Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography

Canon EF 85mm F1.8

A Small Town Photo Festival in Smithville, Texas

Gabby at the 2009 Texas Photo Festival
Hillary at the 2009 Texas Photo Festival
Mr. Davis at the 2009 Texas Photo Festival

These photographs were taken at the 2009 Texas Photo Festival that took place a little more than a year ago in the small town of Smithville, Texas — about an hour south-east of Austin. 2009 was the inaugural year and I’m happy to say the event is on again in 2010, this coming Sunday on October 10th. Here is the website to this year’s photo festival. I had a wonderful time last year and I am also planning to go again this year. The Texas Photo Festival is organized by Doug Box and Randy Kerr, Austin area photographers specializing mainly in portraits. For this reason, the event has ample opportunity to take many portraits of different people in various settings. Last year, the event had various “sets” created outside for environmental portraits as well as an interior studio with lights and a backdrop. The sets included a marching band, cheerleaders, high school seniors, fire/rescue people, basically a mixture of everyday folk in a small town. From the website description, this year’s event also looks similar though some of the sets are different from last year.

If you are not interest in portraits, there are opportunities for other types of photography. At the event last year, I took many portraits but I also took HDR photographs of this neat old Texas town. Smithville is a place that is trying very hard to market its small town charms to artists, photographers and movie producers. A couple of movies have been film there and events including this Photo Festival are used to draw artists to the town. There are many old-style brick buildings with a lot of character — perfect material for HDR landscapes and architecture. I’m saving some of these architecture images for a future blog post but if you glance at my Flickr stream back in October 2009, you will see some of these images.

So if you are in the area and would like a fun afternoon of photography, you may want to head over to Smithville this Sunday. I’ll be there taking portraits and HDRs — a strange but satisfying combination.

My Thought Process

For these portraits, I used one of my favorite portrait lenses — the 85mm f1.8. I like the image quality of the lens and the large aperture allows me to blur out the background to reduce distractions.

Image 1: With the cheerleader, I didn’t shoot the image wide open (with the largest aperture) since I wanted to show the marching band in the background. I have enough blur to soften the background but still give enough context to the image.

Image 2: Hillary, the young woman in the purple top was shot with a larger aperture. Not completely wide open again, since I wanted her entire body to be in focus. At this distance, if I used f1.8, the maximum aperture, only part of her face will be in focus which is not the effect I was going for. This image was shot by a doorway, under a covered porch. The natural light worked well and in fact looked better than the studio lighting setup that they had in this building.

Image 3: Mr Davis is a long time resident of Smithville and was a wonderful person to photograph. You can tell that he has great character and facial features. I shot this with pretty much the same goal as my portrait of Hillary. Have a large enough aperture to blur the background but keep the entire person in focus.

Image Details

NOTE: You can click on the photographs to see a larger version.

The images were taken with a Canon 20D with the Canon 85 mm F1.8 lens. All 3 images were taken as 8MP JPEGs.

All of the images were sharpened a bit, added a slight vignette, slightly increased color saturation and brightened the mid-tones some using levels. I used Aperture 3 software to make these adjustments.

Image 1: f4.5, 1/500 sec, no exposure compensation, ISO 100 at 85mm
Image 2 (L): f2.8, 1/320 sec , +1/3 exposure compensation, ISO 800 at 85mm
Image 3 (R): f3.5, 1/1000 sec , +1/3 exposure compensation, ISO 200 at 85mm


Austin Fashion Week 2010

Austin Fashion Week - Bollywood Nights

Austin Fashion Week – Bollywood Nights – Backstage

All this week, Austin is having its 2nd annual Austin Fashion Week. The fashion week is a series of events hosted mainly at salons, stores and clubs throughout Austin. They showcase, clothing designers, makeup artists, models and even photographers. I decided to go downtown on Monday to several of the events to see if I could get some interesting portraits and candids. I also went to several fashion week events last year and had a great time. The venues are typically dark with fast paced movement so I find it a fun challenge to get decent images under these conditions. I ended up attending 4 events that evening, though I spent the bulk of the time at two of the larger fashion shows. All of these events were on the west side of town so it was quick and easy to get to them by car. Luckily because it was a Monday, parking was easier to find.

The first large event I attended was the “Bollywood Nights” event at the Jose Luis Salon. The whole thing was themed around Bollywood, which is an informal term used for the Indian Film Industry. They had Indian Hors d’œuvres, Bollywood music and the western (non-Indian) models in sari inspired clothing. The salon was a nicely sized, upscale with a long stage setup with VIP seating. On stage, they had two chairs setup at either end where the models would get their hair styled very quickly up on stage. The hair styling lasted 5 – 10 minutes so It was neat to see these people transformed very quickly. During the event there must have been around 5 pairs of models with these quick on stage hair transformation so that were ample opportunity to shoot. [View my entire Austin Fashion Week Gallery]

All along the stage, wherever there was room, about 15 or so photographers jockeyed for position to grab their shots. Some had professional gear with remote triggers and large off camera lights. Others seemed like me, amateur photographers taking images for fun or as a side business. Of course the audience also had their point and shoot cameras. With all the flashes going off and photographers running around, it was kind of fun. It felt like a small-scale version of what some of the larger fashion shows must be like on New York, Milan or Paris.

