Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography

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Technology has automated the craft of photography, how about drawing?


With the advent of advanced picture-taking computers, aka digital cameras, part of the craft of photography was automated. Photography has always been a combination of craft and creativity. In the old days, the act of making and printing a well exposed photograph was more challenging. Digital has simplified this tremendously to the chagrin of old-time photographers. But how about other creative pursuits, like drawing? What if the craft of drawing can also be mostly automated?

I have little skill in drawing beyond what I did in the 3rd grade. But I recently found this fun little app that runs on the iPhone. It takes a photograph and magically transforms it into a watercolor, one of many styles, that you get to choose with a push of a finger. My apologies to true artists but for a hack like me, this tool is fantastic and amazing. In a sense, it takes the craft of drawing and automates it with a set of canned computer algorithms. Certainly rudimentary for anyone with true ability, but for me, it looks pretty damned good. I’ll be happy if I can draw like this.

So what if we automate the craft of drawing or photography with modern tools. We, as human beings, still own the creativity. Perhaps this is just the Instagraming of drawing but technology will inevitably improve. The competitive angst that photographers feel will move to other creative professions. Do you know that there are computer programs that write technical documents that are now indistinguishable from the human created documents?

As you may know, I’ve always had an interest in architecture. That interest has naturally bubbled up in my photography, something I didn’t even realize until a couple of people pointed it out. The thing is, I don’t have the ability to draw those neat looking illustrations like an architect. Perhaps I like this $1 application so much because it sort of creates instantaneous architectural renderings.

Take a look at these. I shot the originals on my iPhone at the Singapore and Dallas-Fort Worth Airports. I captured the images, post-processed them (originally for Instagram) and then used the Waterlogue app to transform them into these illustrations, all on my phone. I picked these styles because they look like architectural renderings.

Drink and Click Watercolor #1 - Austin, Texas
Drink and Click Watercolor #2 - Austin, Texas
Drink and Click Watercolor #3 - Austin, Texas

Waterlogue in not limited to photos shot on the iPhone. I took these with my Fujifilm X100S at the Drink and Click event and transferred them to the iPhone. I used the app to transform these too, using a more impressionistic setting, one of a dozen available styles.

Drink and Click Watercolor #4 - Austin, Texas
Drink and Click Watercolor #6 - Austin, Texas
Drink and Click Watercolor #6 - Austin, Texas

Even in my widest dreams, I know this isn’t real art. Art requires creativity and originality, not just executing an algorithm. But I find it compelling nevertheless. The illustration at the top, a watercolor conversion of a snapshot I took with my iPhone is a little memento from one my recent business trips. The comforting glow of warm light makes even a business hotel look inviting.

I can imagine, not too long ago, an artist hired for a Hilton Hotels ad by some Mad Men. The copy would read “All the comforts of home, away from home” and would feature this image. Now the entire art department fits in a pocket, technology trying to supplant craft. Until the singularity is achieved however, I feel comfortable that the real creativity and art still remains with us. If predictions hold, we can maintain human creative edge for at least 25 more years.

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I applied the watercolor effect to photographs using the Waterlogue app.



A visit to the graffiti wall with the Fujifilm X100S

Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas

Observations at the graffiti wall – Austin, Texas

Several of my friends, including Kirk Tuck have posted pictures from the Graffiti wall in downtown Austin. I’ve said in the past that I’m not a fan of graffiti. I call it public defacement. Part of the negative conditioning I got growing up in New York City back in the 80’s, when the subways were filled will this “artistic” form of self-expression. But things are a bit different in Austin.

There’s sort of a sanctioned place for graffiti called the Hope Outdoor Gallery. An old, defunct condo foundation became a huge three-tiered concrete canvas. It’s actually in a nice part of town near 11th and Baylor streets.

Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas

With my new Pedometer app (Pedometer++ for the iPhone 5S, highly recommended) encouraging me to step away from the computer and start moving, I finally decided to visit the wall yesterday. I figured a photo walk through downtown was a lot more interesting and creative than circling the block in my suburban neighborhood.

I took one camera, the Fujifilm X100S, as my light weight companion. With slowish focusing but excellent color, I figured the X100S would be perfect for a non-moving wall of graffiti. I was thrilled.

I shot mostly at f8, which is rare for me. As you know, I typically shoot at night, wide-open. And while even f2 on the Fuji is quite sharp, at f8 and ISO 200, the detail and color is fantastic. The overcast day was perfect and the even light made everything pop.


The Hope Gallery is ever-changing. Layers of paint and creativity follow a cycle of destruction and renewal. Look at the video Kirk made of the place back in February. In two months, everything is different. Even the graffiti artists have succumb to the speed of this modern, technology-driven, change oriented society. Like the online world which demands a steady stream of new content, this physical wall also obliges.

Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas

The place is popular with many taking or posing for photos.

Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas
Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas
Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas

It’s hard to judge the scale of the artwork. These 3 photos are closeups. Look at the leaves for reference.

Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas
Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas
Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas

But these 3 cover an entire wall.

Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas
Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas

I saw several artists adding their mark. Christina and a friend created a multi-colored Diana Ross courtesy of a home made stencil. Another created stylized words more reminiscent of what I remember from those NYC subway trains.

Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas

People are friendly in a typically Austin fashion.

Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas

Here you can see the scale of this place. The angles and the foundation fed my predisposition for buildings and architecture. The ruin surely taps into my urban roots. These colors are something you don’t see in the U.S. It’s like looking at a Japanese game show with its unbelievable juxtaposition of color.

Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas

Make it up to the third level and you are rewarded with a commanding view of downtown Austin. The Texas State Capitol on the left along with the older high-rises makes the city look quaint. Hidden out of view to the right are the new, taller condos that appear to spout up with increasing regularity.

More views of the changing city in a future post.

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

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



Two talks by professional photographers, which do you identify with?

I don’t watch TV any more. I head to YouTube, not for cat videos, but education and inspiration. I came upon two videos from “Talks at Google” that couldn’t be more opposite. One was by Art Wolfe and other by Vincent Versace, both professional photographers.

One says the great impressionist painters is his inspiration. The other rejects 17th century composition theory.

One says he only knows how to use 5% of his camera. The other starts by talking, even bragging about gear.

One strives to create something different. The other shoots solid but conventional images.

I wonder if their attitudes and perspective affects their art? Absolutely. Which photographer do you identify with? Perhaps there is a bit of both in all of us. For me, I’m only inspired by one of them.



