Taubman Museum of Art

· Reading Time: 17 minutes

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Now that I’ve got your attention with the title, I need to clarify something really quick.  I am not being featured at the Museum, although that would be really cool.  This was actually my destination for the day to try something a little different.  No, I wasn’t browsing the exhibits inside.  Something that I have wanted to do more of is architectural photography with a bit of fine art flair.  I tried that a couple of months ago in downtown Winston and had a lot of fun with it.  The images came out different than most anything that I had shot before.  The subjects were more shapes and geometrical components than actual objects.  It was a departure from my normal photography and that helps me get better across the board at my craft.  While the buildings in Winston Salem were interesting, they were not the over the top artistic designs that I was wanting to photograph.  They were good for a bit of practice though.

I have been on the hunt for something that I could really get into when it comes to architectural photography, but all of the buildings around here are rather boring to look at for the most part.  It wasn’t until Toni and I were going up to Natural Bridge State Park in Virginia, that I found what I had been looking for.  As we were going through Roanoke, I could see a really interesting building right off of the highway.  It had all sorts of curves and lines and was made out of different types of metal.  It caught my eye, but the weather wasn’t right to photograph it, and we were needing to get to the hotel anyway.  On the way back, it was pouring rain and that wasn’t a good time to get it either.  This meant that I had to store it in my mind for a later date.  The issue was, this was about two hours from home which would make photographing this building a bit of an investment.

I knew that I would need mostly clear skies in order to photograph the building the way I wanted to.  Since it was in downtown, I was also looking for a weekend so that traffic might be a little less and parking would be free.  It wasn’t high on my list of subjects, but it was up there and constantly on my mind.  After my outing in the rural areas of Guilford County yesterday, I wasn’t really happy with what I had captured because the light was very harsh for the majority of the day.  With the forecast not looking any better for the rest of the weekend, I started to think what I could do with clear skies.  Naturally, Roanoke came to mind.

I had researched this building and determined it to be the Taubman Museum of Art which was ironic since the design of the building was pure art in itself.  I could see from other images online that the view from the highway that I had seen was the best side of the building, and what a side it was.  I was picturing a high contrast black and white image of the building with all the curves and the tower of windows reaching up into the sky.  There was going to be a lot of negative space in this image and it was going to be low key to really show off the metal work of the building.  I had it all figured out, and I was hoping that I could come away with more than a single composition of the building to make it worth my four hours behind the wheel to get there.

Get to the Point“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

As far as conditions for the image, I was looking at mid morning after the sun had come up, but before it got too high in the sky.  This would allow the interesting side of the building to be well lit and the sky above to be blue which is easily darkened in post processing.  I figured that getting there between 8-9am would be just fine for my needs.  That also meant that I could sleep in a little bit before heading that way.  I actually left the house around 6:30 which was almost a luxury for a photo morning which got me to downtown Roanoke right at 8:30.  I was lucky to find a parking place close to the building which was nice.  While I wasn’t opposed to walking, I didn’t want to be too far away from the truck in an unfamiliar town.

I grabbed my gear and started the short walk to the museum.  It was really impressive to see up close.  The perspective from the road was dramatic and everything that I hoped it would be.  I immediately started to look for compositions and went with the one that I was already thinking about to get the morning started.  For this shot, I used my 24-70mm lens which gave me enough wide angle capability to capture the image as I had visualized, but not so much as to overly distort the building.  Looking at the reflections in the glass, I could tell that I would need to time the shot to avoid cars moving through the reflections.  Since timing was going to be key for this shot, and others I was sure, I decided to plug in my remote shutter release which would allow me to take vibration free images without the standard 2-second delay that I normally use.  Of course, I used my trusty Acratech GP-S Ballhead on my Manfrotto Tripod to keep it all rock steady during the exposures.

I got the composition dialed in to take advantage of the sphere to the right as well as the tower of windows.  I used the awning for the outside dining area as a lower boarder for the image.  The hard lines and angles worked very well when blended with the round sphere.  The porch added just the right amount of hard edges to the right of the frame.  I knew that this would be a black and white image from the beginning so I shot it with that in mind.  I realized that I could actually do with some wispy clouds in the upper right to add a bit of added interest, but as it is here I really like it.  The negative space is important to the image I think, and it really draws your eyes to the hard lines of the architecture which is what this shot was all about.

Well, that was it.  That was the image that I wanted, so I was done for the day.  I packed up my gear and headed back to the truck so I could get home and see what I had captured.

Yeah right, after driving for two hours I was not going to be finished just yet.  You know me better than that!

