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

US Travel

January Weekend Visit to Chicago

To celebrate a friend’s January birthday, we like to spend the weekend in Chicago, about 2 hours drive from our home in Champaign. If you don’t mind the weather, and it is often quite cold in Chicago in January, it’s a good time to go: post-Christmas sales abound and the city tends to be less crowded. And, hotels give good deals, especially our favorite, The Drake off North Michigan Avenue (i.e., the Magnificent Mile). We got a room overlooking Lake Short Drive and a portion of the lake itself. What a wonderful view, especially at night with a long exposure.


This particular weekend, the weather was overcast and threatening to snow. It gave the buildings an eerie look and lent itself to some black & white captures as well.


The John Hancock Bldg ascends into the clouds.


Chicago’s Water Tower and the John Hancock loom through the trees.


Two crows ponder the traffic from above Lake Shore Drive.


Empty docks will have to wait a while for spring.


Crowds constantly gather around The Bean; in this case, to watch skaters on the ice below.


I got a kick out of these folks posing for a selfie reflection.


Something a little abstract.


Ornaments on Michigan Ave., and if you look close, multiple selfies.


More “abstractedness.”


Saturday morning calm on the lake and before the traffic builds on LSD.


By Sunday morning, the mood has changed with a dusting of snow and growing winds.


Waves crashing on the revetments make for a very cold spray that can sometimes reach the northbound lanes of LSD.


Reflection of waves off the revetments meeting incoming waves at right angles make for some spectacular wave collisions.


Until we return to North Michigan Avenue, this will have to do!


A Visit to the National Zoo

IMG_8350-1This past weekend I once again accompanied my wife to Washington DC, she for business and me for pleasure. Rather than being housed near the overly-familiar Mall, we stayed at the very nice (and famous) Omni Shoreham just off Connecticut Ave and overlooking Rock Creek National Park, northwest of the central city and actually quite close to the National Zoo. So, I spent a lot of time at our nation’s zoo. Friday morning looked to be rainy, and stayed cloudy all day – this turned out to be an excellent bonus. Cool weather and overcast skies meant active animals with nice diffuse, shadowless lighting. FYI, I spent the whole day with my 400 mm lens on my Canon 7D, perfect for getting closeups – these are not cropped images. However, this lens will not allow me to get the whole animal and means you need to focus on the particular area of interest (generally the face and especially the eyes).

The National Zoo is known for its pandas, and there was a nice little audience watching them (mom, dad, and their daughter, all in separate areas), but I am always drawn to the “big cats” – see my previous blogs of visits to this and Brookfield Zoo near Chicago. These first of the tiger I especially like – his keeper was walking around outside the enclosure and this guy was keeping a sharp eye on him, possibly hoping for food. Those eyes just look right through you.

IMG_8327-1One more shot of the tiger, where you can see his teeth – the better to eat you with, my dear!

IMG_8313-1Can’t not have any lion shots! I was there early enough that all the big cats were just being released to their outside habitats. It was clear when this male lion got out. He strutted around, marked his territory, and then proceeded to bellow (it’s not really a roar) his presence to the rest of the zoo. Impressive!



IMG_8388And, here is his pride. Click on an image to see it enlarged and allow you to scroll through them. Hit your “escape” button to come back here.

I’ll finish with this, as one has to have a shot of the pandas if you’re ever at the National Zoo! This is Bao Bao, the daughter, not full grown as yet.





The Magic of Cropping

Our local camera club has several “internal” competitions every year – by “internal”, I mean the club members present a selection of themed images to a 3-person jury, and the judges pick the top four images of the theme. For example, last night, club members were asked to submit images for three topical themes: Dusk to Dawn, Monochrome, and Shadows & Silhouettes. What is most informative to me, and I think to club members, is to listen to the judges, learn from their critique, and hopefully improve your images. Some of this should occur as you look through the viewfinder, and inevitably, some will occur in post-editing. Some people freak out over working on their photos after they create the image in their camera – I understand that. But, sometimes all it takes is a little “cutting” on the left, right, top, or bottom of the image – technically called “cropping.”

So, one of the images I submitted under the Dusk to Dawn was this sunset on Lake Michigan from our favorite summer vacation area, Pentwater. I called this “Sunset Thru Dune Grass”. Catchy, huh? Below is the original image, which I believed had way too much sky.

