Living the typical suburban lifestyle in the United States, it’s easy to forget how charming cities can be. Even living in Austin, which is probably better than many places in America, one realizes we have a ways to go.
Breda, in the southern part of the Netherlands, is a small city of about 180,000. It’s smaller than some bedroom communities in the U.S. But what’s different from many modern, car based cities is the density of development. The central area is remarkably compact with many of the daily necessities within walking distance – courtesy of urban development pre-automobile. For an urban photographer, it affords endless details.
From the train station to downtown, you pass through the very green Park Valkenberg, which I enjoyed capturing in an earlier post. Right next door lies Breda Castle and other historic buildings the mark the start of the man-made. It even has a moat which rings the castle and the rest of the central downtown.
The cobblestones add pleasant visual texture but was a hassle for pulling wheeled luggage. But seen at night, especially when wet, they give that extra sparkle that makes these places special.
Structures blend seamlessly from government buildings to apartments to restaurants. Most follow a uniform scale that makes them harmonious. There is enough facade variation to add interest but enough consistent structure to enforce a sense of order.
The large Grote Church dominates and anchors the city — most of the night life congregates around it. Unlike Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, which is surrounded by the famous red light district, Breda’s signature church is surrounded by restaurants and bars. It’s a lot more accessible and family friendly. Of course many have cafe style outdoor seating.
I asked many Dutch if Breda is a regular city or more upscale than normal. I got different responses and I couldn’t form a definitive opinion. What’s evident is that, while this place would be viewed as a high-end neighborhood in the United States, it’s one of many nice places in the Netherlands. Imagine all the detail and interest of Disney’s Magic Kingdom without the references to fantasy characters or amusement rides.
It’s a real place with real people who live, work and shop there everyday. For a city slicker, it might be a bit small and the quaint architecture might ultimately not suffice. But I had a heck of a fun time for a week. It doesn’t have a lot of tourist attractions and that’s fine by me. I’m always more interested in seeing and documenting the real, everyday places, at least here in the Netherlands. In America, the equivalent “real and everyday places” would be strip malls and suburban tract homes which, somehow, wouldn’t be the same.
I shot many of these early in the morning on Saturday, so it’s deceptively quiet. Several hours later the cafes would be full of people. The area near the church was especially active and well into the night. It’s where the people partied.
I know several Dutch living in the U.S. and asked them why they left. Didn’t they like the finely crafted charm, meticulously layered over centuries of development? They all mentioned how terrible the weather was. Dark and gloomy in the winter with all that rain. It turned out that I was there during the good time of the year but even I got to experience the wetness for 6 of the 11 days.
On the plus side, I got to take some great night shots in the rain. Here’s one that I took in Amsterdam. I’ll do more rain-soaked and beautifully reflective posts from Breda, in the near future.
I’ve been going to the ROT (Republic of Texas) Biker Rally for several years now. Each year I bring a different set of cameras as my equipment and tastes evolve. This year the Fujifilm X100S was my main camera, no surprise there. I’ve been shooting the X100S quite a bit recently and blogging about it with regularity. After using it extensively in the Netherlands and logging close to 14,00 photos, I feel like I’m getting the hang of the camera.
You may recall that when I started shooting with it back in March, I was still getting my bearings, preferring the familiarity and comfort of the Olympus micro 4/3 cameras.
Like in past years, I got down there early before the main parade — 6th street is where many of the bikers congregate. Often, it’s the place where people proudly showoff their bikes. This person probably had the most unique motorcycle there and it garnered a lot of attention.
With increased familiarity with the Fuji X100S, I’m experimenting. This one with some extra flare. JJ Abrams would be proud.
I headed over to Congress Avenue for the pre parade activities. These bikini clad women handed out ROT Rally flags. You can see the flags proudly on display by the couple at the top of the post.
These three are part of the Texas Roller Derby. They did street acrobatics as well as handed out discount coupons.
After many years of the same format, they changed the ROT Rally Parade this year. This created a kink in my photography plans since I was expecting, out of habit, the same parade route. In past years, the motorcycles would do a slow pass up and down the street and then park. This year, they greatly extended the parade and did a single, higher speed pass down Congress Avenue. That made it heck of a lot harder to capture the motorcycles. I was forced to improvise by manually pre focusing, and upping the shutter speed to 1/500s and 1/1000s. It took a bit of futzing but it turned out decently. As a big plus, the new route allowed me to get the Texas State Capitol building as the backdrop.
With such a fast shutter speed and with the evening light, the last two photos jumped to ISO 6400. The Fuji did a good job with the detail. I generally keep 6400 as my upper limit for the camera. I also think my familiarity with the X100S helped me to successfully improvise. I’m actually amazed how many scenes I captured with a single 35mm equivalent lens.
New for this year, Austin setup a second ROT gathering site south of the river at the Austin American-Statesman newspaper building. The parking lot was transformed into a vendor, food and concert space. I walked down there with my photographer friend Dave, who I met during the parade. If you know Austin, you know they always setup live music stages for these kinds of events. After all, the city brags that it’s the “Live Music Capital of the World”. Friday night was no exception.
It took the opportunity to do some street shooting in and around the food booths. I always like the glow of lights at night and the X100S does a good job with them.
I also started experimenting with the flash blending. Fuji has something called Super Intelligent Flash on many of its cameras where it does a really good job of blending the right amount of fill flash with the ambient light. It’s actually one of the reasons I bought the X100S but something which I haven’t tested much until now.
The portrait of the Mexican Motorcycle Acrobats came out great at ISO 2500 and at 1/30s. The next two were at ISO 5000. The first one is fair but a bit soft — it also has a slight depth of field issue shot at f2. The second one came out better. Overall though, given how dark it was, it did a fantastic job of lighting the subject and maintaining detail in the background.
I headed back north to 6th street, that’s were I figured most of the action will be. The ROT participants where thinking the same too. Groups of them rumbled up Congress Avenue towards the bars and night life.
6th Street is always, shall we say, festive on the weekends. But during ROT Rally it gets amped up. This year though, because the venues were split into multiple locations, 6th was not as packed. It think it lost some of it’s craziness which might have been part of the city’s plans. I have to admit that I like the previous years better.
