Glædening the Heart


Iris season is here now in central Illinois. It’s also been cooler and a bit rainier than I’m used to for May, and as I looked through my files I found I have no pictures of flowers with water droplets on them. My neighbor’s flower bed beckoned.

Standing Tall

I like irises. I’ve discovered that I like several different monocot flowers: crocuses, daffodils, lilies, daylilies. The complex shapes and patterns of irises particularly endear them to me, though.


I’m Catholic, so the colors of the liturgy often jump out at me. These irises, with their purple petals and golden beards, recapitulate the Lent/Easter cycle for me.

Purple Rain

These droplets would be fancier and crisper if conditions had been amenable to focus stacking, but there was enough of a breeze the other night to make decent focus stacking impossible, and I wasn’t about to cut the flower and take it inside.

Glædene is the Old English word for “iris,” and is the root of Tolkien’s name “Gladden Fields” for the place where Isildur lost the One Ring and was killed. Irony and false friends aside, I am gladdened by these flowers when I see them, and they’re popping up all over right now.

How To Buy A Lens

Before buying a new lens, ask yourself: “What about my current lenses keeps me from making better pictures?” or, alternatively, “Why am I dissatisfied with what I have done so far?” Without a goal, you’re either taking a random shot and hoping it works, or giving in to Gear Acquisition Syndrome; that is, buying stuff for the sake of buying stuff.

If image sharpness is the problem, work on technique and support (monopod/tripod) before upgrading your lens.


If you want more or different focal lengths, ask yourself why you want them. For instance, do you want that ultra-wide lens to “get it all in”? That doesn’t always make for a good picture; ultra-wides do much better when used to get real close to stuff and exaggerate perspective, or when shooting in close quarters (indoor architectural/group shots).

Come Fly With Me

If focus is the problem, first test your understanding of the focus system, then test each lens/camera combination you use for focus errors. Remember that autofocus systems have finite tolerances; there is a range of performance considered acceptable by the manufacturer. If you can’t repeatably generate a focus error under controlled and measured conditions, it’s quite likely you need more practice using the focus system, or your expectations of its performance are unrealistic.

We All Live in a Yellow Paradox

If distortion or chromatic aberration is the problem, there may be no option to buying a different lens if you can’t work around it or correct it in post. If there is a serious optical fault not covered by the above, and the lens is under warranty, it probably needs to be sent in for repair or exchange.


If you want shallow depth-of-field but only have slow (f/3.5 and slower) lenses, a new lens is your only option. There’s no substitute for fast glass when you need it.


Finally, if you’re looking to improve your photography, I highly recommend picking a single lens, preferably a prime lens, and working with it exclusively for an extended time. You will learn its strengths, its weaknesses, and its quirks, and you’ll get used to thinking around its limitations to create the pictures you want. There’s nothing like upgrading the photographer to make your pictures better. 🙂

Resuming, Sort Of

If you’re still reading my blog, congratulations! You have the patience of a saint, and I thank you for sticking with me in this age of ephemera.

I’m going to resume posting with a few things about photography I’ve written in notes and emails to people I know, hopefully polished and generalized to be of wider interest. Stay tuned!

Broad Prairie

Broad Prairie

I guess I’d better admit it: I like color. Bold color. Punchy color. I also like the music of the French composer Olivier Messiaen, which uses instrumental color to define its structure, not merely as decoration. Vulgar? Probably. Kitschy? You could accuse me of that, I guess. I don’t know that I really care, though, when a blue sky streaked with cirrus clouds shows up over a cornfield at the end of the harvest.

A Tale of Two Domes

Earlier this summer we took a 2-week road trip to attend a conference (for me), visit family, and see the sights on the East Coast between Washington and Philadelphia. We also enjoy what I call “ecclesiastical tourism,” that is, looking for old or notable churches in the places we visit. Our trip did not disappoint.

Angeli in Excelsis

St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Zanesville, OH was built in 1898, a new Romanesque Revival building for a parish founded in 1842. The octagonal dome with its eight angels was quite an impressive sight.

Sicut Columbam

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore, MD, better known as the Baltimore Basilica, is the first Catholic cathedral built in the United States. Designed by Benajmin Henry Latrobe and built between 1806 and 1821, it witnessed many important events in the history of the Church in America, including the Plenary Councils of Baltimore that gave us the Baltimore Catechism and the Catholic University of America.

Latrobe’s dome features a ring of windows which illuminate the medallion representing the Holy Spirit before the light is filtered down to the nave, giving the interior an open, airy feel.

Coffee Break

Coffee Break

When I came back to work at the University of Illinois, I found that a local businessman was running a coffee shop with branches in the Siebel Center and the Mechanical Engineering Lab. In the spring of 2015 he decided to get out of the coffee business. The shop in MEL is now vacant, but the Siebel location was subsequently occupied by the Einstein Bros. bagel-and-beverage-and-pastry chain, which has set up this gauntlet of coffee and tea canisters for thirsty customers to fill their cups.