Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography

Olympus E-P3

The Dark Days of New York City

Subway Interior - New York, New York

Subway Interior – New York, New York (July 2012)


My sons thought it was dirty. I agree. Compared to the sparkling trains in Tokyo and Singapore, the New York City Subways are dirty. But they’re a heck of a lot better than they used to be. How bad was it 30 years ago?

I came across this wonderful Time.com article with accompanying photographs. It’s definitely worth a look. 15 images from Photographer Chris Morris, who documented the dark days of the subway system and the city back in 1981.

New York wasn’t always the sparkling and vibrant metropolis that it is now. Back in the early 80′s, NYC was only a hand full of years out of near bankruptcy. The dirty, graffiti covered subways are what I remember as I commuted for hours everyday to High School. Trains often broke down and were late. The heater was sometimes on full bast in the summer. Normal levels of graffiti withdrew into the background, becoming part of the fabric of everyday city life. Only exceptional levels of defacement raised eyebrows. I remember one day, the entire inside of a subway car was spray painted in a single act of vandalism, the windows, the seats and the floor.

I remember meeting Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angles that patrolled the subways. Imagine that, an unarmed citizen activist group to help protect the general public. That was the state of NYC at the time. Photograph 10 features a picture of this group.

People may now glorify graffiti as an art form. To me it’s just a form of public defacement. My opinion, no doubt, colored by my daily commute through people’s defiant self-expression recast as art expression. But the grittiness of the city is burned in my psyche. I am a product of the city. Even living in Austin, and in the suburbs for 20+ years, the city calls. I’m sure that’s part my motivation to create Urban Landscapes — why I return over and over to the dirty 6th Street in Austin.

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The Great Pyramid and Ruins at Chichen Itza

Shooting the Pyramid, Chichen Itza - Yucatan, Mexico

Shooting the Pyramid, Chichen Itza – Yucatan, Mexico

I wanted to do a mix of activities on my trip to Cancun, exposing the boys to some history as well as the more accessible (for kids) water activities. One of the great cities of the Mayan Civilization is Chichen Itza, with its famous pyramid, El Castillo. It was our first major activity, which started with a 2+ hour bus ride West into the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula.

The site is dominated by the 95 feet high Step Pyramid that is now closed to tourists. Back many years ago, my wife was allowed to climb the great temple. The tour guide mentioned that with the increase in traffic, these archeological treasures are now closed to the public. Luckily they are easily photographed and if you are patient enough, it maybe possible to shoot without getting unwanted people in your shot. In the photo above, I purposely decided to include the brightly colored woman as a counter point in the composition.

Stone Snake, Chichen Itza - Yucatan, Mexico

Stone Snake, Chichen Itza – Yucatan, Mexico

I brought my tripod with me but left it on the bus. The tour guide said that you need special permits to use one. I opted to shoot HDRs freehand, the only reason I needed a tripod in the first place. It turned out that the needed dynamic range was not as wide as I imagined. One RAW photo was able to capture the scene without any blown highlights or dark shadows. Very strange. This is not the experience I have in Texas when I shoot during the day time. Perhaps the quality of light here is different? Either way, I decided to throw away my extra HDR exposures and process single photographs.

Interlocking Stonework, Chichen Itza - Yucatan, Mexico

Interlocking Stonework, Chichen Itza – Yucatan, Mexico

There is much to see architecturally with a giant ball court, temple remains and an observatory. I’m not going into detail about the place, you can read this Wikipedia article if you are inclined. While it is an interesting place to visit and I didn’t regret going, I didn’t find it inspiring for photography.

While historically significant, the buildings lacked detail and beyond taking pictures of the pyramid and several of other noteworthy structures, there weren’t enough things to ultimately intrigue me. The funny thing is that large-scale white limestone structures reminded me of buildings in Central Texas, though we certainly don’t have a giant pyramid in Austin. The same ancient seas that formed the limestone in Texas must have done so here in the Yucatan.

Tourists at the Observatory, Chichen Itza - Yucatan, Mexico

Tourists at the Observatory, Chichen Itza – Yucatan, Mexico

On the way to Chichen Itza, we passed through an old city called Valladolid. This place had a wonderful center square with a park and big church. The area was bustling with activity and would be a wonderful place to street shoot. Ironically, I think I would have enjoyed photographing there more than the famous tourist spot. I like living cities with real people. While the pyramid is dynamic, Chichen Itza is ultimately a dead place, merely visited by tourists.

The view from the bus - Valladolid, Mexico

The view from the bus – Valladolid, Mexico

Our bus didn’t stop in Valladolid, it just passed through and I couldn’t get any good photographs. I saw other buses parked near the town square so I recommend a tour that includes a stop at this place. The Wikipedia article on Valladolid makes it sound interesting. I think I could have easily spent a day there taking pictures. The contrast of this place to some of the Texas towns I’ve visited recently, couldn’t be more dramatic. While the Central Texas cities were half boarded up, this place is vibrant and charming. I can’t vouch for its safety with the recent incidents in Mexico but from the number of big tour buses there, I imagine it’s safe enough.

El Castillo, Chichen Itza - Yucatan, Mexico

El Castillo, Chichen Itza – Yucatan, Mexico

One of my readers suggested adding a bit of tint to black and whites to add a little warmth. I decided to process some of the photographs in a toned black and white. I do think it works here and gives a kind of archeological and timeless feel to the photographs. Some of these images looks like they could have been taken 100 years ago. Though actual photographs from a century back shows a place over grown and nearly taken over by the jungle. The place has been rebuilt to some extent so what you see here is not the original stonework. The backside of the pyramid, however, shows what appears to be the original condition.

If you visit Cancun, it is certainly worth visiting Chichen Itza, especially if you are a history buff. See if there are tours that stop at Valladolid. I think that will add a nice slice of Mexican life and give you the feel of an old Spanish town.

Stone Pillars, Chichen Itza - Yucatan, Mexico

Stone Pillars, Chichen Itza – Yucatan, Mexico

Mayan Hieroglyphs, Chichen Itza - Yucatan, Mexico

Mayan Hieroglyphs, Chichen Itza – Yucatan, Mexico


Japan Preview Show: Experiencing Kao=S again

Kao=S at The Grackle #3, 2013 Japan Preview Show - Austin, Texas

Kao=S at The Grackle, 2013 Japan Preview Show – Austin, Texas

My favorite group from last year’s Japan Nite, Kao=S, was playing again this year. I wasn’t sure if I could make it to this year’s Japan Nite so I decided to go to the preview show on Thursday afternoon. Luckily Kao=S was the last group playing so I headed down there after work at about 6pm. The Japan preview show is a great, free alternative to the main show which is restricted to people of drinking age. It happens during the daytime and people of all ages are welcome.

This year, the performance was at The Grackle on 6th Street on the east side of town. I don’t get to this part of town often and naively assumed that parking would be a breeze. I was dead wrong. The parking situation is worse than downtown in this mostly residential area. I was lucky to find a tight spot 8 blocks away. The glass shards from multiple car break-ins gave me pause but I wasn’t going to stay late.

Kao=S at The Grackle #1, 2013 Japan Preview Show - Austin, Texas
Kao=S at The Grackle #2, 2013 Japan Preview Show - Austin, Texas

My timing couldn’t be more perfect. The 2nd to last band was finishing up and Kao=S was prepping the stage. I was pleasantly surprised when the band members recognized me from last year. Apparently, they really liked the photos I shot of them, which you can see on this blog post, Kao=S at SXSW Japan Nite, Original and Spectacular. On that post, I talk about why I like this group so much. They fuse Japanese instruments and culture in a modern context and it’s also a very theatrical show.

