I visited two magnificent churches in Amsterdam. Both beautiful in their own way and both very different. So different, in fact, that I shot them in distinct ways with my two cameras.
What’s a trip to Europe without shooting some of these wonderfully ornate structures. I had my Olympus E-PM2 with a wide-angle lens for this purpose and luckily both places seemed fine with me using a tripod. I also shot my Fujifilm X100S but in a different way. I knew the 35mm equivalent lens on the X100S would not capture the entirely of the place. Rather, my purpose with that camera was to concentrate on details.
Basilica of St. Nicholas
First up is the Basilica of St. Nicholas, the major Catholic church in the middle of the old historic core. It’s an easy walk from the Amsterdam Centraal train station. I’ve shot a fair number of interiors over the years and this place was one of the most challenging. The inside is dim with its dark-colored stonework and stained glass windows. How do you capture the beauty of the dark walls while still maintaining the color and delicate translucency of the windows? With HDR of course, but with a lot more exposures than normal.
In almost every case, my HDRs are created from just 3 exposures, usually 0ev, -2ev and +2ev. Here I shot 12 exposures ranging from -4.7ev to +1.7 ev. I cherry picked 4 exposures that gave me a decent range, -2.7ev, -1.7ev, -0.3ev and +1.7ev. I needed this to get the effect you see — the glorious detail in both the windows and walls. Our eyes and brain seamlessly merge these details but cameras struggle with dynamic range. Advanced HDR techniques are required to simulate what human beings do so well.
I knew taking a single photo with the Fuji was not going to do this place justice. After all, it takes a tripod and multiple exposures on the Olympus to do a half way decent job. Rather, I decided to strategically shoot images that had less dynamic range. Whether you have a smartphone or the fanciest DSLR, here, you might be disappointed with the results. Selectively shooting details might work well photographically but it hardly gives a feel of the entire church. St. Nicholas is a tough place to take great photos.
My second stop, Oude Kerk (Old Church) couldn’t be more different. Originally a Catholic church when founded 700 years ago, by 1578 it became Calvinist. Photographically, Oude Kerk is much easier. With light colored walls and with little stained glass, the dynamic range was manageable. While I started taking HDRs like I usually do, I soon realized that the Fuji X100S could also do an adequate job if I properly nailed the exposure.
Shooting the details here was more enjoyable than St. Nicholas, primarily because I could do a better job. HDR wasn’t required and I could concentrate on framing handheld rather than futzing with a tripod. While I’ve become quite adept at using the 3 legged appendage, I still find it cumbersome. Shooting free form with the Fuji, for me, is a purer photographic experience.
Oude Kerk charged 5 Euros for entry but I felt it was worth it. The place was less crowded than St. Nicholas and I felt less rushed. At St. Nicholas, I was unsure if I was allowed to use a tripod and the steady stream of visitors forced me to work quicker. The peaceful white walls of the Old Church put me in a Zen state of mind. I took my time to frame my photos, both on and off the tripod. Ironically, this church is located right in the middle of Amsterdam’s famous Red Light District. The contrast between the external environment and the internal sanctuary couldn’t be more different.
Old Church was larger and more open. I used the Fuji to capture the sense of scale by including people. The airiness of the place is its main attraction. For sheer detail and color, St. Nicholas impresses but capturing it photographically is a challenge. Using HDR might be the only way to approximate its grandeur.
As usual, knowing your gear and its limits are essential. Learning advanced techniques helps too in tough situations. Even though I only had two cameras and two fixed lenses, I felt satisfied that I captured the essence of both places.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I can’t think of a better place to ring in the New Year. I’m talking about Times Square of course. This is where they drop the famous crystal ball in New York City. I took these photos a year ago when, you might recall, I went to the east coast on a winter vacation.
This may be the ultimate spot for a night-time urban photographer like me, at least in the United States. Practically every surface is glowing, animated or blaring an announcement.
Take a look at the first photo. See the Toshiba sign at the top of the center building? Do you see the small glowing 2013? You can click on the photo to see a larger version. In less that 10 hours, 100s of thousands of people will be staring at an animated ball that magically increments this number to 2014.
I started my tour around 47th Street, looking north.
I walked south and snapped different angles of the famous Time Square landmark on 43rd Street. I used the Olympus E-PM2 with the Panasonic 14mm lens plus wide-angle adapter. It gave me a 22mm equivalent view.
Tom, a regular follower of this blog, emailed me this link. It’s to a video by Max Wilson. Any one frame is something I’ll be proud of, imagine combining 100s of thousands of them. Max used a technique called time-lapse photography. He didn’t use a video camera. Every single frame was shot with a still camera and then combined.
This video about the urban night landscape, something that I find most interesting. It’s also about my favorite city for architecture. Back about 25 years ago I lived in Chicago for about a half a year, for work. Everyday brought new discoveries as I walked through downtown.
Did you know this city is the birthplace of the skyscraper?
