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.
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.
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.
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.
A month ago I was down on 6th street on a foggy and drizzly night. I made a photograph that I really liked — a street scene with the wet cobblestones, colorful bars and the glistening Frost Tower in the background. While I shoot often here, the weather added another dimension. I vowed to make more of these kinds of photographs.
Recently, everything aligned perfectly for another chance. It was a night with an occasional light drizzle. It was a Wednesday so the crowds were sparse and I even had free parking downtown after 6pm. I quickly got down there with my usual lightweight HDR setup, an Olympus E-PM2 with a 14mm f2.5 lens and a light tripod.
Regular visitors probably know that I like HDR but tend to process on the light side, opting generally for a realistic look. I like to add a bit of an edge and a boost of color, for some excitement. The neon, grit and the shine off the wet streets allowed me to amp it up more than usual. I wanted a colorful, saturated and glossy feel to the photos. The kind of images that fit the famous party like atmosphere of this place.
The most visually exciting part of 6th street is confined to a 4 block area. Continue eastward and things get darker, the buildings more modest. What stands out for me is how densely packed the area is. Bar after bar shouts in some way to entice customers. The lights, colors, flags and neon all attempt to stake out space. The visual presence is a requirement to stay in business and capturing this cacophony photographically, all the more fun.
Strip away all this bling and you’re left with standard late 19th century Texas architecture. Some of the buildings are more ornate than their small town cousins. But the buildings’ DNA is recognizable now, especially since I started visiting the surrounding communities. The big difference is that Austin is thriving while many of the nearby small towns only eke by.
Visit here on a Friday or Saturday and it’s wall to wall people. The visual queues no longer enough, these places resort to live music and calls for $1 well drinks to pull in customers. Some Austinites call this street “Dirty 6th”. I call it a photographic bonanza. It’s worth braving the young and drunken bravado or the calls for donations from the down and out. On this quiet Wednesday, about the only annoyance was occasionally wiping the mist off the front lens element. It was a good night for photography.
Update: The large building featured above was in fact a hotel, as I speculated. Called the Doering Hotel or the Hotel Hawn built in 1928.
I have a growing fascination with old cities. These older places have better detailing which adds visual interest — they just work better with my urban photography. And even if many of the places in Texas are passed their prime, the resulting decay adds even more patina. I also have an interest on an anthropological level too. What made these cities thrive and what led to their downfall?
I made a quick stop at Temple, Texas yesterday, on the way back from my son’s tennis tournament. Temple is located about an hour north of Austin on Interstate 35. It’s the first time I got off the highway and drove into the old downtown. My visit revealed a curious city with several taller buildings. This is not a small town like the ones I visited during the summer. Temple has a significant downtown which has clearly passed its peak. Quick research indicates that Temple grew as a confluence of two major railroad lines, the Missouri-Kansas and the Santa Fe. In fact the city was named after Bernard Moore Temple, a civil engineer who worked for the Santa Fe.
I wonder if these taller structures were hotels. It’s not hard to imagine back in the heyday with bustling streets and trains. Perhaps people stayed here overnight on their way to distant lands. I’m sure the car culture and the decline of railway travel has doomed Temple. And while there are still major employers in the area, most of the development is out in the suburbs, along the highways, like most places in the U.S.
My favorite composition is of the Arcadia Theater with the tall building in the backdrop. It’s my lead photo and I added a second from a slightly different angle. The first photo was taken at a 22mm equivalent wide-angle, up close. The second photo, with the 28mm from across the street. I’m speculating that the tall building was once a hotel but there are no signs to be sure. Both buildings have lovely brickwork and detailing that sets them off from the norm.
Here is another view of that tall 9 story hotel like structure. I’m struck by the optimism that created such a building. In a city with 2 story buildings, this must have been built to impress. Looking at these images, devoid of people, I can’t help but conjure up some post apocalyptic scenario. Add your own zombies to spice up the story. There were certainly the occasional vehicle that passed by but on this Saturday afternoon, there were almost no pedestrians.