Kao=S at The Grackle #5, 2013 Japan Preview Show - Austin, Texas

Unlike the dark indoor venues which require high ISOs and/or flash, this was an outdoor event in bright light, on a small stage, setup under an open sided tent. I thought that it would be easy to make great photos but I was completely wrong. A couple of things conspired against me. By 6:30, the sun’s warm rays were streaming under the tent, creating uneven harsh shadows. Using a flash tamed the shadows somewhat but not enough to make high quality shots. There was also a lot of background clutter. The jumble of chain link fences, people and the East Austin Neighborhood didn’t give me that clean look that I was hoping for.

Kao=S at The Grackle #4, 2013 Japan Preview Show - Austin, Texas

My conversion to black and white solved several problems. The uneven color from the sun, the harsh shadows and even the background clutter were all tamed by my monochromes. I also think this gives a more photojournalist look. This use of black and white also nicely coincides with my recent interest which I talk about in SXSW Photowalk: A black and white exploration.

Kao=S at The Grackle #6, 2013 Japan Preview Show - Austin, Texas

Finally, as the sun dipped below the horizon and with the harsh rays safely tucked away, I ask the band if I could make a portrait. I shot several of the band and of Kaori, the lovely lead performer. With the lighting under control and the background somewhat simplified, I made satisfactory color photographs. A nice ending to a busy work week and I’m happy to report that my car was safely waiting for me, unscathed.

Kao=S Group Portrait, 2013 Japan Preview Show - Austin, Texas

Kao=S Group Portrait, 2013 Japan Preview Show – Austin, Texas

Kaori from Kao=S, 2013 Japan Preview Show - Austin, Texas

Kaori from Kao=S, 2013 Japan Preview Show – Austin, Texas

Photographs taken with the Olympus E-PM2 with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4.

Click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.


SXSW Photowalk: A black and white exploration

Trey Ratcliff addresses the Crowd, SXSW Photowalk - Austin, Texase

Trey Ratcliff addresses the Crowd, SXSW Photowalk – Austin, Texas

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.

The SXSW Photowalk Crowd - Austin, Texas

The SXSW Photowalk Crowd – Austin, Texas

Trey Shoots Nicole, SXSW Photowalk - Austin, Texas

Trey Shoots Nicole, SXSW Photowalk – Austin, Texas

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.

Hidden Blackberry, SXSW Photowalk - Austin, Texas

Hidden Blackberry, SXSW Photowalk – Austin, Texas

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.

The Astronaut Among Us, SXSW Photowalk - Austin, Texas

The Astronaut Among Us, SXSW Photowalk – Austin, Texas

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 Corner of 6th and Congress - Austin, Texas

The Corner of 6th and Congress – Austin, Texas

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.

Roppolo's and Ritz, 6th Street - Austin, Texas

Roppolo’s and Ritz, 6th Street – Austin, Texas

Bars of 6th Street - Austin, Texas

Bars of 6th Street – Austin, Texas

Museum of the Weird, 6th Street - Austin, Texas

Museum of the Weird, 6th Street – Austin, Texas

Photographs taken with the Olympus E-P3 with a Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 and with my Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 lens and the Panasonic wide-angle adapter.

Click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.


Promotions Galore at SXSW Interactive

Lisa, Sarah and Elena for Samsung, SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

Lisa, Sarah and Elena for Samsung, SXSW Interactive – Austin, Texas

The storm cleared last night and today was a beautiful late winter day in Austin, Texas — sunny and 70 degrees. I headed downtown for some street portraits and to check out what’s happening this year at SXSW Interactive.

I don’t have a long history of going to these things so I can only compare this to what I saw last year. It seems like this year, there are more storefronts rented out, for several days, as promotional showrooms. I saw big splashes by Microsoft, Warner Brothers and Samsung. It was also nice that these places were open to regular people, like me, who did not have a SXSW badge. Some of them even served drinks and food. It’s my birthday today so I gladly partook in some free, mid-day alcoholic beverages. Combined with taking candid and posed portraits, it was a fine way to spend the afternoon. The family celebration was later in the evening so I had several hours to photographically explore.

Tablets at the Windows Studio, SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

Tablets at the Windows Studio, SXSW Interactive – Austin, Texas

As usual, I travelled light, opting this time to take my Olympus E-P3 with the 25mm f1.4 and my Olympus XZ-1. My most often used (these days) E-PM2 and 14mm was left at home. I will use it tomorrow at the giant SXSW Photowalk being organized by Trey Ratcliff. Today, I was planning to concentrate more on people instead of architecture. The 25mm (50mm equivalent) lens strikes a nice balance for candid photography as well as portraits. The XZ-1 point in shoot was going to fill the gaps with its 28mm to 112mm equivalent zoom lens.

Warner Brothers' Revolution, SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

Warner Brothers’ Revolution, SXSW Interactive – Austin, Texas

80's Flashback, SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

80′s Flashback, SXSW Interactive – Austin, Texas

Dancing on 6th Street, SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

Dancing on 6th Street, SXSW Interactive – Austin, Texas

As usual, people found creative ways to showcase their products and services. Nicely decked out showrooms are always popular especially when they have tchotchkes. But organizations with smaller budgets also had their own unique style. There was a colorful, 80′s leotard wearing troupe, dancing through 6th street, which gave me Olivia Newton-John flashbacks (Let’s get Physical, anyone?). The only problem was that I didn’t know what they were promoting.

Props for impromptu photographs were also popular, both Flickr (Yahoo) and Phunware used them. Think about this. Only several years ago, photo props wouldn’t work unless you supplied a camera and a photographer. These days of course, with the advent of smartphones, almost everyone has a camera with them. Common place now but it would’ve been unheard of just 1/2 decade ago.

Phunware Poses on 6th Street, SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

Phunware Poses on 6th Street, SXSW Interactive – Austin, Texas

Zoomdata Guy, SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

Zoomdata Guy, SXSW Interactive – Austin, Texas

Shelby for Samsung, SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

Shelby for Samsung, SXSW Interactive – Austin, Texas

One more change SXSW made this year was to separate the Games Conference into a free, publicly accessible venue south of the river. I took my boys to see it yesterday. And although the older, 14-year-old is too cool to be excited by this, the younger one was really blow away. It’s nice that the organizers and the sponsors have opened up some of these events to the people beyond the badge holders. SXSW has gotten so large that it has a big, sometimes negative, impact on Austin. It’s fantastic that everything is not just a badge accessed, walled garden. It certainly makes it more fun for me, at least. Let’s see what 2014 brings.

Lauren and Nicole for TrueAbility, SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

Lauren and Nicole for TrueAbility, SXSW Interactive – Austin, Texas

Tiffany for Xi3 Corp, SXSW Interactive Game Conference - Austin, Texas

Tiffany for Xi3 Corp, SXSW Interactive Game Conference – Austin, Texas

Photographs taken with the Olympus E-P3 with a Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 and my Olympus XZ-1 point and shoot.

Click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.


2013 Chinese New Year Celebration in Austin

Girl with Parasol, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Girl with Parasol, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

The Chinatown Center in North Austin had their annual Chinese New Year celebration yesterday. I wanted to do something different from last year, photographically, not creating the same type of photojournalistic pictures. I took a different set of cameras and lenses and forced myself to see details instead. It’s easy to take snapshots of the event but I struggled to make more artistic images. There are so many distractions, people, poles, and fences what take away from the photograph. My tactic, get closer or zoom in to reduce clutter. I don’t think I was entirely successful but it forced me to see things differently.

Red Flags, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Red Flags, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

Lion Closeup, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Lion Closeup, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

Neon Characters, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Neon Characters, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

Color Clash, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Color Clash, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

I took 3 compact cameras with me, leaving at home the Canon 7D that I used last year. I brought my Olympus E-P3 with the 25mm f1.4, the Olympus XZ-1 point and shoot and the 40-150mm zoom on the Olympus E-PM2. I mentioned on a recent post that the Olympus 40-150mm lens was on sale for $100 but I didn’t use the lens very often. I decided to give it a try yesterday, taking advantage of the 80mm to 300mm equivalent zoom, to get close. The lens performed a lot better than expected. And since I’m not typically a telephoto guy, it taxed my brain to create different kind of compositions. I ended up using this lens the most.