That’s not to say that the 6th Street bars don’t have of plenty of attractions to entice customers. I find this place to be one of the most intense for sheer capitalism. The bars complete vigorously to pull in customers.
In years past, I came down with my HDR setup, complete with tripod, to photograph the glowing bikes. HDR works particularly well in these cases. I’ve done enough of these shots that I decided to forgo the HDR, it also saved me from carrying a tripod. I did, however, try get an extra pop by using the Fuji Intelligent flash. It works great for objects too, not just people. While perhaps not as striking as the HDR, I think it came out pretty darn good for a single exposure in JPEG. More than anything, it’s the shallow depth of field that gives this shot a different look. After all, I was hand holding it in the dark at ISO 5000 at f2. Not bad.
Here is another example of flash blending. I wanted to light the dark bikes in foreground and balance it with the background neon.
All told I was there about 4 hours last Friday night and walked about 7 1/2 miles according to my Pedometer++ iPhone app. That’s good because these photo walks are one of my main sources of exercise, sad but true. Stay tuned, I have a lot more ROT Rally coverage this year. I did some extra special camera testing the next day, comparing the performance of 3 cameras. Look for that soon.
I had the pleasure of walking through Park Valkenberg on many occasions during my week stay in Breda, Netherlands. When I first saw it, it was a breath of fresh air for a weary traveller that spent an afternoon in the big city of Amsterdam. The park is located between the downtown and the train station so every time I passed through, I would snap a few more photos.
Now I realize that this is not exactly the wilderness — It’s a highly groomed city park. But with the tall trees and lush green grass surrounded by a canal, it was the perfect amount of nature for this former New York City boy. And for an Urban Photographer like me with photos of lots of buildings and the gritty city life, this bit of greenery might be a rare treat on this blog.
I shot all photos with my Fujifilm X100S. A quiet camera with a single 35mm equivalent lens. It fit the mood well in this serene place.
Parks in Austin aren’t this green, it is a semi-arid place after all. But it’s the highly manicured look that really appeals to me. The sense of order, in once sense, has that architectural feel. The green belts and parks in Austin are decidedly more wild with lots of undergrowth. The excess brush and plants adds too much noise. Perhaps a skilled landscape photographer can artfully lessen the visual clutter but it’s something that I haven’t achieved or worked on very much.
Remembrance Day, held on May 4th, pays respect to fallen soldiers and civilians during World War II. Here are the flowers that were left, captured the day after the ceremony.
Next to the park, across the canal is Breda Castle, a site with some significant history. For me, it was a nice man-made contrast to the surrounding park.
I realized the canal that flows around the park and the castle also surrounds the entire old part of town. I imagine it was part of the defense system back in the old days. While beautiful and peaceful now, I wonder what it might of been like when it needed to defend the city from foreigners. These days, the foreigners are tourists like me, armed only with cameras, marveling at the blend of old and new, the man-made and the natural.
The bright greens, abundant water and the cute towns were a stark difference from the semi arid landscape of Central Texas. It almost looked like a mythical, enchanted land. This was the view out the plane, minutes before I landed. I was looking forward to a couple of days of photography before I started the business portion of my trip.
The modern and bright Schiphol Airport complete with recorded chirping birds gave a humane feel to a usually sterile environment. My Fujifilm X100S was primed to record all that I found different, with some things perhaps even noteworthy. While the International Style of architecture is common throughout the world, things felt different there, kind of how an Ikea feels different from a Target. A bright blue 747 proudly parks with the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines logo.
As expect the extensive train system is convenient and adjacent to the airport. Get the right ticket and you can quickly travel to anywhere in the Netherlands and beyond to the rest of Europe. And while I’ve been on many train systems in the past, there’s always a learning curve. After 15 hours of travel and arriving in a foreign country there’s bound to be some confusion and disorientation. I stepped briefly outside to see what it was like.
When I believed I mastered the automated ticket machine, I discovered my MasterCard didn’t work. Tip number one, make sure you have one of those new MasterCards with the embedded IC chip and a preset PIN code. I didn’t have a PIN code so I was forced to use cash (Euros of course). Luckily I found that all of my hotels took the standard dumb credit cards. The stations also have walkup ticket booths staffed with real people, who fortunately speak English, so I was set.
It was a quick 15 minute trip to Amsterdam Centraal station and the trains left frequently. I was headed to the heart of Amsterdam for several hours until I needed to get to my destination in the south. The train system would be the envy of most countries though they didn’t match Japan’s for cleanliness or efficiency. The big plus however is that there are a lot fewer people in the Netherlands — you’re not packed like sardines which is common in the big Japanese cities.
Outside Amsterdam Centraal station and on Damrak, the main street through the old part of town, it was a bit crazy. The hoards of tourists, the trolleys and the construction was visually assaulting. With no open lockers at the station, I reluctantly dragged my two carry-ons clumsily around the cobbled streets. With my lightweight mirrorless cameras, at least I didn’t have a big backpack stuffed with gear. But after many hours of travel, my mind wasn’t optimally geared towards photography. I wanted to take photos but perhaps jet lag was setting in.
Veer off into the neighborhoods and the large city becomes manageable. Streets filled with small shops give way to tree-lined residences. In the old central part of the city you are not far from the famous canals. The peaceful waters and the calm rejuvenated me. All told I walked the streets for 5 hours shooting continuously with my X100S. It worked great. The perfect camera for capturing life in the city.
I made my way back to the Centraal station to continue to my final destination, Breda, a smaller city in the south of Netherlands, close to the border with Belgium. I took an express train which got me there in a little over one hour. The countryside is lush and while it was sunny when I arrived, I would discover why the country is so green.
Breda, according to Wikipedia is the 9th largest city with 180,000 people. Amsterdam is the largest with 812,000. The contrast couldn’t be more different. The Central Breda station was small and quaint. A single bus waited with no tourists in sight.
Between the station and downtown laid a meticulously groomed park called Valkenberg. The late afternoon sun gave everything a golden glow. As I made my way towards the center, I noticed everything was impossibly calm and cute. The bustle of Amsterdam replaced with almost an incomprehensible amount of charm. Breda would be a fun place to shoot. Though smaller, there was plenty to keep my photographic interest for the coming week.