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Haiku Photo: Visitor’s Center

Visitor's Center, Mission San Jose - San Antonio, Texas

Patterns and shadows
Architecture becomes art
Leading lines command

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Cameras and brand loyalty, what’s that?

Last week, someone said that he was surprised that I wasn’t using an Olympus — I was out and about with my Fuji X100S and Nikon J1. They incorrectly pegged me as just an Olympus guy. Well I am an Olympus guy but also a Fujifilm guy a Canon guy and a Nikon guy. I don’t have a Pentax but I have no problems using them too.

I really don’t think much of brand loyalty, at least with cameras. Sure I gravitate towards Canon and Olympus because of all the lenses that I already own. There’s a considerable expense to start a new system with another company. So sure, there is some level of “lock-in” but that’s different from brand loyalty.

What’s important is how the camera works. Does it fulfill my needs? If not, I’m up for trying something else.

As much as I like playing with different cameras, they’re just tools — a means to an end. And switching out cameras is not hard. They all fundamentally do the same thing. Of course, some work better than others for a certain type of shooting. Use enough cameras and you really begin to understand their strengths and shortcomings.

Canon and Nikon make great DSLRs but does that mean they make the best point and shoots or mirrorless cameras? Probably not. Fujifilm and Olympus put their strength in mirrorless because they can’t complete in DSLR market. Panasonic is pushing forward in video because that’s their remaining strength. And Sony, they just seem to be aiming in all directions and see what sticks.

My perspective on mirrorless cameras is more valuable precisely because I don’t just use one brand. I know there are limitations to Olympus. I don’t think that Fujifilm is the second coming. And while I rag on Canon from time to time, they are taking the conservative and logical approach to preserve their lucrative DSLR sales.

As for the EOS M, there ain’t no way to explain that one. ;-)

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Drink and Click: Using the Fuji X100S for party snaps at the Nikon Demo night

The Shootout, Drink and Click - Austin, Texas

The Shootout, Drink and Click – Austin, Texas

Ever go to a party and you’re the only one there with a serious camera? It’s happened to me on more than one occasion and I inevitably find it a bit uncomfortable. When I leave my self-imposed bubble of photo enthusiasts, I realize that the rest of the world isn’t as interested in photography as I am. That’s not the case when I go to Drink and Click, a socially oriented photography meet up that I attend from time to time.

I’ve talked about Drink and Click before. Every two weeks or so in Austin and in many other cities around the world, photo enthusiasts get together for some social meeting, drinking and clicking. I went to one yesterday. I met so many friends. It was a blast.

2014 Nikon Event, Drink and Click - Austin, Texas

Back in February, I helped arrange Olympus to have loaner OM-D E-M1s at Drink and Click. I ended up missing that one because of a last-minute business trip to Singapore. I wasn’t going to miss the Nikon demo last night, even though I wasn’t involved in the planning.

My camera choices for yesterday, the Fujifilm X100S and the Nikon 1 J1. I was tempted to play with the nice selection of Nikon DSLRs and point and shoots but ultimately decided to get some practice time with my newest camera, the X100S. I want to use it in a variety of conditions to get the feel of how it performs. Interestingly, at least 3 others also brought Fuji X100Ss so this niche camera has certainly found a home in this enthusiast crowd.

2014 Nikon Event, Drink and Click - Austin, Texas
2014 Nikon Event, Drink and Click - Austin, Texas

Along with the Nikon representative, Sharlie, several people from Precision Camera were on hand to help out. Nothing earth shattering, photography wise, on this post. I used the X100S to take snaps shots, and with it’s good low light performance, I was able to eek out acceptable photos in challenging light.

2014 Nikon Event, Drink and Click - Austin, Texas

Rosemary and Jerry Sullivan, the owners of Precision Camera, were there to enjoy the night. I was gratified that Jerry reads my blog and he especially likes my Haiku reviews.

The outdoor patio had pockets of light but with some really dark areas. I tested the flash on the X100S for the first time. The Fuji sports what it calls the Super Intelligent Flash System where it blends a touch of flash and the ambient light. I shot the portraits of Sharlie and the Sullivans at ISO 6400 at f2. Notice that you don’t get that “blown out look with black background” that is typical of flash photography. The camera did all this, on the fly, with no special adjustments. I did tweak the color balance in post and at ISO 6400 it did an acceptable job, I think.

Fado Interior #1 - Austin, Texas
Fado Interior #2 - Austin, Texas

We met at Fado, an Irish Pub in the warehouse district in downtown Austin. I stepped inside to see what I can capture in a typically dark pub. I’m not the steadiest shooter and that’s why I like image stabilization so much. Unfortunately on the Fujifilm X100S, I have no such technology. Surprisingly though perhaps because of the lack of mirror and the smooth leaf shutter, I’m able to shoot at 1/15th of a second.

2014 Nikon Event, Drink and Click - Austin, Texas
2014 Nikon Event, Drink and Click - Austin, Texas

Back outside, I shot more portraits, this time without flash. I really like the natural light portrait of Juan, the founder of Drink and Click, talking to Tamra who works at Precision. As good as the Fuji’s flash blending is, off axis lighting gives a more three-dimensional look. Britney, who works at Fado, was also nice enough to pose for a portrait. And though there appears to be a lot of light, I still shot this at ISO 4000 at f2. The camera did a nice job with the available light without creating terribly harsh shadows.

2014 Nikon Event, Drink and Click - Austin, Texas

Finally, here is what the patio looked like — crowded even at 9PM. There was a good turnout with lots of photographers drinking and clicking. In a scene like this, the X100S focuses at a decent speed — there is enough contrast and light even at night. The portraits in low light were a different story. To the camera’s credit, it was able to lock focus, but it was frustratingly slow. In reality focusing probably took 1 to 2 seconds, it just seemed like an eternity. In the end though, the Fuji came through and I got the shots.

Talking to another X100S owner, he really likes his camera but agreed that it takes a certain amount of patience and practice to master it.

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I took all the photographs with the Fujifilm X100S.

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



SXSW Interactive: Testing the Fuji X100S and the Olympus OM-D E-M10

Street Portrait, 2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

Street Portrait, 2014 SXSW Interactive – Austin, Texas

SXSW (South by Southwest), the large multi-week Austin extravaganza, took place a couple of weeks ago and I’m just catching up. I’m back from my California trip and I primed to talk about two new cameras that I’m testing. I recently bought Fujifilm X100S for my birthday and the OM-D E-M10 is on loan from Olympus. These two cameras don’t typically compete directly against each other in the mirrorless space, their features and target audiences are different. But it’s still fun to see how they stack up in the mirrorless pecking order.

