Sometimes it is Better to be Lucky than Good

Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day. The day when everyone is Irish! We hear so much about the “luck of the Irish,” that I was inspired to a change of pace post.

Those who know me have heard me often say, “Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.” This is not to say that “Good” is not a necessary foundation, because it is. But as a photographer, simply being at the right place at the right time has yielded some of my best work.

Releasing the shutter at precisely the right moment, or achieving just the right angle is as often as not, a matter of luck, built on a foundation of “good.”

The author James Rufus Agee (1909 to 1955) said it far better than can I:

“Many people, even some good photographers, talk of the ‘luck’ of photography as if that were a disparagement. And it is true that luck is constantly at work. It is one of the cardinal creative forces in the universe, one which the photographer has unique equipment for collaborating with. And a photographer often shoots around a subject, especially one that is highly mobile and in continuous and swift development–which seems to me as much his natural business as it is for a poet who is really in the grip of his poem to alter and re alter words in his line. It is true that most artists, though they know their own talent and its gifts as luck, work as well as they can against luck, and that in most good works of art, as in little else in creation, luck is either locked out or locked in and semi-domesticated, or put to wholly constructive work; but it is peculiarly a part of the good photographer’s adventure to know where luck is most likely to lie in the stream, to hook it, and to bring it in without unfair play and without too much subduing it. Most good photographs, especially the quick and lyrical kind, are battles between the artist and luck.”

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to you all, and may the luck of the Irish be with you always.

Murals of Francis Davis Millet

Just below the Tiffany-style dome of Cleveland’s historic Cleveland Trust Rotunda, between the graceful columns, is a series of beautiful murals painted by Francis Davis Millet, who died at age 65 in the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912.

The following descriptive narrative, accompanying my photographs, was written by Leila Mechlin, and published in World’s Work, December, 1909. World’s Work was a monthly magazine which celebrated the American way of life and its expanded role on the world stage, founded in 1900 and edited by Walter Hines Page, until 1913, when his son, Arthur W. Page, became the editor.


The decorations by Mr. F. D. Millet in the new Cleveland Trust Company Building consists of a series of thirteen panels, each approximately sixteen by five feet, illustrating the settlement of the State of Ohio, but typifying the pioneer movement which resulted in the opening up of the great West. In composition they are very simple, and in effect, frank.

In the great rotunda used as a banking room, and therefore accessible to the public, these panels form a frieze, terminating the wall forty feet above the floor level, and behind a colonnade supporting the dome. Because of this elevated and recessed position, it was essential that the paintings should be strong in color and positive in treatment. Deep blues and greens predominate, enlivened by touches of brilliant red – and the pigment is seen to have been held in broad, ample masses. The same scheme of color has been used for the entire series, and when viewed in position all are found in harmony, the eye passing from one to another without conscious jar or interruption. The horizon line has been made continuous, and though each panel is a complete composition, the frieze, as a whole, is a unit.

It took more than a year to execute this series of thirteen panels, Mr. Millet and two or three assistants working from morning till night. First, the general scheme was sketched; then full-sized cartoons were made and tried, experimentally, in place.

When these were found satisfactory, the work began in earnest; accurate drawings on huge sheets of manila paper were made in charcoal, corrected, and restudied; finally, when absolutely correct, these were transferred to canvas.

The Norse Discoverers

THE NORSE DISCOVERERS – Over four hundred years before Columbus discovered America the Norsemen are supposed to have crossed the North Atlantic and landed in what we now designate as New England. According to this tradition they were, therefore, the first white men to set foot in the territory now occupied by the United States. It was in such craft as is pictured in this painting that they made their daring explorations. They are here represented as approaching the coast of America.

The Puritans

THE PURITANS – The first settlers in New England were the Puritans who sought religious freedom in a new land. They were a God-fearing people and the Gospel they preached, severe as it may now seem, engendered hardihood and a stoical courage, without which no pioneer could find success. The fact that this Gospel was preached beneath the dome of heaven where the majesty of nature was nobly manifest, made an impress upon the race which has influenced succeeding generations.

Exploration by Land

EXPLORATION BY LAND – It was under the guidance of the Indians that the first settlers in America ventured from the coast country inland. Trained hunters and fighters, skilled woodsmen and sagacious pathfinders, they led the white man into that territory which for countless generations had been indisputably their own. An interesting contrast is suggested in this picture between the white man and the savage: the one bred of traditions, the other the child of nature.

LaSalle on Lake Erie

LASALLE ON LAKE ERIE – One of the bravest and most sagacious explorers of the American continent was Sieur LaSalle, a Frenchman, who in 1675 built a small vessel and sailed from the Niagara River up the Great Lakes to Green Bay in an effort to find entrance to the Mississippi River by which he purposed to descend to Mexico. In this picture he is represented on Lake Erie at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River, looking toward that portion of the shore where the City of Cleveland now stands.

