Sunday, December 20, 2015

2015 Year in Review: My Top 10 Favorite Photos

My goal for 2015 was to go places around Southeastern Wisconsin that I had never visited before.  While I did re-visit a lot of my favorite places, such as the Mitchell Park DomesBoerner Botanical Gardens and the Milwaukee Art Museum, I did accomplish my goal and had a great year because of it.  One place I visited will be featured in a blog post next year (stay tuned!). 
So as 2015 nears its end, I wanted to showcase my Top 10 favorite photos that I took this past year.  The one above of Lake Michigan I would put at number 11.  Here are my Top 10:
10) Through the Trees, Mequon Nature Preserve

This fall, I visited the Mequon Nature Preserve for the first time, and tried something new with  my photography by aiming up and capturing the colors backlit, hoping to create a photo that's more like a painting.  I loved the result, and I will try this technique more this coming summer.

9) Fall Rose, Waukesha's Frame Park

I had to kill some time in Waukesha in mid-October and decided to visit Frame Park to get some photos of the fall colors before they were gone. Normally by this time, outdoor garden flowers have shriveled and are on the verge of dying, but I was pleasantly surprised when I got to the rose garden and saw that a lot of them were still in full bloom with little damage. Also, despite the fact I was taking photos at 10:00 a.m., the shorter day made the light softer and came at the flowers at an angle, making it look like it was shot earlier in the morning.

8) Green Dahlia, Boerner Botanical Garden

My annual visit to Boerner Botanical Garden was especially fruitful on this day in July, mostly due to the fact that I arrived in the middle of a downpour, which meant I could finally get good shots of flowers with drops of water on them.  But, my favorite photo of the day ended up being this green dahlia.  I took a lot of photos of this flower from many different angles, but coming at it head-on turned out to be the best.  In Photoshop, I added more black to the photo using the Levels tool to make the background even darker to make the dahlia really stand out.

7) "The Calling" and the Milwaukee Art Museum

I visited the Milwaukee Art Museum in November during their Free First Thursday and, since the museum was closed for remodeling except for their special exhibit, I had time to get some photos of the O'Donnell Park area just west of the museum.  Since it was a weekday, I was able to finally get a good photo of "The Calling" a famous statue on the corner of Wisconsin and Prospect Avenues without anyone else around.  It's often better to get a shot of the museum (in the background) when the "wings" are up, but I kind of like the simplicity of the building in this photo and how it lines up well with the statue.

6) Classic Red Automobile, Pewaukee Lake

Another first for me this year was going to the Antique Boat & Classic Car Show on Pewaukee Lake in August.  I had a great time experimenting with different angles of shooting, mostly with the automobiles.  But the simple shot of this red car with the art deco hood ornament and chrome stripe turned out to be my favorite of the day.

5) Yellow Flower, Schlitz Audubon Nature Center

Not only did I get a good workout while "hiking" through the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center on Lake Michigan for the first time this summer, but I managed to get this photo of a very tiny yellow flower despite the breeze off the lake.  It turned out to be one of my most liked photos that I posted this year as well.

4) Main Building, Wisconsin Soldiers Home

Another first visit, and the one that I wished I'd gone to sooner.  The Wisconsin Soldiers Home near Miller Park is a state treasure!  The majority of the buildings are now fenced off due to construction (which is a great thing), but I was determined to get a photo of the gothic main building.  I was kind of happy that the bottom of the building had fencing in front of it.  It forced me to angle my camera way up and I was able to get the tower against the cloudless blue sky (no Photoshopping needed).  This is a place I will return to.

3) Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church

One of a handful of buildings in Wisconsin designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church on Milwaukee's north side is one of the city's most photographed landmarks .  I went there early in the morning and found out that the best part of the church actually faces west.  However, I did get a couple of good photos including this one that makes the building look like a face.

2) Hoyt Park Bridge, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin

I've only lived in Wauwatosa for two years, but one of my favorite places in the city is Hoyt Park which includes this wonderful bridge over the Menomonee River.  I went to the park in early fall and vowed to get a decent shot of the bridge since I had seen so many good ones online.  The morning after our first (and so far only) snowfall of the latter part of the year, I knew the park would be a great place to get snow shots.  Since it was early (and cold), there were hardly any other people around, and I got my shot of the bridge.  I think I will try and get one good photo of the bridge in each season next year.

1) Red Barn, Richfield Historical Park

I had never been to Richfield, Wisconsin until this past summer, although I had driven by the town on the way to other places north of Milwaukee.  I went up there to visit the Richfield Historical Park and attend a summer art festival, and I was blown away at how large and awesome the park was.  Once a working farm and sawmill, the park is a historical landmark that hosts festivals and events throughout the year.  Think of it as a smaller version of Old World Wisconsin.  As I was heading into the art festival, I saw this red barn, original to the settlement, and the dappled sunlight that fell on the grass.  The problem was one of the artists had their trailer sitting a few feet to the left of where I was standing, and moving any more to the right would make the trees block the barn.  So I turned my camera to make a portrait photo, and zoomed in as close as I could to cut out the trailer and keep the composition I had in my head.  I don't know if the photo is a great one, but it is my favorite.

