A view of my world in Central Illinois and places we go.


Backyard Blooms Arrive on Memorial Day



On this Memorial Day, 2014 in America, summer has arrived in full force with the usual hot and humid weather. The flowers like it, though, especially after a seemingly unending winter. All these images are from my back yard.

Cold Enough? How About A Spring Flashback!


It’s been cold here in central Illinois…like never getting above freezing during the day and down to single digits at night. Four to six inches of snow is expected tonight. Brrr….

To shake off some of this pre-Christmas winter blahs, I recall that I never posted some photos from last spring (I think some of these did appear on Facebook, but that’s a different audience). All of these images were created in the backyard of a woman here in town, reflecting several thousand bulbs of various kinds, but mostly tulips. The variety is astounding. I’ve taken photos here before but this was the first time I actually was able to leave the sidewalk and get deep into her yard. I’d love to do this at our home, but unlike her, I can’t afford a full-time gardener. So, I’ll take it a little slower (I did plant about 70 bulbs this past fall, can’t wait for spring).

Top Summer Photos

This evening I will be attending the Champaign County Camera Club’s first meeting of the new season. I joined over the winter last year, so am still learning club protocol and members’ names. Tonight, though, each of the members are invited to present a maximum of 15 photos taken over the summer. I estimate I took about 6,000 photos since June 1 and includes trips to DC and, my fave place, Pentwater, MI.

So, picking a top 15 from 6,000 can be a bit daunting. I could easily pick 15 from Pentwater alone. But, I felt like I needed to instill some variety. I mean, I could do, like, 15 sunsets, you know? No, that wouldn’t do…although I have some GREAT sunsets. Here are the 15 I picked, from DC to Champaign, from July 4 to Labor Day, from bright colors to black and white and LOTS of water. Some flora, some fauna, and NO dog (I’ll save those images for another post). Enjoy!

2013 News-Gazette Photo Contest Possibilities

Some of you local Champaign-ites have probably seen in the paper their announcement for the upcoming 2013 Photo Contest. Not sure, but I think I’ve entered photos the last 4 years and have not won anything significant…a couple of honorable mentions for photos from Paris a few years ago. So, once again this year I am “excited” to enter with the idea of seeing if my photography has improved, not just by myself but by a panel of judges.

I estimate I have taken 10,000 images in 2012 – spending two weeks in Italy, two weeks on the beach in Michigan, and long weekends in DC and Long Beach make for wonderful photo-ops and LOTS of photos. To pick three images out of 10,000 is quite a task, although most of these are quite honestly not contest-quality photos. But, after whittling the number down to 50-60 images, the trick becomes selecting the images that best fit the contest categories:

  • Animals
  • Architecture
  • Black and White
  • General
  • Manipulated
  • Nature
  • People
  • Youth Division (ummm…I am ineligible for this one!)

AND that I feel will catch the eye of the judges. That is a real trick – judging is a very subjective process and there’s no telling what the judges are going to like. Well, that’s not necessarily true…there are some common aspects that good, quality photos should have and I hope that I have a good feeling for what those things are. Things like focus and composition are important. But, even more importantly, the image has to convey something…a feeling, a sense of place, all those intangibles that come into play when a person looks at an image. If I’ve learned one things, it is that the image has to speak to the person looking at the image, and not just personally to me (by this I mean, I have a lot of photos that mean something to me and perhaps my family and friends, but have little connection to anyone else).

One other thing. Format. The contest rules call for images no larger than 11×14 inches. My feeling is, the larger the better and there should be no problem with enlarging images from my camera. However, the problem comes in that my camera takes images in a 2:3 ratio, so that to keep the same ratio, an image 14 inches wide is only 9.66 inches high. Or, if I want an image 11 inches high, then I need to cut off 2.5 inches in length to keep the maximum dimension at 14 inches (i.e., normally, for a 2×3 ratio image 11″ high, it’s height would be 16.5 inches). In some cases, this is not a problem, but in many cases, I hate to crop those inches and am forced, therefore, to submit an image that is smaller than the maximum allowed. [Not to get off-track, but it also bothers me that standard photo prints are NOT in that 2:3 ratio. After 4×6 inch photos, which is in the 2:3 format, you go to 5×7 inches and 8×10 inches which are obviously not in the 2:3 format. For portraits, that may be OK, but for landscapes, not.]

