozen rolls of Kodachrome in the freezer in case someone resurrects the means to process it!  In the meantime, with winter blanketing us and spring yet a promise, monochrome (in both real and infrared) is the filter I’m looking through.

Just wandering around

It’s been a slow winter in this part of Wisconsin, by which I mean the snow has been infrequent and thin.  Only recently did we get what I consider a normal amount falling, and it’s still around after a few days.  Almost like winter is rushing to catch up before the longer days push it off stage.

Along with the snow there’s actually sunlight beyond just a few minutes.  I took the time to walk around the neighborhood and see what’s interesting.