Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography

Olympus E-PM2

Black and White Hawaii: Why I created atypical images of Waikiki

Diamond Head from the Moana Patio - Honolulu, Hawaii

Diamond Head from the Moana Patio – Honolulu, Hawaii

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.

Water in Motion, Waikiki Beach - Honolulu, Hawaii

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.

Waikiki Hotels - Honolulu, Hawaii

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.

Pool, Moana Surfrider - Honolulu, Hawaii

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.

Sisters' Photoshoot, Waikiki - Honolulu, Hawaii

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.

Sheraton Patio - Honolulu, Hawaii
Entrance, Moana Surfrider - Honolulu, Hawaii

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I took the photographs with the Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 lens and the Panasonic wide-angle adapter.

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Morning Blue Hour in Waikiki

Morning Blue Hour in Waikiki - Honolulu, Hawaii

Morning Blue Hour in Waikiki – Honolulu, Hawaii

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.

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I took the photographs with the Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 lens and the Panasonic wide-angle adapter.

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



The View from the Boardwalk

Skyline Sunset from the Boardwalk - Austin, Texas

Skyline Sunset from the Boardwalk – Austin, Texas

Austin recently opened a boardwalk of sorts. It floats above the river and forms an extension to the hike and bike trail that graces downtown. What’s good for the runners and bikers are also great for photographers. The architects thoughtfully created several areas that jut out, away from the traffic. Perfect for placing tripods.

My friends, Alex and Rusty invited me downtown to shoot the growing skyline. It’s a new vantage point that I’ve never seen. I thought it might be fun to shoot it with my old and new Olympus cameras, the 11-year-old E-1 DSLR and my HDR mirrorless workhorse, the E-PM2.

Skyline from the Boardwalk - Austin, Texas

I’ve talked a bunch about my new-found fondness for the ancient 5mp Kodak CCD. It has a color that’s different from modern CMOS. I’ve discovered that for longer exposures, even as short as 5 seconds, I would get hot pixels. My guess is that the heat in Texas adversely affects the CCD — I read that heat tends make them noisy.

I shot the first 2 with the E-M1. The next two are HDRs with the E-PM2. Once it got dark, I put away the old DSLR — I knew the images wouldn’t satisfy — the modern mirrorless took over. I zoomed out as night progressed. From a 52mm equivalent to 34mm, to 28mm and finally to 22mm.

Skyline from the Boardwalk - Austin, Texas
Skyline from the Boardwalk (wide) - Austin, Texas

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I took the first two photographs with the Olympus E-1 in RAW and post processed with Aperture 3. I took the next two with the Olympus E-PM2.

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One of my favorite cameras, available for only $200, for the next several days

Golden Gate Bridge, Battery Crosby - San Francisco, California

Golden Gate Bridge, Battery Crosby – San Francisco, California

See this photo of the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge? I took it with the the Olympus E-PM2 with the standard kit lens. I just noticed that the camera and kit lens is now available for only $200 for the next several days. The Olympus OM-D cameras get much of the press these days but this budget priced E-PM2 has the same sensor and pretty much the same image processor. That means that the image quality is the same from this camera as the more expensive options.

How do you get the deal? Click on this link and enter the SUMMER20 coupon code when you check out. The deal ends on June 25, 2014.

There are good deals on other Olympus cameras and lenses too, including the OM-Ds. Just navigate around the site to find what you like, including the E-PM2 that I like so much. Inexplicably, the body only E-PM2 is priced higher than the one with the kit lens. So make sure to pick the camera that contains the 14-42mm lens.

Keep in mind that these are factory reconditioned by Olympus so these are not brand new. No problem. I’ve bought several factory reconditioned products and they work great. Olympus also gives you a 30 day money back guarantee and a 90 day warranty.

Here are some more photos I took that day in San Francisco. These photos are HDRs where I blend 3 images together in post processing on my computer. The newer Olympus cameras, including the E-PM2, have a really nice HDR bracketing mode where you can take 3, 5 or even 7 images. This makes it super easy to capture the images. Later, you use HDR software such as Photomatix to blending your pictures together.

I’ve often mentioned that the E-PM2 is my favorite camera for HDRs because of its small size and high image quality. Now you can get the camera at a really low price.

Wildflowers and the Bay at Sunset - San Francisco, California
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Golden Gate Bridge Up Close, Battery Crosby - San Francisco, California

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I took the photographs with the the Olympus E-PM2 camera with the 14mm-42mm kit lens.