Across the street there is a less interesting six-story building. I like the detailing above the humble doorway. The boarded up businesses on either side seem to balance the composition.
I don’t want to portray a completely dead city. There are active businesses in the downtown district — even an unexpected Japanese Restaurant. The Empire Seed Co. still seems to be in business. I was drawn to the rusted clock and the patina of this aged structure.
Nearby, there was an alleyway that reminds me of black and white photos from the end of the 19th century. You know the kind that have telephone wires and power lines strung, multiple levels high, in those rapid growing East Coast cities. Take away the dumpsters and I get transported back to that age. It almost seems like this place was frozen it time.
Finally here is a photo of the 13 story Kyle Hotel building which is now converted to apartments. Built in 1929, this appears to be the only historic tower that is still being used.
Temple also has some newer downtown buildings and a few businesses are renovating older buildings. The modern buildings don’t have the visual appeal of the older structures so I chose not to photograph them. Like usual, my photographic tours are mainly to capture what I consider interesting, rather than being a complete inventory of what’s there. The streets, sidewalks and the general infrastructure is very clean. I’m hoping the downtown has turned the corner and will be redeveloped. It’ll be a shame if these building are not put to good use.
On our local Facebook photographer’s group, we each posted our single favorite photograph from 2013. I posted this one.
I take a lot of photos every year and perhaps there may be a better one, at least technically. However, this one resonates with me. At first when I created it, I was unsure — there was a lot of motion blur. But I realized that it captures a certain mood on 6th Street. The wild, colorful and exciting bar scene in Austin’s most famous entertainment district comes alive.
The photograph is more colorful and vivid than in real life. But more and more, my photography is less about real life and more about the mood I want to express. This is how my photography is evolving or at least the path I want to take.
After all, I’m not documenting products for marketing brochures — accurate color and lighting is less important. I remember when I got into photography or even when I started HDR. Trying to capture, what I believed, what my eyes saw was of the utmost importance. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that this is a foolish goal. Photography is not reality. It’s an interpretation. A point of view. There is no right or wrong in Art.
So I picked this photo for the mood I want to express. It’s an attempt to move beyond the plumbing and mechanics of photography. Capturing that technically perfect image, no longer the goal. The feeling of a picture, while harder to define and highly personal, is what I’m after. It’s something that I’m working on in 2014.
I went to Zilker Botanical Garden with my Dad, who was visiting during the holiday break. My dad is an avid photographer and he is stepping up into a mirrorless camera from his point and shoot. Since he likes flowers, we went to the garden but that was a bust. Even in relatively mild Austin, there were no flowers to be had in January.
We shot anyway just for the practice. Except I’m not much of a landscape photographer, at least here in Austin. I realized that it takes a different skill to eliminate the clutter which comes with the natural growth. Using a wide-angle lens also complicates things. I pickup too many leaves and undergrowth that distracts.
As you know, I love shooting cities and architecture. That’s what comes naturally. So even though I’m in a botanical garden, my strongest image was of a building. Go figure. This is a Swedish Log Cabin built by Austin area settlers around 1838. It was part of a small exhibit featuring local history.
Perhaps I’ll give another try when more things are in bloom.
After I posted the Times Square photos a few days ago, I kept on looking through my archives. I found a few more that I thought had that nice “Holiday in the City” kind of feel. It’s fun looking through these photos that I shot a year ago — they certainly bring back memories of that family trip. All images are from Mid-town Manhattan within a short distance of each other.
Up top is a photo of the world-famous Radio City Music Hall, home of the high kicking Rockettes. I like neon, and I frequently shoot them in Austin, but the scale in NYC is entirely different. It took me several tries until I got a photo without any cars whizzing by.
A half a block east of here is another New York landmark, Rockefeller Center.
The heart of the complex is the ice skating rink and the giant Christmas Tree. The security in this area is extra vigilant for photographers using tripods, which is a real bummer since I like to use them in these situations. As you know, I like to make high quality HDRs which mean using low ISOs — a tripod is really a must. Fortunately, I knew about the restrictions so I brought a special tool.