Someday, I would like to go back and shoot Chicago and capture its wonderful details. Until then, I’ll enjoy this wonderful work from Max Wilson.
I stayed in this massive, self enclosed bubble several weeks ago. The convention that I went to in Washington DC was held here at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. It is the centerpiece of National Harbor, a mixed use development located just south of DC in Maryland. At 2,000 rooms, it apparently is the largest non-gaming hotel on the East Coast.
Last winter vacation, my family and I just happened to stay a few blocks from here. While curious, I didn’t have time to look inside. With the conference set for the Gaylord, I brought my HDR gear, eager to capture some interesting architecture. My equipment of choice, the compact Olympus E-PM2, the Panasonic 14mm f2.5 lens plus the Panasonic wide-angle adapter. Throw in a lightweight tripod and I was good to go.
Most interesting were the faux colonial buildings nestled within this giant atrium. It reminded me of some futuristic space station, with the little bits of history attempting to offset the cold and efficient design, prevalent in modern society. It’s goofy architecturally but fun in an amusement park kind of way. Certainly different enough to warrant some photographs.
Back up front, near the registration desks, the decor turns a little marble-y. Not quite as gaudy as Las Vegas faire but a bit opulent for my tastes. The scale works nicely though. The larger the hotel, the more out of proportion the rooms seem to get. The Gaylord works well and manages to carve out “cozy” spaces. Photographically, I captured repeating elements and leading lines, so you gotta like that.
Finally, you can see the full size of the atrium. The convention center is in an adjoining building, by the way. This is just a small portion of this gigantic hotel. I’m happy to report that I did escape this futuristic city during the night. No space suits necessary. I was able to capture some authentic history, on the other side of the Potomac , which I will post soon enough.
Here are black and whites from the second day of E-M1 testing. I received my loaner, a pre production OM-D E-M1, from Olympus on Wednesday. On Thursday, I tested it at Drink and Click, a photo walk / social event, which I posted yesterday. These photos are from Friday night. I headed to the heart of downtown Austin and shot along Congress Avenue and 6th Street, despite some heavy rains. I figured, since this Olympus is weather sealed, it should be fine.
By the time I got there, the rain had mostly stopped so I really didn’t get to test the weather resistant seals. For the first half of my test, I started with the pre production Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 lens. As much as I like to shoot with primes (non zooming lenses), It’s nice to have a zoom to get alternate framings, especially for architecture. Though I’ve travelled these streets often, the 24mm to 80mm equivalent gave me extra range to explore new compositions.
I shot architecture down Congress Avenue, the main north-south street through downtown. As I turned the corner on to 6th, my subjects began to shift from buildings to people. 6th street can be a rich area for interesting people — a haven for street photography. But even on a Friday night, this most famous Austin bar district doesn’t come alive until at least 9:30pm. The bars and streets are empty, getting a breather and preparing for the onslaught that would happen in a few hours.
Shooting with the 12-40mm certainly makes it convenient — I’ve never used a constant f2.8 zoom before. The big aperture makes this practically a do it all lens. Standard kit lenses have variable apertures that range from f3.5 to f5.6., which means these cheap zooms collect 2 to 4 times less light. They work fine for day light but as evening approaches or you try to shoot indoors, you quickly run up against its limitations. You are forced to break out that nasty flash, which is what most people do. And unless you use advanced flash techniques, even DSLR photos with flash look only slightly better than a point and shoot.
A f2.8 zoom and good high ISO performance, like the E-M1 has, may eliminate the need for flash in many cases. You’re still going to need flash in a dark restaurant but evening shots in the city or indoor photos at normal lighting levels should work fine. The problem with f2.8 zooms however, are the size of them particularly on DSLRs. Sure wedding photographers and photojournalist use them because they have to but these lenses are not for the faint of heart (or for people with weak backs). But the Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 is different. Because the micro 4/3 sensor is smaller, the lens can also be smaller. For about the size of a kit lens on a DSLR, you can have a full-fledged f2.8 zoom. That is one of the big advantages for the micro 4/3.
If you don’t need to catch fast action at night, then the 12-40mm zoom may be all you need. I used my f1.4 prime for night street photography. But even a dark street scene like the one below will be possible with the f2.8 zoom. All you have to do is slow down the shutter and boost the ISO. The E-M1’s built-in 5 axis image stabilizer will allow you to hand hold in marginal light.
I shot a lot last Friday night. For my next posting, lots of color from 6th street. When the sun goes down and the evening lights begin to glow, I’m in my element. We will see how the OM-D E-M1 does for urban night photography, my favorite.
This place has dramatic architecture. In an age with so many mediocre and boring modern buildings, this airport in Washington really stood out. I didn’t have time to visit the historic terminal A but this soaring terminal B and C concourse satisfied my need for good architecture.
I posted an image yesterday from the Reagan Washington National Airport shot with the Canon G15. I wanted to share some more, this time taken with my Olympus E-PM2 with the wide-angle adapter attached to the 14mm lens. With the wide-angle, I get an equivalent of 22mm in 35mm format. This setup adds a bit of distortion that makes the already dramatic space even more interesting.