I do have some ideas for "photography goals" I want to accomplish in 2016.  I want to try experimenting more with black-and-white photography (which I might do later today), I want to travel outside of southeastern Wisconsin to Oshkosh and LaCrosse, and I might do a series of posts on Milwaukee's different neighborhoods. 

How about you?  What to do you want to do with your photography in 2016?  Feel free to post in the comments!

Monday, December 7, 2015

On the Waterfront: Port Washington, Wisconsin

It has been gorgeous here in Southeastern Wisconsin lately.  Like, insanely gorgeous!  Normally by December 1, we have at least half a foot of snow on the ground and everyone is either digging out their snowshoes and gassing up their snowmobiles or stocking up for a long hibernation (sometimes until May).  But last Friday it was sunny and 50 degrees outside, so I decided to head up to Port Washington, a charming city 30 minutes north of Milwaukee right on Lake Michigan.  It was my first time there, and it was even better than I expected.

Port Washington is the closest I've seen to a New England town that I've been able to find in Wisconsin.  I love the rocky shoreline and the long piers jetting into the water.  When I got there, I headed right to the lakeshore and had a quick lunch of a very tasty fish sandwich at Smith Bros. Coffee Shop, located in the Duluth Trading Co. building, which used to be Smith Bros. Fish Shanty (you can see their original sign above).

One of the reasons I've been wanting to visit Port Washington is because of its new Port Exploreum, a maritime museum.  For many decades, starting in the 1840's, the port was used to export wood, wheat & rye flour, bricks and fish, and was a well-known place for commercial fishing.  However, both shipping and commercial fishing have seen a rapid decline in recent years.  The museum's current exhibit highlights these industries and, subsequently, some of Lake Michigan's most notable shipwrecks.

The lower level of the museum has a lot of interactive games for families, and a video where you can experience what it looks like to take a boat ride on the lake.

The most famous landmark in Port Washington is the Pierhead Light (also known as the Breakwater Light), which gets photographed often, including earlier this fall when hurricane-like winds pounded Lake Michigan and caused waves as high as the lighthouse itself.  I spent most of my time down at the lakefront taking photos of the lighthouse from all different angles as well as the city itself from a long pier over the water.

The lake shore has a lot of interesting statues including this one that pays tribute to fishermen lost in one of the lake's shipwrecks.

The day was so beautiful, I saw a lot of people out walking, biking and, of course, fishing:

Port Washington is a city I would love to go back to again and again.  Not only does the city celebrate its shipping and fishing history, it also has a great shopping district of unique shops & restaurants, fun summer festivals (all revolving around fish) and the largest number of surviving Pre-Civil War buildings in Wisconsin.  I would go back just to see those.  And now that I know how easy it is to drive up there, it may become one of my go-to road trip destinations!

Friday, December 4, 2015

New & Improved: Milwaukee Art Museum's Expansion

Yesterday, I finally got to see the Milwaukee Art Museum's expansion & remodel which opened to the public on November 24.  This expansion has added a lot of space as well as an entrance on the east side of the museum, which can be seen from Lake Michigan:

Work was started on the expansion earlier this year, and then the rest of the museum was closed for a couple of months to connect the old with the new and put back all of the art, most in new and unique ways, into new and existing galleries.

To promote the re-opening, the museum placed crates at locations all over Milwaukee county.  The "uncrated" art included many pieces that visitors haven't seen in years as well as new acquisitions.

There was even one in front of my favorite restaurant in Wauwatosa:

The museum dates back to 1888, when local businessman Frederick Layton opened his own gallery.  The museum itself was designed by Eero Saarinen and built in the 1950's.  The Layton exhibit at the museum re-creates how his collection looked in the original gallery.

My favorite part of the museum has always been its contemporary art section which included sculptures:


Pop art, including a few of Andy Warhol's:

And mid-century furniture and accessories:


I love seeing some of my old favorite pieces of art, including their wonderful gallery of folk art, Haitian art (which I don't think is common in a lot of other art museums), impressionist paintings and historical furniture and pottery.  One new permanent collection I'm excited about features a history of photography, which features a lot of the greats like Ansel Adams, Alfred Stieglitz, Diane Arbus and Walker Evans.

In addition to the new galleries and exhibits, there is a new "wine bar" where you can rest and refresh yourself with small plate items, and three interactive art spaces where children and families can create art of their own, sponsored by Kohl's.

