Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography

Panasonic Leica 25mmf1.4

One second of the Austin Rodeo

I had a nice opportunity to shoot Rodeo Austin this year with a press pass. It gave me the chance to get into the Rodeo and to sit temporarily in any unoccupied seat. As a city slicker from the East Coast, it was great fun. And while I’ve been to the carnival portion of Rodeo Austin many times, this is the first time I ever stepped foot into the heart of the rodeo itself. Austin doesn’t feel very “Texas like” in many places but here I certainly felt transported to a whole different world. Sort of like a tourist in my own home town.

I often say that mirrorless cameras like the Olympus Pens are not suited for fast action sports. And that’s true in many cases but not all. Let me explain. If you shoot soccer, kid’s soccer in my case, the almost random back and forth motion of the game is hard to capture with a mirrorless camera. It’s really the continuous focus that suffers. Composing with an optical view finder, not an EVF, is really the best way to go and DSLRs are great for this — there is no EVF or LCD lag.

However, for fast action that is more predictable, the Olympus Pen can do a spectacular job. Below are 8 photographs I took with my Olympus E-PM2. This kind of action is perfect for this camera since I knew exactly where the rider and bucking bronco are going to start.

Bucking Bronco 1, Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas
Bucking Bronco 2, Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas
Bucking Bronco 3, Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas
Bucking Bronco 4, Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas
Bucking Bronco 5, Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas
Bucking Bronco 6, Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas
Bucking Bronco 7, Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas
Bucking Bronco 8, Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas

Bucking Bronco 1 – 8, Rodeo Austin – Austin, Texas

I took all 8 photographs in 1 second. Look at the LCD clock at the top of the picture. It matches perfectly with the E-PM2 specs of 8 continuous frames per second. All were shot at 1/500 of a second at f1.4 and ISO 1600. I used my favorite Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 which gives a 50mm equivalent view.

The action happens so fast it was hard for me to keep track. I basically aim at the gate and a fraction of second after the gate opens, I mash my finger down on the shutter. Then I just follow the action. As long as the horse remains at the same relative distance from me, they all stay in sharp focus. I got a pretty decent keeper rate too. After a second or so buffer fills up and the shots per second slows down dramatically.

I got a lot more than bucking broncos so I’ll post more photos from the rodeo in the coming days. It’s hard to believe that I shot these back in March. Time flies when you shoot too much and talk too much about gear. It’s all fun.

Please stay tuned.

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.


The struggle to make an impact in a noisy, digital world

Jack Jams, Red River Street - Austin, Texas

Jack Jams, Red River Street – Austin, Texas

In this increasingly connected and noisy world, it is hard to make an impact. — to rise above the background clutter — to get noticed. I think about this all the time as I put my photographs out there and post to this blog. How do I increase my audience so that I can share my thoughts and images with more people? It is an exciting, brave new world. More than ever, individuals can put their art out there and broadcast it to the world. This opportunity has never existed before in human history.

I’ve talked about and featured photographs of Kao=S, a band that fuses traditional Japanese instruments with rock. I’ve taken a keen interest in this band, not only for their unique music but because I identify with their struggle to break through — to get noticed and build an audience. Unlike the other Japanese bands I’ve seen in Austin, Kao=S takes every opportunity to be heard. Beyond performing at clubs, they took to the streets to perform in front of anyone that would listen.

Shuji on Red River Street #1 - Austin, Texas

Shuji on Red River Street #1 – Austin, Texas

Daisuke and Jack, Red River Street - Austin, Texas

Daisuke and Jack, Red River Street – Austin, Texas

These photographs are from one of their impromptu concerts. They setup on Red River Street in the middle of the SXSW 2013. You can feel the energy, and a dynamic that’s different from a stage performance. I have tremendous respect for artists willing to perform in front of an unfamiliar audience.

JKaori performing, Red River Street - Austin, Texas

Kaori performing, Red River Street – Austin, Texas

I see many parallels between music and photography. Both are tremendously impacted by digital copies and easy world-wide distribution. Both art forms are stolen by many people without a thought about the consequences. But ultimately, beyond the fear of theft, the fear of irrelevance is stronger. What good is art if it isn’t seen and heard by others? And though I don’t get the impact of performing directly in front of a crowd, I suppose I post my photos to put a piece of me out there. Perhaps something that will outlast me, in the digital ether, long after I’m gone.

