Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography

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Off to the land of the rising sun

Kokeshi on Display, Store Window - Kyoto, Japan

Kokeshi on Display, Store Window – Kyoto, Japan

I’m leaving for Japan tomorrow for about 2 weeks. As you can guess, there will be a lot of photography, mostly in the Tokyo area this time. As an urban photographer, I’m looking forward to shooting in one of the largest cities in the world. By metropolitan area, Tokyo still ranks number one with 37 million people. Considerably larger than Austin’s modest 2 million.

I find that in big cities, my mind is overwhelmed by the photo possibilities. A consequence of training to see in a moderate size city like Austin. Of course, I’ll only visit and capture a small sliver of Tokyo. Two weeks are not a lot of time, after all.

I’m bringing my Fujifilm X100S and my Nikon 35Ti. Both compact cameras with 35mm equivalent lenses. One digital. One film. I’m not planning to shoot much film, I’ll bring only 4 rolls, just in case. Digital is still going to be the primary method.

The currency exchange gods are in my favor and the Yen recently fell to a 7 year low against the U.S. Dollar. What does that mean? A great opportunity to buy cameras of course. Yeah, I know, I already have too many. I no longer deny that shooting and collecting many different cameras are a source of fun for me. Especially as I’ve gotten into film.

I thought about buying a bunch of old film cameras in Japan, but I’ve decided against it. I didn’t want to add undue stress testing cameras during my short stay. I want to maximize my shooting time and enjoy myself. Instead, I’ve started buying cameras here in the U.S., even if they might be a little more expensive. I’ll buy from Precision, KEH or Adorama where I can adequately test equipment and return it if necessary.

However, the weak Yen makes for a fantastic opportunity to pickup new digital cameras. I have one in mind, along with some lenses. That’s the camera I’m going to use to create my urban HDRs. I’ve mentioned the camera before but I’ll hold off talking about it until I get it and shoot with it.

As usual, during my trips, I’ll be doing updates through my Instagram Account. I suspect that I’ll have minimal or no updates on this blog until I get back. Have a great Thanksgiving to my U.S. readers. Thank you for continuing to visit my blog.

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The F1 Fan Fest again, so much street shooting in a weekend

2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas

2014 F1 Fan Fest – Austin, Texas

The day after I took these Halloween portraits on 6th Street, I went to the F1 Fan Fest. The Fan Fest is a way to bring a little of that Formula 1 racing excitement to downtown Austin. I’ve yet to go to the F1 races themselves but I’ve made it to this downtown event 3 years in a row. It’s a place for street photography and a chance to capture something different in Austin.

Of course, year to year, things don’t change much. After 3 years, everything seems about the same except, perhaps, it was a bit smaller this year. Part of the challenge is, as the downtown continues to grow, the open lots for special events decrease. I think at least two previous parking lots are now active construction sites, soon spawning more high-rise towers, I imagine. I wonder what’ll happen to this event when all downtown lots give way to higher tax generating structures.

2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas
2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas
2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas

I listened to more concerts this year than in the past. The Fan Fest sets up multiple stages with live music throughout the day. I happened upon an interesting and eclectic band from Brooklyn called Red Baraat, and stayed there for the entire show. I even went retro and bought their CDs instead of an electronic download. Of course, what always entices me is the shooting opportunity. Give me some colorful lights at night in an urban atmosphere and I’m game.

2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas
2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas

I also stayed much later than expected and went to the Joan Jett and the Blackhearts concert, the headliner for that night. I can’t say I’m a Joan Jett fan, per say, but she made her mark in the 80s so I identify with and recognize her music. I noticed a lot of folks that were near my age. I know Ms. Jett is older than me, but from my vantage point, the dark-haired, black leather clad singer looked and sounded the way she always did. Perhaps it was a collective way for all of us middle-aged folk to have high school flashbacks.

I got in late but slowly inched forward as the crowd shifted. I especially like it when I capture the beams of colorful light. I snapped a number of frames perfectly lighting the audience. I only brought one camera, the Fujifilm X100S, with a 35mm equivalent lens. My Olympus with the 50mm f1.4 equivalent or even my DLSR with a slew of lenses would have gotten me closer via a telephoto. Ultimately, though I’m satisfied with what the 35mm point of view gave me.

2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas
2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas
2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas
2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas

Missing this year was the big Infiniti car race venue. Maybe it fell victim to the lack of space or maybe the return on investment wasn’t there. Gone also was a large Fiat display that I remember from years past.