Shades of Red, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Shades of Red, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

Lantern Dance, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Lantern Dance, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

Dancing with Parasols, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Dancing with Parasols, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

Alternating Colors, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Alternating Colors, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

The XZ-1 worked well enough but I used it the least. There are several reasons for this. Switching between two cameras isn’t too bad but things get rather confusing for me when I added a third. The XZ-1 focuses moderately fast but both Olympus Pen cameras are faster so I tended to use them for action. With up to 300mm of zoom, I got more range than the maximum 112mm on the XZ-1. Finally, I noticed that the XZ-1′s LCD was not quite as bright as the Pens so shooting in bright sunlight was less ideal. So while to the XZ-1 might make a handy all around, one camera solution, given the choice, I still rather use my Pens.

Lion's Eye, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Lion’s Eye, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

Lion's Fur, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Lion’s Fur, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

Of course the highlight of the celebration was the Lion Dance and the firecrackers. With all the smoke and commotion, I found capturing images were a bit hit or miss. The 40-150mm lens did allow me to step back just a little to get out-of-the-way of the exploding firecrackers. I’m not sure I totally succeeded in my photographic goals but the big surprise was the performance of my infrequently used long zoom. The image quality of course does not match my Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4, but it’s surprisingly good. The lens is not very big or heavy considering is long telephoto range. Perhaps I need to take it out some more and play with its capabilities.

Lion Dance #1, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Lion Dance #1, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

Lion Dance #2, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Lion Dance #2, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

Lion Dance #3, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Lion Dance #3, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

Click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.


Colonial Williamsburg: The U.S. history theme park

Governor's Palace, Colonial Williamsburg - Williamsburg, Virginia

Governor’s Palace, Colonial Williamsburg – Williamsburg, Virginia

Colonial Williamsburg was a puzzle to me. I’ve heard about the place but never went there, even though I lived on the East Coast. I heard conflicting reports that it was a made up place while some claimed it was a real town. So when I had the chance, I decided to start our winter vacation there. And even after looking at their website and brochures, I still didn’t understand Williamsburg until I actually got there and started exploring.

Colonial Williamsburg is sort of like a theme park for American history. Buildings have been moved and rebuilt to simulate life in the American colonies around the time of the American revolution. But it is also the real deal — the town really did exist from way back. The Governor’s Mansion and Capitol, the centerpieces of Williamsburg, were rebuilt on their original foundations as close as possible to the original specifications. The Courthouse and The Magazine, where they kept the arms, are original structures.

Virginia Colonial Capitol - Williamsburg, Virginia

Virginia Colonial Capitol – Williamsburg, Virginia

While there are actors in costume, in fairness to Colonial Williamsburg, this is no ordinary theme park — there are no cute mascots and amusement rides. It’s more of a living museum to American History. Also, unlike a typical amusement park, you can get in and walk around in the town without a ticket. Paying the entrance fee entitles the visitor to tours of the trophy buildings and seeing the demonstrations of the craftsman, such as the blacksmith and wig makers. There are no blatant food stands but there are restaurants in recreated Taverns that line Duke Of Gloucester, the main street.

In Costume, Governor's Palace - Williamsburg, Virginia

In Costume, Governor’s Palace – Williamsburg, Virginia

In Costume, Virginia Capitol - Williamsburg, Virginia

In Costume, Virginia Capitol – Williamsburg, Virginia

Next to Colonial Williamsburg, there are the Market Square Shops, a shopping area done in the Neo-Colonial style. And beyond that, lies the College of William and Mary. Colonial Williamsburg buses, that allow ticket holders to get on and off at several places, make it easy to get around. The main Visitor’s Center complex is where you can buy the tickets. It also has additional shops, restaurants and is the logical place to get started. Everything is done in a classy way and I have come to realize the price of admission is well worth it.

Merchant Square Shops - Williamsburg, Virginia

Merchant Square Shops – Williamsburg, Virginia

Colonial Williamsburg Bus - Williamsburg, Virginia

Colonial Williamsburg Bus – Williamsburg, Virginia

We spent 2 relaxed days there but there is more than enough to fill 3 days. There are resort style hotels right next to the historic buildings but we opted to stay in a more conventional hotel several miles away. The greater City of Williamsburg is like any small city with the usual sprawl. Drive down Richmond Road and you can find a large selection of standard, new restaurants with modern 21st century food.

The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art museums, both under the same roof, are surprisingly good. The museums are included as part of the general admission ticket. Entrance to the museum was a bit confusing — you can enter the primarily underground complex through the Public Hospital of 1773. Since we were during the winter vacation, there was a magnificent Christmas Tree in the restaurant area.

Christmas Tree, Rockefeller Folk Art Museum - Williamsburg, Virginia

Christmas Tree, Rockefeller Folk Art Museum – Williamsburg, Virginia

Big Cat, Rockefeller Folk Art Museum - Williamsburg, Virginia

Big Cat, Rockefeller Folk Art Museum – Williamsburg, Virginia

Exhibits, Rockefeller Folk Art Museum - Williamsburg, Virginia

Exhibits, Rockefeller Folk Art Museum – Williamsburg, Virginia

Colonial Williamsburg is a must for history buffs especially if you are into early American History (the Historic Jamestown settlement is also fairly close). I think the 13-year-old was old enough and knew enough history to appreciate the place. For my 9-year-old, it was more of a stretch. He liked the optional Tavern Ghost Tour we took at night and he was mesmerized by the blacksmith’s handicraft. There are activities geared towards kids that we didn’t strictly follow. Perhaps if we did, our younger son would have like it even more. The Fife and Drum parade down Duke of Gloucester, while not exactly the Disney Electric Parade, did add a nice closure to our stay.

Blacksmith, Colonial Williamsburg - Williamsburg, Virginia

Blacksmith, Colonial Williamsburg – Williamsburg, Virginia

Fife and Drum Parade, Colonial Williamsburg - Williamsburg, Virginia

Fife and Drum Parade, Colonial Williamsburg – Williamsburg, Virginia

Of course for me, any new place is a chance for photography. I enjoyed Williamsburg and its history but I like the architecture the most. It’s not the big city and there are no shiny lights but finding texture and compositions entertained and challenged me. If anything, I would like to spend more time shooting photographs deliberately but the family schedule didn’t allow for that. My small bag carried two cameras with lenses attached. My new Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 and the Olympus E-P3 with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4. That’s it. I also had a Panasonic wide-angle adapter that I can attach to the 14mm but I had no other lenses. This kept the photography gear to a minimum and let me enjoy the experience without being weighed down.

The Carriage and Courthouse - Williamsburg, Virginia

The Carriage and Courthouse – Williamsburg, Virginia

The Magazine, Colonial Williamsburg - Williamsburg, Virginia

The Magazine, Colonial Williamsburg – Williamsburg, Virginia

Historic Jail Cells - Williamsburg, Virginia

Historic Jail Cells – Williamsburg, Virginia

Reflection on Duke of Gloucester Street - Williamsburg, Virginia

Reflection on Duke of Gloucester Street – Williamsburg, Virginia

Sunset at the Capitol - Williamsburg, Virginia

Sunset at the Capitol – Williamsburg, Virginia

My wife, who doesn’t know much American History, also enjoyed Colonial Williamsburg. We vowed that sometime in the future, perhaps when we are retired, we will return to this place. We can take our time and savor the details especially since we won’t have young kids in tow. Sounds good to me since I’m always up for more photography. I wonder what kind of camera I’ll be using in the distant future.

Photographs taken with the Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 lens. I used the Panasonic wide-angle adapter for 3 of the photos. I also carried a second camera. The Olympus E-P3 with a Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4.

Click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.