2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

I shot these on Sunday, the day after the heavy rainstorm that dampened the Interactive portion (web and social media) of SXSW. It was also the day after I bought the X100S — I was anxious to give it a spin. The X100S has a fixed 35mm equivalent f2 lens. The Olympus OM-D E-M10 had the new 14-42mm pancake lens attached with motorized zoom. Both cameras are roughly about the same size.

2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

I find the Olympus extremely easy to use on many levels. You may know that I’ve used Olympus cameras for many years and the interface on the OM-D E-M10 is similar, especially compared to the their higher end cameras. The E-M10 is a tad smaller than the E-M5 but I prefer the newer camera. The subtle change in grip and the placement of the play and function 1 buttons are welcome pluses for the E-M10. This smallest OM-D also closely resembles the Pen E-P5, interface wise. For a mirrorless Olympus user, the E-M10 is quickly usable without much retraining of the muscle memory. And the camera is really fast. Focusing, shooting and reviewing photos, everything snaps into place.

2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

Ironically, it’s this familiarity with Olympus which made me hesitant to jump into the unknown that was Fujifilm. Sure. I tested X100S for several days and I certainly captured very satisfying images but still, understandably, the camera wasn’t an extension of my brain. I had to fumble with the controls. The focusing is slow and unsure compared to the Olympus.

2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

I found that unconsciously, I gravitated toward the Olympus. It’s like taking the path of least resistance. The only mismatch I found was my choice of lens. 14-42mm (28-84mm equivalent) focal length worked great but I found the motorized zoom of the pancake lens to be slow for my fast-moving street photography style. The lens would make for a fantastic compact travel zoom and would also work great for leisurely usage. The smooth motorized zoom will also work well for video. Of course, I could have pre-set the zoom to a focal length and use it like a prime, which would speed up operations. This is where the budget kit lens has the advantage with its fast, manually adjustable zoom.

2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

I forced myself to use the X100S. Heck I just paid $1300 for this thing, I better get good at it and get my money’s worth.

Most of the photos on this post are from the Fuji. You can hover over the photos to find out which camera I used. Despite my apprehension, once I concentrated with the X100S, I got some satisfying photos. I shoot differently with this camera. I’m more deliberate and I have to be. The focusing is adequate but not quick. I just can’t fire off shots like I do with the Olympus. But I knew this going in — I needed to be more patient with this camera. I kept the E-M10 safely tucked in my bag, zipper closed, so that I wouldn’t be tempted by the faster camera. The reality is, despite the more leisurely pace, or perhaps because of it, I got my share of keepers. The frenetic style may have advantages but you can end up with a lot of so so images. The X100S was going to counter my natural tendency and force me to slow down.

2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

The photos on this post are about the people — the locals and visitors that I met that Sunday. I can go on about how SXSW has become too corporate with big sponsors — dominating. But I chose to ignore that in my tour through downtown. It’s easy to get jaded at these events and I do admit that SXSW is starting to resemble the Formula One Fan Fest. Just substitute tech companies for car companies. But I shot more people than buildings and logos this year. Use a smaller mirrorless camera with a fixed lens and focus on the people. That’s the benefit of these cameras, instead of using a big DSLR with a telephoto. You become part of the scene rather than spying on it.

2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

The Olympus E-M10 is a wonderful camera, more flexible, quick and better suited for most people. So why use the Fuji? It’s a purposeful, specialized camera for serious photographers. While its deliberate pace is not quite as slow as a film Leica with manual focus, it’s closer to that in feel, I suppose — certainly more than the typical digital camera. It requires more effort but you are rewarded with higher quality images, when you get it right.

At lower ISOs, the image quality improvement is subtle and might be missed by the uninitiated. As the light levels drop and the ISOs climb, however, the Fuji does produce a different kind of image than the Olympus. I don’t always prefer the Fuji images but I found enough cases where the frustrating quirkiness of the X100S is certainly offset by the superior photos it produces.

Stay tuned. I’ll talk more about the Fujifilm image quality and how it compares to Olympus in an upcoming post.

2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

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I took the photographs with the Olympus OM-D E-M10 with the Olympus 14-42 pancake lens and with the Fujifilm X100S.

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



Haiku Review: Canon EOS M

Canon EOS M

Tepid mirrorless
Slow focusing and homely
In the discount bin

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Another business trip and I’m only taking one camera this time

Crest Theater and its glorious neon - Sacramento, California

Crest Theater and its glorious neon – Sacramento, California

It’s been a very busy year so far and I’m off to the Sacramento yet again, for a week. I went there twice in February. I took this photo of the Crest Theater on one of those trips, something that’s typical for me. Give me color, the city, darker conditions and sprinkle in some neon and I’m happy.

As you know, I usually take at least two cameras, maybe more, on my trips. My Olympus E-PM2 setup is mostly dedicated to my urban landscapes, that’s what I used for the Crest. The other is usually for candids and street photography or whatever my newest camera is, that I’m playing with. This time I’m only bringing one camera.

March is a busy time in Austin, photographically. With SXSW (South by Southwest) and the Rodeo, there are lots of target rich photo opportunities. Despite my recent hectic schedule, I did manage to get out some and shoot. I’ve been testing two cameras during those events, the Fujifilm X100S and the Olympus OM-D E-M10. Those photos and camera comparisons are coming as soon as I can put some blog posts together.

I find the OM-D E-M10 extraordinarily easy to shoot. First, I’m very familiar with the Olympus cameras, which I own and have tested extensively. These latest cameras are also very much “perfected”, meaning any of the niggles from past models have long been addressed. I’m not saying the E-M10 is a perfect camera but I do say it’s well honed.

The X100S is a different story. Other than owning the small XF1 point and shoot, I’m new to Fuji — I’m not as familiar with its controls or its quirks. I hear the X100S is a lot less quirky than its predecessor, but there is still some strangeness. Things I need to get use to. So on this trip, I’m taking just the X100S. I need more hands on time to increase my muscle memory.

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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.

Make sure to click on the photograph to a see larger version. Hover over the photo to see the picture details.



How to make unique photos, guaranteed

Much has been written about how it’s next to impossible to make unique photos today. Millions of cameras and billions of photos. Every exotic spot explored. Every new style relentlessly copied. Uniqueness is currency, they say. That it doesn’t matter how well a photograph is executed, if it’s derivative. Well I know how to make unique photos — ones that will grow in value as time passes.

