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.

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



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.