Saturday, May 30, 2015

Great Outdoor Spots for Photos

McKinley Beach
I wrote about photo shoot sites a few years ago, and it turned out to be the most "googled" entry on the blog so I know there are people out there interested in photographing Milwaukee.  I have learned about many more places while writing my Milwaukee books, so I thought this was worth a rewrite.  I also learned that people are looking for spots year round, not just in summer, so I've expanded to include some fall and winter photos here.

There are locations where you have to pay admission, but will simply have so many choices that I'm sure you'll find something to make the admission worth it.  Try the Grohmann Museum roof top gardenVilla Terrace, Lynden Sculpture Gardens, Mitchell Park Domes and Boerner Botanical Gardens.  The Milwaukee Zoo has some great spots too.
The rose garden at Boerner Botanical Garden

Lynden Sculpture Garden has a pond and a variety of trees

Villa Terrace has blooming flowers, an arbor, staircase, nice patio and fantastic fall color
Then there's Lake Michigan. The sun rises over Lake Michigan all year round.  If you're interested in shooting the beach at sunrise, you can go to any of the lake front beaches very early in the morning.  The sun rises at a different place along the lakefront every month, so don't count on the same sunrise in summer as fall. In winter, the lake freezes and can create all kinds of magic.  Some have old concrete breakwaters still in the water and those can be useful if you want to set up something further out in the water.  You can access them from dry land and walk out to the end. The pier next to McKinley beach is  also a good place to get out into the water and if weather is a bit windy, you'll see wave action there too.  With the right angle, you can get a view of the lighthouses.

Big Bay Park
Bradford Beach in January at sunrise
If you want the sun behind you, shoot early in the day and you can use the bluff as the back drop at Atwater Beach, Klode ParkGrant Park, and Doctor's Park.  If you walk through Seven Bridges trail to the lake at Grant Park, there is sometimes amazing lighting with reflections in the creek and the clouds tend to gather over the lake, though you'll need something to take care of sunspots if you choose to shoot into the sun.  You'll find lots of small rocks at Big Bay, Klode, and Grant Park, so if you need shots of bare feet or younger children, it adds texture and interest.
Lake Michigan at Grant Park
The stairs at Atwater Beach are nice because you can set up a larger group of people and because there aren't any trees, you won't get shade on the faces.  Atwater also has some colorful playground equipment at beach level that will make any shot jump out.  It's also large enough that adults can sit in the dish swing, even 2 people at a time.  There's a structure there that will also accommodate a group that kind of looks like a Christmas tree, and another that is tilted and circular.

Atwater Beach

Atwater Beach

If you like the huge white rocks, Big Bay Park in Whitefish Bay is great.  McKinley Beach has some pretty rocks off shore that add to the interest in a lake photo.  You can actually climb on them at McKinley to get both the rocks and the lake.  My favorite park for rocks, water, bridges, and beautiful flowers, grass, etc is Lakeshore State Park.  It has everything you need for outdoor shots.  If you come late in the day, the lighting is awesome as the setting sun reflects on the water side of the park.
Put your model on top of the rocks at McKinley Beach

Rocks at Big Bay 


Lakeshore State Park

View of the lake at Lakeshore State Park

When you want to use the city as a back drop, there are 2 possible locations just off North Ave near Holton- Kadish Park with the pavilion, and on the other side and up higher is Kilbourn Reservoir.  If there are puffy white clouds with a blue sky, this makes it even better.  Lakeshore State Park also has a bit of the city, but you get the Summerfest grounds in the photos.  These parks are probably the best places to see a sunset also, but don't expect spectacular.  Sunrises are much better in Milwaukee.  You can also go to the rooftop of St. Luke's Hospital, at 2900 W. Oklahoma, where there's a place called the Healing Garden.  It has indoor and outdoor space, with plenty of plants and a panorama of the entire Menomonee Valley.  South Shore Park has a nice view of the skyline with boats in it. The bath house is pretty there too, and you can usually get inside if you want indoor photos too.

View from Kilbourn Reservoir Park
View from the Healing Garden at St. Luke's Hospital
South Shore Park
If you want those shots with a shady waterfall or large trees, go to Lake Park.  The waterfall is south of the parking lot at Lake Park bistro.  The lions bridge or the light house are also great locations to set up a shoot.  Large trees are available with the oldest and largest at the northern end of Lake Park.  You'll find large wooded areas in Sheridan Park and Greenfield Park too.   Those are big enough there that you can put a body up against a tree and get lots of interesting texture in the background.  There are groves of trees in the parks if you want fall leaves for a shot.  They are indicated on the county park maps with wording "exceptional native plant community" and you can see examples on both links above for Sheridan and Greenfield Parks.  With the right weather and timing, you can get spectacular color.
Larger trees are fun to use
Greenfield Park
Whitnall Park has the largest waterfall that I'm aware of, though there's another good size waterfall at the south end of Grant Park near the mill pond. You just can't get down into it like you can at Whitnall.  Park at the smaller lot near the golf course where you can see the lake.  Walk down the hill to the lake and waterfall.  You can hear the water from the parking lot, so you'll know you're at the right place.  Estabrook and Kletzsch parks also have the river and somewhat of a waterfall as it passes by.


For bridges, well, you can probably guess that I'm going to recommend Seven Bridges trail in Grant Park.  I also love the covered bridge over the ravine at the trail head.  The bridge over the river between the Holton Street swing park and Lakefront Brewery is interesting and you can get views through it as well as river shots.
Trailhead at Seven Bridges Trail in Grant Park

Stone bridge near the waterfall at the Mill Pond at the south end of Grant Park


Holton Street Bridge
For quirky art and color, my pick would be Cass street park with the boys and girls club mural just across the street too.  If you like what you see at Cass Street Park, the same artist has work at Snails Crossing in Riverwest. For more murals, check out Milwaukee Mural Map.  It's interactive and gives you street locations for lots of colorful places.
Dragon at Cass St. Park

Mural at Boys & Girls Club near Cass St. Park
For all around interest along the river, go to the river walk.  You can get water, buildings, structures, color...no matter what season.  Don't forget the Bronz Fonz is there too.  If you really want to be adventurous, take a boat tour or rent a kayak and take your camera.
River Walk has interesting structures and water

My favorite photo of my youngest son was actually taken at Holton Bridge Swing Park.  That's a good place even if the sun isn't shining because it's covered.  There are a variety of swings and the textures of the bridge overhead make it interesting.
Holton Swing Park
Alice's Garden is mainly a place with garden plots people can rent for vegetables and flowers, but they have a labyrinth of herbs that might be something for you to check out.  Probably the best time to go here is late June through late August when there's something blooming. You may find sunflowers, colorful cabbage, and dahlias in the garden plots.
Labyrinth at Alice's Garden
Trimborn Farm has nine buildings that could be used as a real old time rustic Wisconsin landscape, and Whitnall Park has a bright red barn.
Whitnall Park

Trimborn Farm

Lastly, don't over look the website, Shot Hot Spot.  It uses photos on Flickr to determine the most photographed places all over the world.  Put in Milwaukee county, or anywhere you might travel.  It will list the places and show points on a map.  In many cases, there are sample photos from those points.  This is a lot of fun to use if you're new to an area. In Milwaukee, it includes graffiti, abandoned buildings and railroad tracks.

There are likely many more spots.  Add your great finds in the comments!

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