Instead of a traditional tripod, which I had with me but didn’t use here in Rockefeller Center, I used a small GorillaPod made specifically for mirrorless cameras. GorillaPods can be a pain in a butt to use. The are more fiddly than a regular metal tripod, however, they work great in these situations. I shot these angels by wrapping the GorillaPod around a metal barricade. Security didn’t seem to mind.
But sometimes, things come out great without HDR or tripods, even at night. Here is a another view of the angels with Saks Fifth Avenue in the background. Saks runs a short animated show projected on to the facade which I captured here.
Here is another handheld shot. I just loved these golden flags flapping in the wind. Except it was cold and the breeze certainly didn’t help.
I head west back towards my hotel and I’m on 6th Avenue, also known as the “Avenue of the Americas”. All of these buildings are 60 stories high, which are taller than the tallest building in Austin. They form sort of a wall that makes the area canyon like. Just a couple of more blocks west, on the other side of these buildings is Times Square.
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.
It’s become a tradition of sorts to shoot the Christmas Tree at the Driskill Hotel. This is the 5th year I’ve done this. Every year, I tend to shoot it from about the same place. I get subtle variations since the shape of the tree changes and my post processing has also changed. But I didn’t shoot close enough to get the details. The decorations that change every year tend to blend into a colorful texture.
This year, I decided to get closer and do multiple angles. While the cameras have changed, the technique remain the same. I shoot on tripod and with 3 exposures so that I have the option of doing HDRs. Despite the years of doing this, there are still two challenges.
First, I find it difficult to center my subject in the middle. Even with a level, which the Olympus E-PM2 does not actually have, getting the plane of the camera parallel to the subject is my biggest pain. I’m not going for perfection so I just eyeballed it. You think after all of these years, this would be easy.
The second challenge is to have patience. The Driskill is Austin’s grand old hotel and there are many tourists that pass through. Creating a photograph without people takes a lot of time and some luck. Of course the easiest way is to probably go there around 3am when nobody is around. I met my friend Mike at 9pm, which was way too early. There was a steady stream of people posing and taking pictures in front of the tree.
People would typically take their photo and proceed to have a 5 minute conversation within my field of view. Of course, I didn’t want to ruin their special holiday moment so I don’t say anything and patiently wait for a chance for 3 clean exposures. I was lucky. I got a few quick breaks that allowed me to get my shots. Mike, on the other hand, probably waited nearly 30 minutes. By 10pm, it was a lot more quiet. Note to self, go there much later next year.
Finally, for something completely different, here is a lightly toned black and white. I purposely included a couple that was admiring the tree.
I hope you have a Merry Christmas and a joyous holiday season.
Several months of planning. Several days of building. And several hours of fun.
My kids were lucky to go to a really good public elementary school here in Austin. Every Autumn, just before Halloween, they have their very elaborate and profitable fund-raising carnival called the Hoot. This is not just some random collection of inflatable rides. The school, the PTA and a huge crew of volunteers go all out. One of the most popular attractions is the Haunted House, put on by the 5th grade parents.
We had an architect, interior designers and other creative parents planning this for months. They transformed a portable building, usually the music classroom, in the Haunted House in a matter of days. I helped out too this year, doing the photography inside the attraction. I came up with a fairly elaborate system which I will discuss in an upcoming post. My involvement though pales in comparison to all the hard work that went into this place. Today, I wanted to share the inside of this Wizard of Oz themed Haunted House.
I shot these photos in the short window just after it was completed and before the first kids started going through. This year’s design was particularly sophisticated and, dare I say, artistic in many ways. Keep in mind that this was all built for a 4 hour event. At the end, it would be torn down and converted back into a regular elementary school classroom. The amount of effort put into this project was truly impressive.
As the first photograph shows, we start in Kansas in Dorothy’s house. This is the first room, where the kids enter. Pushing past the working screen door and you get to the tornado room. You are outside in the field with the storm cellar to the right and the twister visible front and center. There are fans blowing in here create that stormy and windy feeling.