Attending Drink and Click, a festive photowalk

Aigerim at Spider House - Austin, Texas

Aigerim at Spider House – Austin, Texas

Last week, I attended my first Drink and Click, a new social photography group started in Austin, Texas. I’ve meant to go for a while but my schedule just didn’t work out. Juan Gonzalez, who started the group, has done a heck of job and many chapters have opened around the world. He is a friendly guy and I had good time talking to him. Juan along with Lotus Carol run the group, both very popular photographers on Google Plus.

I’ve gone on many photowalks but this one has a slightly different dynamic. While other photowalks tend to be very photography oriented with a bit of social tacked on, Drink and Click seems like equal parts photography and socializing. Like a group of people out to have fun that just happen to take pictures. But don’t let all the socializing fool you, there were some outstanding photographers. It’s just that they don’t take themselves too seriously. I’m going again because I found it refreshing.

Beer, Tattoo, Spider House - Austin, Texas

Beer, Tattoo, Spider House – Austin, Texas

Hotel Reno, Spider House - Austin, Texas

Hotel Reno, Spider House – Austin, Texas

We started at 37th and Guadalupe, an old neighborhood with eclectic holiday lighting. We then headed over to Spider house a few blocks down for some more clicking and some drinking. I’ve never been to Spider House and it was fantastic — my kind of place with wild decorations, neon, and a whole mess of lights. It’s the kind of place where you might find holiday lights up in August. Of course, we were there at night, which is my favorite time of the day for photography. I’ll post photographs from 37th street another day but today it’s all about a very Austin looking joint.

Bar Neon, Spider House - Austin, Texas

Bar Neon, Spider House – Austin, Texas

Warm and Eclectic, Spider House - Austin, Texas

Warm and Eclectic, Spider House – Austin, Texas

I had my new two camera Olympus setup with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 attached to my new E-PM2 and the 14mm attached to the E-P3. I’m really liking the combination of the 50mm and 28mm equivalents. They give me enough focal length variety to take my urban landscapes, architecture with the 28mm and I like to use the 50mm for portraits and capturing details.

Crazy Lights, Spider House - Austin, Texas

Crazy Lights, Spider House – Austin, Texas

Spider House Lamp Post - Austin, Texas

Spider House Lamp Post – Austin, Texas

Time flew quickly and the gathering was going strong when I left at 11pm. I’ll need to go back to Spider House again. It’s the kind of place where I can spend hours shooting. And I will certainly go to another Drink and Click for some more social photography. You can check this rapidly growing list for a local Drink and Click chapters near you. Photography tends to be an individualistic activity but you might have a good time shooting with a fun group.

Photographs taken with 2 different cameras the Olympus E-PM2 with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 lens and the Olympus E-P3 with the 14mm f2.5 lens.

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



The ISIS Purple Ferrari

Purple Ferrari, Austin Fan Fest 2012 - Austin, Texas

Purple Ferrari, Austin Fan Fest 2012 – Austin, Texas

The ISIS tent gets the award for the prettiest car display at the Austin Fan Fest. This purple Ferrari was bathed in purple LED lights. It created a soft glow that was hard to resist. I shot the details and curves with my shallowest depth of field. I eliminated clutter to focus on the vehicle.

Purple Ferrari, Austin Fan Fest 2012 - Austin, Texas

Why purple? ISIS, who makes smart phone based mobile wallets has a purple logo and color scheme. Of course this sports car has nothing to do with electronic wallets but it fits the performance oriented F1 marketing theme. It works for me. It gave me a chance to take some beauty shots.

Purple Ferrari, Austin Fan Fest 2012 - Austin, Texas

Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.

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Fast Cars, Simulators and Women

Nadia at Pirelli, Austin Fan Fest 2012 - Austin, Texas

Nadia at Pirelli, Austin Fan Fest 2012 – Austin, Texas

Formula 1 blew into town last month and the traffic disaster that Austin feared didn’t materialize. It seemed like most of the action stayed around the purpose-built race track on the east side of town, near the airport. But F1 is a big deal and after 5 years, it’s back in the U.S. Of course, Austin always breaks out the live music performances for any kind of half-way big event downtown. This was no exception.

F1 Mercedes, Austin Fan Fest 2012 - Austin, Texas

F1 Mercedes, Austin Fan Fest 2012 – Austin, Texas

In Flo Rida and the other Alex Suarez, I had fun and adventure going to a downtown concert on Friday — the beginning of F1 weekend. But Austin had other F1 related festivities too. The Austin Fan Fest took over a 5 block area in the warehouse district. There were live music stages, of course as well as food vendors, knickknacks and the huge tents of commercial interests tied vaguely to cars or racing.

Virtual Driver, Austin Fan Fest 2012 - Austin, Texas

Virtual Driver, Austin Fan Fest 2012 – Austin, Texas

Virtual Racer at Mobil1, Austin Fan Fest 2012 - Austin, Texas

Virtual Racer at Mobil1, Austin Fan Fest 2012 – Austin, Texas

The big guys, Mobil1, Pirelli, Red Bull and Fiat setup shop on usually under utilized surface parking. These places shared a common theme. They usually had a fast car on display, a former F1 racer or an expensive aspirational car, like a Ferrari. Many had racing simulators of varying realism and complexity. And of course, there were attractive women working the booths.

I went on a short photowalk by myself to document Fan Fest. Let just say I was less interested in fast cars and simulators.

Karen and Stephanie, Austin Fan Fest 2012 - Austin, Texas

Karen and Stephanie, Austin Fan Fest 2012 – Austin, Texas

Though it was Sunday and passed the peak, I was surprised by how contained it was. I parked close with no problems. I didn’t see throngs of people or notice much commotion until I was within a block. South by Southwest (SXSW), the annual music, movie and interactive conference that hits Austin every March, seems more disruptive. The two share commercial and promotional similarity. The players are different — one shows off cars and the other technology — but there is no denying that they look like one giant TV commercial. A chance for big corporations to get more eyeballs imprinting on their logos.

Posing with the Red Bull Racer, Austin Fan Fest 2012 - Austin, Texas

Posing with the Red Bull Racer, Austin Fan Fest 2012 – Austin, Texas

To the Fan Fest’s credit, the place felt more inclusive and welcoming. Children’s play areas encouraged family participation, unlike SXSW where non-badge holders seemed out-of-place. I’m curious what’s going to happen next year.

Christine at Mobil1, Austin Fan Fest 2012 - Austin, Texas

Christine at Mobil1, Austin Fan Fest 2012 – Austin, Texas

Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.

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Why DSLRs Suck

I see it all the time. I go out on photowalks, meet friends and see people on the street. They have their big, fancy DSLRs. They may even have a big back pack full of gear, with the tripod attached. But what do they whip out when they need to take a quick, casual photograph? Their iPhone.

The iPhone takes great pictures — but not compared to a DSLR. Yet, why do these “serious” photographers use their iPhone? Because their DSLR is a pain in the butt — it is big and clunky. They suck for casual photography. Shallow DOF is great when you want to make that perfect portrait but not when you want to take that snap of the group at a restaurant. I get it. I’ve been there myself. But I’ve found a solution. I have achieved camera nirvana. That is why my Canon 7D stays at home most of the time unless I’m going to shoot sports or do a portrait session with strobes.

90% or more of my photos are now taken with my Olympus Pen cameras. The micro 4/3 format rules because they can be used both for casual as well as more serious photography. When I travel to California or even overseas, I use my E-P3 (or E-PL1) with a 28mm or 50mm equivalent lens. When I go on photowalks, I use the same setup. When I go out shopping with my kids, I bring the same camera too.

The micro 4/3 system has a big enough sensor to make high quality photographs. My f1.4 and f1.8 primes produce a nice shallow DOF when I need them to. But unlike DSLRs with their larger sensors, my Olympus cameras easily work for group and casual photography when shallow DOF is not wanted. Think about that. One setup that I can use 90% of the time. No need two switch between that big DSLR and the iPhone. One reasonably sized, universal device that creates great images for most circumstances. It works for me, maybe it will work for you.

