In the 23 plus years I’ve lived in Austin, I’ve never been to a University of Texas football game. I got that opportunity this past weekend. My wife graduated from the University but it’s also been 20 years since she’s gone. We both had a great time, thanks to my friend Mark who generously gave us the tickets.
As you can tell, we had excellent seats. My wife remarked, as a student, she was stuck way up there in the nose bleed section. While photographically, a super wide-angle or fisheye would have rendered some interesting compositions from way up there, I was glad to have these seats as a football spectator. I didn’t do much exploring. I was content to take occasional snaps from where we sat.
And as much as I enjoyed the football game, I was equally entertained by the band, the flags and the spectacle that surrounds the game. The precision of the marching band and the pageantry of the flags made for more interesting images, I thought. At least from this level. While I also shot the game, I like the photographs from the pre-game more.
My gear selection, which always involves an interesting set of calculations, centered on being unobtrusive. The UT stadium allows detachable lenses of less than 10 inches. I remember vague, anecdotal comments of people being restricted from bringing “professional” cameras so I purposely went small to fly under any radar. I brought my Olympus E-PM2 with kit lens which looks small and non-threatening enough. I paired that with a small film camera that I recently purchased that I’m in the midst of reviewing. All told it was a humble setup that fit comfortably in my small Domke bag. In retrospect, I wished I also brought my Olympus 40-150mm. The security bag check looked much less imposing than I imagined.
The afternoon was a success though, both for the Texas Longhorns and for my wife and I. Texas beat West Virginia soundly 33 to 16. We had a great time and I got to take snaps of the event. Nothing fancy. I wasn’t shooting on the field and had no illusions of being a sport photographer. All that I was going for was some nice pictures to remember the event. I even pressed my iPhone 5S into service for a decent looking in-phone panorama.
It occurred to me that a compact super zoom would’ve of been an ideal camera. Something small that wouldn’t raise the suspicions of guards on the lookout for wannabe pro photographers. Ironically, with all my different cameras, I don’t own a single super zoom. Nope, I’m not in the market for one either. After shooting for months with a fixed lens 35mm equivalent Fujifilm X100S, the 28mm to 84mm equivalent Olympus setup felt more than enough from my needs.
I went to 6th Street again this year for Halloween. Since it coincided with Formula 1 weekend, it was crazier than usual, which is really saying something. Not only did we have a larger than normal amount of wacky Austinites, we had an international crowd witnessing the spectacle.
No breakthroughs in photographic creativity for me this year. Since I like the “shot on the street” but “studio like feel” I created last year, I applied the same technique. If you want to give this a try, you can read about how I did this here.
Of course, it’s unpredictable who will show up. It’s kind of exciting and disappointing at the same time. I like the costumes I captured last year better but I think my technique has improved somewhat. I basically preset everything manually including the focus, exposure and flash power which makes it very quick. The only frustration? The camera settings occasionally get knocked as I jostle through the crowds. If I do this again, I might use gaffer’s tape to keep the focus and exposures locked in.
So here is the 2014 edition of Halloween Portraits on 6th Street. You can click on the image to see a larger version and hover over with a mouse to see the photo details.
NOTE: I will be giving a free lecture on HDR this coming Thursday (September 25th) in Austin. I will discuss how I process my realistic HDRs and I will show you how I created the photographs on this post. Click here for the time and directions to the event.
Continuing with the night-time urban landscapes in Breda, here are some I created with my Olympus E-PM2. Unlike the photographs I posted previously, which I shot during a rain storm, I shot these on tripod and used my realistic HDR technique. Luckily a break in the rain allowed me shoot without fumbling with an umbrella.
The streets dried quickly so I didn’t get the same level of shine but the HDR allowed me to increase texture and dynamic range. And with the 22mm field of view, it gives a different kind of look from the 35mm on the Fujifilm X100S.
It’s interesting to contrast the two types of photography, the free form X100S shots vs. the more carefully composed HDR images on tripod. I enjoy both for different reasons. I like the unencumbered freedom of photographing without a tripod. It helps me to see and catch quick compositions from different angles. I put up with the tripod, hopefully, to improve image quality. The HDR processing allows me to increase dynamic range and boost color. And perhaps the tripod helps create more precise compositions.