The delicate, thin columns and the vaulting reminds me of the Gothic cathedrals of Europe, with the stone replaced by steel and glass. I see patterns, beautiful repeating patterns that soothe my interest in architecture, as well as photography.
Lines and shapes and wanting to emphasizing them make me turn to black and white. Here are two photos from the wonderful ceiling. With the color gone, I see bold texture and geometry that really pops.
I actually shot these on my arrival at Washington, just 3 hours earlier I was in Houston making my connecting flight from Austin. Unfortunately, the Houston Airport didn’t inspire the same awe. That airport was clean, modern and thoroughly boring. It might have made some bean counter happy but it did nothing to welcome me to the city or add a bit of drama as I transferred through. An opportunity lost to make a favorable or at least a lasting impression.
After spending the last couple of days in San Jose, I wanted to bring the blog back to San Francisco. I shot mostly around Market Street during my last trip, doing street photography with the Olympus E-P5. I did make it over to Chinatown though and it had a completely different feel. That’s the fun thing about a big, diverse city like San Francisco. Shift a few miles and you get to a neighborhood that’s totally different.
I got to Chinatown after my late dinner and it was past closing time for most stores. A few places were still open but shutting down rapidly. The place was dark and moody with a collection of odd-looking old buildings. Within this eclectic mix, one structure stood out as my favorite.
Architecturally, it was nothing special — just a simple brick box. But, Oh the details! That worn sign, that detailing, all wrapped in that mysterious yellow light. They all add up to something special. I was in full test mode, shooting exclusively with the borrowed Olympus E-P5 but I also had my other camera. I broke out the tripod. I attached the Olympus E-PM2 with the wide-angle lens. I shot multiple frames at ISO 200 for my HDR post processing.
I used the E-P5 too. The 34mm point of view captured sections of the building without context. But added together with the 22mm wide-angle, you get the feel of the building in its environment. I love that Coca-Cola sign and its juxtaposition with the Chinese characters. I think I’m drawn to these places because it is anti suburban. It’s grungy and worn with deep character lines. It’s the complete opposite from the well manicured and soulless burbclaves outside the beltways.
I need to get back to Chinatown. Perhaps earlier so I can include more lively, well-lit scenes. I’ll leave you with a toned black and white. Along with the blur of a passerby, the image turns more street photography like, rather than architectural. This place is an urban photographer’s paradise. A throwback to the past in one of America’s most modern cities combined with a disjointed mix of east and west.
I got my Canon 6D last Thursday. After my test shots of Lucky, then the kids and my wife, I was ready for more. I headed downtown on Sunday night for a bit of street photography. I wanted to see what this puppy could do armed with a 50mm f1.4 lens.
Before I get into it, I’ve happily discovered that the 6D has already broken new ground. It’s going to radically change how I take my most important photos. With a fast prime like my 35mm f2 or 50mm f1.4, I can shoot anywhere in the house at basically any light level. I shot perfectly sharp and decent photographs at night with two very dim compact fluorescent lamps and the glow from the TV. And even with the f4 zoom (I got the excellent 24mm – 105mm f4 L zoom as my “kit” lens) I can still shoot in most places. The camera might jump up to ISO 10,000 or so but the images were acceptable.
Sunday night is a nice time to go downtown. There is a good supply of on street parking and it’s free. The usually noisy and crazy 6th street is remarkably calm. I parked on Congress Avenue and walked several blocks south and turned left to my destination. On the way, I shot this detailed older building on Congress. Up top, you see a boring daylight photo — made better in black and white — shot at the beginning of my photo walk. The night shot, from my trip back, has some good details even at ISO 2500. The deep blue adds interest making it a worthy color image.
I like the 50mm lens a lot more, now that it is a true 50mm. On my 7D, with the 1.6x crop factor, the 50 acts like a 80mm. I tend to like wider and not telephoto so this is a welcome change. My 50mm was always that vaguely sharp, dreamy lens, especially since I tend to shoot it wide-open at f1.4. Somehow, on the full frame 6D, it seems to work better. Possibly because I’m not magnifying the “unsharpness” by the 1.6 crop factor. It’s nowhere near as good as my Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 which, on my Olympus also acts as a 50mm. That lens is fantastically sharp even at f1.4, I wish I had it for the Canon.
The short outing was a success and I got a bunch of keepers. Expect to see a series of postings, with images, over the next week. The real world testing phase with the Canon 6D has begun — today, merely a quick intro. Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll test the 6D versus the Olympus. Remember, I don’t grade on absolute quality. I’m very much a price – performance kind of guy. Or in this case, more aptly, It’s going to be a weight – performance comparison.
UPDATE: More photos from my 6th street photo walk.
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It’s amazing how many photographs I take at airports. Perhaps it’s because I’ve traveled more these days but I think there is much more to it than that. As you know, I like architecture and in the United States, airports can be a great source of modern design. I just got back from a one week trip to Northern California. These photographs from the San Francisco Airport (SFO) were taken with my Olympus XZ-1 point and shoot.