Father Hennepin at Niagra Falls

FATHER HENNEPIN AT NIAGARA FALLS – In 1675, Louis Hennepin, a French priest of the Francescan order, was sent to Fort Frontenac as a missionary to the Mohawk Indians. In 1678, being attached to LaSalle’s expedition, he went to Niagara, near where the vessel in which they sailed was built. It was the moment when he first saw the Falls that is here depicted. The brave missionary and dauntless explorer is seen to be moved with reverent awe by the majesty of this great work of nature, then unspoiled by man.

Exploration by Water

EXPLORATION BY WATER – Not only by land, but by water, was exploration made as is seen in this picture. The Indian again is guide. The canoe in which the journey is being made is of his building and its shapeliness bears witness to his esthetic instinct. Both the young pioneer and his guide have their attention fixed on something ahead, typifying, as it were, the fascination of that which is beyond – the undiscovered. The coloring in this painting is especially attractive and the scenery very picturesque.


MIGRATION – Following close upon the heels of exploration came migration. It has been truly said that since the dawn of recorded history the West has been the goal of human hope. The prarie schooner seems today an odd craft, but it was a large factor in the settlement of the states beyond the seaboard. In it, as will be seen from this picture, were conveyed the household goods as well as the women and children and aged members of the family.

Buying Land from the Indians

BUYING LAND FROM THE INDIANS – Cleveland was first settled in 1796 by the Connecticut Land Company and tradition has it that these New Englanders purchased from the Indians the ground upon which they staked out their claims. Here in this picture is seen the Indian affixing his mark, or signature, to the deed of sale, his camp and wigwams nearby, the goods for which he has bartered his birthright at hand ready for delivery. From this time on the Indian does not appear in this picture history of the settlement of Cleveland.

Surveying the Site of Cleveland

SURVEYING THE SITE OF CLEVELAND – In this picture Moses Cleaveland is seen surveying the site of the city which now bears his name. He has set up his transit, by means of which fixed lines are established, on an elevated bit of land from whence long vistas are obtainable. His young assistant is using a stump as a table and making notations on the map as the surveyor directs. This is invariably the initial step in laying out a town or city. It was as a surveyor, it will be remembered, that Washington began his career.

Felling the Timber

FELLING THE TIMBER – After the land was purchased and surveyed it had to be cleared to some extent before the home could be built or the soil tilled. The axe carried on the shoulder of the pioneer across the mountains came again into use. It is Autumn in this picture and the foliage has taken on a ruddy hue. There is effulgent beauty in the landscape which apparently, momentarily, impresses with wonder and awe the young hardy pioneer as he pauses in his work, weary but undaunted.

Building the Log Cabin

BUILDING THE LOG CABIN – When the clearing was made and the timber felled, then came the work of building the home. It was in the log cabin of pioneer construction that some of our greatest statesmen were born and reared. These cabins were simple, unpretentious and rude, but serviceable, substantial and in harmony with their environment. In this picture are seen two pioneers sawing a log to be used in the construction of such an humble dwelling. It is hard work but permits rhymithical [sic] motion.

Plowing the Clearing

PLOWING THE CLEARING – The log cabin built, the well dug, the timber cleared, then came the work of plowing, and the oxen that in all probability drew the prarie schooner into the new land again come into service. These patient brutes supply the motive power which through the guidance of man’s hand gains utility. This picture represents the battle with the soil and impresses upon the observer the dignity of the labor. A certain touch of picturesqueness is given by the red yoke of the handsome oxen.

Gathering the Harvest

GATHERING THE HARVEST – Lastly in this interesting series comes the reward, the gathering of the crops. The seed has been sown in the plowed ground, the blade matured, the corn ripened. A season has passed and the soil has been conquered. Part of the crop is still standing but a large portion has been cut. To the left are fine large shocks and in the basket carried by the pioneer farmers is the golden ripe grain on the cob. On the faces of the men is suggested not merely joy but solemn gratitude.

Under the Dome of the Cleveland Trust Rotunda


The Rotunda Dome
The Rotunda Dome

Construction of the three-story rotunda, 61 feet in diameter, began in 1905 and was completed in 1908. It was lit through a double glass dome, 85 feet above the banking floor. The outer dome is constructed of prism lights held in metal frames, which give the dome a graceful architectural form, while providing ample diffused light to the interior space.

Inner Dome in the Tiffany Style
Inner Dome in the Tiffany Style

The magnificent leaded glass inner dome, designed in beautifully subdued colors, is constructed in the Tiffany style and adds warmth to the entire  space.

Edge Detail - Inner Dome
Edge Detail – Inner Dome

The outer dome is now coated over, and the banking floor is lit by electric lights installed above the inner dome..

Inside the Rotunda Dome
Inside the Rotunda Dome
Detail Inside the Rotunda Dome
Detail Inside the Rotunda Dome
Detailed View of the Outer Dome
Detailed View of the Outer Dome
A Closer View
A Closer View from the Banking Floor


About my Digital Workflow

As a photographer of the urban landscape, I rely almost exclusively on available light, and the light that is available inside an old building is usually far from ideal. In order to tell the story of the urban landscape, I have had to to find ways to compensate for the light that is available to me.