Fluid DesignCanon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I started hunting other compositions around the building since I was able to access all sides of it.  There was a sidewalk that lead up and around the building over the bridge where I took several images.  Oddly enough, these didn’t excite me even though the added elevation took the perspective distortion out of the equation.  I wasn’t looking for the typical cityscape where all the lines were exactly vertical and everything was level.  I actually really wondered why I had bothered to put my dual axis spirit level on the camera since I wasn’t really concerned with absolute level images today.  It was all about how the building wanted to be photographed.  I came back down off of the bridge and started to walk down below the bridge to see what vantage points were there.

Before I found a vantage point, I found a homeless man sleeping under the bridge.  He was completely covered up with a blanket, to include his head.  It was a little eerie to see what really looked like a cadaver laying there under the bridge.  He appeared to be breathing so I left him be and continued on with my morning.  I was finding some really interesting shapes from down here, and that made me very happy.  I started to frame up some different compositions but was having a hard time getting everything to really flow.  I had to use a trick that I learned when I was shooting downtown Winston that allowed me to shoot nearly straight up by rotating the Acratech Ballhead so that I could fall back into the relief that was used for flipping the camera vertically.  Now, I was able to get the angle that I needed, and ironically, I ended up flipping the camera on its side using the “L Plate” which allowed me to use the ballhead function independently.  It sounds complicated, but it really was a simple affair to get the camera in position for this wonderful image.

When I was shooting this, I was really thinking that it was going to be black and white as well.  I was really figuring that all of the images today would be monochrome because that was just how I had pictured everything turning out.  It would also make it easy to add any of the images to my gallery rooms here on the website by just dropping them into the Black and White room and letting them be.  I really had no place to put any color images since this location really didn’t fit in my Local Flavor room.  It wasn’t worth thinking about since I was shooting for monochrome images today.

Well, shows you how good a planner I am.  This image just screamed to be processed as a color image with a little bit of artistic flair to it.  I really liked the subtle colors in the sky, and surprisingly this treatment turned out better than having clouds in the sky.  I was shocked, but I really liked how this turned out.  It has a modern art feel to it, which suits the shape of the building.  I just loved how everything flowed through the image and just had a musical quality to it.  Something else that I liked about this image was the statue that appeared on the deck.  It was a sculpture of a man which might be missed if you don’t look into the image a bit.  Of course, I hope that you are doing that with all of my images anyway.  There was a lot to this image, and I was really glad that I decided to hunt around to find some more compositions of this incredible structure.

Man on a Ledge“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

The shape of the building really struck a nerve with me from this angle and I started to work it from a few different points.  I was still really liking the tower of windows which was off to the left, and now that I was getting the hang of photographing this incredible building, the compositions started to flow a little better.  I flipped the camera back to a horizontal orientation and worked on a dramatic capture of the section I had just shot as well as the windows.  The trick here was that I composed the image so that I captured just up to the tip of the tower, but not beyond it.  I didn’t want the eyes falling off to the left, and this way, I was able to compliment the tip to the right keeping the image balanced.  Once again, the statue took a front row for this image which gives this futuristic building a bit of a human feeling to it.

Much like the other one, I shot this with monochrome in mind, but after seeing how the colors came to life in the previous one, I would have been foolish to try to do this one without the colors.  That patina finished deck was the selling point for color here as it gives just the right amount of warmth to an image full of cool blue tones.  They were both processed very similarly to each other, and I am very happy with both of them.  I think that they both stand on their own merit so I have no problem at all keeping both images that are similar in subject.

I spent some more time working different compositions from down here under the bridge and actually decided that I liked this part of the museum the best of all sides.  I was running out of compositions though, which was an odd feeling.  Looking at what was in front of me, there should be compositions for days.  I started to think through things and realized that I was not getting the reach that I needed for a few of the compositions that I was trying.  This was all about isolating elements of the building, and from this distance, the 24-70mm lens didn’t do that all too well.  It was time to switch over to the longer 70-200mm lens to see what that would do.  Of course, I kept the Polarizer on which had been on from the beginning.  That did the trick for me!

Cloud Cage“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

What I was wanting to capture was the reflection of the clouds in the window tower.  It looked fascinating since the sky behind the tower was clear as a bell.  The long lens allowed me to compose an image that used the metal siding over the sphere as leading lines and a bit of foreground interest at the base of the windows.  From there it was all about the reflections.  This was was destined to be monochrome from the beginning and that theme remained after I got home and started processing it.  It was the perfect image for a high contrast B&W conversion since it was all about lines and the contrast of light.  It was a fun image to work with, and just so simple in design.  If you look at the other images you can tell I took some liberties with the camera angle.  This was one of those times when I really didn’t care what was level and what wasn’t.  I framed the image as I thought it needed to be framed with no worry about where the horizon was in relation.  I think I was nearly 45* off center when I shot this one.