Austin Fashion Week - Bollywood Nights - Runway

Austin Fashion Week – Bollywood Nights – Runway

I find it a challenge to decide which lenses to bring to these events. You don’t know what the venues look like, or where you will be positioned and the what the lighting conditions are like. I decided to bring 3 lenses, my general purpose 18-135 zoom, a 50mm f1.4 prime and an 85mm f1.8 prime. I wanted to have the fast prime lenses with me for the darker conditions. The zoom along with my external flash gave me the flexibility to frame without moving around.

The image right above (2nd image on this page) was taken with the 18-135 lens. The ceiling was relatively low and white, so I was able to bounce my flash off the ceiling. While the salon was decently lit, I still shot at ISO 1600 and with the bounce flash. The zoom range was nice though I tended to shoot wider with this lens to get a feel of the stage and the crowds. The exposures were a bit dark at times and I wasn’t too thrilled with the look of the closeups. I decided to switch to my 85mm f/1.8 prime lens. The 85mm is one of my favorites for portraits. With its large aperture it is great for lower light conditions. As long as I can zoom with my feet, it works wonderfully. Luckily there was enough space to move around a bit to frame the shots. The lighting was mostly even so shooting on manual exposure mode was not too difficult. Images with and without flash looked about the same by the stage however when I went to the backstage area, I needed the extra light from the bounce flash. I got some of my favorite images backstage, away from the crowds, including the 1st image at the top of the page.

Austin Fashion Week - Hair Affair Fashion Show - Runway

Austin Fashion Week – Hair Affair Fashion Show – Runway

The second large event was a completely different environment from the first. It was held in the warehouse district in downtown Austin in a night club. It was young, very crowded with loud dance music. While the first salon was upscale with an older audience, this dance club was understandably young and energetic. The room was very large with really high black ceilings–I wont be able to bounce the flash off the ceiling here! Given how dark and large the room was, I would have to hit the models directly with flash, which usually does not make great photographs. I took a few shots with my 18-135 and direct flash but was not too excited by the results. I decide to use my 50mm f1.4 prime with and without flash to see if I can get more exciting images. I was on manual exposure again to ensure I have a decent shutter speed. Because the lighting conditions changed so much here, it was a real challenge to get a good exposure. I started out with a higher ISO but lowered it after deciding to add a small bit of direct flash. It took a bit of fussing around, but I got an exposure that worked most of the time. I was constantly looking at the histograms and highlight alert warning to make sure I remained in the ball park. Since I shot so many images, I used JPEG to save space. I didn’t have the latitude of RAW to make post processing exposure adjustments. The show itself was more like a traditional fashion show with the model strutting down the stage one by one. Each model sporting an increasing elaborate and strange hairdo.

The 3rd image on this page, taken at the Phoenix Austin night club maybe my favorite of the night. It has a lot of shadows but I think the right amount of light to give a nice feel of the place. You can see the details of the model and make out the photographers in the crowds. The bright light on the right side is actually a flash from another photographer. A bit of luck that, I believe, makes the image even more interesting. The last image was taken at the end of the show when all the models came up on stage. The various level of lighting on the model’s faces was interesting to me, including the backlighting effects.

Austin Fashion Week - Hair Affair Fashion Show - Curtain Call

Austin Fashion Week – Hair Affair Fashion Show – Curtain Call

My Thought Process

Image 1: After shooting at the runway for a while, I wanted to get out of the crowed and find a different angle. I made it back near the “backstage” area and shot the models waiting around. This image maybe my favorite from the Bollywood event.

Image 2: The wide-angle gives a nice view of the audience and the stage. I waited for the models to be close to each other and facing backward towards the photographers.

Image 3: While the Phoenix Austin night club was a challenging place to shoot, I’m happy with the way the images came out. This one is my favorite of the night and I think has a more artistic and moody feel. Lots of shadows and the right amount of highlights made for a more mysterious image.

Image 4: The backlit hair and different light levels makes this similar in feel to image 3. I like the models’ expression as they take their final “curtain call” at the end of the show.

Image Details

The images were taken with a Canon 7D as 18MP JPEGs.

Additional post processing in Apple’s Aperture 3 program included some sharpening, color correction and increased color saturation. I lightened some of the images, especially from the night club.

Image 1: f1.8, 1/200 sec,-1/3 exposure compensation, ISO 1600 at 85mm with bounce flash
Image 2: f3.5, 1/200 sec, -1/3 exposure compensation, ISO 1600 at 18mm with bounce flash
Image 3: f1.8, 1/160 sec, no exposure compensation, ISO 320 at 50mm, no flash
Image 4: f1.4, 1/125 sec, no exposure compensation, ISO 500 at 50mm, no flash

[View my entire Austin Fashion Week Gallery]