Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography

Austin

The fisheye and the book signing

SSara and the Pen FT, Precision Camera - Austin, Texas

Sara and the Pen FT, Precision Camera – Austin, Texas

Last Thursday, I went to Precision Camera for a double dose of photographic fun. The Olympus guys were in town with new gear and there was a reception for two book signings. I shot these whimsical images with the just introduced Olympus 8mm f1.8 fisheye lens.

I’ve never shot fisheye. These are my first ever attempts. The distortion you see is the signature of a fisheye lens. I don’t know if there are serious uses for these kind of lenses, but they are fun to play with. I’ve often shoot with wide-angles so my inclination was to get in close.

Mandy keeps the reception going, Precision Camera - Austin, Texas
Fisheye Fruit, Precision Camera - Austin, Texas
Gallery Space, Precision Camera - Austin, Texas

Precision Camera has really done an excellent job running these events. Much of that, I’m sure, is due to Mandy’s efforts. She does a lot more than open bottles of wine. She organizes these receptions as well as the extensive in-store training classes.

Precision is no longer just a camera store, they’ve become a resource of the entire Central Texas photographic community. I get to meet friends, of course, and I experience a reinvigoration of creativity, surrounded by works from great photographers. It’s like a mini art museum without the stodginess.

Eli Reed Signs his Book, Precision Camera - Austin, Texas
Eli and His Book, Precision Camera - Austin, Texas
Eli and David, Precision Camera - Austin, Texas

The works of two street photographers were on display and they both have new books. Magnum Photographer, Eli Reed, showcased his latest, A Long Walk Home. Sharing the stage, David Lykes Keenan with his Fair Witness which started life on Kickstarter.

I’ll get to play some more with the fisheye and the new 7-14mm super wide-angle — two lenses introduced just this week. Charles from Olympus is letting me use them for a couple of weeks. I’m not sure if I’m a fisheye person, though it’s fun to play with. I’m more interested in putting the 7-14mm through its paces.

Incidentally, the Olympus Pen FT Sara was shooting at the top of the post? It’s not some new super secret camera. It’s nearly 50 years old and shoots half frame 35mm — you get 72 shots per roll. It’s my latest camera which I’ll talk about in a future post. I’ve been writing a lot about the latest OM-D E-M5 Mark II, but I’m still shooting film.

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I took all photographs with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with the Olympus 8mm f1.8 Fisheye Pro lens.

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Burnet Road at Night: Small town underpinnings amidst transition

Lucy's Neon, Burnet Road - Austin, Texas

Lucy’s Neon, Burnet Road – Austin, Texas

There’s a lot of neon going up on Burnet Road. I call it mid-town Austin, well within the still incomplete inner loop and north of downtown and the University of Texas. As Austin’s boom continues, the once sleepy, forgotten places have been injected with new life. New multi-story apartment buildings and restaurants highlight changes that’s been happening here for the last few years.

Lit Window at Blue Hour, Burnet Road - Austin, Texas
JLonely Car, Burnet Road - Austin, Texas

While still an atypical place for a photowalk, last Thursday Tony, Mike and I explored Burnet Road along with the neighboring North Lamar area. Unlike my usual Austin locations, these places challenge one’s observational powers. They are not filled with tourist destinations or obvious photography targets — visual interest needs to be pried out.

In many ways, we’ve been forced here. Despite the many years of growth and favorable press reports, Austin is not a big city. With years of exploration of the obvious Austin spots, we’re hungry for something new. We’re up for new challenges I guess.

Little Longhorn Saloon at Blue Hour, Burnet Road - Austin, Texas
Arbor Sign and Tangled Telephone Pole, Burnet Road - Austin, Texas
Basic Structures, Burnet Road - Austin, Texas

What became evident as I shot here, was the small town, Texas underpinnings. The modest structures and visually scarring telephone poles still dominate. The successive layers of low-end development are finally giving way to more substantial structures. But unlike downtown, which is rapid transforming into a 21st century city, Burnet Road is still in its infancy.

Three Windows at Blue Hour, Burnet Road - Austin, Texas
DSinger at Blue Hour, Burnet Road - Austin, Texas
Neon Texas, Burnet Road - Austin, Texas

Tony and I talked, wondering if this place will become the next SoCo (South Congress Avenue south of downtown). I’ve been to SoCo often and have talked about it here. 15 to 20 years ago, SoCo was low-end and dangerous with prostitutes and less reputable businesses. Now it’s one of Austin’s most visited and trendy neighborhoods. Burnet Road lacks the downtown access but might become a vibrant place to live — away from the crowded and super expensive downtown but with good access to night life and restaurants. Once can argue this is already happening.

Swift Blur, Burnet Road - Austin, Texas
Blue Hour Alleyway, Burnet Road - Austin, Texas

And if this building trend is indeed the start of something significant, all the more reason to document its change, photographically. I’ve moved to Austin before SoCo was “In”, though I took no pictures — photography was not significant for me back then. Perhaps in 20 years, I can look at these images and wonder what happened to that small town that I saw on Burnet road back in 2015.