The XZ-1 is my latest camera and I decided to put it through its paces on this California trip. I usually travel with two Olympus Pens, the E-PM2 and the E-P3. For this trip, I decided to bring my E-PM2 with the 14mm and the XZ-1. With two excursions to San Francisco and one to Palo Alto, I have plenty of photographs to show you. I seem to be creating more content than I have time to share with you so I’m falling behind. At least I will have a lot to talk about for months to come.
Pairing the XZ-1 with my EM-2 was an interesting combination. I had my high quality camera for my urban landscapes but was able to use a point and shoot for versatility with decent image quality. The XZ-1 was small enough that I wore it though the airport and I was able to snap some nice compositions. All of the photos were taken on the 10 minute ride on the AirTrain at SFO. The simple lines and curves emphasized by the black and white. I have the tendency to shoot wide but the zoom lens gave me some flexibility.
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I got an overdose of colonial architecture in Williamsburg, as expected. But I loved it. The simple lines and the straight forward detailing was refreshing. Most modern buildings are cheaply constructed with little or no ornamentation or they lack the proper proportions. the massive heroic architecture of Washington DC, as we will see in future posts, tries to over impress. These old brick and clapboard buildings have a zen like simplicity that is rare in America.
Unlike my previous Williamsburg post, which documented scenes from the Colonial Amusement park, I wanted to do something different with these set of photographs. I wanted to create simple, graphic and somewhat artsy images. Something that would capture the spirit of this colonial simplicity.
Notice the repeating horizontal lines. The honest texture of wood shakes and clay bricks. The contrast of the vertical pickets to the clapboard. They certainly don’t build them like this anymore.
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Happy New Year!
I hope y’all had a wonderful holiday season. I got back from my big East Coast trip several days ago. I needed a few days to recuperate from my vacation, which sounds strange but I’m sure you know what I mean. After a whirlwind 4 city, 6 state tour with my family, I needed some time to unwind. I’m happy to report that everything went off without a hitch after an initial worry due to a flight delay in Austin. We made our connection in DFW with 10 minutes to spare and a bit of good luck since our next plane to Richmond was delayed a few minutes too.
So where did we go? The photographs on this post reveal the answer — they are from our 4 major destinations. After we landed in Richmond, Virginia it was a quick one hour drive to Williamsburg. We stayed there two nights. Despite living on the East Coast for a while, I never visited that place before. I was quite familiar with the 3 other places. We stayed in Washington DC for 4 nights, Philadelphia for 2 nights and New York City for 4 nights.
First and foremost, this was a family trip so I made sure we did family fun activities but I did manage to take a bunch of photographs, both for my blogs as well as family snapshots. In fact, I got my latest camera, the Olympus E-PM2 with this trip in mind. After 4000+ photographs with the E-PM2, I know the ins and out of this camera quite well. For the most part, it worked well. There were, however, a few things that didn’t work as well as expected. I will do a full E-PM2 review soon.
Over the next few weeks and months, I’m sure I’ll post a bunch of photos from this trip. There is a lot of architecture and urban landscapes, of course, as well as some street photography in New York. If this was a pure photography oriented trip, I could have easily shot for 2 weeks or more at each place. Instead, I squeezed in shots as we travelled between museums, activities and the 4 cities.
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A couple of weeks ago, I went out to the Roaring Fork restaurant in North Austin with a friend. We talked about life, photography and art. The meal was a prelude to a downtown photowalk. The thing was, both of us were ambivalent about making the trek down south. The meal and drinks were nice and we felt comfortable just talking about the challenges of life and photography. I did want to test my Panasonic ZR1, however, by creating urban landscapes. So instead of going downtown, we settled for making images in and around the modern, upscale restaurant.
As you know, urban landscapes and architecture is one of my favorite subjects and I’m in the middle of my point and shoot challenge. I want to make photographs with this cheap $70 point and shoot that equals the quality of the images that I get with my other, more expensive cameras. And at ISO 80 the little Panasonic does a really nice job. Surprisingly so. The thing is, with a maximum aperture of f3.3 and at ISO 80, I need to use a tripod for any image that is not in good light. This was certainly the case for the 3 photos I took with the ZR1.
The mercury vapor lamps created this odd green color and it looks fantastic against the blue sky. The out of camera JPEGs were enhanced with even more color saturation, to give that extra pop. Since the camera lacks any kind of P S A M control, I have to use the appropriate scene mode to create these long exposures. The camera doesn’t have any exposure compensation on any image that is over about a 1/4 second. I use the Night Scenery mode or the Starry Sky mode instead to approximate the best exposure.