This was my favorite room. It had a minimalist, “art installation in a museum” kind of feel. I wish I could have shot this from a higher angle looking downwards instead of the other way around. My main tripod was already pressed into service for my photo project so I had to use this old short tripod that just happened to be in my car. At eye level, the white ceiling fades from view and you see the simple, artistic details in this room.
Incidentally, as you might have guessed, I used HDR, shooting 3 images at 2 stops apart. Most of the rooms were very dark and I needed a tripod to keep everything aligned and steady. I used my usual Olympus E-PM2 with the Panasonic 14mm and wide-angle adapter.
After going through a dark hallway decorated with corn stalks, you arrive in the land of Oz. You can see the good witch off in the distance. There are several more rooms and hallways until you get to the yellow brick road that leads through the forest. After, you pass through a room where you can see the Emerald City in the distance, projected from the back via a computer controlled projector. Next you get to the witch’s castle.
The castle is where I shot the photo of the kids that passed through. The objective was to get candid shots of them being frightened by the Wicked Witch that pops out of the window. Then, there is a final dark passage that has closing doors on either end, where the zombified Dorothy appears (we took liberties with the original story line).
Hidden from view, and located in the center of the building is the control center where all the technology and actors resided. Throughout the entire experience, there were sounds of screams, dialog and music that added to the mood. The 5th graders, wearing costumes, slipped in and out of hidden passageways to both scare the kids and get to their pre-set positions. Beyond all the designing and building it was a momentous scheduling job as the actors changed shifts every 30 minutes or so.
Once it started, I was too busy to take it all in. I was manning the photography which kept me busy. As usual, the line for the Haunted House was long and wrapped around the corner. The kids and older folks seem to enjoy it. I’m glad I was a part of this creative crew and truly impressed with the teamwork.
Coming soon, a post about how I did the photography in the Haunted House.
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.
I shot this photograph a couple of weeks ago in Washington DC and just processed it tonight. It was shot in what I call, very unideal conditions, especially for a HDR. But this view of the U.S. Capitol looked great and I wanted to see what I could do.
I was at the Newseum, a museum dedicated to news, for an evening event during my conference in Washington. After dinner, I made it up to the top floor and out to the balcony where I saw this. I had my Olympus E-PM2 but no tripod. I did the best I can to grab the scene so that I could make something of the images when I got back.
Taking a good photograph here is harder than it looks, especially for a single exposure. It’s easy to blow out the details of the Capitol, especially if you wanted good light levels for the street. Preserve the details on the bright dome and you end up with a really dark exposure. So, yes, this is a perfect opportunity for HDR.
The thing is, when shooting HDRs, you really need to keep the camera as steady as possible between the multiple exposures. This helps greatly during post processing when the 3 photos are combined into a single image. I rested my camera on a round hand rail, which helped somewhat, but it wasn’t rock steady.
I also had to shoot at ISO 800 to have some hope of non-blurry images. HDR processing typically increases noise so it is always preferable to use the lowest possible ISO, 200 in the case of this Olympus.
Well, here’s the result. It came out decent enough, I think. At 100% it’s a bit noisy but looks fine, full size on my 27″ monitor. At web sizes, I think it looks quite good. Glad it took the shot. It was worth the effort.
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.
The Improv theater is located just around the corner from the lively neon spot I posted yesterday. I knew something interesting was there before I turned the corner to shoot the Azucar Restaurant. The glow of colored lights was a marker in the night. Something I knew I needed to check out during my stroll through downtown San Jose.
A show just let out and a burst of people flooded the street. Between the bars a block away and this theater, my impression of San Jose was changing. There was a lot more happening there than I imagined, especially for a Wednesday night. I shot the Improv from a few different positions but settled on this vantage point. The trees blocked the upper part of the neon and I wanted the clearest possible view.
As usual, especially during my travels, I used my light-weight HDR setup. An Olympus E-PM2 with the Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5 plus the matching Panasonic wide-angle adapter. This combination gives me a 22mm equivalent view which works great. Wide enough to take in most scenes without getting wacky, exaggerated wide-angle distortion. I shot 3 photos and blended them in post-processing. As you can tell, I tend to go for a realistic look. I use HDR to increase my dynamic range and get saturated colors but I shy away from the heavily tone mapped and textured look.
