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Lake Michigan defines Milwaukee. When the city was founded, the water the reason for its existence. More than 150 years later, Milwaukee mostly uses the lake to play – it has become the place where the city jogs, bikes, walks dogs, watches fireworks, hears concerts, and generally lives fully.
For really memorable photography from your wedding day, work with the fresh blue water stretching to the horizon, and the surroundings that generations of Milwaukeeans have carefully created along its edge.
The starting point has to be the Milwaukee Art Museum, specifically the stunning 2001 addition known locally as “the Calatrava,” named for its architect. This spectacular bone-white structure, which has quickly become the city’s signature building, manages to be at once both timeless and modern. Viewed straight on from Wisconsin Avenue, the movable sculpture of the roof’s graceful brise soleil looks like the tail of a whale preparing to dive, or an exotic bird in flight. For a great photograph, pose the bride and groom at the end of the footbridge over Lincoln Memorial Drive. The “wings” of the structure are generally open in daylight during non-windy weather. However, the wings close and then open again at noon. If you and your photographer plan in advance for that window of 15 minutes or so, you can get some unique shots that make it look like a whole new building.
While you’re on the footbridge, take the time to shoot some photos looking south over the museum’s formal, geometric gardens, or north against a pleasing mix of old and new buildings along the skyline. What’s inside this spectacular, sculptural building? Quite aside from art, there are even more great photo possibilities to remember your wedding day. Below the brise soleil is a soaring, 90-foot glass atrium whose stark beauty looks like something from a science-fiction film, except for the grounding reality of the lake beyond the glass walls. Against this pure white and blue backdrop, the wedding party – bride in white, groomsmen in black, and bridesmaids in any color – can’t help but look stunning.
At ground level, you can take the walkway behind the museum and look down to see the lake splashing against the concrete walls. Shooting up slightly, your photographer can get more views of the crisp, horizontal lines of the Calatrava addition, plus the stern bulk of the original building, designed by Eero Saarinen in 1957.
The other new, white sculptural building you’ll see nearby is Discovery World, a science and nature museum built on a pier, even more fully part of the lake than the art museum. If you walk the 200 yards or so, your photographer can get some gorgeous backgrounds of the Calatrava, seemingly about to arise in flight, against the city skyline. There are also plenty of opportunities for waterscape photos, as the lake curves in and around the museum, the breakwater, and the new Lakeshore State Park, a stone’s throw away. If you want some rustic pictures of native grasses and plants, combined with the backdrop of a modern, bustling city, that’s the place to go.
For some more serene and cozy nature shots, get the wedding party back into the limo and drive a mile or so north, to the entrance to Veterans Park. Stop at McKinley Marina if you like the idea of pictures amidst a forest of bobbing sailboat masts. (And if you have a friend who has a boat, that’s a whole other world of possibilities, but beyond our scope at the moment.) Once you’re in Veterans Park, every turn of a winding footpath will offer new chances to preserve your special day on film. In particular, the sidewalk along the lakeshore offers great horizontal sight lines. Try spreading the whole wedding party out at a distance of several steps from one another for a wide, panoramic shot (this will look extra effective on a windy day). In addition to sun, clouds, and water, you may also get some sailboats in your pictures, particularly on weekends.
As always, the art museum is there to provide backdrops; or if you want to forget that you’re in a city altogether, bring the wedding party to the edge of Lincoln Memorial Drive and get some photography up the steep, wooded bluff that separates the park from downtown. For a much more intimate body of water than Lake Michigan, use the lagoon as your setting; you might even get the cooperation of some friendly ducks.
Whether it’s big or small, water and Milwaukee will combine beautifully with your wedding day.
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