Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography

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Recent photography projects and an unexpected influence

Green Fields - Maui, Hawaii

Green Fields – Maui, Hawaii

I’ve been busy with a few photography related projects and it’s cut into to my blogging time. I’m hoping to resume regular posts soon. I have a lot to talk about.

I gave a HDR lecture last Thursday that took a good deal of prep time. Not just creating the slides but the mental energy thinking of what to say and all the angst associated with public speaking. I’m happy to report that it went well and several people had complimentary things to say. We had a larger than normal turnout and a healthy 15 folks continued the discussion over a late dinner and drinks. It was a good time.

Surprisingly, a few thought I was a veteran public speaker but this isn’t so. It’s the first time I’ve talked in front of an audience for nearly 2 hours. I’ve been in front of a small group for a few minutes during business presentations at work, but that’s about it. My biggest observation? Between the 2 hour live talk and the 1 hour practice at home, my throat was sore. The larynx is made partially of muscle after all and I have never stressed it so. I suppose, like any muscle, with practice it will get stronger.

HDR is a good topic for me, I guess. After more than 4 years of practice, I should know it cold. I’m glad it’s over though — it frees up time for other things. I’m thinking of how I can deliver this HDR content through the blog. A few followers suggested that I tape the lecture but I wasn’t ready to take on that challenge. Time is always a constraint but I’m thinking of covering the content through a series of blog posts. Let me know if that interests you. Your feedback may determine how motivated I become.

Puffy Cloud Stuck on a Mountain - Maui, Hawaii

On to my other projects.

I’m working on getting my film negatives scanned to digital. The highest priority was the first 2 years of my older son’s life. I shot film with a point and shoot until 2002. Those scans are finished and I’m going backwards in time through my wedding and pre-wedding photos.

Quite unexpectedly, the scanning project has really altered my perspective on film. I was never a serious photographer until digital, so despite being 50 years old, I’ve never truly experienced film. I have no nostalgia for it, in fact, and I generally despised it. The smaller 3 1/2 by 5 inch prints never looked that great and it was always a crap shoot of how well a photograph came out. I merely took snap shots with a fully automatic point and shoot to document key life events.

As recently as four years ago, I first got my son’s newborn pictures scanned. They didn’t look great and it just reinforced my already negative view of film. But something changed.

My recent scans were different. The colors looked better and the resolution, higher. Scanning technology has improved as well as my post processing skills. I started to unlock color and details that I never knew existed in my humble negatives. Keep in mind that I used inexpensive consumer grade film with a modest point and shoot. And these negatives are 15 years old or older. Who would’ve thought?

So because of the film scanning project, I’m taking a fresh look at film. I’ve started down that road and I’ll talk more about it in upcoming posts. Yes, film is grainy and it has many disadvantages compared to digital but I love the color — It’s a very different feel. Like many parents in Central Texas, I have photos of my baby sitting in a field of Bluebonnets, Texas’ official flower. My boy was wearing a bright red shirt, surrounded by blueish-purple flowers and green grass. The colors are awesome. I’ve never seen colors like this coming out of my digital cameras. I’m curious what fresh film in a better camera with my photography skills can do.

Film maybe old news to some of you, please excuse the diversion. I just have to see what it can do, to satisfy my curiosity. It’s a brave new retro world, at least for me. The two photos above are scans of Maui shot from helicopter 17 years ago, during my honeymoon. I post processed the negative scans to bring out more color.

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I took all the photographs with a film point and shoot 17 years ago. The negative was recently scanned to digital and I post processed it in Aperture 3.

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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.



The advantage of night-time HDRs: Just after the rain in Breda, Netherlands

Restaurants around the Grote Church - Breda, Netherlands

Restaurants around the Grote Church – Breda, Netherlands

NOTE: I will be giving a free lecture on HDR this coming Thursday (September 25th) in Austin. I will discuss how I process my realistic HDRs and I will show you how I created the photographs on this post. Click here for the time and directions to the event.

Continuing with the night-time urban landscapes in Breda, here are some I created with my Olympus E-PM2. Unlike the photographs I posted previously, which I shot during a rain storm, I shot these on tripod and used my realistic HDR technique. Luckily a break in the rain allowed me shoot without fumbling with an umbrella.

The streets dried quickly so I didn’t get the same level of shine but the HDR allowed me to increase texture and dynamic range. And with the 22mm field of view, it gives a different kind of look from the 35mm on the Fujifilm X100S.

It’s interesting to contrast the two types of photography, the free form X100S shots vs. the more carefully composed HDR images on tripod. I enjoy both for different reasons. I like the unencumbered freedom of photographing without a tripod. It helps me to see and catch quick compositions from different angles. I put up with the tripod, hopefully, to improve image quality. The HDR processing allows me to increase dynamic range and boost color. And perhaps the tripod helps create more precise compositions.