I found the people surprisingly friendly — some more people came to talk while I was adjusting my tripod. Perhaps there are more photographers in downtown Austin because people just ignore me. There was a certain palpable curiosity in downtown San Jose.
Click on the photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure detail.
I shot this photograph a week or so ago in downtown San Jose, California. I don’t particularly think of San Jose as a hopping night life city, at least compared to Austin, so I was happy to find this pocket of activity. I’m attracted to color and neon like a moth to flame. I magically gravitated here during a photowalk with my friend Dan. It’s in the city. It has color and light and that makes me happy.
I shot mostly in San Francisco during my last California trip, doing street photography with the Olympus E-P5 that was on loan to me. As much as I like this type of photography, a good urban landscape is what I ultimately desire. Using mirrorless, I was able to carry both a Olympus E-P5 and E-PM2 and a small tripod with no effort. In San Jose, I didn’t shoot much with the E-P5, I opted to use the E-PM2 with the wide-angle lens and a tripod to do HDRs.
Getting good color with neon and pulling in the ambient light almost always requires HDR, were I blend 3 exposures into one photograph. The technique works great for these type of scenes. It requires a tripod to keep the camera steady for the long exposures and to keep the exact framing between the 3 blended photographs.
There’s a funny back story too. Two well inebriated women curiously asked what I was shooting. They just didn’t understand why I would photographing here, with tripod. “I’m shooting the great color” I said to blank stares. They didn’t get it until I showed them the back of the LCD. The effect of the light and processing turns these scenes magical — they even look better than real life. My interest has trained me to seek these places out. Even if your town does not have a lively bar scene like 6th street in Austin, you can probably find a modest strip of night life like this place in San Jose.
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Whenever I go to Silicon Valley, I try to stay at the Cypress Hotel in Cupertino. It is part of the Kimpton Hotel chain which usually features playful and quirky interiors. I was reminded of this place because I’m going to call it home for the next several days. I’m off to California again tomorrow.
I appreciate when a hotel and designer goes out-of-the-way to make unique interiors. It’s a visual feast and I use HDR to capture all the details. That’s why when I travel, I like to book myself into places that may look good photographically, whenever possible. That was one of the criterias that I used to select my recent Cancun spot.
For a hotel to look up to date, they need to refresh and the Cypress is a case and point. On my last trip out there in April, they completed their lobby remodel and I took the photograph above. I also wanted to show you the previous lobby design that I took three years ago. It’s not from the same angle but the fireplace, for reference, remained in the same place after the remodel.
I took that with my Canon 7D and the super wide-angle Sigma 10 – 20mm which makes it a 16mm equivalent view. I took the new Cypress with the Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm plus the wide-angle adapter which makes it a 22mm equivalent. I no longer have a super wide lens, but that’s okay for now, I’ve been shying away from that look recently.
Beyond the difference in framing, there’s quite a change in interior decor, I’d say. The new design has a lot more places to sit and ties a nearby hallway into the seating area. I’m not sure which I like better but the old design is more conventional in its unconventionality, if you know what I mean. Perhaps the new interior is more keeping with the modern and techno Silicon Valley. Which do you like better?
I’m bringing a new toy to California, which I’ll be reviewing soon. Yes, it is yet another camera but one that’s on loan to me. I’m sure my readers will find it interesting. Stay tuned.
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A majority of the photographs I took on my recent Cancun vacation were family snapshots. The typical tourist photographs, perhaps with a tad better composition than your average snap shooter. But I also planned to take more “serious” photographs of the interiors and exteriors around the hotel. When we picked the Hard Rock Hotel, one of my prime considerations was how cool it looked, though I didn’t exactly tell my wife this. I used more pragmatic arguments to lobby for this vacation spot.