Stranger in the Dark, Burnet Road - Austin, Texas

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I took all photographs with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with the Olympus 17mm f1.8 lens.

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Eeyore’s Birthday Party, the 2015 edition: Experimenting to keep things fresh

Antler Woman, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas

Antler Woman, Eeyore’s Birthday Party 2015 – Austin, Texas

It was unusually hot and crowded this year at Eeyore’s Birthday Party. Much too hot for this very Austin, spring event. It’s my fourth visit and I know the drill. Acrobats over there past the food stands, the main drum circle underneath the trees on the left, another small circle further down past the jugglers and the hula hoopers. Yes, it’s familiar now, but it’s still fun to go. People watching and people photography being the primary draw.

To keep things interesting, I tried a different shooting style and of course changed up my gear. Last year, I shot with just the Fujifilm X100S. This year, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II along with the Olympus 17mm lens, which gives me the same framing as the X100S — I really like the 35mm focal length. I also brought two other mystery cameras which I hope to talk about in a future post.

Ash, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas
Jordan, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas
Ash and Jordan, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas

I experimented with backlit portraits this year. I was at Eeyore’s later than usual and the sun’s lower angle was favorable for this type of shooting. I added up to a stop of exposure compensation and the EVF easily allowed me to judge the desired amount.

Surrounded by Cute Dogs, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas
Beer makes everyone happy, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas

And I think the bright exposure better represented the mood that I wanted to express on that hot, sunny day. Despite using a lens hood, I still had some flaring but it was generally well controlled.

Drum Circle #1, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas
Drum Circle #2, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas
Drum Circle #3, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas

The drum circle is the gateway to an alternate state. The rhythmic drumming and other stimulus seem to overcome those who enter. It’s my favorite thing to capture. I’m generally immune from its effects since I’m busy shooting, which is a convenient excuse. The truth is, I’m not the kind of guy that typically lets loose despite the pull of the primal beat.

Dancing Girl #1, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas
Dancing Girl #2, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas

I’m attracted to the free spirits, at least photographically. And the fun and energy rubs off on the surrounding onlookers. I find it peaceful shooting here, like shooting by the sea. It puts me in a meditative state.

Amazing Bubble, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas

I’m not sure if the giant bubbles are new or I just don’t remember them from last year. Either way, their fantastic shapes attracted the children.

Selfie, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas

As usual, there were a large number of photographers but I didn’t notice them as much this year. I saw modestly sized, predominantly entry-level, DSLRs and more mirrorless cameras but smart phones were the majority, of course. Perhaps it was the time of day but I didn’t see as many “Pro” DSLR toters. You know the kind. Some of which have two big cameras dangling from both sides — ready to draw at a moments notice.

The warrior and the princes, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas
Into the light, Eeyore's Birthday Party 2015 - Austin, Texas

Finally, two more backlit images to round out the post. The danger of bringing too much equipment is distraction. While the two other cameras did complete for attention, the Olympus E-M5 Mark II was the primary. With only one lens to worry about on the Mark II, things worked out better than I hoped. I had sufficient keepers to not disappoint.

I also feel that It’s instructive to look at past works from the same event. And after looking at previous Eeyore Posts (2012 and 2014), I feel relief that they don’t all look the same. While I’m not sure if my photography is improving, at least it’s changing. It appears that I’m still exploring and experimenting, which is fine by me.

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I took all photographs with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with the Olympus 17mm f1.8 lens.

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Street Photography and testing the new Olympus at SXSW Interactive 2015

Everfest Portrait, SXSW 2015 - Austin, Texas

Everfest Portrait, SXSW 2015 – Austin, Texas

I was in full street photography mode at the 2015 SXSW Interactive, last month. I wasn’t an attendee. No, I just find it interesting to shoot downtown when one of Austin’s largest events rolls in. I was sporting the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with the compact 17mm f1.8, a perfect setup for unobtrusive photography. The camera was on loan from Olympus and SXSW was one of many places I took the camera to test its capabilities.

I shot for some 3 1/2 hours from the evening into night. I started on 6th street, walked down to the trendy Rainey Street area and back again to 6th. Not surprisingly, the camera worked flawlessly. I’m quite familiar with Olympus micro 4/3 cameras so I knew what to expect. But there are improvements, after all, and the Mark II is Olympus’ latest and greatest. With every iteration one hopes that there are at least a few refinements along the way.

Handing Out Ears, SXSW 2015 - Austin, Texas

I’ve talked at length about the new 40MP mode but that’s not relevant here. I was shooting on the street and the high-resolution mode requires everything to be locked down — shot on tripod. No. Focusing speed, image stabilization and fast frame rates were what mattered most, on that day.

JW Marriott Interior, SXSW 2015 - Austin, Texas
JW Marriott Exterior, SXSW 2015 - Austin, Texas

I’ve gotten used to super quiet shutters on my Fujifilm X100S and Pentax Q7 and I’m happy to report the Olympus’ Mark II implementation is even quieter. Along with the 10 frames per second burst, I could rip off multiple frames without anyone knowing. This works great for candid photography as you see here. But I could see it as a real boon for wedding photographers or anyone else that needs to be perfectly quiet. These refinements are something that Sony does not realize on their current excellent but noisy mirrorless cameras. The Mark II is all about refinement.