To further complicate things, this year I have a number of photos in a panoramic format, meaning they are much longer than high, perhaps 2:1 or 3:1. Sometimes, the final image is stitched together from several separate images taken by panning the camera while allowing some overlap in each image (remember doing this in the old days by cutting and taping images together?).Nowadays, digital technology allows this to be done on the computer and the software also does an excellent job of blending the separate images together. Other times, I crop the image to eliminate foreground or background (such as a boring sky) to draw focus on a certain portion of the photo.

So, here are a bunch, probably way too many. Honestly, it was fun looking back through all of these and reminiscing on the year via photos. Some of you reading this were there when I captured some of these images; many I captured with no one around. Which ones do you like best?

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And, here are a few more pano format images:

Albergo Lorelei 14x

Albergo Lorelei


IMG_0445 b&w_14x

Prairie Solitude

More flowers…

This spring has been astonishing and I cannot remember such an extraordinary floral display. Maybe it is because I have a camera with me almost all the time I am out and about; maybe it is simply because I have more time to observe. Nevertheless, I have more images to post – from the same tulip heaven as my previous post, a nearby park, our own backyard, and from the garden of our good friend, Harry (tree peonies!). So, here we go! I’ll start where we left off with more tulips…



OK, I promised to post more photos from Brookfield Zoo. But with this warm spring we’re having, the tulips have bloomed and I felt the need to post some more flower photos. A local woman plants thousands of bulbs every fall and when spring comes around, well, kapow(!), it’s hard to go by her place and not stop. The panoramic at the top of the page gives some idea of the magnificence of her yard. However, her lot is on a corner and there is much more than can be shown with just one photo. I chose to focus more on individual flowers or small groups of flowers. So, without further ado, tulips, tulips, and more tulips…

I should also mention she has this wonderful statue of a Chinese soldier (I believe shipped from China).

This is basically the same image as above, only I have changed the focus to the red tulip in the foreground (and kept a shallow depth of field, DOF).

Here, I love how the sun is shining through the petals (I believe this is called forelighting, as opposed to backlighting). The colors really pop in these.


Cherry Blossoms at Japan House

We are blessed to have a place on the University of Illinois Campus devoted to Japanese culture. Called Japan House, the building and grounds are used throughout the year to provide a link to Japan deep in the heart of the Midwest. As provided on the Japan House web-page, “The mission of Japan House at the University of Illinois is to provide an academic, cultural, and natural setting for promoting an appreciation of Japanese culture and related Asian cultural concepts. Built around the concept of the Way of Tea, with three authentic tearooms, Japan House hosts classes and outreach programs that explore traditional Japanese arts and aesthetics.

That said, the building and surrounding grounds and gardens have been carefully planned to exude what one would see in Japan. I have been told that what one sees here is as authentic as possible, including work by Japanese artisans. The gardens are exceptional and, with the cherry blossoms now in full bloom, we are privileged to see it at its height. I’ll leave these photos to speak for themselves.

Cherry blossom canopy

EXIF: Canon 7D with  28-135mm, 1/30s, f/8, ISO 100 @ 75mm

EXIF: Canon 7D with  28-135mm, 1/60s, f/8, ISO 200 @ 80mm

EXIF: Canon 7D with 28-135mm, 1/100s, f/8, ISO 200 @ 135mm

EXIF: Canon 7D with 28-135mm, 1/60s, f/8, ISO 100 @ 95mm


The Arrival of Spring!

After a very mild winter, spring is coming on fast. It has been over a month now, but I actually played golf on a beautiful warm February 1. I can’t remember ever playing earlier in the year (unfortunately, I have not played since…mostly it seems because when we have a warm day, it has been extremely windy). Take today, for example. Temps in the low sixties, but wind in the 20-30 mph range with gusts over 40 mph. It’s great for generating a lot of litter in the yard from branches falling out of our sycamore trees, but not so great for golf. One beneficiary is Finn, who gets extra walks.

With the relatively fine weather, I have a great “itch” to take more photos (in Italian that would be something like, “mi piace fare fotograf”, or, “it pleases me to make photos”). I also subscribe to a weekly e-newsletter on photography that provides weekly photo challenges. This past week, the challenge was “Get Down” meaning to get low for a different perspective on everyday objects. With the approaching spring, I have seen a variety of flowers trying to make an early appearance. This has been especially true for the little spring favorites, the crocus. Our neighbors have a wonderful little patch of them and they became the subject of my challenge — because they are so small, one really needs to get down to get a good image. Here are some images:




This is the one I entered into the challenge. I especially like the repeated image of the crocus blurred in the background:


I like this next one, too, for the three in a row effect. I cropped this from a larger image.


I believe this is a snow drop? But maybe not…


The robins are arriving in flocks. Can’t wait for the tulips to bloom!