Want to see what the Olympus Pens can do? Click on these links to find out.
Use the “<< Previous Photo" link to see more.

Photographs shot with the Olympus E-P3
Photographs shot with the Olympus E-PL1


Moving beyond portraits at the Texas Photo Festival

Rusted Eye - Smithville, Texas

Rusted Eye – Smithville, Texas

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, last month, I headed east to Smithville to attend the Texas Photo Festival. It was the third time out of the last 4 years that I’ve gone. The format of the event is pretty much the same though I’ve noticed that it has become more popular over the years. This year, there was a hefty crowed of photographers shooting in a confined space in and around Main Street. The event was interesting and weird at the same time. There were sets setup with models and props along the street and the adjoining park where people could shoot, primarily portraits. The thing is, the event was now so popular that many of the sets were overflowing with weekend photographers encircling the subjects. It was difficult to get a clean portrait without getting loads of distracting photographers in the background. It has become an amusement park for photographers.

A novice photographer can have a great time going out to the Texas Photo Festival. The thing is, I guess after the 3rd time, I was ready to move on and do other things. Taking portraits in the mid day light, surrounded by lots of people, was no longer appealing. And perhaps, over the years, I have grown as a photographer or at least my interest has changed. My friend Mike pretty much agreed and we decided to walk around Smithville instead, to capture bits and pieces of this old place. We shot architecture, trinkets at antique stores and the mellow decay that we found interesting.

We reserved the best light, at the end of the day, for most of our architecture. To pass the time we explored stores and found details that would not be affected by the harsh mid-day light. Smithville is a city in transition and the Chamber of Commerce is working hard to promote the place. A couple of big Hollywood movies (Hope Floats and The Tree of Life) were filmed there and these type of events (like the photo festival) draw people from Austin and Houston. Only a few blocks away from the Main Street sets, the place was calm. As a big city person, I found the hunt for visual treasure in this small place, relaxing. For part 1 of this series, I wanted to showcase the color and texture of Smithville, as seen on that warm October afternoon.

Window with Artistic Distress - Smithville, Texas

Window with Artistic Distress – Smithville, Texas

Window with Texture - Smithville, Texas

Window with Texture – Smithville, Texas

Old Lamp with Character - Smithville, Texas

Old Lamp with Character – Smithville, Texas

Mossy Curb - Smithville, Texas

Mossy Curb – Smithville, Texas

Candy Red Pickup with Flag - Smithville, Texas

Candy Red Pickup with Flag – Smithville, Texas

Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.

See more photographs that I shot with the Olympus E-P3 and Panasonic Leica 25mm and use the << Previous Photo link to see the next page of photos.

All of the photographs on this post were shot with an Olympus E-P3 using the Panasonic Leica 25mmf1.4 lens. I brought two cameras but used just one. Nice and light and easy to carry all day with no problems.


Not your father’s school carnival food

Chicken Teriyaki #1, School Carnival - Austin, Texas

Chicken Teriyaki #1, School Carnival – Austin, Texas

Every fall, sometime near Halloween, my son’s elementary school has their fund-raising carnival. The school and the PTA put on a fun show and they raise a lot of money. This year, I was surprised by the change in menu. Sure they had the usual pizza and burgers but how does chicken teriyaki sound? Most kids still seem to like the traditional faire but the parents gravitated towards this new entrée — the colorful bowls sold quickly. The teriyaki bowls were courtesy of a restaurant called Roll On Sushi Diner. Each serving had a different look but it had the same ingredients, arranged differently. I just loved the color and the evening light was perfect so I just had to snap a few photographs. The Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 that I’ve been talking about recently did a great job.

It occurred to me that this is one of the great things about America. As the new wave of immigrants become settled and go main stream, so does their food. Until recently, sushi and teriyaki were exotic and unheard of. Now Japanese food is mainstream enough that, at least in Austin, they make it to the school carnival menu. I remember reading in Lee Iacocca’s autobiography that he was teased at school for bring a new fangled ethic food call pizza for lunch. Times sure do change.

Chicken Teriyaki #2, School Carnival - Austin, Texas

Chicken Teriyaki #2, School Carnival – Austin, Texas


Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure details.


A boring but worthwhile Halloween in the burbs

Minimalist Halloween, Suburban Tract Home - Austin, Texas

Minimalist Halloween, Suburban Tract Home – Austin, Texas

I went trick-or-treating with my younger son last night along with other parents and kids from the neighborhood. It was a perfectly enchanting 70 degrees with clear skies.
My Olympus E-P3 with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 was my photo tool of choice. I got some great candids of the kids and of course the girls were always more stylish and more savvy about posing — It’s probably in their genes. Beyond the kids photos, my goal was to make a decent architectural, blue hour photo that looked Halloween-ish.

Taking such a photo in the suburbs is certainly a challenge. These places lack the density, details and interest that make downtowns more interesting. There was a nice looking halloween display but I was much too far to get there in time for blue hour. The image above was the best I can do given my limitations. This house had the most minimal of displays, just 2 orange light bulbs. No pumpkins, ghosts, goblins or vampires. No twinkling lights or inflatable monsters. Just a subtle change in light color to mark the occasion. But the orange light looks great against the blue sky. Simple is good in photography, so it works for me.

I briefly considered going downtown. Get some shots of those crazy costumed people on 6th street. I’ve thought about going for the last several years. Alas I was too tired and lazy. It was past 10pm when my family duties ended and heck it was a school night. Perhaps I’ll make it next year. But for 2012, I was stuck in the burbs with a photograph of a minimalist tract home. At least I spent some quality time with my son.


Please make sure to click on the photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.


Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4, a first look

Lucky Helps Out - Austin, Texas

Lucky Helps Out – Austin, Texas

Careful followers of my other blog, mostlyfotos, may have noticed that I recently added a new lens to my micro 4/3 arsenal. I put EXIF data on most of my photos and if you hover over the photographs with a mouse, on this blog as well as mostlyfotos, you can see what camera and lens I used. Like I usually do with a new piece of gear, I fully embrace it. I’ve shot a lot with this new lens and here are the first set of photographs with my new baby.

Of course Lucky, our family dog, always knows when I get a new lens or camera and tries to help out. Here, he is modeling for my new Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 lens, shot wide open. The first photos I take always seems to be of him. He is more agreeable and complains less than my kids. Inevitably, I needed to take the lens out for a spin in the real world and I decided to walk downtown on a quiet Sunday night.

Lucky Neon and Frost Tower - Austin, Texas

Lucky Neon and Frost Tower – Austin, Texas

Random Blue Neon Circles, Lucky Lounge - Austin, Texas

Random Blue Neon Circles, Lucky Lounge – Austin, Texas

Lucky Lounge Interior - Austin, Texas

Lucky Lounge Interior – Austin, Texas

I’ve eyed this 25mm f1.4 for a while. It consistently gets great reviews but it’s pricy (a list price of $600, though the price is starting to drop) and I already have the Panasonic 20mm f1.7, which is sort of similar. I finally decided to bite the bullet when I found a great deal. So far, no regrets. There is a difference between the two lenses and I’ll go over the pros and cons and compare it to the 20mm f1.7 in a future post.

But for now, take a look at the photographs I shot downtown. The amazing thing is that these were shot at ISO 200 and ISO 400, at night. The f1.4 aperture really helps and it’s fantastically sharp wide open. No comparison to my Canon 50mm at f1.4 which is more dreamy than sharp. This new Panasonic Leica is going to be a great tool for my urban night photography, I can’t wait.