Pedicab Portrait, SXSW 2015 - Austin, Texas
Short Bus Man, SXSW 2015 - Austin, Texas

SXSW Interactive seemed livelier from my perspective. While I have no idea if the actual conference sessions were any better, I got a good vibe on the street. I like how the organizers combined the 6th Street and Rainey Street areas together to create a continuous flow. It increased the size of the venue which made it more free-flowing and open.

Taqueria Truck Ordering, SXSW 2015 - Austin, Texas
Service with a Smile, SXSW 2015 - Austin, Texas
Chicken Truck, SXSW 2015 - Austin, Texas

Near Rainey Street, an ad hoc food truck park made for rich street photography. I like shooting in these places since the light from the trucks and the surrounding darkness makes for a moodier cinematic feel. Are food trucks a passing fad? Perhaps these images will date themselves like plaid polyester sport coats.

Merch at Bangers, SXSW 2015 - Austin, Texas
Megan from Slurpee, SXSW 2015 - Austin, Texas
Video Gamers, SXSW 2015 - Austin, Texas

The bars and restaurants on Rainey continue to expand and have a unique Austin feel — different from the grungy and downscale 6th street but populated with hipsters. I like Bangers for its warm incandescent glow. The periphery featured low-key corporate sponsors but they fit in decently well into the overall mood. After years of shooting SXSW, maybe the impact of blatant corporate sponsorships no longer irritate. I just view them as part of the fabric, backdrops to the scenes I like to capture.

Bartenders at Bangers, SXSW 2015 - Austin, Texas
Smart Phone Check in, SXSW 2015 - Austin, Texas

I’ve had good success shooting between 1/20 to 1/40 of a second. Olympus’ in-body image stabilization works well and these shutter speeds give me a combination of motion blur and tack sharp results. Not always on the same image, of course, but it works surprisingly well.

Bartenders at Bangers, SXSW 2015 - Austin, Texas

Coupled with the f1.8 lens, I was able to capture some truly low-light photographs. The image stabilization helps, no doubt, but the Mark II can really hold it’s own in these kind of environments. Back when I first started with Olympus with the E-PL1, I would’ve struggled. Slow focusing and noisy high ISO performance, no more. That was 3 or 4 years ago. The modern-day micro 4/3 world has changed enormously.

Pedicab Line, SXSW 2015 - Austin, Texas
Iron Works from the Doorway, SXSW 2015 - Austin, Texas

My friend Mark, who accompanied me for part of this street photography exercise, shot with his Leica M. The Leica M is no doubt a fine camera and a very expensive one at that. But I couldn’t help but have sympathy for Mark’s challenges. You see, while the Leica is capable of producing fantastic images, it’s doggone difficult to do so. While people say the equipment doesn’t matter, they are kidding themselves. It’s so much easier to shoot and capture images with the E-M5. Perhaps you can argue that modern technology is not as satisfying since it’s so much easier. And I can understand that sentiment. When I shot with the Leica M on 6th Street, I felt a great deal of accomplishment when I created a good image.

HIM Movie Promoters, SXSW 2015 - Austin, Texas
6th Street Motion Blur, SXSW 2015 - Austin, Texas

But the world moves on. DSLRs are great but old tech, so are Leicas, even the digital ones. The mirrorless cameras are smaller, more nimble and have real world features that make them more fun to use and help get the job done. With more mirrorless iterations than perhaps anyone, Olympus continues to refined the experience with their newest E-M5 Mark II.

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I took all photographs with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II hand held with the Olympus 17mm f1.8 lens.

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It’s SXSW season again, time for more photography, of course

SXSW Sunset - Austin, Texas

SXSW Sunset – Austin, Texas

The light and sunset were nice tonight as SXSW (South by Southwest) kicked off today. It’s Austin’s big multimedia, film and music extravaganza. I was downtown with my friend Mark shooting the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II. No playing with high-resolution settings tonight. Just one lens, no tripod and I was in serious street photography mode. And, for a big change, I only used one camera, if you exclude the iPhone.

Cesar Chavez street was decked out with a faux Bates Motel and the new 1000 room JW Marriott was fully operational to greet the onslaught that will overload Austin for the next two weeks. I did a fair amount of shooting tonight and will do more next weekend. I’m going to be busy for the next week but will be back with much more to talk about.

This HDR photo is imperfect but I’m happy with the result. It was hand-held and considering the movement of the camera and the people, the software did a decent job. Sometimes you’ve got to go with what you have. The dynamic range was such that I knew a single exposure won’t do the scene justice.

With SXSW, the Austin Rodeo and new cameras to play with, I’m going to be busy with lots of content. It’s too bad that I keep on falling behind with the other blog topics. I still have more to talk about regarding the Big Bend trip, the recent trip to Japan and the slew of other photos that I shot last year. I’m not optimistic about catching up, anytime soon, but I’ll try to vary the content to keep things interesting.

See you soon.

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I took the photograph with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II in JPEG, since the RAW converter is not available.

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