Empty Seats at Cafe Sam Sam - Breda, Netherlands

Reds can be weak on digital and I complain about that on my Fuji X100S. The Olympus does a better job and with HDR processing and layer blending, I added extra richness to the red neon. I find that HDR works great for capturing neon which can easily blowout unless you greatly underexpose a single exposure image.

Chanel Woman Watches - Breda, Netherlands

I made several different compositions to get the woman’s face to reflect in the puddle — to add foreground interest. Whenever shooting with a wide-angle, it’s especially important to have something interesting up close. And if you have things in the mid-ground and background, it leads the viewer’s eye deep into the frame.

Well Proportioned Street - Breda, Netherlands
Well Proportioned Street - Breda, Netherlands (black and white)

Here’s my favorite street again, which I shot several times during the day and night. The color version looks good enough, though I got some funky colored lens flare. I think there is something more compelling about the black and white, which looks more mysterious plus It also de-emphasizes the flare.

Koningin Wilhelmina Paviljoen - Breda, Netherlands

I’ve featured this building before, though the wide-angle adds the beautiful cobblestone texture in the foreground. I find it so well proportioned and the golden color beckoned me to shoot it against the blue hour sky. This is good example of how a HDR image can add a pop in color and shine compared to a single exposure (here it is shot with the Fuji).

Mysterious blending of old and new - Breda, Netherlands

I love the contrast of old and new. Both structures are well proportioned and complement each other. The curved roof adds that extra something that attracted my attention. I wanted a lot of shadows to add moodiness. HDR processing tends to remove shadows, which can be a mistake so I tweak my images to embrace shadows when I think appropriate.

Shopping District and the Grote Church - Breda, Netherlands

Finally I close with one of many shopping streets that lead to the Grote Church. The HDR actually helps a lot here. The church is no longer a dim structure in the distance, like you see here, when shot with the Fuji, which I underexposed not to lose detail in the store interiors. The HDR processing allows me to maintain detail in the interiors as well as the facades. The increase in dynamic range makes HDR worth pursuing at times, even if it means shooting with a tripod.

I hope you will agree that HDR can be a useful tool in your arsenal. Not as an end in itself but used for specific purposes. HDR doesn’t have to be an over processed mess that gives the technique a bad name.

Reminder: If you want to see how I processed these photos. Come see my talk this Thursday.

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I took the photographs with the Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 lens and the Panasonic wide-angle adapter.

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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.



Rainy Breda Nights: Extra sparkle and more reflections

Cyclist on Rain Soaked Streets - Breda, Netherlands

Cyclist on Rain Soaked Streets – Breda, Netherlands

When I last talked about Breda, over 2 months ago, I showcased urban night photography. This time, a slight variation. Although its only been 4 months since my business trip to the Netherlands, I almost forgot how much it rained over there. In today’s post, see how a little water can add magic to night photography.

When I was in Breda, I didn’t particularly appreciate the rain but it did add an extra sparkle to these night-time photos. I ventured through the historic core, umbrella in hand, to capture some shimmer. It required more effort after a long day’s work but I think it was worth it. Look at these glorious reflections.

Koningin Wilhelmina Paviljoen - Breda, Netherlands

Right next to Breda Castle, I caught this nicely proportioned building between rain showers. It was blue hour too, which contrasts wonderfully against the orange lights.

Nighttime Shimmer - Breda, Netherlands

I’ve featured this street before, during the day. I love the proportions here between the street, buildings and trees, plus the gentle curve at end. You don’t often see these details in the U.S., especially without the clutter of cars.

Purple reflection, Fly-N-HY Coffee Shop - Bread, Netherlands

As you may know, they don’t sell coffee in Dutch Coffee Shops. If you don’t get my drift, look at the name of the establishment. I don’t drink coffee or smoke so I didn’t go. I’m much happier capturing the neon reflections instead.

Lonely and Wet Cafe - Breda, Netherlands

As you imagine, the outdoor cafes were underutilized. But surprisingly, on drier nights, they are crowded late into the night, even on weekdays.

A shiny shopping street - Breda, Netherlands

I end with one the main shopping streets with the Grote Church standing dimly at the end. The smooth cut stone and the store lights create such beautiful reflections.

I shot these photos with Fujifilm X100S which did an admirable job, I think. To prevent over exposure on the light and reflections, I dialed in -1/3 to -2/3 stop of exposure compensation on most of these photos. I also shot HDRs with my Olympus E-PM2 which will give a different look. I’ll post those in the future so you can compare.

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

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.



A Fashion Show at the Four Seasons

W by Worth Fashion Show - Austin, Texas

W by Worth Fashion Show – Austin, Texas

Here’s something different, for a change of pace. Last Friday, my photographer friend Mark invited me to shoot a fashion show with him. They had it at the top of the Four Seasons Residences in downtown Austin. The Residences, located next to the Four Seasons Hotel, is one of a new breed of high-end condominiums that’s become popular. I’ve shot fashion shows in the past and coupled with a spectacular view, I thought it might be a fun way to start the weekend.