The energy drinks where out in force. Both Red Bull and Monster had elaborate setups to entice the crowed. I guess if you can’t drive F1 cars, you can feel the alternate buzz from their sugar and caffeinated concoctions. Of course they had attractive spokespersons and pumped up music. Monster cross promoted with the X Games skateboard demonstration.

2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas
2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas
2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas

Between the late night / early morning Halloween shooting on 6th Street the night before to another late night at the Fan Fest, I was worn out. At least I got about 5 miles of walking on each night. The photography distracts me from all the walking so I guess it’s a decent way to get some exercise. I considered going to an East side Dia de los Muertos parade the next day but decided to bag that. Even I have limits on the number of photography events per weekend.

It was a film free weekend too. I might be curious about film but I’m still practical. Digital is a lot easier at night and I still find it more desirable for fast-moving or fast changing action. It’s kind of nice to use both and I’m not such a purist that I restrict myself to either side of the divide.

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I took all the photographs with the Fujifilm X100S in JPEG and post processed with Aperture 3.

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Book Review and Recommendation: Fearless Genius

Fearless Genius

I bought a book recently that combines my love of editorial photography with my interest in the tech business. Photographer Doug Menuez had unprecedented access to the titans of Silicon Valley. In this book, “Fearless Genius The Digital Revolution in Silicon Valley 1985-2000″ you get a candid, black and white, behind the scenes look at the tech industry. It’s not Paris in the 1940s and 50s where black and white street photography made its mark. Perhaps this period in the late 20th century is even more important. Commonly accessible Beaux-Arts Architecture and European street life is replaced by rare shots of life at NeXT, Apple, Adobe, Sun and much more.

Never heard of NeXT? Well it’s the “other company” Steve Jobs started. The operating system behind the iPhone, iPad and the Macintosh would not be possible without the ground breaking OS created at NeXT. There are plenty of Steve Jobs being Steve Jobs images. Of course, most photographers know Adobe. See a photograph of founder John Warnock before they released Photoshop.

This 192 page is mostly photographs with descriptive text. There are introductions by famed photographer Elliott Erwitt and Novelist Kurt Andersen but the book is all about the black in white images captured by Doug Menuez. The photographs are well-printed on somewhat thin paper. It’s a good quality hard cover book. I definitely recommend getting the hardcover instead of the Kindle edition. The $6 price difference is worth it.

Love gritty black and whites? Of course all the photos aren’t grainy but you can tell the photos where shot on film. These are not ultra smooth digital shots which lack character. They have a timeless feel that documents a heady and ground breaking time in Silicon Valley.

Know a photographer that loves technology, I highly recommend this book. Perhaps it might be a perfect holiday gift. You can buy it here, from Amazon.

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More Experiments with film: The Nikon 35Ti at the Texas football game

University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas

University of Texas Football – Austin, Texas

I mentioned that I was testing a new film camera during my first ever University of Texas football game. I shot most of it with the Olympus E-PM2, a small mirrorless digital camera, my workhorse when I want a smaller camera with the flexibility of interchangeable lenses. But you know that I’ve been on a film kick lately.

I recently got a Nikon 35Ti, a high-end compact camera from 1993 with a fixed 35mm f2.8 lens. It was a premium compact which sold for $1000 back in the day, which is equivalent to about $1650 in today’s dollars. I got this slightly worn, titanium clad camera from Adorama for $265. Like the Rollei 35, which I picked up for a song, it’s possible to get very nice film cameras for a fraction of their original prices.

The Nikon 35Ti, unlike the Rollei 35, is a fully automatic camera with a sophisticated Nikon matrix meter and auto focus. It’s easy to shoot and unlike a SLR, it’s very compact though without the capability of changing lenses. It works for me since I love the 35mm focal length. In a way, this 35Ti is like the Fujfilm X100S of its day. They look very different, with the Fuji sporting a faux range finder treatment, but they are fundamentally compact auto focus cameras with a similar fixed focal length.

So why the attraction to film in this age of nearly perfected digital cameras? It’s all about the color and the feel. 35mm film is grainier with less resolution and it doesn’t perform as well in low light. By most modern standards it just doesn’t measure up. However, I’m fascinated by film’s character. I shoot differently too. When each shot costs real money, I’m more discriminating. I don’t necessarily think it makes me a better photographer, but it does impose limits which makes me try harder.