Reds can be weak on digital and I complain about that on my Fuji X100S. The Olympus does a better job and with HDR processing and layer blending, I added extra richness to the red neon. I find that HDR works great for capturing neon which can easily blowout unless you greatly underexpose a single exposure image.
I made several different compositions to get the woman’s face to reflect in the puddle — to add foreground interest. Whenever shooting with a wide-angle, it’s especially important to have something interesting up close. And if you have things in the mid-ground and background, it leads the viewer’s eye deep into the frame.
Here’s my favorite street again, which I shot several times during the day and night. The color version looks good enough, though I got some funky colored lens flare. I think there is something more compelling about the black and white, which looks more mysterious plus It also de-emphasizes the flare.
I’ve featured this building before, though the wide-angle adds the beautiful cobblestone texture in the foreground. I find it so well proportioned and the golden color beckoned me to shoot it against the blue hour sky. This is good example of how a HDR image can add a pop in color and shine compared to a single exposure (here it is shot with the Fuji).
I love the contrast of old and new. Both structures are well proportioned and complement each other. The curved roof adds that extra something that attracted my attention. I wanted a lot of shadows to add moodiness. HDR processing tends to remove shadows, which can be a mistake so I tweak my images to embrace shadows when I think appropriate.
Finally I close with one of many shopping streets that lead to the Grote Church. The HDR actually helps a lot here. The church is no longer a dim structure in the distance, like you see here, when shot with the Fuji, which I underexposed not to lose detail in the store interiors. The HDR processing allows me to maintain detail in the interiors as well as the facades. The increase in dynamic range makes HDR worth pursuing at times, even if it means shooting with a tripod.
I hope you will agree that HDR can be a useful tool in your arsenal. Not as an end in itself but used for specific purposes. HDR doesn’t have to be an over processed mess that gives the technique a bad name.
Reminder: If you want to see how I processed these photos. Come see my talk this Thursday.
I imagined dramatic golden sunrises breaking over Waikiki beach. That’s what I wanted to capture when I lugged by tripod and Olympus E-PM2 to Hawaii. It didn’t turn out that way.
I woke up early twice before the jet-lag diminished. What I discovered was the sun was hidden behind high-rise hotels and the glorious color was trapped behind these towers of concrete. On these two mornings, there were barely any clouds to add interest. The light was boring and my photos were far from my pre visualized splendor. The bottom line, I didn’t know the best places to shoot and I was at the mercy of weather and light. Using HDR is not going to overcome mediocre light.
While the subtle and muted pastels my attract some, I didn’t get the color that I wanted. Experimenting with black and white, I realized though atypical, they created dramatic images with contrast. I like these — they are more unusual. But I’ll be lying if I said I planned it this way.
In retrospect, I should have gotten here earlier, during blue hour. Or better yet, capturing the blue hour after sunset. Ultimately, if I’m serious about beach landscapes, I need to research and explore. I didn’t have a car so I stuck to places within walking distance. But as you can see, I get bored of just beach and nature. I like having man-made influences. Perhaps I’m more attuned to hard angles instead of the organic forms of nature.
While I’m not a morning person, it was peaceful and more enjoyable shooting around sunrise, at least in Waikiki. This place is so tourist filled that the desolation of early morning works better for landscapes. There’s no clutter of people. The sprinkling of human forms add scale and interest but doesn’t overwhelm. Sometimes, you might even catch an amateur photo shoot by some sisters on the beach.
I finally started organizing my Hawaii photos from a few weeks ago.
As you may recall, I brought 3 cameras on my trip and here are the final picture counts. The Fujifilm X100S with 2219 shots. The Olympus E-PM2 and TG-2 came in about the same with 899 and 963, respectively. At 4081 total images, it’s noticeably less than the 6,500 photos I took in the Netherlands. And out of the 4000 or so photos, a majority are family snapshots.
I didn’t do as much “serious” photography, opting more to both document and enjoy my family vacation. But as you can imagine, I did get some alone time. My keeper rate was lower than usual, however. I was probably more distracted than usual (or less determined, photographically) and didn’t see as well as I usually do.
I’m not a morning person, which usually works fine because the city life that I photograph is more lively at night. But due to the magic of jet-lag, I was up earlier than normal. Blue hour, which I often talk about, happens in the morning too. Here is a rare, for me, blue hour photo from paradise, snapped at 5:31am.