Back in March, only two days after my SXSW photo walk, I went to the Rodeo with my friend Mike. We spend most of the time at the carnival — got there an hour before sunset and stayed into the night. It’s sort of a tradition for us. Over the years, I’ve taken different cameras and shot in different styles. I’ve captured enough long exposure motion blurs of amusement park rides that I stuck with street photography this time. The Fujifilm X100S was brand new for me back then — I bought it only three days before this rodeo visit — so I was determined to use it.
I took two cameras, the Fuji X100S and the Olympus OM-D E-M10. Like the SXSW outing, I shot mostly with the X100S, not because I didn’t like the Olympus, but because I wasn’t good at shooting the Fuji. A new challenge. I was determined to tame my latest acquisition. The OM-D E-M10 was new to me too, temporarily on loan from Olympus, but I’m already familiar with Olympus micro 4/3 cameras. I’ve used them for years.
I’m going to do a dedicated review on the Olympus OM-D E-M10 soon. But it’s really easy to sum up the camera. After years of building mirrorless cameras, Olympus has all but perfected them. They are fast in most everything they do. The E-M10 model has basically all the features that a novice or enthusiast will want. In all but the fastest sports, I would recommend the E-M10 for daily shooting and daily action. Want to do some home video too, no problem, stills or video, the camera does a solid job.
The Fuji X100S is an entirely different kind of camera, one that I won’t recommend for novices. To really appreciate the camera, you need to get back to the days when spinning physical dials was the only way to adjust your settings. Sure the X100S is a modern digital device, but it really has the feel of a camera of yore. And while some Fuji diehards might disagree, the camera is still quirky (and not in a good way) compared to the solid and dare I say boring Olympus. With this newer S version of the X100, focus is a lot faster, however it’s still noticeably pedestrian compared to the Olympus. As strange as it sounds, near perfection may be the problem with the E-M10. Since it does everything so well, it’s almost too good — it’s sort of unexciting. Perhaps conquering the idiosyncrasies of the X100S is part of the fun.
There are things that really bug me about the X100S. While I originally thought the focusing speed was the biggest issue, it’s not, I discovered. I don’t know if my particular camera is worse than others but the damned electronic view finder (EVF) is too dark in bright light. In the evening, night-time or indoors, the EVF works great. But try to use the thing in bright daylight and the EVF darkens tremendously. I’ve read about this behavior online, so I know I’m not the only one. I can brighten the viewfinder manually but then in darker places the overly bright viewfinder sears my eyes. Nope there definitely something wrong with the design. I checked the EVF on the OM-D E-M10 and it’s consistent no matter the lighting, just as it should be.
On the Fuji, with the EVF impaired, I need to use the optical view finder instead. Luckily the X100S has a dual optical / electronic view finder, one of its unique features. The optical works great in good light, though less accurate for framing. The problem is, after I frame and shoot with the optical, it switches to an EVF review of the photo I just took. Except again, I can’t check accuracy with the dim photo through the EVF. Ironically, I can review photos better with my rear LCD in bright sunlight. Kind of crazy and this behavior partially defeats the purpose of an EVF.
So all is not perfect in Fuji land. But I adjust and work through the challenges. So beyond my love for the X100S retro design and it’s solid build, why do I put up with it? When everything falls into place, I’m rewarded with fantastic image quality. The Fujifilm JPEGs are probably the best in the business. In fact, unlike my other cameras, I only shoot in JPEG with the Fuji. Conversely, the RAW processors out there for Fuji’s X Trans sensor aren’t particularly great. They’ve steadily improved but I think the in-camera JPEGs are better and a lot easier.
Fuji also has this auto dynamic range mode for JPEGs that subdues bright areas and pulls out shadow detail. Combined with it’s uncanny auto white balance, you generally get very pleasant out of camera photos. Of course I still tweak my images in post, but only minor adjustments are usually required. The built-in 35mm equivalent lens is sharp even at f2. Taken together, especially at night, I get photos that pop. As much as I like the Olympus image quality, most of the time I like the Fuji’s better. Look at photograph at the top of this post, that food stand glows and the colors look lively. It has a look different from my other cameras.
Let’s do some comparisons. I shot the Olympus E-M10 in JPEG + RAW. Since I don’t have a RAW processor for the camera, we get to compare the Olympus JPEG vs the Fujifim JPEG. On the left, we have the unprocessed JPEGs. On the right, the results after post processing in Aperture 3. I tried to make the colors match as closely as possible. You can see that Fuji’s auto white balance did a better job here — my post processed image only slightly sharper and more colorful. The Olympus required more work. But all is not perfect with the Fuji either. I mentioned before that reds on the X100S JPEGs are weak — they look more orangish. You can see it when you compare the red candy apples. Click on the photos to see a larger view.
I don’t usually do this, pixel-peeping I mean, but I wanted to show you both photos up close. I get to see my photos full size on a 27” monitor but with typical web sizes don’t always get to appreciate the details. Here are similar sections of my post-processed photos at 100%. Yes, they are not framed identically but I think you can see a difference. Not only do I prefer the X100S colors but the sharpness is also superior. On the Olympus, I used the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4, my best lens. Keep in mind that when I use the Olympus RAW (the E-M10 is a new cameras and I don’t have the RAW converter), some of these differences go away. More than anything we are comparing the JPEG processing engines here. However, it goes to show how nice of a job Fujifilm does on their JPEGs. And the Olympus is no slouch either. I prefer the Olympus JPEGs to Canon’s for example.
Despite my complaints about the X100S focusing, I’m happy with the number of keepers I got. It goes to show that concentrating, properly framing and finding a good moment counts for a lot. Effort can overcome slightly sluggish focusing. However, by applying my mental energy on the Fuji, I noticed that my Olympus photographs suffered. By all measures the Olympus is faster and easier to shoot but without that proper concentration, none of my E-M10 images deserved to be posted. The just weren’t good enough.
