Backyard Adventures (The Guthrie) / by Michael Zwack

Today I'm happy to debut the first post of a new ongoing series I'm titeling "Backyard Adventures".  If you are familiar with my work, you know when I'm not traveling i'm based in Minneapolis, MN.  Having been a resident my entire life, I have a deep kinship with the city and wish to use my Twin Cities knowledge to show photographers and travels that adventure can be right in your own backyard.  

One of the many mistakes travel photographers make is they get too complacent...well, when not traveling anyway.  It's easy to fall into a rut, or focus so much on the business side that getting out and taking photos almost seems like a chore.  Hey it happens to the best of us; often times I find myself going to the same park or avoid shooting altogether because it seems fruitless to continually visit the same locations.  Thats why I wanted to try a new series where I shoot around the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota countryside, honing my skills while sharing the experience and photo knowledge I learn along the way.  

To start this series I'm focusing on my most recent visit to the Guthrie Theater.  Located in the hip and artsy warehouse district of Minneapolis, the Guthrie was founded in 1963 and has become the Twin Citie's most prolific performing arts center.  In 2006 the theater reopened in it's new location along the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis.  The redesign was a $125 million endeavor by renown designer and architect Jean Novel.  Ten years later it's the premier performing arts theater in Minnesota housing 3 theaters, an education center, seafood restaurant, 2 cafes, and a lounge.  It's this unique design which makes it a perfect location for photographers as well.

As stated, the theater is located along the Mississippi in what's referred to as St. Anthony Main.  This strip of land along the west bank of the river is a historical landmark of the city which housed the Gold Medal Flour Mill and current Mill City Museum.  With great shots of downtown, historic brick ruins, and a pedestrian bridge over St. Anthony Falls, it's a perfect destination for visitors and photographers to spend an afternoon. Having spent numerous occasions around this area, I decided to head inside.  

I've visited the Guthrie on prior occasions and have even taken in a few plays.  What caught my eye when I first visited was the architectural and creative design which allows for unique visual opportunities. For example; the panoramic image below was taken from the "Endless Bridge", which is a 178-foot cantilevered viewing platform located outdoors and overlooks the bank of the Mississippi.  As you can see the view is pretty spectacular.

Guthrie Theater. Downtown Minneapolis.  1/50 sec @ f/10.  ISO 500 24mm

St. Anthony Falls.  Taken from the Endless Bridge at the Guthrie Theater.                                   1/100 sec @ f/7. w/ ISO 400.  35mm 2 Image Panorama

To get this panorama, I took 2 separate photos and combined them in Lightroom.  A single image wouldn't have been able to record the scale I was looking to capture.  Together they connect the banks of the river and use the bridge as a visual anchor.  The tiny people on the bridge also help visualize the scale. With the setting sun highlighting the far bank of the river I was able to get a beautiful glow on the historic brick buildings.  

Looking back on this shot, I would've used a longer shutter speed to capture the flow of the water.  The foreground is also darker than I prefer which could've been fixed with HDR processing (high dynamic range); However, it was quite cold and windy on the terrace which doesn't make long exposure photography appealing. To get that shot would require 2 sets of images with a lot more time and patience than I had on that particular day.

Back inside the warm confines of the theater, I walked around in the subduedly lite hallways.  The Guthrie's visiting hours vary, but without a production that night, most of the corridors and rooms were left unlit. This, mixed with very few visitors allowed for full reign of the building's interior.  Many people are unaware that on the 9th floor, the elevator opens to a yellowish green hue permeating the room. This iridescence is caused by tinted floor to ceiling windows, which also give a unique perspective to the city.

As you can see the image below has a beautiful color to it and with the only light entering the room coming from outside, it creates great conditions for silhouettes.  Not much editing was needed for this shot.  I just needed to make sure the exposure settings were where I wanted them and the light took care of the rest.  Notice the focus is actually sharpest at the bottom of the jacket.  This could've been prevented by using focus lock to ensure the subject's face remained the sharpest point of the image. 

Gold Medal Flour Sign. As seen from the "Yellow Room".      1/125 sec @ f/4.0 w/ ISO 400  75mm. 

These are just a couple shots from the day. As you can see it doesn't take much to get out and find unique photographic opportunities.

I had no preconceived plan to swing by the Guthrie on this particular day, but having found myself in the area, I couldn't resist the urge to get in a few shots.  As you can see not every shot is perfect, but as a photographer if you don't get out to shoot, you don't improve.

It's important to look back on your work critically if you wish to improve your trade, and what better way than by exploring your own city and backyard? I hope you find this article helpful; are you from Minneapolis, or perhaps have visited?  If so tell me some of your favorite locations; I'm always looking for new and interesting places to shoot. 


The Guthrie Theater is located at 818 S 2nd St. Minneapolis, MN 55415 
Visiting Hours:  Mondays, 11 am -5 pm and Tuesdays-Sundays, 11 am -8 pm
Check the website for performance times and information at