There is nothing really unique on this site. My HDR urban landscapes, perhaps well executed but nothing special. I’m not really much of a portrait photographer. My street photography? Nothing that you haven’t seen some place else. No, you won’t find my unique photos here. They’re too special.

I once attended a talk by Dan Winters, a famous, master portrait photographer. He’s shot numerous celebrities, sports superstars and even the President of the United States. Who was the most important person he shot? The person he closed his talk with? His father.

Celebrities photos are not unique — they don’t have much value. How many photos do you have of your kids, your spouse, your parents? I’m not talking about smartphone snaps. I’m not talking about stilted portraits from school. I’m talking about wonderfully candid images that capture the essence of their being. Images captured in mundane places like the supermarket not just vacation spots like Disneyland.

For all the shooting I do, I’m most interesting in taking great photos of my family, because they are the most important people in the world. Photos of them are rare since unlike a national monument, a famous actor or sport figure, no one else takes photos of them. Rare equals unique.

Unlike most things in the world, these photographs only grow more valuable with age. Learn how to use a real camera. Take great photos of your family and friends. You won’t regret it.

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Light, Reflections and Architecture: Fullerton Bay Hotel, Singapore

Light and reflections at The Fullerton Bay Hotel - Singapore

Light and reflections at The Fullerton Bay Hotel – Singapore

I posted my first urban architecture photos from Singapore a week and half ago. I promised to dedicate a post to the Fullerton Bay Hotel, a set of buildings I found especially compelling. I didn’t stay there, but it seems like an upscale oasis. Trip Advisor ranked it #3 out all the hotels in Singapore.

Unlike the famous Marina Bay Sands and the Ritz Carlton, which are really big hotels, the Fullerton Bay seems more humanly scaled and accessible. A cluster of modern buildings makes for some wonderful architectural images — the kind, certainly, that I’m drawn to. Angles, reflections, light and the Singapore skyline as backdrop drew me in. I’m like a kid in a candy store in places like this.

The Fullerton Bay Hotel and Skyline - Singapore
The Fullerton Bay Hotel and Skyline - Singapore
Boat Quay and Sklyline - Singapore

As nice as the hotel is, its location within the city adds that extra dimension. I borrowed shapes from other non-hotel structures to add more interest. The round flying saucer like building, for example, is not part of the Fullerton.

Varying Textures at The Fullerton Bay Hotel - Singapore
Varying Textures at The Fullerton Bay Hotel - Singapore

Often, modern buildings are boring. They looks like cheap, simple, glass boxes — they have no soul. The Fullerton uses a mix of contemporary materials which adds texture. There is both a sense of intimacy and grandness. You get this sense of variety as you walk through their spaces.

Interior, The Fullerton Bay Hotel - Singapore
Interior, The Fullerton Bay Hotel - Singapore

The interiors are equally stunning. The lounge and restaurant have a view out to the bay. In the shot above, you can see the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino out the window, which is located on the other side of the bay. It’s one of Singapore’s newest and most recognizable landmarks.

All of these photos are HDRs, three images blended together to get the maximum dynamic range and added sparkle. I used my trusty Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm Panasonic lens plus wide-angle adapter. It gives a 22mm equivalent view. My frequent visitors will know that this is my preferred and standard setup for these kind of photos. The small camera allows me to travel lightly and quickly, but creates high quality images. I’ve gotten really fast and efficient creating these kind of photos.

Interior, The Fullerton Bay Hotel - Singapore

You may think it strange to talk about efficiency in photography but let me explain. Often times, I visit these cities on business trips and don’t have a lot of time, but I want to make as many photos as possible. I know photography is not a race but there is a time component here — I don’t have hours to set up a shot. Familiarity with the gear and doing this for a while has allowed me to see compositions and execute them quickly. I took these photos (three per image) plus more that I didn’t post, in 23 minutes. That gave me time to shoot more of the city.

Light and reflections at The Fullerton Bay Hotel - Singapore
The Fullerton Bay Hotel and Skyline - Singapore

Efficiency can only go so far, however. I wish I had more time to shoot in Singapore. It’s the kind of place that will keep me blissfully occupied for a long time. I have some more urban landscapes to share as well as day time street photography. I’ll intersperse them throughout the coming weeks.

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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.

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



I’m in this month’s Olympus Magazine, sort of

Olympus Magazine, March 2014


I was getting some extra web traffic to an older post and I tracked it down. This month’s Olympus Magazine (March 2014, both the website and iPad newsstand version) was linking to my website. In the article “5 of the BEST underrated Olympus functions”, they linked to my post about turning on the Super Control Panel. Go to page 6 & 7 from this link and click on the yellow circle at the top right (a sample screen shot below).

I didn’t know they were going to do this — I’m both honored and slightly amused. If the manufacturer’s magazine was linking to my post, I must have done a good job, I guess. I update that post with larger images and in my new format. I’m mentioning this for Olympus users to enable this very useful feature and, I admit, to do a little personal horn tooting.

Here are the 2 “how to” Olympus posts I’ve written so far.

Unlocking the Custom Menu on your Olympus
Turning on the Olympus Super Control Panel

Olympus Magazine Article

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The camera I got for myself for my 50th birthday

French Fries at the Rodeo - Austin, Texas

French Fries at the Rodeo – Austin, Texas

I think us amateurs all dream of being that certain kind of photographer in some far away fantasy world. Some might think of themselves as sports photographers shooting the Olympics or Superbowl with giant white lenses. Others might see themselves being glamorous fashion photographers with gorgeous Victoria Secret models prancing in front of their cameras. For me, I most see myself being that traveler and street photographer capturing exotic destinations at the decisive moment like Henri Cartier-Bresson and more recently like Peter Turnley.

Cartier-Bresson’s camera of choice was a Leica rangefinder. A style of camera that has fallen out of fashion in a SLR dominated world. But with the change in technology DSLRs are starting to lose their grip. New compact and mirrorless cameras are now bringing small capable devices back into serious photography.

I’ve talked about the Fujifilm X100 and X100S over the years. I’ve always had a secret desire for them because they trigger that Cartier-Bresson fantasy that I have of traveling the world with that one perfect camera and lens. But for me the X100 was too frustrating. As my mirrorless Olympuses continue to speed up, I found the Fuji X100 to be a distinct step backwards in usability. The newer X100S addressed most of these concerns. It’s still not as fast as my Olympus cameras but I think, I hope, they have reached my magic threshold.