I’ve include some livestock on this post, a nod to the agricultural roots of the rodeo, but I go to these things to shoot the people and the glow of rides and booths at night. I love capturing people having fun at the carnival. I tend to shoot architecture and street photos, here I kind of get to do both. The glowing tents represent makeshift architecture and the carnival color, almost as good as urban neon.
I didn’t shoot many street portraits this time. This lovely couple asked me to take an iPhone shot. I obliged and asked them if I could also take a portrait with my Fuji. The ambient light cast a warm glow and even a 35mm equivalent at f2 nicely defocuses the background. Just the perfect amount, the background no longer distracting but clearly maintaining the ties to the carnival.
I then saw these ladies with giant matching tigers, marching towards me. I had to ask for a portrait — you just can’t make these shots up. You need to take them when you have the chance.
By the end of the night, I was getting the exposure dialed in on the X100S. The Fuji is one of the few cameras where it exposes more brightly than I expect. For these evening shots with colorful lights, I found that underexposing by 1/3 stop was just about right. It maintains the color and details in the lights.
For people, I needed to go back to 0 on the exposure compensation dial. I used to shoot Aperture Priority almost exclusively but I’m shifting more to Shutter Priority these days. This works especially well on the Fuji. I have the ISO set to Auto with a max of 6400. Aperture is set to A (Auto) but the Fuji is smart enough to use f2 in these dark scenes. I quickly change my shutter speed from 1/30 of a second for stationary objects, 1/60 for portraits and 1/125 for more action. All it takes is a quick twist of the dial. The Fuji almost always does the right thing settings wise. When I drop the shutter speed, Auto ISO drops the ISO setting which also improved quality.
The Olympus also does the right thing and the Shutter Priority setting with Auto ISO works well. I think changing settings with a typical digital interface is quicker but the traditional dials of the Fuji are more intuitive. The old dial method is also more in your face so I see the settings better, reducing the likelihood that I have the wrong values set.
It was interesting to compare framing with a 35mm vs 50mm equivalent lens. The 50mm equivalent on the Olympus was easier for candid street photographs. I can get in on the action without being as close. As a result the photos were more intimate. Through the view finder the 35mm felt too distant, like I was too far from the subject. And I felt uncomfortable getting any closer. When viewed large on-screen, however, 35mm looks great. I actually prefer it to 50mm since I get more of a context to the environment.
Sometimes I wish I have a 28mm, especially for architecture, but overall the 35mm equivalent on the X100S works. For these kind of places, I don’t feel any desire to change lens or use a zoom. That’s great since I’m stuck with one lens on the X100S, I can’t change it (though there are now Fuji adapters to get a 28mm or 50mm view). Ultimately, beyond all the quirks, having only one focal length may be the reason a novice will find the X100S too limiting and frustrating. The Olympus, of course, supports interchangeable lenses so you can pick your favorite focal length or use a zoom.
After shooting both cameras at SXSW and at the carnival, I have a good feel for their differences. Two very different cameras but both great in their own way. The Fujifim X100S has the image quality edge as well as more character, though you have to deal with it’s idiosyncrasies. The Olympus OM-D E-M10 is flexible, dependable and has all the features you’ll need. The E-M10 is the kind of camera I can recommend for any photographer for most any need. But what if you want an inflexible and limiting camera that will push you creatively? Imposing limits taxes the brain and forces it to adapt. That may be one of the best arguments for a camera like the X100S. It’s all up to you.
So tell me, which camera interests you more?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.
As June arrives in Austin and the heat begins to build, the rumble of thousands of motorcycles can be heard. It’s that time of year again. Every second Thursday in June, The Republic of Texas (ROT) biker rally rolls into town. I’ve seen estimates as high as 50,000 participants and 200,000 spectators, making this one of the biggest biker rallys around. I’ve been going to the downtown festivities for the last couple of years and this year, I met up with some photographer friends, Pete, Jim and Dave. Friday night was the highlight of the downtown events with a big, boisterous display of motorcycles parading down Congress Avenue, Austin’s main downtown street.
My friends and I met a couple of hours early and shot the scene around 6th street. There was a fun, carnival like atmosphere, with thousands of bikers showing off their vehicles and partying at Austin’s most famous entertainment district. There were many non-bikers too enjoying the mood along with an ever-growing number of photographers documenting the scene. A healthy police presence ensured things stayed calm and from what I could see, they did an excellent job. But mostly, the mix of people were there to have fun and these events further Austin’s reputation of being a weird and eclectic place. I’ll leave the pre and post parade scenes for another blog post but today it’s all about the big Congress Avenue parade.
I shot the same parade last year, and I made a couple of changes for this year. First, I decided to stand on the opposite side of the street. The parade downtown starts at the State Capitol and moves south on Congress Avenue, does a loop, and heads back north on the same street. I was on west side so I caught the action as the parade looped back north. I think both sides are equally good and I don’t have a s strong preference. Next, I made big changes to my photo gear. Last year I shot with my Canon 7D and a 50mm f1.4 lens and also brought along a super-wide angle lens. This year, I used a trio of Olympus Pen cameras. I had my E-P3 with a 14mm f2.5 lens, a E-PL1 with a 20mm f1.7 and a E-PL1 with the 45mm f1.8. It’s hard to believe that a year ago, I didn’t even own a single Olympus camera; now I was sporting three of these small and light devices. And even with three cameras, they still weight less than last year’s setup.
Juggling 3 cameras may be a pain at times but generally worked well. I shot mainly with the 14mm and 20mm lenses. I used my 45mm when there was something interesting to zoom into like the handsome African-American couple above. they were clearly having a great time and I made a satisfying image with both my 45mm and 14mm lenses.
True to Austin, there were colorful and playful riders too. Love those horns, kind of gives a Viking on a motorcycle feel. And how about those two riders with the matching dogs with goggles. All part of the fun at the parade. You can tell the riders and the spectators had a great time. People stuck out their hands to greet the bikers. There were warm smiles and camaraderie between the riders and the on lookers.
