This is the 3rd year in a row that I was down on 6th Street for Halloween. I’ve grown fond of these street portraits and wanted to continue the series. While the technique is the same, every year brings a new cast of characters. Here are the Halloween portraits I did in 2013 and 2014.
I used the same technique and exactly the same equipment as years past, which I describe in this post. I briefly considered using my newest Olympus, the OM-D E-M5 Mark II, instead of the E-PM2, but decided to use the old camera for nostalgia’s sake. Since everything is manually set, the more advanced features of the E-M5 Mark II added no benefit.
I did make one minor change to the process. I used gaffer’s tape to make sure my controls and focus didn’t move. This made it faster and easier. I shot about 60+ portraits in record time, about an hour and a half. I was there by 8pm and done by 9:30. It started to rain and I was tired from my earlier photography event, so it was an early night for me.
Without realizing it, I framed the portraits a bit differently this year. I was further away, so I mostly captured from around the knee up. In previous years, I composed more from just below the waist. While I liked my compositions, the added distance made my portraits a bit darker and required additional post processing. Something to keep in mind for 2016 portraits?
My end of summer photo essay on Hawaii last week reminded me of one of my favorites, the Sunset Torch Lighting and Hula Show at Kuhio Beach. It’s the perfect way to wrap-up a relaxing day on the beach.
Beyond the dancing and the music, the venue is perfectly positioned near the beach. With the sounds of the surf and the island breezes, look left and you can catch the last of the warm rays before blue hour. It’s a wonderful way to transition into the night. In an increasingly commercial and expensive place, this Hula show, located in the heart of Waikiki Beach, is free and open to the public. I highly recommended it either for photography or for just relaxing.
As my gear and photographic style have changed, I’ve captured the show in different ways. During my most recent visit in 2014, I shot primarily with the fixed lens, 35mm equivalent Fujifilm X100S. I find 35mm to be versatile and works nicely for documentation.
With the lightweight mirrorless setup, I moved freely around the venue and captured multiple angles. I think you get a real feel of the place as well as the mood. The style is in stark contrast to the way I used to shoot.
In 2008, a couple of years after I got seriously into photography, I was enamored with shallow depth of field (DOF). I wanted my subjects sharp and the background, well blurred. The quest for shallow DOF is typical, I think, especially with people new to cameras with larger sensors. You hear it all the time on photography boards and on reviews. They talk about the desire for “Bokeh”, which by the way, is not the same as shallow DOF. I made this photograph with a 8MP Canon Rebel XT with a modest 28 to 135mm lens. It’s my favorite candid portrait of a Hula Dancer.
Two years later, with my significantly upgraded equipment, I was convinced that I would create even more winners. I had my semi-pro Canon 7D, which I could machine gun to my heart’s content. I had my 70-200mm f4 L lens, that I could use to isolate my intended target.
A funny thing happened on the way to world, photographic domination. My images were mediocre at best. Sure, I had the shallow DOF and the background was a creamy blur, but so what. I lost all context to the environment. I took nearly 500 shots in rapid succession and not one really pleased me. This image was perhaps the best, which still did not match the subtle gesture of my favorite from 2 years prior.
Over the years, my gear changed and my style along with it. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. I no longer aspire to be the tactical weapon carrying photographer. Gone was the desire for big DSLR bodies with showy long white lenses. I more carefully compose my images and shoot less. Precision and stealth are the watch words, instead of spray and pray.
In 2014, In addition to my Fuji X100S, I had my small Olympus E-PM2 with kit lens. The 28mm to 84mm kit zoom gave me more flexibility. I could shoot video and zoom in for a bit more isolation, without losing context.
I could also go wider than with the X100S. I think this last photo sums up the entire event.
Without the large gear, I also enjoy my vacations more. I pack lighter and get less tired. I’m no longer that guy that stands out with the big camera. These are travel photos after all — visual keepsakes of my family’s activities.
It’s interesting to take stock of one’s changes. An evolution in style brought about by interest, experience, desire and gear. No doubt, there will be more changes in the future. Time will tell what they might be.
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.