Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography

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The fisheye and the book signing

SSara and the Pen FT, Precision Camera - Austin, Texas

Sara and the Pen FT, Precision Camera – Austin, Texas

Last Thursday, I went to Precision Camera for a double dose of photographic fun. The Olympus guys were in town with new gear and there was a reception for two book signings. I shot these whimsical images with the just introduced Olympus 8mm f1.8 fisheye lens.

I’ve never shot fisheye. These are my first ever attempts. The distortion you see is the signature of a fisheye lens. I don’t know if there are serious uses for these kind of lenses, but they are fun to play with. I’ve often shoot with wide-angles so my inclination was to get in close.

Mandy keeps the reception going, Precision Camera - Austin, Texas
Fisheye Fruit, Precision Camera - Austin, Texas
Gallery Space, Precision Camera - Austin, Texas

Precision Camera has really done an excellent job running these events. Much of that, I’m sure, is due to Mandy’s efforts. She does a lot more than open bottles of wine. She organizes these receptions as well as the extensive in-store training classes.

Precision is no longer just a camera store, they’ve become a resource of the entire Central Texas photographic community. I get to meet friends, of course, and I experience a reinvigoration of creativity, surrounded by works from great photographers. It’s like a mini art museum without the stodginess.

Eli Reed Signs his Book, Precision Camera - Austin, Texas
Eli and His Book, Precision Camera - Austin, Texas
Eli and David, Precision Camera - Austin, Texas

The works of two street photographers were on display and they both have new books. Magnum Photographer, Eli Reed, showcased his latest, A Long Walk Home. Sharing the stage, David Lykes Keenan with his Fair Witness which started life on Kickstarter.

I’ll get to play some more with the fisheye and the new 7-14mm super wide-angle — two lenses introduced just this week. Charles from Olympus is letting me use them for a couple of weeks. I’m not sure if I’m a fisheye person, though it’s fun to play with. I’m more interested in putting the 7-14mm through its paces.

Incidentally, the Olympus Pen FT Sara was shooting at the top of the post? It’s not some new super secret camera. It’s nearly 50 years old and shoots half frame 35mm — you get 72 shots per roll. It’s my latest camera which I’ll talk about in a future post. I’ve been writing a lot about the latest OM-D E-M5 Mark II, but I’m still shooting film.

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I took all photographs with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with the Olympus 8mm f1.8 Fisheye Pro lens.

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San Francisco Skyscrapers: Exploring leading lines and textures

Skyscrapers of San Francisco - San Francisco, California

Skyscrapers of San Francisco – San Francisco, California

In New York City you tell people never to look up or risk being labeled a tourist, and perhaps increasing the chances of being an easy mark. I don’t know if that’s the case in San Francisco, but as you can see I was in full tourist mode. Coming from a smaller city like Austin, I took the opportunity to shoot tall buildings and in wide-angle to exaggerate the proportions. What resulted is a fun exploration of leading lines, textures and tones.

Skyscrapers of San Francisco #2 - San Francisco, California
Skyscrapers of San Francisco #3 - San Francisco, California

When I was younger, I believed firmly in Bauhaus architecture, the origin of simple lines and minimal ornamentation. Much of the modern skyscrapers these days are built in the “International Style” which have homogenized many of the cities throughout the world. As I grow older, I have to admit that I’m growing fond of details and texture. Perhaps it’s also the influence of photography. The super clean lines of the modern world are well, boring, and usually don’t interest me as subjects.

Skyscrapers of San Francisco #4 - San Francisco, California
Skyscrapers of San Francisco #5 - San Francisco, California
Skyscrapers of San Francisco #6 - San Francisco, California

What I found in San Francisco is a nice mix of the old and the new. Of ornamentation and efficiency. It made for endless compositional possibilities. Unlike my recent photowalk on Burnet Road, where one struggles to find the interesting, the risk in San Francisco is of being overwhelmed. I shot more than architecture but for this post, I’m highlighting just the tall structures of the modern world. And unusual for me, all shot during the daytime, instead of my typical night-time images.

Skyscrapers of San Francisco #7 - San Francisco, California
Skyscrapers of San Francisco #8 - San Francisco, California

I originally intended to post these in color, as they were shot. But black and white looked more compelling — the images took on more abstraction. Texture is now emphasized instead of competing with color.