As the sun set, the glow of the headlights took on a magical appearance. The wild LED colors that lit the engines cast an eerie glow. After they parade down and up Congress Avenue, the riders get to park their motorcycle in the middle of the street. There is a crazy jumble of bikes and people. To the right the bright lights of the old Paramount theater beacons and to the north, off in the distance, the Capitol of Texas sits proudly, anchoring the street. With the parade over, the second wave of festivities were just beginning. Down the street, a stage with live music. Some kind of southern rock, country music combo, blaring away. It’s the kind of music I couldn’t identify but it worked perfectly for this kind of event. It’s dark now and my friends and I switch from hand-held photography to tripods. There were bikes decked out in colored LEDs, calling us. We oblige.
Please make sure to click on a photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.
This is part 5 of an ongoing post about my trip to India and Singapore. The previous post is Street shooting in Karol Bagh market, Delhi, India
After a night of not too restful sleep, I was up at 4:45am to get ready for my train ride to Agra. I only got a few hours of sleep on the flight between Austin and New Delhi, hoping that I’ll be tired enough to get a good night’s sleep. I went to bed at 10:30pm, quickly fell asleep and woke up promptly at 12:30am. Curse jet lag. For the next 3 – 4 hours, tossed and turned and only got a few winks. I had a couple of issues with my hotel room too. First, when I woke up at 12:30, the room was pitch black. I was in a daze but I could have sworn I left the light on in the bathroom so that I can navigate. I stumble around and attempted to flick on more lights, but nothing seemed to work. Maybe the hotel is trying to save power? Maybe the power would kick on later in the morning? Then I remembered that I needed to charge all my camera batteries for my big sightseeing trip. Also, what if the power didn’t come back on early enough? After all, I had to take my shower at about 5am and it would be challenging to wash myself in a dark room. I decided a trip to the front desk was a necessity. Luckily the hallway lights were on so it wasn’t a building wide power failure. On the ground floor, just next to the elevator, there was an unidentified lump in a dark corner that surprised me. It was one of the hotel staff taking a nap on the floor; definitely something that I have not experienced at a hotel in the U.S.
The attendant at the front desk looked groggy but awake. My questions regarding the lack of power seem to confuse him; but I did confirm that the power is supposed to be on all night; so it wasn’t a power savings ploy by the hotel. After a check by the hotel staff, the issue was narrowed down to a blown fuse in my room. Problem solved. I was back to charging my camera batteries. I tossed and turned, relaxed, read a book but I was generally unsuccessful getting any kind of meaningful sleep. And of course, the more you stress about trying to get sleep, the less you end up sleeping. 4:30 rolled around and I decided to take a shower but after 10 minutes of running the water, it refused to get warm. That’s strange, I got plenty of hot water earlier that night; I had taken a shower before I went street shooting in the market. I decided only to wash my hair, with cold water, which certainly got me going and fully alert.
The driver and guide arrived promptly at 5:30. In, what seemed like a 15 – 20 minute ride, I was at the New Delhi train station. Despite the early hour, the place was bustling with people, cars and all kinds of goods being transported. The beauty of having a guide is that they bring you right to the train and your exact reserved seat. I’ve read in guide books that you should allow up to an hour to find the correct train at New Delhi station. That’s because the signage is not too good and the darn place is quite big. The books suggest to listen to the audio announcements rather than trying to decipher the information screens. I felt lucky that I had an expert guild that whisked me through the chaos to the correct platform. We were there in plenty of time and before the 6:15 Shatabdi Express train to Agra arrived.
I had 1st class air-conditioned reserved seats on the Shatabdi Express Train to Agra. The travel agency told me that this is fastest way to get to Agra, a mere 2 hours from New Delhi. And I needed all the time savings that I can muster, I was scheduled to visit 3 locations in Agra and wanted to maximize my touring time before I take the 8:30pm express train back to New Delhi. A quick, one day trip to Agra was all I had time for. The express train was unimpressive by Western standards; its not the French TGV or the Japanese bullet train but it was clean and roomy. The dated decor was neither modern or old enough to be retro or cool. Most of the other passengers seem to be tourists and the occasional well to do Indians, like the couple that sat behind me. The couple lived in the United States and the husband worked in the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley; they were back in India for some sightseeing. At about $20 per one way trip to Agra, the 1st class Shatabdi Express is a nice way to travel that won’t break the bank for most Western travelers. I’m sure, however, that the ticket price is a luxury or beyond the means for many of the Indians, hence this section of the train seemed to be, more or less, dedicated for tourists.
There was a flurry of activity in the 15 minutes before departure. Porters carried heavy bags for what looked like American or British visitors. The Indian Railways staff first passed out 1 liter bottles of water and followed with newspapers in English and Hindi. The train left on time and it wasn’t long until we the cityscape gradually turned into the country. The sun was coming up and I was on the left side of the train, next to the window, which perfectly positioned me for sunrise photography. Shooting out the train was more difficult than I imagined. Initially, the light was dim so I had to have a higher ISO and larger aperture. However, even under better light, I kept the ISO high to increase my shutter speed and to have a deeper depth of field, Shooting into the sunrise, while beautiful also creates more challenges. The dynamic range is so wide, between the glowing clouds and the dark ground, that inevitably you end up with bright spots or shadows that are darker than you like them to be. I did my best to balance these factors and created a few misty and hazy sunrise photographs. Between the expressive clouds, and ground hugging fog these were some beautifully serene landscapes. I liked how the trees that dotted the landscape added another dimension to images
As beautiful as the landscape was, there was a another, more haunting scene, that would breakup the idyllic countryside. In little settlements and villages along the tracks, you see people sifting through the litter that was tossed out the windows. There was a wide swath of junk that is thrown out of the local trains, which have open windows, especially near the train stations. I saw maybe a hundred people walking along the track and searching through the garbage. I can only assume they were looking for bits of food that may have been tossed out. I guess any discussion and observation of India will not be complete without talking about poverty. I saw a small bit of that in the Karol Bagh market but certainly not on the scale I saw out the window of this train. And no doubt there are other places that are far worse. This was a gentle yet striking reminder that I live a privileged life in a privileged country.
During the 2 hour trip to the Agra Cantt train station, we passed though several stations and stopped at a few more. These were great photo opportunities for catching people when the train was slowing down or stopped. The ones below are some of the more interesting ones that I captured. The second image, with the colorful clothing and the luggage on top of the woman’s head, really gives an exotic feel. I would love to spend time just doing street photography at these stations. There were so many interesting people and with such different customs.