After a few shots with the long lens, I realized that I had gotten all the goody out of here that I was going to get.  It was time to head back out to see if I could do anything else with the long lens while it was attached.  I started back at my original point and began framing up an image from the lower part of the sidewalk leading up to the bridge.  I wasn’t able to get quite wide enough for the image, so it was time to swap back over to my standard 24-70mm lens which was able to frame the shot just as I had intended.  There were clouds moving in (the same ones that I had captured in the reflection earlier) which I wanted to show streaking across the frame.  This meant using a long exposure which I was all too willing to do.  I added my Mor-Slo 10-Stop ND Filter which allowed me to have an exposure time of 140 seconds.

Urban Geometry“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer and Mor-Slo 10-Stop ND Filter, Exposure of 140 seconds

I kept waiting on the clouds to enter the frame, but there were only a few light wisps that managed to sneak into the lower section which really wasn’t what I was wanting at all.  I waited there for several minutes until the clouds just totally went away.  This was the best of the series of images as the clouds are just enough to keep the eyes from leaving the frame, but not so much as to become a viable element.  I just never could get any clouds to enter into the negative space.  I was still happy with the long exposure though.  It helped to keep any of the cars that were passing by on the road from reflecting in the windows due to motion.  The composition here was a bit simplified compared to my opening image which included some strong shadowed geometrical shapes at the bottom.  This one did not benefit from that element and looking back I kind of miss it here.  The composition isn’t quite as strong without it.  I did decide to process this one a little different than the other similar one.  I went with a muted color presentation.  It was more of a modern color palette than I typically use, but I think it fits the subject quite well here.  Of course, there are still very strong lines and contrasts which was the hallmark of what I was looking for with today’s images.

At this point, there was getting to be more and more traffic, and I was starting to realize that I was at the end of what I wanted to shoot with this awesome building.  I packed everything up and started back to the truck.  After crossing the road, however, I saw something that caught my eye.  There was a really nice spherical wall with some interesting qualities on the side of the building.  The sun was hitting it just right and every time a vehicle drove past it, there were some highlights that developed on the lower section which looked really odd considering where the light source was.  It was just odd enough to make me want to capture a few frames of it.

A Golden Roll“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

This image was going to be all about light and shadows with the different textures of the siding used.  I was really sure that this was going to be black and white.  Well, you can see that it is far from black and white.  When I started to process it, I just had to embrace the warm tones that I was seeing, so I found a color profile that really worked with the tones that I was seeing and started from there.  This was actually a very simple image to process and there was very little that I did to it to achieve this look.  I love that section in the lower right where the other wall is, and the part that joins it with the shadow.  There is just so much visual interest here and the different textures really make it fun to look at as well as into.  There is just enough visual tension in the image as well which was very important for something so simple.  That shadowed area is where the payoff is for this entire image, although I love the color and texture of the smooth metal on the left side.  You can also see the odd lighting here with the shadows at the top of the curve and the highlight at the bottom.  This is in direct opposition to the shadow that you see on the right side.  This has optical illusion written all over it, and that was just what drew me into the image in the first place.

Lying Eyes“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

Speaking of optical illusions, that shadowed area really spoke to me, so I decided to get in close and personal to capture that aspect of the scene.  The more you look at this image the more confused your eyes get.  I love it when that happens as it forces the audience to really keep looking at the image.  That is the beauty of abstract shots in my eyes.  every time you look at it, you think you have it figured out, only to realize that there are other explanations available for what you are seeing.   I think that the color presentation of the image helps with that optical illusion as a monochrome image would appear a bit more flat and lose the depth that the color gives it.

That was the end of my morning…For real this time.  I had shot a total of 35 images which wasn’t bad at all for the hour and a half that I had been there.  I was figuring that I had 3-4 images in the bag and was actually feeling pretty good about this trip.  I wasn’t sure how the images were going to come out, but I had a feeling that I had the images I was hoping for.  As it turned out, I had twice as many keepers than I had originally thought.  There were even two others that I processed that ended up not making the cut.  One of which I had spent over an hour working on in Lightroom.  As it turned out, the opening image was stronger and made a better B&W conversion than the first one that I started to process.  Oh well, it never pays to get attached to an image when it comes to deciding on what stays and what goes.  It has to be based on quality, and not quantity of time invested.

I had set out to get monochrome images for the day and that was how I had the gallery set up to absorb this type of subject matter.  After the processing was over though, I realized that only two of the seven images were black and white, and my favorite images were actually color.  That was going to be a problem as this subject just doesn’t fit into anything that I have set up in the galleries.  That left me with only one viable option…to add a gallery room for these images.  I have created the Architecture room where I will actually have a mix of black and white and color images of my downtown subjects.  I have been toying with the idea for a while, but never had enough images in my collection to justify creating that room until now.  I do fully expect to continue with this type of photography when the subjects present themselves, so having the room is a good idea I think.  I know it simplifies where these images are going to go, and that is a big help!

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