Skyscrapers of San Francisco #9 - San Francisco, California
Skyscrapers of San Francisco #10 - San Francisco, California
Skyscrapers of San Francisco #11 - San Francisco, California

There’s actually a large amount of technology used to create these photographs, though their effects maybe subtle. These are HDRs but created handheld using the built-in processing on the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II. It’s the first time I explored this feature and I’m really impressed. So much so that I shot almost every photograph during my recent California trip with the in-camera HDR.

Skyscrapers of San Francisco #12 - San Francisco, California
Skyscrapers of San Francisco #13 - San Francisco, California
Skyscrapers of San Francisco #14 - San Francisco, California

In these photographs, the HDR reduces the contrast between the shadows and highlights. The tonal range stays in check and diminishes the harshness. I actually added contrast to give the images a bit more pop. But enough talk about technique, it’s the images that matter the most of course. I’ll talk more about the in-camera HDR in a future post, for today I wanted to showcase the city. And while shooting the Golden Gate is always picturesque, I’m glad I created a different kind of image of San Francisco.

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I took all photographs with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with the Olympus 9-18mm f4-5.6 lens.

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San Francisco, my favorite Chinese food and high-tech experimentation

Interior, Henry's Hunan Restaurant - San Francisco, California

Interior, Henry’s Hunan Restaurant – San Francisco, California

Just got back from a quick business trip to San Francisco. All went well except for the leg back from Dallas to Austin. I got stuck in a nasty thunderstorm which delayed the flight until morning. It’s the first time I spend a night at the airport, a 10 hour delay. It gave me a chance to go through my photographs though.

I travelled light with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II and two small lenses. I also brought the tiny Pentax Q7 with its smallest lens. But the trip, photographically, was about the Mark II. I did some high-tech experimentation that I’ve never tried before, and the results look promising. The image above, from my favorite Chinese Restaurant, used this technique. Nothing too strange except, perhaps, the motion blur. I’ll talk about what I did in an upcoming post.

Kung Pao Chicken, Henry's Hunan Restaurant - San Francisco, California

But today, images from Henry’s Hunan Restaurant, which I try to visit every time I’m in San Francisco. As you can tell, it’s not fancy but boy do I love the food, particularly the Kung Pao Chicken. Nothing exotic but what differentiates this Kung Pao from most others is the bitter black beans. The dish is both spicy and bitter which is an unusual and fantastic combination.

Exterior, Henry's Hunan Restaurant - San Francisco, California

Henry’s now has several locations throughout the city, I went to the one on Natoma Street in the SoMa (South of Market) district.

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I took all photographs with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with the Olympus 17mm f1.8 and Olympus 9-18mm f4-5.6 lenses.

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Burnet Road at Night: Small town underpinnings amidst transition

Lucy's Neon, Burnet Road - Austin, Texas

Lucy’s Neon, Burnet Road – Austin, Texas

There’s a lot of neon going up on Burnet Road. I call it mid-town Austin, well within the still incomplete inner loop and north of downtown and the University of Texas. As Austin’s boom continues, the once sleepy, forgotten places have been injected with new life. New multi-story apartment buildings and restaurants highlight changes that’s been happening here for the last few years.

Lit Window at Blue Hour, Burnet Road - Austin, Texas
JLonely Car, Burnet Road - Austin, Texas

While still an atypical place for a photowalk, last Thursday Tony, Mike and I explored Burnet Road along with the neighboring North Lamar area. Unlike my usual Austin locations, these places challenge one’s observational powers. They are not filled with tourist destinations or obvious photography targets — visual interest needs to be pried out.

In many ways, we’ve been forced here. Despite the many years of growth and favorable press reports, Austin is not a big city. With years of exploration of the obvious Austin spots, we’re hungry for something new. We’re up for new challenges I guess.

Little Longhorn Saloon at Blue Hour, Burnet Road - Austin, Texas
Arbor Sign and Tangled Telephone Pole, Burnet Road - Austin, Texas
Basic Structures, Burnet Road - Austin, Texas

What became evident as I shot here, was the small town, Texas underpinnings. The modest structures and visually scarring telephone poles still dominate. The successive layers of low-end development are finally giving way to more substantial structures. But unlike downtown, which is rapid transforming into a 21st century city, Burnet Road is still in its infancy.