Finally, when I wasn’t shooting the photographs, I was enjoying the food service inside the train. First, we got some hot coffee or tea with cookies and biscuits. Then we got a cold breakfast with cereal and bread. I especially enjoyed that brown bread wrapped in the unassuming paper wrapper. The corn flakes were similar to the U.S. but I was not used to eating them with hot, sweet milk, which was served from steaming metal containers. I assumed the breakfast was complete but then there was yet another course, a hot entree. There appeared to be a choice of entrees but people who did not speak Hindi where just handed a container. My aluminum container had a spicy vegetable cutlet that really tasted good. Now, my perception might be clouded by expectation but I could swear that his food tasted better than the food I got in Business Class on American Airlines. Maybe I was expecting something fantastic on Business Class, which I didn’t get. And I wasn’t expecting any food on this train and I ended up with a nice two course meal. Either way, hats off to Indian Railways. They exceeded my expectations for a comfortable and enjoyable trip. I complimented the staff on the great tasting cutlet and I think he understood my happiness. He gave me another aluminum container of the same vegetable cutlet. Now that’s service. When was the last time you got extra food on the airplane? Of course, when was the last time you wanted extra airline food?
The train pulled into the Agra station on time and my real adventure for the day was just beginning. The two-hour trip was just a warmup and generally a pleasurable one. I was treated to great service, a fast and comfortable trip, tasty food and a beautiful sunrise. Of course, I got a small dose of reality in India. Seeing the poverty outside my window is certainly an eye-opening experience. One that I certainly have not seen in my limited travels to other countries. It is something that needs to be seen, however. The poverty is something that I wish more people in the developed world would see. Even if it’s just a small glimpse into a very tough world that I can not begin to imagine.
This post is part 5 of my travels to India and Singapore, Start from the beginning at, Quite possibly a trip of a lifetime and part 4, Street shooting in Karol Bagh market, Delhi, India.. Continue the story with part 6, Loving the train station bustle in Agra, India.
I took these photographs with my Olympus E-PL1 with the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7 and Olympus 45mm f1.8 lenses. Please make sure to click on a photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.
See more images from India on mostlyfotos, my one photograph per day photo blog.
Eeyore’s Birthday Party is something that I’ve head of, ever since I moved to Austin 20 years ago. It’s an Austin spring ritual and after all these years, it’s still supposed to have a 60s, hippie vibe. For the longest time, I really wasn’t interested in going. I never identified with the 60s, I’m probably more a product of the 70s. As my love for photography increased, however, I began to take more trips downtown and to events around Austin. Eeyore’s started to peak my interest but my schedule never seemed to work out. Also, as my friend Kirk Tuck mentioned, Eeyore’s Birthday Party is something best photographed with a smaller, intimate camera. Kirk has covered Eeyore’s many times on his blog and this year he again talks about using one camera and one lens to best cover the event. I felt a bit self-conscious bringing a larger DSLR to the event, so in the past, I used this as an excuse to stay away. This year, with my new-found love for smaller cameras, especially the Olympus Pen series, I finally had the perfect small camera to use.
I got there early, right around noon, and stayed several hours. I’m told the place really doesn’t get hopping until later in the day. Even so, I found an interesting mix of people and a large contingent of photographers. To my surprise or maybe disappointment, many sported fairly large cameras, some with multiple DSLR bodies with large telephoto lenses. I found this a bit strange I guess; it just didn’t meet the expectation of the environment that I had imagined. After all we weren’t going on a safari where we were trying to photograph wild animals at a distance. I was expecting a more intimate, crazier and more free-spirited place where outsiders with large, tactical cameras would feel out-of-place. There were lots of eclectic people around, in costume, but there were more onlookers than participants. I too was a mere onlooker with a camera, not wearing any special garb. And just because I sport a smaller camera, it doesn’t mean that I necessarily fit in better than someone with a larger camera. Equipment aside, I do think, however, that my style of shooting and engaging with my subjects gets me closer to the event. Certainly compared to someone who uses a large telephoto lens. I didn’t shoot the action from afar; I was shooting amidst the people dancing and celebrating. I created portraits, up close, with permission.
I brought two cameras with me, tucked away in a small, brown, Domke camera bag. I had my Olympus E-P3 with the Olympus 45mm f1.8 lens and my second camera was a Olympus E-PL1 with the Panasonic 14mm lens. Overwhelmingly, I used the 45mm lens that day which makes for an excellent portrait lens. It also gave me enough distance that I can shoot the action without being in the face of my subjects. I found the 14mm, which is equivalent to a 28mm after accounting for the crop factor, too wide for Eeyore’s. There was too much clutter shooting the crowds and I found the deep depth of field too distracting. By shooting the 45mmm with a large aperture, I was able to reduce my depth of field to better isolate my subjects. You can still see the crowds but they are slightly out of focus which makes for a cleaner composition.
There was much to photograph but I ultimately concentrated on taking two types of pictures. I shot candid images of people in the drum circle. This seemed like the heart of the event and the most interesting people congregated there. Exposure wise it also worked well since the area was shaded, allowing me to get better quality images. Mid-day direct sun is nasty lighting and best avoided if you can. I also took portraits of the more colorful personalities that I encountered. Since I’m taking a lot more street candids these days, I feel less intimidated going up to people and asking for a portrait. Especially here at Eeyore’s. You can bet that if a person went to the trouble of getting dressed up, they would feel honored to pose for a photograph. For photographers who are shy, this type of place is a perfect opportunity to practice asking people. If you missed Eeyore’s or don’t live in Austin, think of other events where people would love being photographed. Certainly Halloween parties and Street Parades are places that come to mind.