Lights, Truluck's Downtown - Austin, Texas

Lights, Truluck’s Downtown – Austin, Texas

Foosball Table, Buffalo Billiards - Austin, Texas

Foosball Table, Buffalo Billiards – Austin, Texas

Cheap Drinks, Shakespeare's Pub - Austin, Texas

Cheap Drinks, Shakespeare’s Pub – Austin, Texas

So I don’t know what the exact relationship is between Panasonic and Leica. Clearly a $600 plastic shelled lens is not the same build quality as a $2000+ Leica M lens. The lens is made in Japan by Panasonic and maybe Leica shares their secret sauce. Regardless, this is a fantastic lens and I’m really enjoying it.

Busty Pirate, The Jackalope - Austin, Texas

Busty Pirate, The Jackalope – Austin, Texas

Frost Tower from 6th Street - Austin, Texas

Frost Tower from 6th Street – Austin, Texas

Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.

See more photographs taken with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4. Click << Previous Photo to see more.

All of the photographs on this post were shot with an Olympus E-P3 using the Panasonic Leica 25mmf1.4 lens. If you are thinking of buying this camera or lens please use these links. You will get the same low price and I’ll get a small commission, which helps support this site.


Bright Lights on a Rainy Night

Bright Lights on a Rainy Night - Austin, Texas

Bright Lights on a Rainy Night – Austin, Texas

It’s been a busy week and I’m just getting caught up with my postings. Last weekend, I went on two photography events. On Saturday, there was the Scott Kelby World Wide Photowalk. On Sunday, I went out to Smithville for the fourth annual Texas Photo Festival. Then during the week, I hopped out to California for several days on a business trip. Between these three activities, I have loads of new photographs to post and to talk about for future blog entries. It’s always a fun challenge to feed the blog beast with new content.

Tonight, I want to showcase a photograph I took during the World Wide Photowalk. In many ways, this image captures the mood of that rainy night. In Austin, there were several different Scott Kelby photowalks. I, of course, chose the one at night, lead by my friend Alex. I’m sure my regular blog readers know that I like the evening light especially for urban landscapes. This photo combines several elements that I like. Elements that I don’t always succeed in capturing, so I’m happy when it all falls into place.

So why do I like this image? First, there is the glow of light that always attracts me. And it’s harder than you think to find strong sources of light. Austin, like many U.S. cities, is not brightly lit. This is in stark contrast to the mega Asian cities like Tokyo where the ambient light at night can be surprisingly bright. In this photo, the light is courtesy of the Paramount theater on Congress Avenue. Next, there are all those great reflections that amplify the glow. We get a nice reflection off the car window but there is also a satisfying shine off the rain-soaked streets. Finally, that bright and contrasting color adds a bit of punch. Both the yellow and the purple are again supplied by the Paramount.

I think the dark shadows, the urban look, and the rain all captures the feel of that night. There were several bouts of rain that threatened to cut short our photowalk. For the most part, we were lucky and the bad weather held off. A final light shower added that bit of sparkle. All that’s needed is some Jazz and a cocktail to complete the scene.

Have a great Sunday evening.


Please make sure to click on the photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.


The Panasonic ZR1 matches the Olympus E-P3

Blue and Green, Roaring Fork - Austin, Texas

Blue and Green, Roaring Fork – Austin, Texas

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.

Reflections, Roaring Fork - Austin, Texas

Reflections, Roaring Fork – Austin, Texas

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.

Green Bridge, Roaring Fork - Austin, Texas

Green Bridge, Roaring Fork – Austin, Texas

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.

Green Bridge, Roaring Fork - Austin, Texas (with a E-P3)

Green Bridge, Roaring Fork – Austin, Texas (with a E-P3)

Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.

I ordered my Panasonic ZR1 as a factory refurbished model from Adorama. I got it for $69.95. If you are thinking of buying this camera please use this link. You will get the same low price and I’ll get a small commission, which helps support this site.


The Best Photo of Crestview Station

Crestview Station Blue Hour - Austin. Texas

Crestview Station Blue Hour – Austin. Texas

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.

Please make sure to click on the photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure detail.


A beautiful photo of a parking lot

Winchester Garage Glow, Santana Row - San Jose, Californias

Winchester Garage Glow, Santana Row – San Jose, California

As I head off on a 5 days business trip to California, I remembered a photograph I took on my last trip out there. It’s not a photograph of any thing famous or noteworthy. It is simply a parking structure that I saw at the Santana Row Shopping Area in San Jose. A mundane, utilitarian structure that I saw as I walked toward the car after my dinner. But I like this image a lot and maybe you might find it interesting to hear my thoughts behind it.

What attracted me to this scene? I first saw the rich glow of warm lights. I saw the warm reflections off the black street. I like the repeating geometric structure which comes from my love of architecture. Glow and reflections are what I seek these days, which only appear as the day turns to night. I post-processed this image to accentuate what I like. Upon closer examination, I love the bold, black horizontal lines that match the black of the night (one of the rare times I like a black sky more than my beloved deep blue, blue hour skies). I notice that the warm color is created by both a deep red and yellow paint scheme on the building. My post-processing increased the color saturation and the glow of the lights and reflections.

I actually shot several photos and the other frames had people in them. I didn’t like those versions as much. I like this image because the geometry and light makes the structure look somewhat sculptural, like a piece of art rather than a utilitarian building. Having people in the frame broke this illusion. I realize that I’m starting to sound like an esoteric art critic. You might not see what I see and you might not like this image at all. And that is totally OK, because I like it. Many see beauty in flowers and nature. Often times, I see beauty in structure and order. As I explore more of photography, I’m seeing things in a different way. I’m deriving pleasure in finding beauty and interest in the mundane. I’ve learned that it is also OK and in fact it is preferred to see the word differently from others. After all, the world would be a boring place if everyone liked the same things.

As I mentioned, I will be traveling to California this week. I suspect that I will not be posting as often has I have recently. I will try to maintain my one image per day postings on mostlfyfotos, just in case you need a blog fix from me. If all goes well, I may have a few more photos and a few more stories from my travels. Hopefully something juicy for a future blog post.

Please make sure to click on the photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure detail.


A bit of magic at Milton and South Congress

Hey Cupcake Trailer Closeup, SoCo - Austin, Texas

Hey Cupcake Trailer Closeup, SoCo – Austin, Texas

The corner of Milton Street and South Congress Avenue transforms itself into a magical place at a certain time of the day. It is one of my favorite spots to shoot and take in the atmosphere. On this corner, a silvery airstream sells cupcakes and a musician serenades the customers. When the sun sets and the sky turns a deep blue, for a few minutes the combination of warm lights, silvery reflections and the friendly Austin people make for really neat place to photograph.

I’ve shot here many times before, aways trying to time my image captures around the blue hour. I love those bare light bulbs, in series that adorns this small patch of ground. I frequently talk about the contrast between the blue and the man-made warm lights, the glow and reflections that can found at the right angles. All of these elements come together here when you time it right. And though the cup cakes may be tasty and the people friendly all the time, these magical images can only be made minutes after sunset.

Customers at Hey Cupcake Trailer #1, SoCo - Austin, Texas

Customers at Hey Cupcake Trailer #1, SoCo – Austin, Texas

Customers at Hey Cupcake Trailer #2, SoCo - Austin, Texas

Customers at Hey Cupcake Trailer #2, SoCo – Austin, Texas

I’ve talked about my recent South Congress photowalk several times in my recent postings (here, here and here) but the focus of this photowalk was the blue hour. And for the blue hour, I decide to shoot it here on this corner. The blue hour, in Central Texas, only lasts for at most, 15 minutes. About 10 minutes after sunset, the sky starts turning a vibrant blue and continues to darken as the minutes tick by. At some point after 15 minutes, the sky is more black than blue and you realize that another blue hour has slipped away. For this reason, you really don’t have the luxury to move around and photograph many things during this time. It helps to have an idea or place in mind and be ready before the color turns. But the blueness of the sky depend on the direction you face; it does not evenly turn to black. Shoot towards the west and you can eke out some great color for a bit longer.