University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas

Take this photo, for example. The film and my post processing has really brought out Texas’ burnt orange. I joke that I probably see more fall color in this shot than I’ll ever get in Austin. I used Kodak Portra 400 film and added additional saturation via digital post processing. Portra typically has muted colors that work well for portraits but I find that I can amp up the saturation which satisfies my taste.

University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas
University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas

Here are two pictures of the same scene. Ignore the differences in framing. The Olympus digital image on the top is at a 28mm equivalent and the film image on the bottom is at 35mm. While I think both photographs are equally colorful, they have a different look and feel. Notice how the orange seems to stand out more in the film photograph — there is a liveliness to it. On the other hand, digital has a sharpness and precision that the film lacks. One isn’t necessary better than the other and one isn’t necessarily more accurate. It’s all a matter of taste.

For me though, I’ve been trying to move away from accuracy in my photographs. That may sound strange but let me explain. I’m not a product photographer, luckily, where accurate color and realistic representation of the subject is paramount. I’m trying to create images that convey a mood or feeling, perhaps in a way that a painting would. Paintings are not judged by how accurate they look, rather they usually try to provoke an emotional response. I know that I have a ways to go, but this is what I want to do.

University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas

So is using film a gimmick? Is it like using filters in Instagram to make something look different? Well I certainly hope not but I suppose it’s possible. All I know is that, for now, film evokes a different response for me and I’m hoping that it does so for my visitors. It’s something that I’ll explore for a while and incorporate its effects into my soup of photographic knowledge.

As for the Nikon 35Ti, I’m going to keep it. The first roll gave some strange and inconsistent results and I was afraid that it wasn’t working properly. What you see here is what I shot on my second. The camera is small and easy enough that I can concentrate on framing. It’s not bulky like my Canon Rebel T2. And while shooting everything in manual on the Rollei 35 can be instructional and even fun, in a challenging kind of way, I want something more accessible for my daily film shooter. I’ll let you know how the Nikon 35Ti works out.

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My first ever University of Texas football game

University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas

University of Texas Football – Austin, Texas

In the 23 plus years I’ve lived in Austin, I’ve never been to a University of Texas football game. I got that opportunity this past weekend. My wife graduated from the University but it’s also been 20 years since she’s gone. We both had a great time, thanks to my friend Mark who generously gave us the tickets.

As you can tell, we had excellent seats. My wife remarked, as a student, she was stuck way up there in the nose bleed section. While photographically, a super wide-angle or fisheye would have rendered some interesting compositions from way up there, I was glad to have these seats as a football spectator. I didn’t do much exploring. I was content to take occasional snaps from where we sat.

University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas
University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas
University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas

And as much as I enjoyed the football game, I was equally entertained by the band, the flags and the spectacle that surrounds the game. The precision of the marching band and the pageantry of the flags made for more interesting images, I thought. At least from this level. While I also shot the game, I like the photographs from the pre-game more.

My gear selection, which always involves an interesting set of calculations, centered on being unobtrusive. The UT stadium allows detachable lenses of less than 10 inches. I remember vague, anecdotal comments of people being restricted from bringing “professional” cameras so I purposely went small to fly under any radar. I brought my Olympus E-PM2 with kit lens which looks small and non-threatening enough. I paired that with a small film camera that I recently purchased that I’m in the midst of reviewing. All told it was a humble setup that fit comfortably in my small Domke bag. In retrospect, I wished I also brought my Olympus 40-150mm. The security bag check looked much less imposing than I imagined.

Chanel Woman Watches - Breda, Netherlands

The afternoon was a success though, both for the Texas Longhorns and for my wife and I. Texas beat West Virginia soundly 33 to 16. We had a great time and I got to take snaps of the event. Nothing fancy. I wasn’t shooting on the field and had no illusions of being a sport photographer. All that I was going for was some nice pictures to remember the event. I even pressed my iPhone 5S into service for a decent looking in-phone panorama.

University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas
University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas

It occurred to me that a compact super zoom would’ve of been an ideal camera. Something small that wouldn’t raise the suspicions of guards on the lookout for wannabe pro photographers. Ironically, with all my different cameras, I don’t own a single super zoom. Nope, I’m not in the market for one either. After shooting for months with a fixed lens 35mm equivalent Fujifilm X100S, the 28mm to 84mm equivalent Olympus setup felt more than enough from my needs.

University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas
University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas

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I took the photographs with the Olympus E-PM2 with the standard kit lens.

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Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.