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



A tale of two churches with two cameras, the Olympus E-PM2 and Fuji X100S

Basilica of St. Nicholas - Amsterdam, Netherlands

Basilica of St. Nicholas – Amsterdam, Netherlands

I visited two magnificent churches in Amsterdam. Both beautiful in their own way and both very different. So different, in fact, that I shot them in distinct ways with my two cameras.

What’s a trip to Europe without shooting some of these wonderfully ornate structures. I had my Olympus E-PM2 with a wide-angle lens for this purpose and luckily both places seemed fine with me using a tripod. I also shot my Fujifilm X100S but in a different way. I knew the 35mm equivalent lens on the X100S would not capture the entirely of the place. Rather, my purpose with that camera was to concentrate on details.

Basilica of St. Nicholas

First up is the Basilica of St. Nicholas, the major Catholic church in the middle of the old historic core. It’s an easy walk from the Amsterdam Centraal train station. I’ve shot a fair number of interiors over the years and this place was one of the most challenging. The inside is dim with its dark-colored stonework and stained glass windows. How do you capture the beauty of the dark walls while still maintaining the color and delicate translucency of the windows? With HDR of course, but with a lot more exposures than normal.

Basilica of St. Nicholas - Amsterdam, Netherlands

In almost every case, my HDRs are created from just 3 exposures, usually 0ev, -2ev and +2ev. Here I shot 12 exposures ranging from -4.7ev to +1.7 ev. I cherry picked 4 exposures that gave me a decent range, -2.7ev, -1.7ev, -0.3ev and +1.7ev. I needed this to get the effect you see — the glorious detail in both the windows and walls. Our eyes and brain seamlessly merge these details but cameras struggle with dynamic range. Advanced HDR techniques are required to simulate what human beings do so well.

Basilica of St. Nicholas - Amsterdam, Netherlands
Basilica of St. Nicholas - Amsterdam, Netherlands

I knew taking a single photo with the Fuji was not going to do this place justice. After all, it takes a tripod and multiple exposures on the Olympus to do a half way decent job. Rather, I decided to strategically shoot images that had less dynamic range. Whether you have a smartphone or the fanciest DSLR, here, you might be disappointed with the results. Selectively shooting details might work well photographically but it hardly gives a feel of the entire church. St. Nicholas is a tough place to take great photos.

Basilica of St. Nicholas - Amsterdam, Netherlands
Basilica of St. Nicholas - Amsterdam, Netherlands

Oude Kerk

My second stop, Oude Kerk (Old Church) couldn’t be more different. Originally a Catholic church when founded 700 years ago, by 1578 it became Calvinist. Photographically, Oude Kerk is much easier. With light colored walls and with little stained glass, the dynamic range was manageable. While I started taking HDRs like I usually do, I soon realized that the Fuji X100S could also do an adequate job if I properly nailed the exposure.

Oude Kerk - Amsterdam, Netherlands
Oude Kerk - Amsterdam, Netherlands

Shooting the details here was more enjoyable than St. Nicholas, primarily because I could do a better job. HDR wasn’t required and I could concentrate on framing handheld rather than futzing with a tripod. While I’ve become quite adept at using the 3 legged appendage, I still find it cumbersome. Shooting free form with the Fuji, for me, is a purer photographic experience.

Oude Kerk - Amsterdam, Netherlands
Oude Kerk - Amsterdam, Netherlands

Oude Kerk charged 5 Euros for entry but I felt it was worth it. The place was less crowded than St. Nicholas and I felt less rushed. At St. Nicholas, I was unsure if I was allowed to use a tripod and the steady stream of visitors forced me to work quicker. The peaceful white walls of the Old Church put me in a Zen state of mind. I took my time to frame my photos, both on and off the tripod. Ironically, this church is located right in the middle of Amsterdam’s famous Red Light District. The contrast between the external environment and the internal sanctuary couldn’t be more different.

Oude Kerk - Amsterdam, Netherlands
Oude Kerk - Amsterdam, Netherlands
Oude Kerk - Amsterdam, Netherlands

Old Church was larger and more open. I used the Fuji to capture the sense of scale by including people. The airiness of the place is its main attraction. For sheer detail and color, St. Nicholas impresses but capturing it photographically is a challenge. Using HDR might be the only way to approximate its grandeur.

As usual, knowing your gear and its limits are essential. Learning advanced techniques helps too in tough situations. Even though I only had two cameras and two fixed lenses, I felt satisfied that I captured the essence of both places.

Oude Kerk - Amsterdam, Netherlands
Oude Kerk - Amsterdam, Netherlands

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I took the majority of photographs with the Fujifilm X100S in JPEG and post processed with Aperture 3. I took the HDR photographs with the Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 lens and the Panasonic wide-angle adapter.

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