You may have noticed that I like architecture and neat looking interiors. I try to make these type of shots whenever I can, especially of elaborately decorated hotels. I brought along the tripod just in case and used the Olympus E-PM2 with the Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5 lens and the wide-angle adapter. This is my recent compact go to solution for HDR photography. Light weight and high quality.
I took more photos of the hotel but I wanted to post this one first. It’s one of the better ones, created a few minutes after sunrise. Ironically, I was getting up earlier on my vacation than I usually do for work. I used my usual subtle HDR technique to add a bit more detail and colorful pop. I’m going to print this and put it up near my desk. A visual reminder of a good trip and a very pretty place.
My flights to California have been, for the most part, trouble-free. My last trip, however, ended up taking a lot longer than usual. I was trapped all evening in an architectural limbo that would tax the most dedicated photographer.
Midway between Dallas and San Francisco, a passenger had an issue with his heart. We made an unscheduled landing in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The paramedics rushed in as soon as we landed and escorted the older man to a nearby ambulance. Luckily, he was at least upright and walking with assistance. A planned quick landing and refueling took longer than expected. A lot longer.
Our landing damaged one of the tires. Something about being heavier than normal — since we had more fuel — which caused the problem. Apparently, 737 tires are not very common in Albuquerque and had to be flown in. I guess a trip to the local Discount Tire wouldn’t suffice. We need to wait at least 5 hours to get the replacement. If all went well, we’ll be ready to leave by 10pm.
My usual desire to explore airport architecture would do no good here. The 80’s or 90’s era airport had all the charm of a shopping mall on the wrong side of town. The kind that’s past its peak and clearly hasn’t been updated in a while. The place was clean and well maintained. It was just oppressively boring. The muted southwestern colors and long featureless utilitarian architecture was not worth the click of a digital photo. Dynamic modern architecture is nice but just give me interesting. If it was some old, run down 50s or 60s era structure, at least there would be some character.
This dynamic sculpture, at the mid-point of the airport, was the only worthwhile photo opportunity. Called “Dream of Flight” by Santa Fe artist, Lincoln Fox, notice it’s surrounded by the best in 80’s mall design. Perhaps its simple lines purposely intending to contrast the textured sculpture. Long ago, before cost benefit calculations, public places had grandeur. A sense that a shared space like a train station, library or courthouse should be something special. Somewhere we lost this. Things are looking up though. Newer airports that I’ve visited are investing in better architecture. I think people realize that the airport is the gateway to the city. A cheap airport reflects poorly on the host city.
We were all boarded at 10:30 and ready to go but then an engine wouldn’t start. Somehow, I made it to SFO at 1:30am and to the hotel by 2:30am (4:30am Texas time). I was originally scheduled to land at 5pm. Ultimately, a memorable but not too terrible experience. I had a nice dinner and talk with a guy from Scotland. I also created a souvenir photo of an important piece of art — one that has the difficult mission of adding character to a large generic box of an airport.
Finally, I think about the old man with the heart condition. Hopefully he is resting comfortably and the flight detour was in time for him to make a strong recovery.
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Continuing with the Airport travel theme, I wanted to show off the new American Airlines branding on their new Boeing 777.
As I took the Skytrain at DFW airport, I noticed two 777s parked at Terminal D with the new American Airlines color scheme. Conveniently, my flight to San Francisco was also leaving from D. I found a good view of one of the new planes and shot it with my Olympus XZ-1. This XZ-1 point and shoot has become my entertainment during my travels — a fun, convenient way to snap interesting compositions.
I’ve hoped for a couple of months to get a nice photo of the new American plane and I decide to use my Olympus E-PM2 to create a higher quality image. I also did a hand-held HDR to further add dimension. The first image is my HDR. As you know, my technique tends to be on the light side, generally opting to enhance the color and texture only somewhat. A little bit more saturation, a bit of grittiness in the details and a bit more shine off the metal. I’m rarely heavy-handed in my HDR approach.