Downtown Austin from the Four Seasons Residences  - Austin, Texas
Downtown Austin from the Four Seasons Residences  - Austin, Texas

As expected the view is spectacular. As I look at the sprouting towers, it’s obvious that Austin is no longer just a midsize college town. There’s probably a dozen or so significant buildings being built or in the planning stages. Austin continues to explode. Walking around on the 32rd floor of this swanky oasis, it’s hard to believe it’s that same place I move to, 23 years ago.

W by Worth Fashion Show - Austin, Texas
W by Worth Fashion Show - Austin, Texas
W by Worth Fashion Show - Austin, Texas

I didn’t know what to expect so I casually brought my Canon 6D with a 70-200mm f4 IS for the runway show. I also packed my Fujifilm X100S for taking more intimate candids. The room was nicely scaled for the event but I found that even 70mm was a tad long. In retrospect my 24 – 105mm f4 would have worked better. I shot at an angle as 25 models presented the W by Worth Collection that was on display that night.

W by Worth Fashion Show - Austin, Texas

I used a bounce flash for even illumination without that typical flash look. The fill and ambient mixed well and, set at ISO 3200, the image quality looked great with the 6D. Luckily this was indoors so that I could use indirect flash and luckier still it protected us from the torrential downpour mid-show.

W by Worth Fashion Show - Austin, Texas
W by Worth Fashion Show - Austin, Texas

The cream walls and ceiling added a nice warmth for the bounce flash. Here’s an interesting comparison. I shot only one runway photo with the Fuji, in ambient light. That’s the photo on top with a 35mm point of view. Compare that with the warm bounce flash shot with the 6D at 78mm.

W by Worth Fashion Show - Austin, Texas
W by Worth Fashion Show - Austin, Texas
W by Worth Fashion Show - Austin, Texas
W by Worth Fashion Show - Austin, Texas

More than the catwalk, what I really like is taking candids before and after the show. This type of shooting taps into the street photography aspects that I like. I used the X100S for these shots. A small unimposing camera but with high image quality.

W by Worth Fashion Show - Austin, Texas
W by Worth Fashion Show - Austin, Texas
W by Worth Fashion Show - Austin, Texas
W by Worth Fashion Show - Austin, Texas

I also did cover shots, that documented the event. Little peripheral details that captures the flavor.

W by Worth Fashion Show - Austin, Texas
W by Worth Fashion Show - Austin, Texas
W by Worth Fashion Show - Austin, Texas

Afterwards, I shot group portraits of the models and the guests.

W by Worth Fashion Show - Austin, Texas

I’ll spare you from endless stream of posing models but I wanted to highlight this photo. Unlike the super serious fashion shows with sickly and serious looking “pros” the models here are amateurs. You can tell because they are smiling, happy and they showed personality. Much better than the typical shows.

Downtown Austin from the Four Seasons Residences  - Austin, Texas

I’ll leave you with this moment that I caught before the show and before the rain — guests taking in the view with the ubiquitous smart phones. The tall tower to the left is the Austonian, probably the swankiest of the luxury condos in Austin. At 56 stories and 684 feet tall, it claims to be the tallest all-residentail building in North America west of the Mississippi. Proof that Austin is no longer a sleepy college town.

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I took most of the photographs with the Fujifilm X100S in JPEG and post processed with Aperture 3. I also used a Canon 6D with the Canon 70-200mm L f4 IS 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.



I’m giving a free talk on HDR in Austin and you are all invited

Broken Spoke - Austin, Texas

Broken Spoke – Austin, Texas

HDR has some passionate fans and strong detractors. Some call it Technicolor Clown Vomit, others think it’s the best thing since sliced bread. My view is somewhere in between. I think of it as a powerful technique to be used at appropriate times. I’m also lazy and want to do HDR in the easiest way possible way while maintaining quality and matching my “vision” of what I want.

My talk on HDR will discuss the capture process, the photography part using the camera as well as the HDR post processing on computer. Along the way, I will talk about HDR Myths and the best times to use this technique.

Of course, I’ll talk about equipment and tell you why the DSLR might not necessarily be the best camera. I’ll also show you a live demonstration of HDR software and the other steps I use to create my realistic HDRs.

Come join me at the September Austin Photographic Society Meeting for this free talk.

Time: Thursday September 25, 2014 from 6:30 – 8:30pm.
Location: Parish Hall, Episcopal Church of the Resurrection
Address: 2110 Justin Lane, Austin, TX 78757
Map: http://maps.google.com/maps?q=2110+Justin+Lane%2C+Austin%2C+TX+78757

Note: Parish Hall is East of the church building and its parking is accessed from Justin Lane. The parking lot entrance is directly across from where Muroc St. intersects Justin Lane.

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