Three Windows at Blue Hour, Burnet Road - Austin, Texas
DSinger at Blue Hour, Burnet Road - Austin, Texas
Neon Texas, Burnet Road - Austin, Texas

Tony and I talked, wondering if this place will become the next SoCo (South Congress Avenue south of downtown). I’ve been to SoCo often and have talked about it here. 15 to 20 years ago, SoCo was low-end and dangerous with prostitutes and less reputable businesses. Now it’s one of Austin’s most visited and trendy neighborhoods. Burnet Road lacks the downtown access but might become a vibrant place to live — away from the crowded and super expensive downtown but with good access to night life and restaurants. Once can argue this is already happening.

Swift Blur, Burnet Road - Austin, Texas
Blue Hour Alleyway, Burnet Road - Austin, Texas

And if this building trend is indeed the start of something significant, all the more reason to document its change, photographically. I’ve moved to Austin before SoCo was “In”, though I took no pictures — photography was not significant for me back then. Perhaps in 20 years, I can look at these images and wonder what happened to that small town that I saw on Burnet road back in 2015.

Stranger in the Dark, Burnet Road - Austin, Texas

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I took all photographs with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with the Olympus 17mm f1.8 lens.

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Eeyore’s Birthday Party, the 2015 edition: Experimenting to keep things fresh

Antler Woman, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas

Antler Woman, Eeyore’s Birthday Party 2015 – Austin, Texas

It was unusually hot and crowded this year at Eeyore’s Birthday Party. Much too hot for this very Austin, spring event. It’s my fourth visit and I know the drill. Acrobats over there past the food stands, the main drum circle underneath the trees on the left, another small circle further down past the jugglers and the hula hoopers. Yes, it’s familiar now, but it’s still fun to go. People watching and people photography being the primary draw.

To keep things interesting, I tried a different shooting style and of course changed up my gear. Last year, I shot with just the Fujifilm X100S. This year, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II along with the Olympus 17mm lens, which gives me the same framing as the X100S — I really like the 35mm focal length. I also brought two other mystery cameras which I hope to talk about in a future post.

Ash, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas
Jordan, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas
Ash and Jordan, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas

I experimented with backlit portraits this year. I was at Eeyore’s later than usual and the sun’s lower angle was favorable for this type of shooting. I added up to a stop of exposure compensation and the EVF easily allowed me to judge the desired amount.

Surrounded by Cute Dogs, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas
Beer makes everyone happy, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas

And I think the bright exposure better represented the mood that I wanted to express on that hot, sunny day. Despite using a lens hood, I still had some flaring but it was generally well controlled.

Drum Circle #1, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas
Drum Circle #2, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas
Drum Circle #3, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas

The drum circle is the gateway to an alternate state. The rhythmic drumming and other stimulus seem to overcome those who enter. It’s my favorite thing to capture. I’m generally immune from its effects since I’m busy shooting, which is a convenient excuse. The truth is, I’m not the kind of guy that typically lets loose despite the pull of the primal beat.

Dancing Girl #1, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas
Dancing Girl #2, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas

I’m attracted to the free spirits, at least photographically. And the fun and energy rubs off on the surrounding onlookers. I find it peaceful shooting here, like shooting by the sea. It puts me in a meditative state.

Amazing Bubble, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas

I’m not sure if the giant bubbles are new or I just don’t remember them from last year. Either way, their fantastic shapes attracted the children.

Selfie, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas

As usual, there were a large number of photographers but I didn’t notice them as much this year. I saw modestly sized, predominantly entry-level, DSLRs and more mirrorless cameras but smart phones were the majority, of course. Perhaps it was the time of day but I didn’t see as many “Pro” DSLR toters. You know the kind. Some of which have two big cameras dangling from both sides — ready to draw at a moments notice.

The warrior and the princes, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas
Into the light, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas

Finally, two more backlit images to round out the post. The danger of bringing too much equipment is distraction. While the two other cameras did complete for attention, the Olympus E-M5 Mark II was the primary. With only one lens to worry about on the Mark II, things worked out better than I hoped. I had sufficient keepers to not disappoint.

I also feel that It’s instructive to look at past works from the same event. And after looking at previous Eeyore Posts (2012 and 2014), I feel relief that they don’t all look the same. While I’m not sure if my photography is improving, at least it’s changing. It appears that I’m still exploring and experimenting, which is fine by me.

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I took all photographs with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with the Olympus 17mm f1.8 lens.

If you find these posts interesting, please consider using my affiliate links for any future purchases.
Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.