How good are these JPEG images? At ISO 80, I have no complaints. The photograph at the bottom was taken with the Olympus E-P3 and 14mm lens. The framing is not exactly the same and the Panasonic at a 25mm equivalent is a wider than my 28mm Olympus view. The colors were a lot different too but I tweaked the Olympus RAW to approximate the Panasonic color. The Olympus RAW is sharper but the image is actually noisier than the ZR1 point and shoot. I ran Topaz Denoise on the Olympus RAW and the resulting image was amazingly similar to the Panasonic output.
It would be hard to pick the two apart other than, even at F9, the Olympus still has a slightly shallower DOF. The deep DOF on the point and shoot was beneficial here and allowed me to take a brighter image, 5 seconds faster, since its aperture was at f3.3. Since the point and shot has such a smaller sensor, even if the aperture is wide open at f3.3, the DOF is still deeper than f9 on the Olympus.
Surprising and interesting results. Image quality and noise levels can vary a bit depending on the scene so this in not a comprehensive test, however, very promising results nevertheless. If I’m willing to use a tripod. the is no telling what this little camera can do.
Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.
Last week I went to dinner with my friend Mike. Just before we walked into the restaurant, my attention was distracted by some festive hanging lights and a beautiful blue sky. Yes, it was the peak of blue hour and as usual I was drawn to it. My apologies for talking about blue hour again but you know how much I like this special time of the day for photography. I excused myself for few minutes so I could explore. Mike is also a photographer so I’m sure he understood. It’s not so easy with non-photographers or the family, however. They seem to be more disapproving when you go off wandering, just before dinner.
The blue sky was nice but the hanging lights were only so so; I shot some frames but wasn’t too excited. Then close by, I saw the gleaming new rail station just sitting there. It was nicely lit up and isolated with the brilliant blue as the backdrop. I always talk about glow on this blog. The glow of made-made lights and other beautiful light sources. When you find the right subject and the warm yellow lights with its contrast to the deep blues, it makes for an image that I find hard to resist.
Like my image in the previous post, this architecture photo may not be exiting to some. But it’s right up my alley. The kind of imagery that makes a modest train station come alive. And like my previous post, I think there is a sculptural quality about this structure too. There it sits, all by itself with its curvy roof. It’s warm and inviting yet the lack of people makes it seem impersonal. It’s a simple, minimal composition and with few distractions — the train station takes center stage.
The problem with photography, especially with the kind that I do, is that you never know when and where you’re going to get that next favorite shot. I was lucky I had my Olympus E-P3 with me. I tried carrying my tiny Sony TX5 before as my “capture the moment” camera. But as good and convenient as it is, ultimately the TX5 did not meet my picky image quality standards, though for the general Facebook crowd it is more than enough. Despite loving my Olympus Pen series, part of me is secretly waiting for that tiny camera that crosses that magical image quality boundary. What makes my situation worse is that I need that high quality in marginal light, the kind of environment that I most enjoy shooting. Hence my fixation with high quality high ISO performance, The small cameras are rapidly evolving. The Lumix LX7 and the Sony RX100 are the latest salvos in this area. And until that special camera arrives I will carry around my Olympus Pens and just hope that all the stars align for my next favorite image.
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My newest and most underused lens is the Olympus 40 – 150mm f4 – 5.6. I bought it before I went to Japan, just in case I did some nature photography and wanted its range and its telephoto abilities. I didn’t use it much. Last weekend I took the zoom on a photowalk to get to know it better. I posted More Abstract Agaves of SoCo where I did some closeups with the lens and I also captured some nice looking cloud formations too. During the SoCo outing, we congregated at a corner of Congress Avenue and Nellie Street, where we socialized and waited for the blue hour. I started playing with my 40-150 zoom and my wide-angle 14mm; switching between the two and experimenting.
I’ve shot a lot with my 14mm (28mm equivalent). Of the 10,000 images I took in Japan, up to 80% were shot with this lens. Previous to this, I used the Lumix 20mm (40mm equivalent) as my only lens for 10 months. So I’m quite familiar with lenses from a moderate wide-angle to normal point of view. I find telephotos a lot more of challenging. The image above was shot with the 14mm. I managed to exclude all the visual clutter and created a simple composition. The telephoto versions of the Heritage Boot Neon sign are my experiments with this 40-150 zoom. I didn’t shoot these all from the exact same position so this is not a focal length comparison. Rather, I was attempting to make interesting compositions, from different angles, using various focal lengths.
After shooting so much with the 14mm, I now see compositions very easily at this focal length. That is one of the advantages of non-zooming prime lenses. You are locked into a certain way of seeing things and that helps you to create compositions before you shoot them. Being “locked into seeing things” seems like a bad thing in photography, where you want to be creative and flexible. However, the irony is the constraint of using a prime strengthens the eye and the brain. Counterintuitive I’m sure but it’s helped me. I think the 28mm focal length works nicely for architecture in these urban environments. Wide enough to be inclusive but not so wide that objects become too distant. That’s the challenge when using super-wide lenses such as the 16mm to 18mm. The distance between you and the subject looks so far away that the point of interest looks tiny. For super-wides, you need to have foreground and mid-ground elements to make a balanced photograph. This is not not the case with the 28mm. I also found using the Lumix 20mm (40mm equivalent) often times feels a bit constraining for architecture, especially when shooting on the diagonal.