The early part of the day was cloudy which worked out great for taking photographs. Even mid-day, overcast skies softens the light and prevents that really harsh lighting and shadows that can ruin a portrait. Later, the clouds began to break and I had to contend with the harsh sun; photos under these conditions are not great. On portrait shoots, I would ask the subject step under an awning or get into a shade of a building, though usually, I would not schedule a portrait session for mid-day, if I had the choice. At Eeyore’s I just shot wherever and whenever I ran into an interesting subject. These next three photographs were taken in varying degrees of direct sun. Shooting in RAW mode allows some post-processing latitude which can improve images somewhat but it’s still not ideal. In cases like these, using a fill flash, outdoors, can also soften the shadows. Here is where my little Olympus Pen is at a disadvantage. The small, built-in pop-up flash won’t help too much. Attach an external, powerful flash especially with high-speed syncing capabilities and you can end up with decent images in direct sun. When I use my Canon 7D, this is the way I shoot outdoor events. Of course, an external flash can be attached the Olympus Pens too but the ergonomics of a big flash and a small camera body is not the best.
While having a DSLR with an external flash may work better for reducing the effects of harsh light, using the E-P3 was a blast. I can carry it and another camera with ease. After hours of use, the equipment didn’t dragged me down. It also think it works better for the closeup, intimate portraits that I made; the camera is unobtrusive and non-threatening. I was also surprised that three people at the event thought that my little Olympus was a film camera. I guess the retro influenced styling is distinct enough to be noticed by non-photographers too. During Eeyore’s I ran into a couple of photographers that I knew, including Kirk Tuck. He was sporting his new Sony and a single lens. We talked for a few minutes, shot some around the drum circle, and went our separate ways. It was also fun to see his work, on this blog. Though we both packed light and shot with basically a single camera (I hardly took any pictures with my second camera), his style and mine are different enough that I enjoyed seeing another point of view; the images are both recognizable and different at the same time.
Finally, I present the last two photographs. The hula hoop dancer wins my vote for having the best time. I think she best shows the fun and energy of the event and matches my imagination of what Eeyore’s Birthday Party is or was in the past. The second photograph of Patricia and Sallie wins my award for the most color coordinated. Gotta love how they match in color down to their umbrellas and how the green and red primary colors creates contrast. A wonderful sense of style and something you don’t see everyday.
I took these photographs with my Olympus E-P3 with the Olympus 45mm f1.8 lens. Please click on a photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.
When we last left the story, I just arrived in New Delhi and got bombarded with my first visual taste of India. I was zipping along in the back of a Tata automobile driven by Mr. Kumar. I was frantically shooting street scenes from the back of the moving vehicle and I arrived safely at my hotel after a short stop at the India Gate. I mentioned previously that I hired a driver for my short stay in the Delhi area. I went through a company called Indian Panorama who arranged everything for me. The transportation between all the places I wanted to visit, a private driver and tour guide to pick me up and drop me off at the right places and even my hotel in New Delhi were all arranged by the tour company. They did a great job and I highly recommend them. For the hotel in Delhi I requested Indian Panorama to find me a 3 – 3 1/2 star hotel in a safe but interesting neighborhood. I told them that I wanted to be near a market place where I would be safe shooting photographs at night. They found the Florence Inn in the Karol Bagh section of New Delhi. After checking in, I quickly organized my photo gear for some street shooting. I had to get up early the next day so I wanted to shoot for only an hour or so and get to bed by around 10pm. I headed out the door by myself for some night-time street photography.
The neighborhood was surrounded by modest but clean-looking hotels. About a block away, there was a lively area of shops with many people on the street. The streets were dirty, broken down and generally a mess but the area didn’t seem dangerous. There was nothing I encountered that made me worry about my safety. At least at 8pm – 9pm, the streets were full of people of all ages, shopping, eating and having a good time. It seemed exactly like the place I wanted to street shoot. A dense mix of interesting places and people and with sufficient grit to make me realize this is unlike any place I’ve been before. Everywhere, people seem to be shopping, picking up the daily necessities both from stores as well as street vendors. This was not a typical tourist area catering to foreigners, there were no high-end luxury goods here. Just the stuff that the average Indian would need on a daily basis.
Wedged in between stores, I saw Hindu temples and places that sold flower garlands. There were slightly nicer stores right next to stalls that sold shoes and everywhere there were vendors that setup temporary displays on the street. I even saw a McDonald’s amidst the local shops. It seems like capitalism was alive and well in India and everyone had their little niche to make some money and survive. The street life was lively with an inexhaustible supply of people walking around. The density of people was similar to what I see on 6th street in Austin during the weekend party scene but here in Karol Bagh, the people were not partying or being rowdy. They were just going about their business as a small group of tourist wandered among them. The cars, motorcycles, 3 wheeled Autos, bicycles and pushcarts all slowly weaved between the people walking on the street. At first It seemed overly chaotic but it didn’t take long before I mostly ignored the traffic and shot the world around me. I’m not sure how someone from a small town in the U.S. will react to all this. A lot earlier in my life, I grew up in some large cities on the East Coast so I’m somewhat used to the crowds, though the dynamic here is certainly different from, say New York City.
I must have walked 5 or 6 blocks from my hotel when I decided to head back. I didn’t want to risk getting lost and besides I needed to get to bed early for the big day of sightseeing. It didn’t take me too long to get a feel for the place but there were things that were certainly different from other places that I have visited. This is the first time I’m in a developing country so I don’t have a lot of context. I don’t know if other developing countries have similar characteristics. While I can understand that there are a lot of litter on the street, I was fascinated by, what appeared to me as, random piles of dirt. They look like piles of dirt you seen around construction sites but I saw these in places where I saw no signs of construction. I also saw a lot of stray, skinny dogs but I don’t recall seeing any cats.
I’m sure it is no surprise that there is still a lot of poverty in India. I don’t recall many people asking me for money that night in Karol Bagh. Maybe I turned on my dispassionate New Yorker mode and chose not to see it. Or maybe my purposeful street shooting kept them at bay. There was one situation that I do recall that took me by surprise. Off near the side of the road there was an old, skinny lady, crouched down. The street scape was dark enough that she nearly blended into the background and I almost stumbled over her. I decided not to take her picture since I felt self-conscious of shooting people who are down on their luck. I also didn’t want to give a distorted view of the place since she seemed like the exception. This shopping district was dirty and chaotic by Western standards but it was far from squalid. There was a vibrant energy and I hope it comes though in my street photographs. I felt a bit of regret for not giving the old lady any money. But I console myself that I really didn’t have any spare change with me. As you may recall from the previous India entry that I didn’t bring much cash with me on this trip. Yeah, it is a lame excuse but it is the only excuse that can justify my actions. There are certainly homeless people in Austin and the rest of the United States. And I usually do not give them handouts either. But somehow, this felt different. The lady was so tiny, forgotten in the corner of this busy street. She was not even actively looking for any help.