I reported in my post, The Fujifilm X100S from an Olympus micro 4/3 user perspective, small, elegant and beautiful are beginning to hold more attraction these days. That test proved that I could use the camera and get great results. I decided to buy one for my 50th birthday. A present to myself, for reaching the 1/2 century mark, which I exercised over the weekend at Precision Camera.

I have to admit that some doubt did creep in a few weeks ago. Would the X100S frustrate me with its speed? I really liked the Nikon J1 precisely because it was so fast, even faster than my Olympus. Should I look at the interchangeable Fuji’s instead? How about that new Fuji X-T1? Olympus, of course, has that wonderful and very speedy OM-D E-M1 that I reviewed last year. That would also be a fine choice.

But my fantasy of being that world traveler continued to pop into my head. I’m not going to buy a Leica. And I know the Fuji X100S is not a true rangefinder. But it was close enough for my inner dream. My justifications say that I’m going to use the heck out of this thing. And when inevitably some future technology obsoletes this camera, this beautiful faux-range finder with the two toned silver and black will take its place in the display cabinet. It will be a visual reminder of my 50th birthday.

Most everything that surrounds us these days conspires to speed up life. Perhaps this slower camera will get me to slow down and shoot more deliberately, even live more deliberately. Only time will tell but all of these thoughts are wrapped up in my elaborate fantasy narrative. Wish me luck. Follow along in the blog to see how it actually turns out.

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I took the photograph with the Fujifilm X100S with the built in 35mm equivalent lens.

Make sure to click on the photograph to a see larger version. Hover over the photo to see the picture details.



Haiku Review: Olympus OM-D E-M5

Olympus OM-D E-M5

First of a new line
Five axis stability
That’s waterproof too

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Testing the new Olympus OM-D E-M10 at my last school Olympics

Elementary School Olympic Flag

I have two new cameras in the atmtx photography lair to report about this week. One camera is on loan and the other I bought yesterday at Precision Camera here in Austin.

My younger son is in 5th grade which means he is graduating elementary school this year. This year’s school Olympics is the last one I’ll go to. It was perfect timing for testing the new OM-D E-M10 that I have on loan from Olympus. Last year, I still had the Canon 7D for my sport/action camera. I traded that for the Canon 6D which is less ideal for action. The OM-D with it’s 8 fps burst was going to work out great.

I don’t use the Olympus 40-150mm telephoto zoom too often. I’m really not a telephoto guy — but for events like this, it’s fantastic. Mated with the small E-M10, the combo made for a surprisingly compact and very effective setup. Its power and capability hidden from view, especially to the few remaining DSLR toting parents. I admit that I had smug thoughts, which I wisely did not verbalize, about the power of my small camera system.

Consider the E-M10 and telephoto lens has a 80mm to 300mm focal length, focuses faster than an mid-range DSLR and shoots at 8 frames per second. It also has a very nice EVF (electronic view finder) that shows me real-time exposure changes. It’s a testament to how much technology has evolved, especially in the mirrorless camera space. You really don’t need to carry that heavy DSLR around these days, in most cases.

I also brought my Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 for the indoor shots, particularly for the gymnasium, where the kids do the high jump. After 8 years or so that I shot the jump, I’m happy to report that I finally nailed that perfect shot. I started with the Rebel XT DSLR with kit lens and evolved to the Canon 7D with fast glass but it was the mirrorless OM-D that did the best. Certainly my photography skills have progressed but it’s really the camera advances that helped out the most. You see the Panny Leica 25mm is a much sharper lens than the equivalent 50mm f1.4 Canon and here the increased depth of field of the micro 4/3 format was an advantage.

I manually focused on the rope that the kids were jumping over. With the 4/3 sensor, I still had enough depth of field that I could catch one or two frames of sharp focus at the key moment. Add the fast frame rate and you have a half decent chance of getting something good. I shot at ISO 500, f1.4 and at 1/1600 of a second. I retrospect, I probably could have lowered the shutter speed slightly and decreased the aperture to further increase the depth of field.

Elementary School Olympic Day

I’m generally not an EVF shooter but it certainly helped in the midday sun — usually my photography is exercised in darker conditions. For sports where tracking running kids are important, I think the EVF lag is still a disadvantage compared to optical view finders. They’ve come a long way and I suspect in a couple of more years it’ll be a non issue. Consider the iPhone 5S, which shoots at 10 frames per second. I detect no LCD lag when panning the camera phone. Apple uses a really powerful processor, the A7, to do this. Camera companies will add this kind of processing power in the future too. But for now, I find that stutter in the EVF refresh makes it less desirable for tacking running athletes, even the 11-year-old kind. I still got the shots I needed through the EVF, it’s just that optical still has the edge. For most other situations, EVFs now work just as well and with some added advantages.

I will do a full review of the Olympus OM-D E-M10 but will do some mini-reports first, as it undergoes testing. Oh and the other new camera, that I bought? I’ll talk about that too, in an upcoming post. For followers of the blog, I’m sure you won’t be surprised by my choice.

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I took the photographs with the Olympus OM-D E-M10 with the Olympus 40-150mm lens.

Make sure to click on the photograph to a see larger version. Hover over the photo to see the picture details.



A taste of Urban Landscapes from Singapore

The Merlion and Sklyline - Singapore

The Merlion and Sklyline – Singapore

It’s fun to shoot quick images with smaller cameras and I even started enjoying Instagram shots with my iPhone 5S but there is nothing like a shooting a carefully framed photograph on tripod. I try to do this for my serious Urban Landscapes. On a trip to Singapore two weeks ago, I broke out the tripod and created some HDRs of my favorite subject.

I didn’t have a lot of free time with the demands of work but I’m happy that I got to shoot a little in the glittering city. Singapore, especially near the downtown bay area is quite magnificent. It combines the enthusiastic architecture of World’s Fairs, the tourist inspired cleanliness of Disney World and upscale stores. With office buildings, hotels and shopping malls, it’s not where most Singaporeans live but it sure makes for some great photo opportunities.

The top photo is the quintessential tourist image. The famous Merlion with the skyline in the background. I was at this spot two years ago and I’ve noticed some new buildings added to the impressive collection of modernist towers. On that trip, I was in Singapore for 4 days, on the way back home from India. It was the trip of a lifetime and I decided to do it without bringing my DSLR. Yes, my move towards mirrorless was in full swing even back then.