But there are disadvantages to a moderately wide lens too. There are always disadvantages. If I wanted to include the Blackmail and Heritage Boot Neons signs together, it may not be possible to exclude unwanted elements. While the lone neon sign at the top of the post works well because of a simple, uncluttered composition, the one below with the two signs does not work as well. There is too much clutter and other distracting elements that weakens the image. You can tell that the first image up top is obviously about the neon sign even if it was taken with the same 14mm lens as the image below. The cluttered image below has two neon signs, another sign cut off, and a window among other things. To me it’s not clear what the focal point is. Compare that image to the last one on the post. The 80mm equivalent on the zoom lens allowed me to exclude more elements and concentrate on the neon signs. Clearly the photo is about the two neon signs and their interplay.
I certainly need more hands on time with this telephoto zoom. I don’t think as easily in telephoto but perhaps with more practice I will get better. I may think more in wide-angle but there are always advantages for each focal length. Perhaps some walks in downtown Austin, pointing my zoom as the new high rises would be a good way to start.
Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure details.
I’m finally back home in Austin after a 3 week vacation in Japan. I took a flight from Tokyo’s Haneda airport into JFK airport in New York City. I landed at 6am and my connecting flight to Austin was at 5pm. So what do you do when you have an 11 hour layover in New York? Well I hopped on the subway and headed into the city.
11 hours seems like a long time but it’s not as much time as you might think, especially when you factor in all the wait time for the subway. Flying directly into NYC from Tokyo is a jarring experience. The old and dirty New York City subway system is quite a contrast from Tokyo’s clean and fast train system. After touching down at 6am, it was 7am before I got through customs, checked in my luggage and took the Air Train from the Airport to the Howard Beach subway station. There I waited 30+ minutes until the A train arrived. Surprisingly, it was nearly 9am until I got the World Trade Center station in lower Manhattan. Chalk it up to a couple of detours and transfers to get around some subway maintenance.
Given how long it took to travel downtown, I decided to give at least an hour to get back to the airport and I wanted to arrive at 3pm for my 5pm flight. I now remembered that it always seems to take a lot longer to do stuff in New York that other places. There is always the unexpected traffic jam or a break down on the subway system that, if you don’t leave an adequate buffer, you may end up missing an important flight. That only left abut 5 hours to do what I wanted to do. I decided to confine myself to lower Manhattan around the 9/11 Memorial Site and I also wanted to spend some time at the New York City Transit Museum in Brooklyn.
Picture wise, this will give me a chance to shoot some architecture, do street photography and capture vintage subway trains at the museum. Along the way, I was planning to eat a quick-lunch at some, hopefully, decent New York pizzaria. I checked my clothing at JFK but I still had my technology bag full of all my cameras and electronics. My small mirror-less Olympus cameras didn’t weigh much but when you combine that with all the extra stuff I pack such as the chargers, hard drives and the 15″ MacBook Pro, that bag got pretty heavy, quickly. Maybe 15 + pounds. After 5 hours of walking and riding the subways, I was pretty exhausted. That was on top the 12+ hour flight from Tokyo and the 90 degrees of NYC heat. Nevertheless, the chance to shoot for a bunch of hours in New York City was worth it. Despite my complaints about the mass transit system, NYC is such a great place, especially for photography. I could probably shoot continuously for a year there and not get bored.
After spending time at the 9/11 memorial and shooting around Wall Street, I hopped the train to Brooklyn. I found a decent neighborhood pizza place but not outstanding by New York standards. I could have gotten a better NY Style pizza in Austin (Hoboken Pie or Home Slice for example) , but I was tired and hungry. Then, close by, I spend about an hour at the transit museum. The timing worked perfectly and I was back at the airport on time. I also decided to treat myself to another local favorite, a combination pastrami and corned beef sandwich at the airport. Lots of shooting and eating some local New York food, not a bad way to spend my long layover in the Big Apple.
Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure details.
A couple of days ago, I posted a bunch of photographs from the ROT Rally Parade that took place last week, here in Austin. The light was good and I shot it all handheld but the parade ended after sundown and the darkness was approaching quickly. My friends and I broke out our tripods and started shooting long exposures with the benefit of a stable base. But how do we catch the range of light from dark to light? Having a tripod will allow for longer exposures but it won’t improve the dynamic range. Look at the scene above. We got some nice looking lights in the marquee but if I expose for them, the foreground motorcycles will look like dark, shapeless hunks of metal. I won’t be able to see any details. Of course, if I properly expose for the motorcycles, the lights on the Paramount theater will be blown out. What to do? One technique I use is HDR, high dynamic range photography. Yeah, I know. A lot of photographers have visceral reactions against HDR. Some have embraced it but most seem to hate it. But I’m here to tell you that not all HDRs have to look like “Technicolor Vomit”, to quote my friend Kirk Tuck. HDR is a tool, a technique, and it can be applied subtly or be amped up. Like many techniques it can be done well or not so well.