Performance at Hey Cupcake, Soco - Austin, Texas

Performance at Hey Cupcake, Soco – Austin, Texas

I used my 14mm Panasonic Lumix lens for all but one. I also used the wide-angle adapter that attaches to 14mm for many of the images too. The EXIF data does not show the use of the wide-angle so I’m not a 100% sure on which images I used the adapter. You’ll think that it would be easy to distinguish between a 22mm equivalent and a 28mm but I seem to find it a challenge. I shot a bunch of images of the guitar player and this one that seem a bit soft but nicely dreamy. I used the 45mm f1.8 shot at 1/30 second at ISO 800 for this shot. Not the ideal conditions hand-held but I was happy I created a moody image.

Performer at Hey Cupcake, Soco - Austin, Texas

Performer at Hey Cupcake, Soco – Austin, Texas

Finally the last two images shows the scene toward the end of blue hour. You can tell because the electric blue has been replaced by a deeper, mature blue. The total elapsed time between the first and last image, 8 minutes. The peak color only lasts for a few minutes and I was facing east so the sky color darkened quicker. After this, I was off shooting other things, and no longer using the sky as a key element. I find that in most cases, a black sky is not nearly as interesting. Once this magical time passes, I change my subjects and concentrate of other things or I go to dinner like I did that night. Part of the group already headed to Wahoo’s for some fish tacos. I was going to meet them too but only after I squeeze the most out of my favorite blue hour.

Hey Cupcake Trailer Closeup #2, SoCo - Austin, Texas

Hey Cupcake Trailer Closeup #2, SoCo – Austin, Texas

Hey Cupcake at Blue Hour, SoCo - Austin, Texas

Hey Cupcake at Blue Hour, SoCo – Austin, Texas


Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure details.

On this photowalk, I used the Olympus E-P3 with the 14mm f2.5 lens. I also had a Olympus E-PL1 camera which costs about $150 with the Olympus 45mm f1.8. If you are thinking of buying this equipment, please click on these links. You will get the same low Amazon price and I’ll get a small commission, which helps support this site.


SoCo neon and focal length experiments

Heritage Boot Co. Neon, SoCo - Austin, Texas

Heritage Boot Co. Neon, SoCo – Austin, Texas

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.

Heritage Boot Co. Neon Closeup, SoCo - Austin, Texas

Heritage Boot Co. Neon Closeup (148mm equivalent)

Heritage Boot Co. Neon Closeup #2, SoCo - Austin, Texas

Heritage Boot Co. Neon Closeup #2 (256mm equivalent)

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.

Blackmail and Boot Neon, SoCo - Austin, Texas

Blackmail and Boot Neon, SoCo (28mm equivalent)

Blackmail and Boot Neon Closeup, SoCo - Austin, Texas

Blackmail and Boot Neon Closeup, SoCo (80mm equivalent)

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.

On this photowalk, I used the Olympus E-P3 with the 14mm f2.5 lens. I also had a Olympus E-PL1 camera which costs about $150 with the 40-150mm telephoto lens. If you are thinking of buying this equipment, please click on these links. You will get the same low Amazon price and I’ll get a small commission, which helps support this site.


It’s all about the clouds

Tesoros Sunset - Austin, Texas

Tesoros Sunset – Austin, Texas

Yesterday’s South Austin photowalk was the perfect way for me to get back in sync with my photography friends. I was only in Japan for 3 weeks but somehow the radical change in lifestyle made me think that I was away a lot longer. Alex Suarez, who organized the last big walk at the University of Texas campus organized this one too, with a suggestion from my friend, Tony. We met at 7pm for a SoCo Blue Hour walk and finish up with food and drinks at Wahoo Fish Tacos. Turnout was great, we probably had about 20 people including Jerry, the owner of the local, last remaining, full service camera store, Precision Camera.

Soco Photowalk Sunset - Austin, Texas

Soco Photowalk Sunset – Austin, Texas

The challenge I find in Austin is that despite Austin’s notoriety and cool factor on the national scene, it is at best a medium size city. There is only a limited number of places to do urban photowalks. I’ve been to SoCo (South Congress, an area of Austin just south of downtown) many times on photo excursions. I went on this photogathering more to meet my friends and not do serious photography. That said, it is always nice to create a few frames that are new and unique. And arguably going back to the same places over and over and trying to see different compositions is the mental challenge required to become a better photographer. Yesterday turned out to be better than expected. The weather cooperated and created wonderfully expressive clouds and a brilliant sunset that you only get once in a while.

Home Slice Sunset - Austin, Texas

Home Slice Sunset – Austin, Texas

I brought along my usual trio of Olympus cameras, the same set that I used in Japan, 2 E-PL1s and 1 E-P3. Lens wise, I had my usual 14mm f2.5 and 45mm f1.8 but left my 20mm f1.7 at home. I decided to try out my 40mm – 150mm zoom lens that I purchased just prior to my Japan trip. I didn’t use that lens very much in Japan but at $159 factory refurbished at Cameta Camera, it wasn’t very expensive. Many photographers have a favorite focal length and I’m beginning to think that I like the wide angles more. A long telephoto like the 40mm – 150mm (80mm to 300mm equivalent) is not what I end up using for the type of photographs I usually take. However, I end up creating two exposures last night, closeups of the clouds, that made it worth while. As you can see below, the telephoto really isolated the clouds and produced an abstract feel. They were both taken at 150mm (300mm equivalent) and it would not been possible with my usual suit of lenses.

Abstract SoCo Clouds #1 - Austin, Texas

Abstract SoCo Clouds #1 – Austin, Texas

Abstract SoCo Clouds #2 - Austin, Texas

Abstract SoCo Clouds #2 – Austin, Texas

Beyond my two telephoto images, I took the rest of the photos with my 14mm and 45mm primes lenses. The primes produce a higher quality than the zoom and because of the larger apertures, I was able to use these prime lenses well into the night, without using a tripod. The explosive color muted to a rich blue as the blue hour approached. I’ll post these blue hour shots as well as some more photos from this walk in a future post. For today, it’s all about the clouds.

Blue Clouds over SoCo - Austin, Texas

Blue Clouds over SoCo – Austin, Texas


Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure details.

On this photowalk, I used 2 different kinds cameras and 3 lenses. I used the Olympus E-P3 with the 14mm f2.5 lens. I also had 2 Olympus E-PL1 cameras which are running at about $150 each. On these, I used the 40-150mm telephoto lens, and the Olympus 45mm f1.8. If you are thinking of buying this equipment, please click on these links. You will get the same low Amazon price and I’ll get a small commission, which helps support this site.


Olympus OM-D the good and not so good

Olympus OM-D at Yodobashi Camera - Osaka, Japan

Olympus OM-D at Yodobashi Camera – Osaka, Japan

I’m sure most serious micro 4/3 shooters have looked at or considered the new Olympus OM-D. I certainly have. For those who are unfamiliar, the OM-D E-M5 (a stupid name, in my opinion, why not call it the OM-D5?) is Olympus’ newest and highest end camera. I’ve played with the camera a couple of times in Austin and in Japan all the camera stores have it on display. I saw multiple OM-Ds tethered safely to the table at the big camera stores such as Yodobashi and Bic. You are free to play with the cameras for hours if you desired. I’ve slipped into these camera stores in multiple cities for some relaxation time and for some future equipment dreaming — do I really want to get yet another Olympus micro 4/3 camera? Logically, when thinking of spending $1000+ on yet another camera, you start thinking if it’s worth the expense. What additional capabilities will this camera give me that I don’t already have? Readers of this blog might remember that I already own 3 Olympus cameras as well as a Sony NEX-5 and a Canon 7D. Do I really need another camera? No. But do I want another camera? Maybe.