2012 News-Gazette Photo Contest

The annual News-Gazette Photo Contest is coming up (submission deadline is Saturday). If you shoot several thousand photos over the course of a year, it is difficult to pick your favorite. For this photo contest, we are allowed up to three entries; picking your top three is no less difficult. Or more precisely which three best fit the categories: Animals, Architecture, Black and White, General (photo-realistic – meaning not manipulated), Manipulated, Nature, and People.

I came up with several possibilities and narrowed them down to five images. I am getting these five printed and mounted as I write this and tonight will decide on the final three and come up with titles. Past experience from previous years’ entries tell me that the image title can be very important in the judging, as a “blah” title that does not help convey the message of the entry will be detrimental and a good title can greatly help an otherwise (in my mind) so-so image [I tend to disagree with this, but these contests are all quite subjective and so can understand how a good title can be effective.]

So here are the five I am having mounted with tentative titles and the category in which the image will likely be entered. This first one is a definite entry and absolutely one of my best this year. It has a great combination of color and interest with winding road and the bent over oak:

"Bend in the road" in the General category

This next one is quite likely another entry. This is one of my cousin’s grandkids, named after our mutual grandfather (Max). We were on the beach in Pentwater and he did not know me from Adam and so was very suspicious of this old guy taking pictures of him. It took him a couple of days to warm up to me, but this one was one of the first I snapped and I just move his look (and the out-of-focus background created by using a large aperture).

"Far out curls" in the People category

This next one is of our boy Finn earlier this summer. My how he has grown since then! But this definitely captures a “dog smile” and again, the large aperture makes for a pleasingly out-of-focus background.

"Finn" in the Animals category

These next two are still possibilities, but are less likely for various reasons. I like this one for the detail in the dragonfly and the added interest of the coneflower (again out of focus). I think if the flower were in focus, it would be too distracting for the viewer and not allow the eye to eventually settle back on the dragonfly. Unfortunately, I think the dragonfly may be overexposed a touch and I have not got the time to work on it.

"Dragonfly with coneflower" in the Nature category

And finally, this one of a bed of tulips in one of our local parks, taken last spring (of course!). I’m still wondering about the best title for this one – any suggestions? So far, I’ve settled on “Outstanding” as the one flower that is in focus is slightly taller than the rest (I intentionally focused on that flower by the way).

"Outstanding" in either the Nature or General category

Here are a couple more than did not make the final cut (I did not print them). While I like the colors in this next one, it just does not say enough to the viewer.

"After the sun goes down"

Here is another shot of Finn, this time on the beach at Pentwater. Could be a good entry but I did not think as strong as the previous one of him. I do like the juxtaposition of his face and the frisbee, though, and you can see that he is dripping wet and just challenging the viewer to do something. Actually, maybe this is better than I thought…

"C'mon let's play!"

And, another shot of the dragonfly and coneflower, slightly different composition with a lot more distracting twig.

"Dragonfly and coneflower (2)"

And, finally, another shot of the oak tree, corn and winding road, this time looking back up the road from the opposite side of the tree. Just not a as strong an image…

"Bend in the road (2)"

Got any opinions? Would love to hear from you! And there is another contest coming up – to support the Ludington Arts Council. Clink on the link and check out the entries so far.

Woodland Wildflowers

With the spring comes wildflowers. I cannot say I have done a tremendous amount of springtime hiking with the idea of photographing blooming wildflowers, but the idea has intrigued me and friend Walter invited me to join him on a little tromp through the woods yesterday. I gladly agreed. On past weeks, he has already visited Allerton Park and Moraine View State Park, so yesterday we headed to a different place, Forest Glen Preserve south of Danville along the Wabash River valley. One does not commonly think of narrow, steep ravines in Illinois, but believe me, this little part of Illinois has plenty of topography. I’ll start with a quick view of the river valley from the watch tower, a good climb up to a small (and yesterday, windy) lookout over the trees. I’m sure that as the trees leaf out, much will be obscured, but even now it is difficult to pick out the river.

Looking eastward over the Wabash River valley

My motivations for going out with Walter included a) he knows where to go, b) he knows many of the plants, and c) he’s taking photos, too, so he won’t be too impatient with me. Oh, and I do not recall ever seeing Dutchman’s breeches! They are aptly names as you can see below…I quickly became enamored with these little guys and probably took too many images of them, to the detriment of other flowers we saw…but who can blame me?
Also in abundance, but not quite blooming were Jack-in-the-Pulpits and May Apples.


Dutchmans breeches standing in front of a not-quite-blooming May Apple