Original image

Original image

Here is the image I submitted, and you’ll notice that I have cropped off some from the top of the image (by the way, it took 2nd place!):


Image submitted for the competition

During the critique, it was suggested I not only crop more from the top, but also off the left, thus moving the sun farther from the center of the image. They all thought I had chosen to cut too much off the bottom, and I generally see their point, and I can’t remember specifically why I did this – I chose this image from shots I took in 2013. So, here I have cropped from the left and I think you will see a little improvement:


Here now I have cropped more off the top. And I think it presents a much better image than the original:


Now the dune grass plays a more prominent part of the image, which when I think about it, was what I had originally intended. By moving the sun to the left, it enhances the emphasis of the dune grass, and perhaps, add a little more interest by getting that focal point (the sun) farther off-center. If there is one thing that might have made it better was to have moved myself (and the camera!) a little to the left, so the grass did not go through the sun.

My thanks to the judges for helping me see better. And, next time you are looking at your images, think about the simple process of cropping. It’s easy and all image processors, including your iPhone, can do it.


Black and White Panoramic Landscapes

It has been quite a long time since I last posted here. It is not that I have had nothing to write about; just being lazy I guess. Anyway, I’ve been working on a few images and before I print them, I thought I would publish them here. The following called Illinois Sky. It hangs on the wall above one of our kitchen windows just a few feet from a print we bought in Alberquerque at Photogenesis Gallery inside the LaFonda Hotel (a wonderful and truly historic place in itself). Before I get too far off the subject, Photogenesis owns several images by several famous French photographers: Willy Ronis, Robert Doisneau, and last but not least Henri Cartier Bresson (the “master of the moment”).  Even if you don’t purchase, it is a privilege to look at their work close-up and not in a museum behind a security rope. The photo we purchased is by a remarkable photographer by the name of Nicholas Trofimuk entitled Summer Cloud Festival – NM featuring a rolling New Mexico landscape beneath a cacaphony of cumulus clouds. My kind of sky! Just like I tried to capture in this:

Illinois Sky BW Panorama-1

Staying with this format (black and white and what I will call panoramic), here is a scene from Scotland. It was our first evening at Inverewe Gardens and this is a shot looking southwestward from our cottage at the Gardens to Poolewe and the mountains beyond.Poolewe Sunset

Now let’s return to familiar territory (the rural flatlands of central Illinois – corn country, that is).

Corn rows and barn in b&w

Barbed wire and barn in b&w

Barn and meadow in b&w


A couple of these may yet end up on our kitchen wall as companions to the first. What do you think? Any favorites?

A January Visit to Chicago

In what may become an annual event, we took a January weekend visit to the big city. Given the typically chilly (and WINDY) weather and a community-wide post-holiday hangover, there are far fewer people on the streets and in the stores, so a visit to Chicago is far different than in the crowded summer-time. Sure, one doesn’t necessarily spend a lot of time wandering around, but it is certainly a drastic change in scenery from the flat lands of central Illinois farm country. To me, there’s just something about the constant energy of the city, the tall buildings and outstanding architecture, and great art and food, that always puts a bit of tingle in my toes. Throw in a stay at the grand Drake Hotel and a chance to rub shoulders with “the other half” and, well, it’s just a fun thing to do.

Luckily, the weather was far better than it was the week previous (think “polar vortex”!) and most snow had melted. The lakefront just north of the Drake (Oak Street Beach?) was desolate and the water’s edge glacier-like. There’s something about being virtually all alone with nary a soul in sight whilst standing within a city of millions. I love it.

Sunday morning on Michigan Avenue

Sunday morning on Michigan Avenue

I walked over to the beach just north of The Drake, taking the pedestrian tunnel under Lake Shore Drive. A woman and child were walking their dogs – it was odd seeing all this rock-hard sand frozen rock hard – I’m so used to burying my feet in the warm sands along Lake Michigan. The shoreline was a solid mass of piled up ice and evoked glaciers or icebergs of a land much farther north. I carefully walked out to the ice edge, then had this strange feeling that I might indeed be standing over unfrozen water beneath the ice, and although I could not imagine such water would be very deep, it was an eerie and unsettling feeling. Snap a few pics and quickly retreat (sorry, but I’m not going to risk life or limb for my “art”).

Later we walked down to Water Tower Place. On the second level are two must-sees that I highly recommend. First is the Dr. Seuss gallery with limited edition reproduced art by the famed Ted Giesel, better known as Dr. Seuss. As it is an art gallery, I could not take photos but there is a gallery web-site. Did you know he was not only in advertising, but also a political cartoonist before becoming the world famous children’s book author. Much of his art was never publicly displayed, but kept in a secret room in his home. It is only recently after his death in 1991 that his wife, following his wishes, has this treasure-trove of material been made available. It is amazing stuff and it is hard not to have a smile when you leave.

Second, and also entertaining, is the Lego store, just across the way from the Dr. Seuss gallery. Photos here you can take, so take a look:

Just a few more to finish up. We walked back up Michigan Avenue, past the John Hancock Center (at least this edifice, one of my favorite icons of Chicago, still retains its name), and before checking out I captured some images of the hotel lobby and tearoom.