My camera is a Canon 5D (full-frame sensor), and my principal lens is Canon’s 24-105mm f/4L IS EF USM AF. Additionally, I use a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM. When added reach is needed I use the Canon Extender EF 2X III. My software includes Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CS5, and the full suite of NIK applications (Define 2.0, Viveza 2, HDR Efex Pro 2, Color Efex Pro 4, Silver Efex Pro 2 and Sharpener Pro 3.0.

All images are Camera RAW. Most of my images range from a few seconds to many seconds in length. In order to achieve the maximum detail across the full dynamic range I make multiple (between 3 and 7) bracketed exposures. This assures that detail that would otherwise be lost in highlight or shadow areas of the image are present in the finished photograph.

Bracketed Exposures (l to r  -2EV, 0EV, +2 EV)
Bracketed Exposures (l to r -2EV, 0EV, +2 EV)

The series of exposures (above) was made using the telephoto zoom lens at a focal length of 200mm. All images in the series were at f/11, with an ISO of 100. The exposures were at 10 sec, 2 sec, and 0.6 sec respectively. When I return from a shoot I import and tag all of my images in Lightroom. I then export each image set (3 to 7 bracketed exposures) to NIK HDR Efex Pro 2, and return the tone-mapped HDR image to Lightroom as a .TIF file. (Time permitting, I will publish a key-stroke by key-stroke, mouse-click by mouse-click Blog post for those who would like to get under the hood of my workflow.) Once all of the images have been tone-mapped and returned to Lightroom, I apply the appropriate lens correction profile.

Finished Tone-Mapped HDR Image
Tone-Mapped HDR Image

One by one I export each HDR file to Photoshop and apply straightening and perspective correction as needed. I have all of the NIK plug-ins installed in Photoshop, so the image will not be returned to Lightroom until it is ready to be printed or posted to the Web.

Color Efex Pro 4. NIK has introduced a delicious feature called “recipes,” which allows me to perform three functions – levels and curves, lightening and darkening, and contrast adjustments, at once. The settings of each of the three functions are starting points, and I can make localized adjustments as appropriate to the image. If needed, I can use Color Efex Pro to adjust color cast, and perform a myriad of other adjustments as well. I could do some of this work in HDR Efex Pro, but I find it easier to do it in Color Efex Pro.

I then use the Viveza plug-in to make lighting adjustments, either globally or locally as required.

To give the colors “pop,” I use Silver Efex Pro to create a black and white overlay layer to which I apply about a 20% opacity.

Finally, before saving the finished image (with a discreet file name) I use Sharpener Pro to bring any necessary sharpening to the image, although I reserve serious sharpening for the printing process.

Finished Color Image
Finished Color Image

My work is 99% black and white, so the final step is to convert the finished image to black and white, using Silver Efex Pro. In order to give additional “pop” to the black and white image I isolate the highlights in the RGB channel, creating an overlay layer to which I apply about a 30% opacity before saving the image (again using a discreet filename) and closing Photoshop.

Finished Black and White Image
Finished Black and White Image

When I return to Lightroom, the original HDR image and the finished color and black and white versions are waiting for me.

The entire process generally takes less than 10 minutes!

Once again, this has been an overview of my workflow. I will post key-stroke by key-stroke, mouse-click by mouse-click detail, as time permits. The images used here are a part of my series of posts on the Renovation of Cleveland Trust Rotunda.

I look forward to your comments and hope that you will subscribe to this Blog to receive email notification of future posts as I document the history and the renovation of one of Cleveland’s incredible landmarks.

Historic Cleveland Trust Rotunda

Historic Cleveland Trust Rotunda
Historic Cleveland Trust Rotunda

Cleveland Trust Company was founded in 1894, with John G. W. Cowles as its first president. In 1903, Cleveland Trust merged with the Western Reserve Trust Co., and Calvary Morris succeeded Cowles as president. Quickly outgrowing their offices, construction on a new headquarters building, designed by architect George B. Post (1834-1913) began in 1905.

Stained Glass in the Rotunda Dome
Stained Glass in the Rotunda Dome

The magnificent stained glass is often attributed to the Tiffany Studios, although there is no documentation to support that belief.

Rotunda Mezzanine
Rotunda Mezzanine
Rotunda Mezzanine
Rotunda Mezzanine

The Rotunda features the sculpture work of Karl Theodore Francis Bitter (1867-1915), and murals painted by Francis Millet (1848-1912), depicting scenes of the development of civilization and wealth in the Midwest.

Banking Floor
Banking Floor

In the coming months, the Rotunda and the adjoining 1010 Euclid Building will undergo historic renovation. The 29-story office tower designed by Marcel Breuer (1902-1981) and opened in 1971 will be renovated, and two additional buildings adjacent to the tower on its south, that were once a part of Cleveland Trust complex, will be demolished to make way for the new Cuyahoga County Administration Building.  Each step of the way will be documented on this blog. Be sure to subscribe to receive email notification of new posts.