I’ve always been fairly subtle in the use of HDR, though the level of subtlety varies on the subject and my “artistic mood”. And I’ve really decreased the number of HDRs that I do; I now only use it when it’s warranted. I have to admit that early on, I used it quite a bit but as my photography matured, I’ve decreased its usage. Or maybe I’ve gotten more lazy. You see, doing HDRs properly does require more effort on the image capture side as well as post processing. In this case, I used an Olympus E-P3 and set the auto-bracketting mode to 5 shots with 1 stop in between. I put the camera on a tripod and mashed the shutter down until the camera took all 5 photographs. Post processing wise, I used 3 software packages to achieve the result that I like. Like many people, I use Photomatix Pro to do the initial HDR but then I use layer blending techniques in a program called Pixelmator, which is a poor man’s version of Photoshop. Finally, I do color correction, saturation adjustments and sharpening using Aperture 3.
The result is, I hope, an image that looks believable and matches more or less what people saw on that Friday night. This is the effect I was going for, but you have artistic license here. There is no correct way to do this. Some people like to process their photos to look more surrealistic and you can do this and still have a beautifully done image. For my next post, I’m going to get a bit wild with my HDR. A nice counterpoint to today’s sedate image.
Please make sure to click on the photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.
If you follow my blog from time to time, you know that I shoot a lot of my photos after hours, in the evening or at night. I love blue hour. The short 15 minutes, despite the name, of rich saturated blue skies you get only twice a day, once in the evening and once at dawn. I also love the reflection of lights off of the street and other man-made objects. I’m always in search of the elusive “glow” that I talk about; which is my short hand for the wonderful glowing light you get in the urban areas after the sun goes down. But when I’m forced to shoot photographs of buildings and architecture during the day, I’m lost. My usual fall back position of finding nice color, reflection and glow, is just not available. I need to contend with either harsh light, shadows or uninteresting, flat and dull looking buildings. Even during the nice light that occurs about an hour before sunset, I still struggle to make images that I like. Sure when I’m photographing people either on a model shoot or during street photography, the golden hour is great; the soft warm light makes people look good. The golden light can also improve buildings but I still gravitate towards the evening. I can get the extra dimension of man-made light mixing with the ambient natural light, which adds additional interest to a building.
So it was under these non-optimal (for me) conditions that I went on a photo walk this past weekend on the University of Texas campus. My friend Alex, organized the trip and about 15 of us met at 7pm and started on a path through the center of campus. The area was very quiet. It must have been finals since there were very few students walking about. With the lack of street photography subjects, I turned my attention to architecture. Without my crutch of rich blue hour colors and warm incandescent lights, however, I generally found the architecture uninspiring. There were some interesting buildings on campus but most seemed unremarkable. They lacked texture or detailing of classic Beaux Arts and the modern structures were generic like government buildings. I shot, what I thought, were the most interesting angles, as I waved though the mix of old and new structures. But as the sun began to set, my interest began to increase. I was getting closer to my element, the glow of evening lights and deep blue skies were now within reach.
But, an interesting thing happened after I got back and started processing my images. Those relatively dull buildings in day light looked much more interesting in black and white. Most lacked great color anyway and when I stripped out the color, the lines and textures began to pop. That’s the great thing about black and white. The extra, unnecessary stuff gets stripped away and if what’s left has enough structure, texture and interesting lines, the entire image is transformed. I’m not saying that these images are masterpieces but I strongly believe that they look a lot more interesting in monochrome. So with my new-found love (or crutch) for black and white, here is a monochrome tour of the University of Texas at Austin campus.
The photo walk started at the Blanton Museum of Art, the same building that I mentioned in my previous post about Shooting the Olympus E-P3 in a Sea of Leicas. Again I used the E-P3 with the Panasonic Lumix 14mm lens with is equivalent to 28mm in 35mm terms. The Blanton images are a study in curves. I explore wall texture with the two modernist images above.
Nothing like some heroic statues, two of many on campus. The first one is part of the Littlefield fountain, probably turned off because of the drought. Without the water, you can really appreciate the artistry in the design. The second one is called The Torchbearers by Charles Umlauf which represents the passing of knowledge from teacher to student. I think the white building makes the sculpture pop nicely from the background and the dark structural landscaping anchors it to the ground.
There is an out-of-place greenhouse in the middle of campus just north of the famous UT Tower. This greenhouse became the focal point for three images in this post. The photo at the top is my favorite; I like the moody feel, the reflections off the glass and the delicate tree branches balancing out the frame. The image with the relaxing coed gives context and the greenhouse acts as a backdrop to the expanse of lawn.
The pond with the lilly pads and the large tree is just beyond the greenhouse a bit east and north. The last three photos are from Guadalupe Street, also known as “The Drag”, a commercial area just on the western edge of campus. As the photo walk reached The Drag, my favorite Blue Hour was almost upon us. You can see the glow of the lights even in black and white, but they are best appreciated in color. Here is an example of the Blue Hour color on the drag and a closeup of neon set against a nice blue sky.