Around Santa Fe (Part VI – Finale)

We’ve been back to central Illinois a few weeks now and I am still smiling from our short visit to Santa Fe. Beautiful scenery and people, especially catching up with old friends. This post will more or less wrap up my images from around Santa Fe – all images in this final Santa Fe post are from in town, including most notably the famous Miraculous Staircase in the Loretto Chapel

I found this in a Santa Fe guidebook (both the guidebook and poem were written by Sharon Niederman) and it seemed appropriate:

Winter Twilight, Canyon Road

Do not say you will come back

When it is warmer

When you have time

When the light is better

When the galleries are open

When the chestnut trees are green

When a woman in red sits on the garden bench

When the blue gate is wide open

When the duende seizes you

When you are not obsessing

When you are not regretting

When you are not counting

Your losses

See the Hunger Moon scale the Sangres

Press the shutter. Now.

La Fonda Hotel - our home and a historical place

La Fonda Hotel – our home and a historical place



Around Santa Fe (Part V)

Bandelier National Monument

Less than an hour’s drive from Santa Fe, and on the way toward Los Alamos, sits Bandelier National Monument. Home to native Americans long before our Constitution was signed (like 700 years before), the valley and soft tufa cliffs provided shelter, water, and food.  While we did not have time to explore the park thoroughly, we did take a quick walk along the Main Loop Trail to see the remains of ancient kiva and cliff dwellings. And, our native American bus driver into and out of the park provided much insight to the park and native American culture, especially regarding the upcoming Day of the Dead (November 1) and Christmas – Spanish missionaries converted many native Americans in this region a long time ago and there is an interesting blend of ancient culture with Christianity. I highly recommend going – and the drive there is glorious, too!

IMG_7075 copy

Ancient kiva beneath a glowing cottonwood

Bandelier Panorama

Bandelier Panorama

Around Santa Fe (Part IV)

The High Road to Taos

If you’re going to drive from Santa Fe to Taos (or vice versa) and you have the time and the weather is good, take the high road. It may take a bit longer, but the scenery and bits of history that you pass along the way are worth every turn of the wheel. Rather than following the Rio Grande valley, the high road takes you up through mountain forests (Carson National Forest), past several very old and historic churches (Santuario de Chimayo and Las Trampas), and numerous little towns and artist colonies. Seems like no matter where you turn, you run into a studio or workshop – and a lot of re-purposed “junk” transformed into “art”. So enjoy the ride and turn off the road when you can!

From the car at 45 mph

From the car at 45 mph

Around Santa Fe (Part III)

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

One day while we were in Santa Fe, I joined my close friend Scott for a trip to the Tent Rocks National Monument located about 40 miles southwest of Santa Fe. I had read several tourist-related descriptions of this place, but nothing can prepare you for the actual visual impact of these towering ancient remnants of millions of years of wind and water erosion processes.

There are two trails in the publicly accessible portions of this park. Both are well marked. The lower trail is an easy, fairly level  approximate 1-mile loop that skirts the bottom of the looming plateaus. I knew the other trail went up through one of the slot canyons (the “canyon trail” – duh!), but again, was not prepared to see people at the top of this high plateau, 600+ feet above us looking out across the vast New Mexican landscape. Seeing several of those that had returned to the bottom, Scott and I decided that, “if they can do, so can we.” Armed with some water and our cameras, of course, we set out on what would be about a two-hour “hike” to cover roughly 3 miles (and 600 feet of elevation change up and then the 600-foot drop to return).

I’ll leave my images to tell at least part of the story. I also found that these landscapes lent themselves to black and white. Not sure if I should post both color and b/w versions…you let me know.

IMG_6965 copy

View from the parking lot

Top of the canyon

Top of the canyon

The path down

The path down


Around Santa Fe (Part II)

Canyon Road

We took a stroll up Canyon Road, a strip of fantastic artist galleries with major sculptures along the sidewalks and on the property grounds around each. Way too much to absorb on one trip and we didn’t get near to the end of the road. And, most places were closed by the time we got there, so we didn’t even try to go inside most places. Nevertheless fascinating. For more, go over and see Kriofske Mix for more images.

There was much more than animal sculptures, but I guess that was what I was drawn to, hence the large number of animals of various types in these photos, from bison and eagles to a gnarly-looking turtle, a silver rhino, and dancing elephants. And, oh, the mobile garden with enormous wind mobiles 20-30 feet tall. If it had been windy, it would have been a real trip to watch.

Given my affinity for dogs, you can imagine this might be my favorite.

Given my affinity for dogs, you can imagine this might be my favorite.

Doug, you need these in your yard!

Doug, you need these in your yard!