But there were some limitations. I used the Sony NEX-5 for my Urban Landscape HDRs but this was not ideal. It didn’t automatically bracket 2 stops apart, my preferred setting for all things HDR. You see, when creating HDRs, the merging of multiple exposures into one image, it helps to keep the camera steady from shot to shot. Any movement between exposures adds complications in the post processing. Since I had to manually change exposures on the NEX-5, there were always slight shifts that annoyed me. It also slowed down the photo taking process which is a disadvantage at times.

I never posted photos from my first Singapore trip. The quality was acceptable, but not as refined as it is now. With a few more years of photography experience and with the advances in camera technology, I believe my images have improved. Also, I’m woefully behind in posting photos. As much as I blog, I seem to perpetually fall behind. I definitely create more photographs than I have time to post. In fact, I still need to finish posting all the photos and stories from my India trip. I promise to get back to it soon.

Boat Quay and Sklyline - Singapore

If you move inwards from the water, on the other side of the office towers, you see older neighborhoods. I took the image above from Boat Quay, a tourist night spot. The bars and restaurants on the right point to a more modest and grungy side of Singapore. It’s still safe but not as quite as glittering. I remember trying to take a shot from here two years ago. Without a tripod, my old Olympus E-PL1 (my first Olympus) with the 20mm f1.7 didn’t quite get a steady shot. I’m happy that I had a second chance to capture these towers and their reflections.

Back towards the bay again, near the Fullerton Bay Hotel, you see a mix of modern architecture. What I like about Singapore’s buildings are that, despite being minimalist and modern, they are not boring — they are not simple glass boxes. A variety of shapes adds visual richness. The Fullerton Bay Hotel seems to be a conglomeration of several unique buildings. Together they create a hotel that has character at a more human scale. I prefer it to the massive and impersonal uber hotels. Maybe someday, I’ll get to stay here.

The Bridge to the Fullerton - Singapore

I actually took a similar composition with my iPhone 5S on Instagram. Though the Instagram came out pretty good, a carefully blended HDR with a big camera is entirely at another level. I shot this with my usual HDR setup, the Olympus E-PM2 with the Panasonic 14mm with wide-angle adapter. I think it’s one of the best and smallest cameras setups for HDR.

Upcoming, I want to dedicate a post to just the Fullerton Bay Hotel. I think you’ll agree that its architecture and details are quite exquisite. A rarity these days, especially for modern buildings.

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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.

Make sure to click on the photograph to a see larger version. Hover over the photo to see the picture details.



Battle of the smaller sensors, iPhone 5S vs. Fuji XF1 vs. Nikon J1


I’ve been using smaller mirrorless cameras for a while now but on my latest trip to California, I went even smaller. I still carried multiple cameras, as usual, but the camera bodies and sensors continue to shrink.

The Nikon J1 with its 1 inch sensor was the largest but still smaller than my primary Olympus micro 4/3 system. I also used the Fujifilm XF1 point and shoot and finally the iPhone 5S. Mainly through Instagram, I’ve shot the iPhone more seriously, lately. The latest generation iPhone has really improved image quality wise — particularly if I post smaller photos.

I was giving a tour of San Francisco to a visitor from abroad and decided to take some tourist photos myself. Since the iPhone has an approximately 30mm point of view, I adjusted the Nikon J1 and Fuji XF1 to a similar focal length. Here is the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge. Let’s see how they compare in good light.

Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco, California (iPhone 5S)
Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco, California (Nikon J1)
Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco, California (Fujifilm XF1)

These were post processed in Aperture 3. The Nikon shot in RAW and the other two in JPEG. Which photo was taken with the iPhone, the Fuji point and shoot and the Nikon mirrorless?

With good light most cameras do a fine job these days. Technology wise, the iPhone 5S has the newest and most advanced sensor, though it’s the smallest.

These are not great photographs. It was an overcast day and nothing exciting was happening, lighting wise. However, I think these are typical snaps that a tourist would take. The biggest surprise is how well the iPhone 5S did, which is the first photograph. I liked its colors the most and the lens was sharp edge to edge. I took the second photo with the Nikon J1 which was equally sharp. The third photo, taken with the Fuji XF1, was a bit disappointing. As much as I like the Fuji point and shoot, I found the edges were not as sharp as the other two. The color was also a bit cooler, which I warmed up in post.

So how do these cameras do in dark, challenging light? Here are three more photos.

A Moody Fisherman's Wharf - San Francisco, California (Fujifilm XF1)
A Moody Fisherman's Wharf - San Francisco, California (iPhone 5S)
Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco, California (Nikon J1)

Clearly the iPhone 5S, with the smallest sensor, is the noisiest. If you look at the 2nd photo, you can see that the iPhone color is also more dull, probably with less dynamic range. The Nikon J1, the third photo, doesn’t do that much better than the Fuji XF1. The Nikon, with the kit lens at f3.5, is the slowest — the ISO jumped to 2200. Though the Fujifilm XF1 has a smaller sensor, its f1.8 lens really helps and the ISO remains lower at 1250. The Fuji exposed the brightest and I could have lowered it a 1/3 of a stop and increased the image quality. Interestingly, all 3 cameras chose 1/15s shutter speed.

Overall though, the most surprising is how competitive the iPhone 5S really is. It doesn’t quite match the dedicated cameras with larger sensors in darker conditions but it’s hard to believe that this is a smartphone. No wonder point and shoot sales are crashing. Sure, you don’t get shallow depth of field, but for these types of landscapes, that usually doesn’t matter.

Finally, the images at the top are some Instagrams I took with the iPhone 5S and processed directly on the phone. I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of iPhoneography and the creative process can be equally rewarding using the smaller device. With the smaller images sizes, Instagram photos can look quite good in almost any light.

Don’t worry though. I have no plans of turning this into an iPhone photography blog. More photos from my larger cameras coming soon.

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



My Singapore Trip via Instagrams


I got back home from Singapore without incident but within 30 hours, as I write this, I’m on a plane back out to California.

It was an action packed day. Saturday morning, after my 30+ hour flight back, I headed straight to Precision Camera. Charles from Olympus was there and I wanted to find out how the Olympus Day at Drink and Click went. It apparently was a rousing success. Too bad I missed it but I think we’ll have another one.

More importantly, I made it back for my son’s 11th birthday and survived the sleepover of 7 additional kids. I also let my, soon to be, 15-year-old drive for the first time around the neighborhood. They grow up so quickly and I’m happy I didn’t miss these key moments.

