Perhaps a bit of red, white and blue is a good way to start this post on Memorial Day. I shot this last week as I explored a few antique stores around Austin. My mission was two-fold. I was casually looking for interesting cameras to add to my collection and the dense assemblage of kitsch would make curious subjects for the new Olympus 7-14mm super-wide angle lens.
It’s rare for me to visit antique stores nowadays though I did frequent them as a kid in New York, back when I collected coins. Though my house tends to be modern, fairly minimal and devoid of antiques, I have a certain interest in old things. Maybe I’m getting more nostalgic as I grow older or it’s the appreciation of robust objects that weren’t simply tossed out when they broke.
I’ve bought a couple of classic film cameras this year, and have even shot them, though I have yet to blog about them. Both are beautifully made solid metal works of art, that happily still work. They are decorative pieces that I can use when I want to challenge myself with film. I was looking for more.
Conversely, I was hoping to find crappy but noteworthy plastic cameras from the 80s or 90s — the ones with prime lenses. These have very little aesthetic value but if cheap enough, they might be fun to shoot.
I visited three places, one up north and two on South Congress. These visually rich targets were certainly fun to shoot. The new Olympus 7-14mm f2.8 Pro lens worked beautifully, especially mounted to my OM-D E-M5 Mark II. I’ve already mentioned how the 5 stop in body image stabilization is a game changer. I shot all these photos at ISO 200 at f2.8. Shutter speeds ranged from 1/3 of a second to 1/30. Who needs tripods.
While I often shoot super-wides, this is the widest I ever shot. Back when I had my Canon 7D, I used a Sigma 10-20mm which gave me a 16mm equivalent. This Olympus super-wide goes to a 14mm equivalent (a 2x crop factor). After I sold my 7D, I shot with a modest but still wide 22mm for a while. Recently, both with my Olympus and Pentax Q7, I’m back to 18mm.
To be sure, shooting this super-wide at an antique store is unusual — the most typical usage is landscapes. This lens would have been fun at Big Bend and also for shooting star trails. Super-wides can be challenging to use. Typically you want interesting things in the foreground, mid-ground and background. This leads the eye through the entire frame.
My search for interesting cameras was a bust. Each store had s smattering of cameras but mostly useful as display pieces. I ideally want neat looking cameras that still work. Someday, in the future, I might get some display only models if the prices are right. One location had some cheap plastic cameras but they were zooms with slow lenses. Those aren’t worth much and they were asking too much for them.
This unconventional lens test worked out, I think. Interesting eye candy shot with an interesting lens. I’ll shoot architecture with it too – just to see what it can do. I have less than a week with this lens until I need to return it to Olympus. Unfortunately, the subtropical monsoons we are having in Austin puts a crimp in the photography schedule. At least the rains are making a dent in the drought.
That’s Texas weather for you. Perpetual drought broken up by floods.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Henry’s now has several locations throughout the city, I went to the one on Natoma Street in the SoMa (South of Market) district.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.