The photograph below is one frame (the middle exposure) from my trio of photos use to create the HDR. I think it looks decent but a bit washed out. I’ve post-processed it to increase the saturation, texture and contrast but it still doesn’t match the HDR for detail and depth. The effect is subtle but look at the engine and the shadow under the plane. Also notice that the HDR has more texture and reflections off the surface of the plane.
The last photograph was shot with the XZ-1 point and shoot. The framing is not the same but you can tell the colors and details are a bit more muted. There is a dull feel, almost like a grayish layer over the image. It’s still nice and most people will be happy with it but there is a difference between it and the Olympus E-PM2. Not surprising given the E-PM2 has a much larger and higher quality sensor along with a high quality prime lens.
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If you follow my blog, you know that I go on a lot of photowalks. Some by myself, others with a couple of friends and once in a while, with a huge group. Many of these walks happen in Austin, my home town. The problem is, there’s not a lot of places to shoot urban landscapes in Austin.
For all the national attention Austin seems to get these days, it is a medium-sized city at best. Sure it has 1 million plus people in the 5 country area but the central core is pretty small. The good news is that the downtown is growing and the fabric and texture of the city continues to improve. Never the less, this is no New York, San Francisco or Tokyo, nor does it have the wonderful old details of even a smaller European town. The result, if you shoot urban landscapes and architecture like I do, Austin poses a big challenge.
But like most challenges, taken positively, it strengths you. It hones your skills. I believe the dearth of interesting subjects in this city allows me to dig deeper, see differently and try new things. I try to discover new shapes and angles. I’m constantly in search of unique situations that may give a new perspective to an overshot scene. I also change-up lenses or cameras that give me new capabilities.
What this means is when I get to a big city, the visual possibilities are almost overwhelming. My brain seems like it’s going to explode with the 1000s of frames that I see around me. Trained for sparse visual conditions, the mind becomes drunk with overstimulation. In a place like New York City, I think I could shoot 8 hours a day, everyday for a year and not exhaust the urban material. Perhaps, some day I will get that opportunity.
I went on yet another photowalk this past Friday. A different group of people from a week ago but in the same general area. I almost didn’t go — I’ve been to this place so many times. But I wanted to meet my friends, which is a big part of the fun of these things. I’ve been on a HDR kick lately, enjoying my new-found freedom with my new, light weight Olympus setup. I saw color. I saw reflections. I created this festive shot in Austin’s famous entertainment district, 6th street. The image for me represents the sometimes wild, party atmosphere of this place.
It’s a new angle, one that I’ve never seen before.
I started my online presence on Flickr. Things were a lot simpler, social media wise, back then. A bunch of local Austin photographs kept in-touch via this photo sharing site. I had a pretty large following and there was only one place to post my photos.
Then things changed. People started shifting more to their personal blogs, Facebook, 500px and even Google Plus. The cohesive community started to break down. I am guilty myself. Despite my best efforts, after expending energy on my blogs, I found it increasingly difficult to stay active on Flickr. I let my presence diminish and I regret that now. I’m starting to post sporadically again but my friends have either left altogether or busy looking at other people’s work.
I’m reminded of the simpler days and the confusing array of online sites today, when a Flickr friend visited from Germany. He contacted Jim as he passed through Austin. I met Jim, Kay and his wife in downtown Austin for a Flickrwalk a week ago. We did our typical tour for out-of-towners. Start at the Driskill Hotel on 6th street. Walk up Congress Avenue for a tour of the State Capitol. Down Congress to the river just in time for sunset. Finally shoot the Austin skyline during blue hour. I captured the photograph above, at sunset, just as I crossed the river. An old-fashioned HDR, for old times sake (though I shot it with my small mirrorless camera instead of a DSLR)
This get together reminded me of the best part of Flickr. An easy way to meet a world-wide, friendly group of photographers. Facebook and Google Plus aren’t the same — there is too much noise. I want a place to interface with people through photography. I don’t want to know about their religious, political and social viewpoints. I may have to go retro and go back to Flickr. I am, however, staying with my smaller mirrorless cameras. Some trends are here to stay and the move away from the DSLR is one of them.