I took these photographs with my Olympus E-P3 with the Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5. Please make sure to click on a photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.
I recently post processed a set of photographs that I took last month in San Francisco. Several of these images were particularly geometric or architectural and I thought would look good in black and white. Each of these four images share strong lines or shapes that look good when reduced to their basic elements by removing the color. I admit that when I took them, I wasn’t thinking, “these would look good in black and white”. I shoot all my photographs in color, and later in post processing, I convert some to back and white. Different scenes attract and beckon me to make a photograph. It might be because of the color or because of the glow and reflections of light. The carnival rides and food stands in my blog post, Rodeo Austin — tradition, variety and visual richness are a good example. The photographs on this post are entirely different. Color and light are not the most important elements. Consider black and white when the shape of an object or the leading lines are the primary attraction. Consider using black and white when the color detracts from the image or does not add value. I like to clarify and simplify the images by removing the dull uninspiring color.
I shot the top image on the AirTrain at the San Francisco International Airport. I was taking the train to the rent-a-car office and just happened to get into the front car. I saw the large picture window and wanted to use it to frame the view looking north. I shot several photos but this one was the best; the window was centered properly and there was less clutter. It also has the wonderful leading lines pointing towards the mountains. There are good reasons to shoot multiple frames of a similar scene. I decided on the concept but shot multiple frames, since the execution of each photograph changed as the train moved. Some frames had branching tracks and more clutter or some did not have the mountains in the distance. Because I shot often, I threw away the undesirable photos. This is the advantage of digital. You shoot extra frames and pick the best. I know some purists insist that you have a vision for an image and you execute that vision by shooting a single frame. I disagree. I have a vision but I let serendipity improve it. I’m not advocating the you take random photos and hope that something good magically appears; it is important to have an idea for a photograph. But once you have a concept, why not tweak it. Move around a bit, take a few extra frames to see if one is better than another. And if I took some more frames of the first image, I might have created a better photograph. There is part of highway sign on the left and some equipment on the right. Without these distracting elements, the image would be even stronger and simpler. Keep in mind that I didn’t have a lot of time to create this. I didn’t open up a tripod, level the camera and align all the lines. I was in a moving train, with other people and had minutes to capture this image. Other times, the opportunity for a good photograph may only last seconds. You can’t always over analyze a situation. Get the concept, shoot quickly and shoot often.
I got my car and drove to downtown San Francisco and ended up in the SoMA (South of Market) area. This is the first time I visited SFMOMA, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. I’ve seen the exterior many times and I knew it had some neat architecture. I walked into the lobby and noticed the bold stair design at the end of the room; I instantly gravitated towards this feature. I shot many frames but there was a constant flow of people and I could not get a clear, person-less photo. This one turned out to be my favorite. As an architectural image, not having anybody in the frame might be preferable, but I did not have a choice. Having this person on the right does make for an interesting image. She breaks up the symmetry, gives a human element and a sense of scale. Shooting multiple images of the stairs allowed me again to pick the best image.
After shooting the stairs, I looked around some more. Nobody seemed to mind so I continued with my photography. I looked up and saw this wondrous skylight and did my best to frame the circle in the middle. I think the positioning of the person on the catwalk could be better and their inclusion in the frame is purely by accident. Perhaps if I took more frames, I could have chosen a better image, with the person positioned in a better location. When post processing, I knew I wanted to increase the shadows, to have a crisp edge where the circle met the dark ceiling. The image was monochromatic except for a pale blue sky. If I could have gotten a rich saturated blue sky, I might have kept the color, however, the pale blue ultimately was not bold enough. By making this black and white, it became all about the circle and the intersecting lines.
The last image was taken a couple of blocks from the SFMOMA. I just happened to be in San Francisco the day before the iPad 3 announcement and Apple had rented the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for this event. I was not going to the event but thought it would be neat to take some exterior photographs of the venue. There were several other photographs with the same idea, a news crew from Australia and a photographer from a magazine. Normally, I would have waited for blue hour to get the most spectacular image. I’ve mentioned before that I love taking architecture shots at blue hour since the warm yellow glow from the building’s light contrasts nicely against the deep blue sky. I had a limited time in San Francisco so I didn’t want to wait. This image was taken too early and did not have any color in the sky. I think the white sky works better in a black and white photograph than in a color one. I also think the lines of the building and stairs stands out better in the colorless version.
So there you have it, four black and white images, each with its own shape. The first image is a rectangle, the second with hints of triangles, the third is obviously a circle and the last one is primarily of a cube. I think each one works better in black and white than in color. Perhaps these examples might give you some inspiration to do some black and white conversions of your own.
I took these photographs with my Olympus E-PL1 with the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7. Please make sure to click on a photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.
See more images from San Francisco on mostlyfotos, my one photograph per day photo blog.