There are many reviews of OM-D E-M5 out there and the camera has received accolades from all the reviews I’ve read. Some people have said it’s the best micro 4/3 camera out there, and equal to the best mirror-less cameras from any manufacturer. From the research I’ve done, the Olympus now has RAW high ISO image quality that is on par with my Canon 7D. The JPEG quality is even better. Most say the dynamic range is better than the Olympus E-P3 that I currently use and the high ISO quality seems to be at least 1 stop better. So getting decent quality images at ISO 3200 would certainly be exciting to me. In addition, the 5 axis advanced image stabilization will also help for those low light shots as well as for video. There are a host of other features that seem neat. I like the tilting LCD screen. I have one on my Sony NEX-5 and I really like the feature. However, as cool and feature packed as this camera is, I’ve noticed a few things that are less than stellar. With all the positive reviews, here is an alternate perspective. Negative observations that I’ve made that aren’t show stoppers but do take a bit of the shine off the camera, at least for me.

Size and Design

The OM-D5 is a really small camera. My first reaction when I saw it in person is that it looked toy like. Toy like, not in build, but in size. The design mimics a classic SLR but since it’s smaller it just looks unexpectedly strange. The OM-D is about the same size as the E-P3 except for the pentaprism mimicking hump that contains the EVF. For people who have no history with the original Olympus OM SLR, the design reference of the OM-D might be lost. While the sculpted and distinctive look of the OM-D is neat, especially compared to the boring, generic, black and lumpy DLSR designs, ultimately I think the OM-D design is a bit contrived. I prefer the simplicity and the smooth lines of the Olympus PEN line, much more. The button placement on the OM-D is also very cramped. The play and function 1 buttons, in particular, feel like they were added as an afterthought; they are hard to press. Despite being about the same size, I find that the E-P3 buttons are better placed. I also wish the E-M5 retained the same control wheel as the E-P3, that way there is an interface consistency for people who are moving up from the PEN line. Also with a control wheel, instead of arrows, the E-M5 would have 3 controllable dials like the Sony NEX-7 Tri-navi interface. That would be the ultimate in flexibility and quick access.

I find it easier to grip the E-P3 compared to the E-M5, though the hard rubber thumb rest on the E-M5 is well placed. Many reviewers highly recommend the optional $300 2 piece grip that does make the camera a lot easier to hold. However, for me, one of the main reasons for moving to the mirrorless camera design is to have a small camera. I’m loathed to add grips that makes the camera larger and paying an extra $300 for the privilege.

EVF and Flash Placement

While the EVF (Electronic View Finder) placement in the center hump nicely mimics a traditional SLR, I find that the hump adds enough bulk to make it tight in my camera bags. When the separate flash is added, the bulk increases even more. I rarely use flash and usually only in emergencies. Because of this, I’ll probably use the camera with the flash detached but I will inevitably be out of luck for the rare times I need to use it. The Sony NEX-5 also has a separate detachable flash and I find it a pain to keep around. One more thing that can be misplaced or gets in the way. On the E-P3, the small flash folds into the body so it is always available. I wish that the EVF was placed similar to the Sony NEX-7 and the flash was designed to pop up. You can see that the Sony NEX-7, even with a larger APS-C sensor, is smaller than the Olympus OM-D. So if Olympus wasn’t trying to go retro, they probably could have built this thing with a flush top that contained a viewfinder and a flash.

Proximity Sensor and Touch screen

I really like the articulated LCD design. I can also imagine using the touch screen and the tilted out LCD to shoot at waist level. However, I’ve noticed that when I do this, my finger accidentally triggers the proximity sensor of the EVF and the entire LCD turns off. With practice, I may be able to use the tilted touch screen without running a foul of the proximity sensor but this is something I’ve noticed when playing with the camera.

Camera Color

Both the retro silver or the black versions of the OM-D look terrific when you only look at the body, however, when you add a lens and the mismatch begins. In general, I think the retro silver body integrates better with the selection of lenses, but, for some strange reason Olympus’ lenses come in different shades of silver. Compare the silver color of the Olympus 45mm f1.8 and it is a different silver color from the Olympus 12mm f2.0. And I think the 17mm f2.8 might yet be another slightly different color. I don’t think it is an issue of plastic vs metal build since I’m sure either material can be made to match each other in color. Look at the metal silver color of the OM-D body, it is a different color from the metal 12mm lens and more similar to the color of plastic 45mm. You play a premium price for a magnesium bodied camera and a nice metal lens and the colors don’t match. I’ve looked at the camera with these lenses and the mismatched shades of silver just don’t look right. It’s the little aesthetic details that are important and Olympus does not have details right. Keep in mind that these devices are sold to photographers, people who are especially in tune with color. Color mismatch is not a good thing.

It may be a bit better with the black version but here there are also design issues, I think. The black OM-D body, unlike the E-P3, is almost entirely black. There are a few shiny accents on the top control wheel but that’s about it. When you add a silver lens to the black body, I think it looks disjointed. There is too much of a contrast between the all silver lens and the all black body. On the my black E-P3, there are a considerable number of silver accents that better integrates with a silver lens. There is a silver or chrome accent that runs around the perimeter of the camera, for example. Am I being too picky here, perhaps. But I cite Apple as an example; a very successful company with a great design sense. If Apple made cameras, do you think they would make lenses with multiple shades of silver or camera bodies that didn’t exactly match camera lenses?

Conclusion

Despite some of my negative observations, there is no question that the OM-D EM-5 is a fantastic camera. None of my picky design “complaints” are show stoppers that would prevent me from getting the camera. It’s just that it makes a terrific camera a bit less perfect in my eyes. Of course nothing is perfect and my “complaints” may be a non-issue for you; just me being over picky. What makes the OM-D purchase question more enticing is that I now have the funds to purchase one, if I desired. With all of its features, I know that if I get the OM-D I would create better quality photographs however, it will not make me a better photographer. Yes, my technical image quality will increase but it would not improve my “vision” for my photography. So is it worth paying the big bucks for yet another camera? Good question. I’ve decided to think about this some more.

There are rumors of a E-P4 coming out in the August to September timeframe. I will see what Olympus does with this new PEN. If they add the same sensor and the 5 axis IS that is in the OM-D, maybe I’ll get another PEN instead. The smaller form factor maybe more to my liking. Time will tell. My next big trip is scheduled for the East Coast at the end of the year. That would be a perfect time to get another camera, if I decide to pull the trigger.


I took this photograph 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.

See more images taken with the Olympus E-P3 at mostlyfotos, my one photograph per day photo blog.


What to do on an 11 hour layover in NYC

Interior, 1917 Lo-V Subway Car - Brooklyn, New York

Interior, 1917 Lo-V Subway Car – Brooklyn, New York

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.

Howard Beach - JFK Station - Howard Beach, New York

Howard Beach – JFK Station – Howard Beach, New York

Rockaway Blvd Station - Ozone Park, New York

Rockaway Blvd Station – Ozone Park, New York

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.

Fulton Center Construction - New York, New York

Fulton Center Construction – New York, New York

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.

Men at Work, Lower Manhattan - New York, New York

Men at Work, Lower Manhattan – New York, New York

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.

Patriotic Boxer, Lower Manhattan - New York, New York

Patriotic Boxer, Lower Manhattan – New York, New York

9/11 Memorial, Tower 1 - New York, New York

9/11 Memorial, Tower 1 – New York, New York

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.

My Little Pizzeria, Street scape - Brooklyn, New York

My Little Pizzeria, Street scape – Brooklyn, New York


Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure details.

In New York City, I used 2 different kinds cameras and 3 lenses. I used the Olympus E-P3 with the 14mm f2.5 lens. I also had 2 Olympus E-PL1 cameras which are running at about $150 each. On these, I attached the fantastic Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7 lens, one of my favorites, and the Olympus 45mm f1.8. If you are thinking of buying this equipment, please click on these links. You will get the same low Amazon price and I’ll get a small commission, which helps support this site.