By the way, my Flickr account is atmtx
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I noticed this deal from Adorama. You can get a Panasonic GF3 with the 14mm f2.5 lens for $279.00. The GF3 is no slouch, though not as good as the newest Olympus E-PM2 that I use. The 14mm lens, though, is the real star of the deal. The lens by itself runs at over $300. That means that you can buy the lens at an extra good price and get a great camera for free.
The Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5 is one of my favorite micro 4/3 lenses and I use it often. The image quality is very good, not quite as good as the Lumix 20mm f1.7 or the magical Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4, but if you like the wide 28mm view, it is a wonderful lens to have. The nice thing about this uber compact lens is that you can also attach several different lens adapters to it. I have the wide-angle adapter that I use frequently.
These types of deals typically last a very short time and the price will be back to normal, quickly. So if you want it, jump on it fast.
Note: The 14mm on a micro 4/3 system is equivalent to 28mm in the standard 35mm format. The wide-angle makes it a 22mm equivalent.
I wanted to do something a bit different for this post. I’m using all black and white photographs. While I certainly love color, usually the more color the better, I have an appreciation for black and white. In fact, recently, I’ve done more black and white conversions. I took these photos on the SXSW Photowalk from this past Monday. I’ve posted my favorite color photograph from the event, earlier this week. But for today, we are going strictly monochrome.
We started the photowalk on the steps of Austin City Hall. There were 200+ participants and I was one of a dozen “coaches” who helped people with questions about photography. I brought two cameras with me, the Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm lens and the wide-angle adapter. The other camera was my Olympus E-P3 with the 25mm f1.4. My smaller E-PM2 was attached most of the time to a light weight tripod for doing long exposures and HDRs. The other camera was perfect for street photography. Most people used traditional DSLRs but many looked at my gear with curiosity. Some even commented that they wanted to downscale, weight-wise to a mirrorless camera.
How do I decide when to go black and white? This will probably make purists cringe but the short answer is I use black and white when I think it looks better. Subjective certainly, but as I gain more experience, I’m beginning to get a better idea of when to axe the color. Here are some of my simple rules.
1. I often use black and white to emphasize shapes and texture. This works great for architecture and cityscapes, especially if the color pallet is simple.
2. Sometimes, a black and white can add more mystery and moodiness to an image, especially when there are a lot of dark areas.
3. Black and white can also be used to simplify the image especially when similar colors blend into a similar shades of gray. If you have distracting color in the background, getting rid of the color can also simplify. There are at times when black and white can work in reverse and make at image too busy. If you have too much non-repeating texture from trees and bushes for example, it can overwhelm your composition. Make sure your subject is not overshadowed by the increase in texture.
4. When you can’t get those nice blue skies because it is overexposed, turning the image to black and white may better harmonize with the subject. The lack of a blue sky is no longer a negative, it just becomes a non-issue.
5. If the color in the photograph is blah and boring, I find a B&W conversion is worth a try. With black and white, I can usually increase the contrast more than in color. In boring, uninspired light, the stronger contrast can bring out interesting details and add more dynamism.
6. I’ve also converted to black and white when the color cast of a photograph is particularly nasty. People’s skin color is especially important and in mixed lighting conditions or indoor lights with poor, limited spectrum lighting, getting rid of the color can be an easy way to make a better picture of people.
7. I’ve converted to B&W when I want that “traditional” street photography look or when I try to emulate a particular old-time style. This is perhaps just a gimmick but I do admit to doing this.
8. Finally, you can convert to black and white, just because. You are the photographer and you can do what you want when in pursuit of your art.
The first 5 photographs are a straight forward black and white conversions using Apple’s Aperture 3 software. The last three photographs are black and white HDRs. I created a HDR out of 3 exposures and then converted the resulting image into a black and white. I think the increase in texture and dynamic range adds to a level of detail that changes the feel of the image. To my eyes, it simply looks different from a typical digital photograph. The last 3 photographs were also taken on 6th street which is normally packed with cars. The street was pedestrian only during SXSW so I had a unique opportunity to shoot the street life without the interference of parked cars or worry about getting run over.
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