My Singapore trip was a whirlwind. Lot’s of work but I also got to have some fun. I shot some 1700 frames on the Nikon J1 and 900 on the Olympus E-PM2. It will take some time to edit these down but no doubt you’ll see these images soon enough.

As promised, I did some Instagrams throughout the journey. In case you missed it, here is what I captured, feel free to follow me. Unlike my usual photos shot with my larger cameras, I post processed these images completely with the iPhone. I’m finally starting to understand the allure of shooting, post-processing and sharing images on one small, go anywhere, connected device. It’s an entirely different dynamic.

It’s not about the image quality. It’s about creating small jewel like reminders of your life — at least that’s the way I now look at it. It’s also fun to do while I have downtime and It’s better than playing some mindless game. The creativity in the shooting and image processing is still there like regular photography, it’s just small and portable.

I’m not sure how much “big camera” shooting I’ll do during this trip to California. I’m going even lighter with the Nikon J1 and the Fuji XF1 point and shoot. I left the tripod and Olympus at home. And yes, I’m sure I’ll add to my Instagram collection via my iPhone 5S.

More frequent blog postings will commence in a week or so, once I get back home.

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Off to Singapore and other destinations

Over the American West

Over the American West


Through an unusual confluence of events, I will be traveling more this month for work, than I ever have. All last week, I was in Sacramento, California. This week I ended up going back there again for a couple of days. Tomorrow I leave for Singapore. I get back on Saturday for my son’s birthday party and then the next day, I’m off again to California.

I suspect my blog postings will be very spotty for the next couple of weeks.

I’m just about packed and I figured out what to bring, equipment wise, to Singapore. I’ll be very busy but I’m hoping to squeeze in a little bit of photography. Urban landscapes in Singapore would be spectacular with its very modern skyline. Street photography too should also be fun. I visited Singapore exactly 2 years ago but I never posted any pictures from that trip. I’ll need to combine any photos from this excursion with the previous and do a series of postings.

I’m bringing my Olympus E-PM2 and 14mm Panasonic lens with wide-angle adapter, of course. That’s my go to, very portable, setup for my urban landscape HDRs. I’m also packing the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 for some low light street photography. For day time and brighter conditions, I’m hoping to use the Nikon J1 with kit lens. This is my latest camera and it has proven to be both very quick and reliable.

A total of two small bodies and 3 lenses — very light and compact. I’ll also be shooting and posting with the iPhone 5S through Instagram. I recently upgraded from the 4S, and the images are noticeably better. I’m finding Instagram to be useful for creating, when all goes well, little jewel like images that remind me of my activities. Instagram photos look best when viewed through the Instagram application on retina displays. On those small, high resolution screens, images can look quite good at times.

Since my blog postings are going to be sparse, you may want to check out what I post on Instagram. They’ll be shot and post processed completely with the iPhone 5S.

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Olympus Day at Drink and Click, next Thursday

Beer, Tattoo, Spider House - Austin, Texas

Beer, Tattoo, Spider House – Austin, Texas

'Olympus OM-D E-M1
'Olympus OM-D E-M1

People in Austin and Central Texas, there’s going to be a fun and free event next Thursday at 7:30pm (February 20, 2014) at the Spider House Cafe.

I’ve talked about Drink and Click several times before, it’s a socially oriented photography meet up. Well next week, Charles from Olympus is going to be there with 10 of the hot OM-D EM-1 cameras along with a full complement of Olympus lenses. You know the E-M1, it’s the camera many people voted as the best of 2013. These cameras are going to be available to anyone who wants to shoot them for a while in a real environment, just bring an ID. And what a neat place to take pictures. Spider House Cafe is an eclectic Austin establishment just north of the University of Texas campus. It will be a fun setting to test the camera.

I helped organize this event and was looking forward to being there myself, except, a last-minute business trip dashed my plans. I’ll be on the other side of the world in Singapore. I’m kind of bummed that I’m not going to be there. But make sure to go. It’s not going to be some corporate sales pitch. Just a way to let photographers play with equipment in non-store setting with a group of like-minded photo enthusiasts.

Here is the address and map:
Spider House Cafe
2908 Fruth Street
Austin, TX 78705
(512) 480-9562

Spider House Map

Here’s some more photos from the Spider House that I took during a previous Drink and Click — just to give you taste of the place. Let me know how you like the event. It will be there in spirit.

Hotel Reno, Spider House - Austin, Texas
Bar Neon, Spider House - Austin, Texas
Warm and Eclectic, Spider House - Austin, Texas
Crazy Lights, Spider House - Austin, Texas

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2014 Chinese New Year Celebration in Austin

Waiting for it to start, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Waiting for it to start, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas


I went to the Chinese New Year celebration at Chinatown Center today. It’s my 3rd year. Every year, most of the events seem similar — there’s dancing and music as the opening acts and the Dragon and Lion dances, as the highlight. But there are differences. It seems to getting bigger. We had the Austin Police Department show off their neat tank like SWAT Gear and Capitol Metro showed off their fancy MetroRapid extra long accordion buses. The event has become a community outreach opportunity I guess and a way to showcase the growing multi-cultural experience in Austin.

Hair Preparation, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Including Other Cultures, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Practicing, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Photographically, I change things up too. Every year I bring a different permutation of cameras and lenses. I grabbed the Nikon J1 with kit lens and the Olympus E-PM2 with the 25mm f1.4 this year. I thought the J1 would especially be fun because of its high performance shooting. I just checked and last year, I bought three cameras, all Olympus.

Beauty Queens Prepare, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Adjusting my Crown, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

The gear you bring, of course, affects what and how you shoot. I didn’t have a long telephoto with me this year so I wasn’t going to stand in the audience with everyone else. I decided to do more “back stage” candids this year. The change in perspective was worth it and I got some nice stuff behind the scenes. The Nikon J1 was working so well, I used it almost exclusively. The 27mm to 81mm equivalent kit zoom was adequate for the most part. Though in retrospect, I should have brought the 40-150 Olympus lens again, like last year. That would have perfectly complimented the J1.

Check out the child in the lower right. I love how he seems to be interested in “Miss Pacific Islands-TX”.

Color Contrast, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Waves of Color, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Synchronizing Dance, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

No need to be stealthy. Almost everyone had a camera, mostly camera phones, of course. But the photography enthusiasts were there in full force and they had their big DSLRs with long lenses. I felt extra nimble, shooting with the J1, which is not much bigger than a point and shoot but faster than a DSLR. It worked brilliantly for action and given that it was daylight, the image quality looked great.