Jack with his shamisen, Red River Street - Austin, Texas

Jack with his shamisen, Red River Street – Austin, Texas

JShuji on Red River Street #2 - Austin, Texas

Shuji on Red River Street #2 – Austin, Texas

While I don’t think photography has the same visceral impact as music, it’s the way I’m trying to leave my mark. I feature these photos as a proxy for my struggles to be seen. Photographs of me taking pictures or post-processing doesn’t seem as cool as these guys jamming on the street. But the same struggles are there, with any artist, in this modern, digital world. I’m glad that, in some small way, I can share the artistry of Kao=S through my art of capturing life in the city.

Kao=S on Red River Street - Austin, Texas

Kao=S on Red River Street – Austin, Texas

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


SXSW Japan Nite: Kaori’s etherial petals

Kaori's Etherial Petals, Kao=S at 2013 Japan Nite - Austin, Texas

Kaori’s Etherial Petals, Kao=S at 2013 Japan Nite – Austin, Texas

It’s not often that I have a favorite photograph from a photography session or an event. Typically, I may have a dozen or so selects. Luckily, I was able to attend the 2013 SXSW Japan Nite last Friday and this photograph is my favorite. I shot about 800 photos and narrowed my choices down to about 100. This particular image still bubbles to the top. Of course, it’s from my favorite group, Kao=S. While Kaori, the lead performer, is known for some dynamic and aggressive samurai sword performances, this scene with the cherry blossom petals is quite the opposite.

I wish I can say that I can nail this kind of photo all the time but I do admit there is a certain amount of luck and good timing to these things. I didn’t know she was going to blow the petals and I just happen to be there to catch it and with a good expression. I think the color and light works well and the wispy, motion blurred petals have an etherial quality.

While good timing is key, having the right camera settings also help. Here’s how I got the shot. I used my Olympus E-PM2 with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 lens. The real star, equipment wise, was the little Olympus FL-300R flash. It’s a really compact flash that runs on two AAA batteries and is properly scaled to the small Olympus Pen bodies. I dialed in a really light -2 1/3 flash exposure compensation. This allowed me to add just a touch of fill on the subject while preserving much of the colorful stage lighting. I used ISO 800 and at f1.4 which gave me 1/160 second shutter.

Like last year, I also used my Canon 7D with the 50mm f1.4 lens but the Olympus Pen really hit its stride this year. I use the older Olympus E-PL1 and the 20mm f1.7 lens last year, with no flash. The images were usable but nothing special. This year’s Pen setup was dramatically better and in some ways bested the results from the 7D. Quite surprising, actually. I’ll talk about how the two cameras compared at Japan Nite, in an upcoming post. Please stay tuned.

Photograph taken with the Olympus E-PM2 with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 and the Olympus FL-300R Compact Flash.

Click on the photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure detail.


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.


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.


Happy Holidays, See you next year

2012 Driskill Christmas Tree - Austin, Texas

Holiday Bokeh, 37th Street – Austin, Texas

I took this photograph on 37th street near the University of Texas campus. It was during the Drink and Click photowalk that I talked about last week. The theme and contest challenge during the photowalk was “Bokeh”. This photo was going to be my entry — except I got a bit lazy and ran out of time so I’m posting it here.

Bokeh is a word frequently used by photographers, usually mispronounced and the meaning if often misunderstood. First of all, it is pronounced like Bo, sorta like Bo Jackson or Bo Derek, if you prefer. The second part is pronounced like Ke in the name Ken. It’s not Boka or Bokee. This Japanese world, in the context of photography means, the quality of the out of focus area. How good do the circle of lights look? Is the background harsh or smooth? It has nothing to do with depth of field (DOF) where some people call a photograph with a shallow DOF as having good bokeh.

I’m not a bokeh expert per say but from what I know this lens have very nice bokeh. I used the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 (which is a 50mm equivalent) on my Olympus E-PM2. Notice that the out of focus lights are nearly, perfectly circular with a consistent fill. You don’t see a doughnut effect. There is also a smoothness to the light.

You may be interested to know that the worked bokeh, which should be properly spelled boke, is used frequently in Japan but not necessarily in the photographic context. It is used to mean fuzziness or forgetfulness. If one forgets something, they may say they are starting to Boke. Also if you say Boke Boke, that is a code word for senility or Alzheimer’s.

On that note, I like to wish my readers a very Happy Holiday. Thank you for coming back time and time again to read my blog — it means a lot. I have some ideas of where I’m taking this thing next year — some of which you are starting to see. I’m going on a family vacation to the East Coast so I probably won’t be posting here until next year. I will be posting photographs to mostlyfotos, my one photo per day site. Perhaps I may even post some photos from the road so that you can see where I’m visiting.

Have a Happy New Year!

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Photograph taken with my new Olympus E-PM2 with the 25mm f1.4 lens.

Click on the photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo 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

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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.