The Milwaukee Art Museum has always been known as a must-visit spot in the Midwest.  I think with this new expansion, it may soon be known as one of the premiere art museums in the country.  On a side note, I read online this week that Milwaukee may crack's list of the Top 50 cities to visit in the U.S. due to increased tourism.  It's about time!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Have a Sip: Three of Milwaukee's Lesser-known Brewery & Winery Tours

As winter approaches, we Wisconsinites are always looking for fun things to do on the weekends that are, well, warm.  A brewery tour or winery tour is a great way to spend the day (you probably have some in your area that you visit).  While you may be familiar with the bigger Milwaukee brewery tours, such as Miller and Pabst, there are many smaller ones to visit.  Here are 3 of them:

You may or may not be familiar with Sprecher.  They were founded in 1985, and are described as the area's first craft brewery since Prohibition.  Located on the north-side suburb of Glendale, their tour consists of a talk about the different ingredients that make up beer, and it's difference from other malt beverages, then a tour of the plant including the bottling and shipping areas, seen below.

At the end of the tour, patrons over 21 can sample up to 20 different beers in a, in my opinion, very large shot glass.  Or, if you don't like beer or are under 21, you can sample up to 10 of their flavored sodas.  You can also buy beverages along with shirts, bottle openers, and even frozen pizzas, in their gift shop.

 2) Cedar Creek Winery

Cedarburg is a gorgeous smallish city north of Milwaukee that is a great place to visit any time of year.  But during the holidays, it's decked out liked a country Christmas card.  On the north side of Washington Street, Cedarburg's main street, is the Cedar Creek Winery and Shops, which holds a lengthy tour daily.  You start off by watching a video on the history of the winery, then get a tour of the antique equipment they used to use to make their wine, and the casks used to store the wine and other mulled beverages, such as cider, seen below.

Their wine casks are huge, and kept in their limestone-walled cellar, ideal for fermenting and aging their wines to perfection.

When my friends and I visited last year, the tour guide said the casks were large enough that a tall man could stand upright in them, so one of the visitors had to try it:

3) Milwaukee Brewing Company

This brewery tour is by far my favorite of the ones I've done so far.  The brewery is located on the south side of Milwaukee, on 2nd Street, and you can tell the tour guides have a lot of fun and are passionate about their product.  They crack a lot of jokes, engage with the visitors, and contribute a lot to the relaxed atmosphere brewery tours should have.  Head brewer Robert Morton studied at the Culinary Institute of the Arts in New York, and infused their beer with different flavor combinations, usually in seasonal varieties. 

The brewers even add fun to the machinery they use:

The brewery holds a 5:00 PM "Open House" on Saturdays, where visitors can sample seasonal beers and socialize with patrons as well as the brewers themselves.
In addition to these three breweries/wineries, you can find other tours here.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

First Snow of Fall 2015

Southern Wisconsin received its first accumulation of snow this weekend.  Although it's rare for us to get snow before Thanksgiving, it's not unheard of.  I went out this morning and took advantage of the sun and freshly laid snow to get some landscape photos around Hoyt Park in Wauwatosa, not far from where I live.

The interesting thing about having snow this time of year is the juxtaposition of the remaining fall color and the wintery dusting.

I don't know how long this round of snow will last since the temperature is supposed to go back up into the 50's again later this week.  And, I'm sure we will all be sick of the snow by February, but for right now, it sure is pretty.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Favorite Flower #2: The Chrysanthemum

In a previous post, I showed my collection of photos of one of my favorite flowers, the Dahlia.  Another one of my favorites, especially this time of year, is the Chrysanthemum (or just plain "mum").  Like the Dahlia, they come in many different types and colors and look pretty alone or in bunches.

Chrysanthemums are native to parts of Europe and Asia, cultivated as an herb as far back as the 15th century.  They were brought to the United States by Col. John Stevens and planted into the Elysian Fields in New Jersey.  One type, known as "Garden Hardy Mums" can survive northern winters, which is why they last so long where I live.

I visited the Mitchell Park Domes last month, where they showcased mums in their Show Dome.  I was amazed at how many different types of mums were on display from the Irregular Incurve (pictured above) to the Spider mum:

There is also the Semi-Double variety, probably the most popular:

 And the Decorative variety:

Chrysanthemums also come in Reflex, Anemone, Regular Incurve, Spoon, Quill, Pompom and Brush.  You can learn more about these different types here.

As I mentioned above, one of the reasons I love mums is that they are really the only type of flower you see in their prime in late fall around Wisconsin.  I love going to the farmers markets and seeing their bright colors all around.  They are always the last burst of color before we head into cold, gray winter.

I'm sure you can still see these vibrant, happy flowers at any botanical garden or farmers market for the rest of fall and, maybe, into winter.  They really do brighten any dreary day!