On Stage #1, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Waves of Color, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
On Stage #2, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

The downside perhaps, is that the J1 has a small sensor so the depth of field (DOF) is pretty deep. You’re not going to blur out the background. But I’m trying to make stronger compositions so that I don’t rely on shallow depth of field. Have a strong enough subject and hopefully your eye will be drawn to it and not swayed by the background. I don’t aways achieve this but that’s what I’m going for.

A Giant on Stage, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Lion Dance Team, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Accept the DOF limitations and this camera can be a dream. It works so fast and tracks subjects accurately that my hit rate was really high. I also tend to shoot in bursts so that I can pick the best expression. I shot 900 frames in less than 3 hours — almost all were dead on for focus. I narrowed down my “keepers” to about 170. This also includes video snippets too which, if I’m ambitious enough, I’ll edit into a short movie. The J1 does really solid home movie style videos too. Unfortunately, I need to change a dial to go from stills to video but it works decently enough, most of the time.

Lions Meet the Crowd, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
The Lion and Little Buddha, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Dragon Dance #1, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Dragon Dance #2, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

I came for the Lion dance and those shots came out great. But I’m most happy with the behind the scenes photos. The dance performances were also fun. Shooting in bursts allowed me to choose my favorite poses. This is actually my second Chinese New Year celebration this year. Last week, I went to a Buddhist Temple which had its own multi-cultural extravaganza. I was going to blog about that too but my trip to California changed my plans.

Lion Dance #1, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Lion Dance #2, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Lion Dance #3, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Let’s see what I end up doing next year. The events may be similar but knowing me, I’ll probably have a new camera again, which I’ll want to test.

May you find peace and happiness in the year of the horse.

Lion Dance #4, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Lion Dance #5, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Lion Dance #6, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

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I took all photos with the Nikon J1 and the Nikkor 10-30mm kit lens.

Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photo to see the picture details. Multiply the Nikon focal length by 2.7 to get the 35mm equivalent.



Three Airports via Three Instagrams

I’m in California for another day — I arrived on Monday. I’ve been too busy to do much photography but I took some photos on the trip out. I’m also gradually getting into iPhone photography via Instagram. Technically, these photos aren’t any great shakes. I’m staying true to Instagram and only using photos taken on my smartphone. But I’m trying to move beyond technical perfection. I want to create good photographs with any device.

I rarely create masterpieces, of course. But these Instagrams also serve as a visual diary of sorts — places I’ve been and things that I’ve done. Here are 3 photos from the 3 airports I visited on Monday, all taken with the iPhone 4S.

AUS - Austin, Texa
AUS – Austin, Texas
SFO - San Francisco, California
SFO – San Francisco, California
SMF - Sacramento, California
SMF – Sacramento, California

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My First Impressions of Virgin America

Cabin with mood lighting - Virgin America

Cabin with mood lighting – Virgin America


Virgin America is a relatively new airline. They gets high praise from a number of people I know as well as in the official airline rankings. They were recently ranked the best domestic airline in the United States. How does it compare with American Airlines, which ranks towards the bottom of these same airline rankings?

I took my first Virgin America flight a couple of days ago, from Austin to San Francisco. The most striking feature is the mood lighting and the club like atmosphere. Imagine a trendy W Hotel mated with an airplane — soft blue and purple LED lights contrasting with glossy white seat backs. The black leather seats adds the final touch to something unexpected in a commercial airline. It’s a far cry from the dingy blue-gray interior with yellow lighting at United Airlines.

The second, absolutely hilarious feature, is the mandatory safety demonstration video — which are usually, totally boring, as you probably know. You got to watch the YouTube video below. Kudos to Virgin America for doing something different and entertaining.


All seats have a built-in entertainment system with glossy, Star Wars Storm Trooper like, white. You get free cable channels but the movies cost money. There is an interesting and decently executed user interface where you can order food and drinks. But this is where all the niceties stop.

You look past the strikingly different interior and the catchy safety video and you see only thinly veiled differences. The flight attendants, who appear perhaps a bit more hip and young compared to their American Airlines counterparts, don’t seem any more helpful or friendly. The sandwich was a bit tastier but generally the same as the American counterpart. See below.

A Sandwich for Dinner - Virgin America

Where is the catchy packaging and branding? My sandwich looks as appetizing as any other airline meal. It looks like it was supplied by the same institutional food vendors. A little bit of effort in this area could have made a big difference.

Boarding Pass - Virgin America

Notice the generic looking airplane boarding card. The same low-res and confusing document you get from any other airline. A company truly thinking out of the box might have done this. And that’s the thing. Beyond the snazzy plane interior there doesn’t seem to be much that really separates Virgin from the other carrier. Sure the plane looks new because it is new. Scratch beneath the surface and you see lots of ordinary stuff, not even disguised with superficial graphics and design.

Red System - Virgin America

The movies, $8 a pop. Internet, yup that’s extra too. At least on American, I can get a free movie with some NBC comedy skits thrown in. That neat looking entertainment interface? Truly annoying. The touch screen is so unresponsive that I was ready to give up. Except I couldn’t because I needed to use it to order my food. When the flight attendant came through with the free drinks, I couldn’t verbally order my food. She insisted, a bit rudely I might add, that I need to use that lame interface. In the era of responsive multi-touch iPads from Apple, that Red Entertainment system is a cruel joke.

Sure they have catchy pop music playing from tiny computer speakers at the check-in counter but is that it?

I’m probably being too harsh. I do appreciate a company that tries to break out of the typical industry mold. Airline travel lost its glamor a long time ago. This is no longer the era of Pan Am in the 60s. And perhaps no matter what an airline does, the realities of security screenings have sucked the fun out of jet-setting.

As you may know from my past postings, I tend to travel on American. For that reason, I luckily have some “status” which enables me to board a bit earlier and I get to bypass the bulk of the security lines. Nothing too special. It just gets me to the level of service that everyone got back in the 90s. I was hoping, maybe unfairly, that I would be so enamored with Virgin America that I would choose them over my default. Indeed a direct flight from Austin to San Francisco is very convenient. But alas that might not be enough to ultimately change my mind, or my airline.

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I took all photos with the Nikon J1 and the Nikkor 10-30mm kit lens.

Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photo to see the picture details. Multiply the Nikon focal length by 2.7 to get the 35mm equivalent.



Haiku Photo: Fiat 500

Fiat 500 - Cupertino, California

In a concrete jail
Tiny Fiat left alone
Dreams of open road

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