It was a short street photography session but I feel like I captured that flavor of the area, But this was merely a warmup. Tomorrow was my first full day of touring and I was heading out of the city by train. The driver was coming to pick me up at the hotel at 5:30 so I needed to get to bed. And as you will find out in the next installment, there were some unplanned situations at the hotel before the night was out.
This post is part 4 of my travels to India and Singapore, Start from the beginning at, Quite possibly a trip of a lifetime and part 3, New Delhi, India: tired, excited and ready to shoot. Continue the story with part 5, The train to Agra, India – comfort, beauty and poverty.
I took these photographys with my Olympus E-PL1 with the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7 and my Sony NEX-5 with the wide-angle adapter. Please make sure to click on a photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.
See more images from India on mostlyfotos, my one photograph per day photo blog.
I had a great time during my India and Singapore trip and have some interesting stories and photograph to share. However, before I get into my international experiences, I wanted to shift gears and talk about SXSW. South by Southwest, the large music, film and interactive conference that started last Friday is a big deal here in Austin. Last year there are about 50,000 attendees that took over downtown for 2 weeks. In previous years, I’ve gone downtown to listen to some music and do a photowalk but I’ve generally stayed clear of the madness. Luckily for Austin, SXSW is confined to downtown so most of the rest of the city can go about its business without much of an impact. This year, I decided to see what the fuss is all about and made a trip to the heart of the activity with my usual 2 camera setup. The rainy weather finally cleared at it was a perfectly sunny and comfortable Sunday afternoon.
Much of the interactive portion of SXSW in centered around the Austin Convention Center, where they have their conference sessions. The SXSW film also runs in parallel with Interactive with the music portion starting tomorrow. I was amazed how the 5 block area around the Convention Center transformed into another world. A world of large corporate logos, parties and promotions. I didn’t notice all the promotions going on while I visited, I guess the years of commercials have desensitized me to all the advertising. However, when I got back and looked at all the photographs, I was struck by the prevalent commercialism that permeates SXSW. There are big and famous corporate entities, small startups and everyone in between, working feverishly to make an impression.
After coming back from India and Singapore, where there is a lot of people on the streets, the US can be a calm yet disconnected place. Most of our cities are more geared towards cars which tends to isolate us from each other. The good news is there seems to be a trend to redevelop the downtown areas. Events like SXSW, even though they are transient, get people together and interacting in an vibrant and urban area. Though it seems overly commercial, it was nice to see all these people in downtown Austin. So below are some images that I captured from my afternoon at SXSW. A visitor to my own city, taking in the sites from the periphery.
The Austin Convention Center was packed. I was able to enter the main floor without a conference badge but the conference rooms were restricted to the attendees. I’m not sure what Interactive really encompasses, but my best guess is it’s everything social, web, media and the future trends. I imagine when the SXSW Interactive started in the mid 90s, there were more multi-media topics. Anyone remember interactive CDs? I heard Twitter got it real start back a few years ago here and I’m sure the next generation of entrepreneurs are looking for the next great thing. The message board below is a microcosm of what I imagine SXSW to be — everyone vying for their spot, trying to get their message heard.
The noise, crowds and clutter were in high gear. People rushed from place to place, purposefully, to get to their next thing. I heard one of the problems with SXSW is that it has outgrown its space. The convention center is no longer large enough to contain all the sessions. People are forced to travel to different hotels and venues throughout the city. Consequently, the downtown core now becomes the new extended convention center. Between the venues, the open parking lots transform into corporate showcases. The image above is a sports oriented play and promotion area for Nike. Another parking lot next doors became a lounge are for Bing (Microsoft). Restaurants become private, conference badge only meeting places. Fast Company magazine and CNN both transformed local restaurants into their temporary promotional spots.
The thing I found amusing are the big corporations, with no apparent media connection, trying hard to cater to the crowd. Lincoln and Chevrolet had their wares on display. Lincoln had a sleek-looking prototype and Chevy offered test drives. My vote for the biggest corporate play to look cool to media/tech people is PepsiCo. I’m not sure how a beverage and snack food company convinces computer people that they are hip and cool but they did have a really neat phone booth with animated LCD panels as well as a scoreboard with some kind of tweet competition results.
And here is a backdrop for any impromptu photo-ops, a la Hollywood. No celebrities spotted but I did get a good image of the sponsors.
Back outside the convention center, I shot some group portraits of people doing world of mouth advertising. Some promoted a new upcoming TV shot on CBS, others a new iPhone application and yet others were promoting media services. Either way, it was a great way to get some street photographs and portraits.
Finally, my vote for the two coolest things I saw at the event. First up is Morgan from FedEx. She was sporting a one of a kind jacket with numerous USB connectors so that you can plug into her (yeah, she’s heard all the jokes) and charge up your phone. The jacket has batteries sewn in to power the entire wearable charging station. The last item is decidedly very low tech. A nice contrast to all the newest gimmicks around. A film company, as part of their promotion, offered to take Polaroid photos with this beautiful Wista Field camera. The photographer mentioned that this rosewood and brass camera can be used almost anywhere because it is fully manual. In fact, she took this to the North pole where it worked perfectly, no batteries to worry about. Of course, this is a perfect place to end this post, with camera hardware, since this is a photography blog after all.
Thank you for stopping by. Now is everyone ready for the SXSW Music? It starts tomorrow.
The photographs were taken with my Olympus E-PL1. Please make sure to click on a photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.
I decided to try something new. An experiment in photographic processing. I had some extra images from the recent Chinese New Year celebration that I blogged about last week. These photos were taken at the closest point to the action. I used my smallish Olympus E-PL1 and stuck it out there almost in between the legs of the dancers to see what I can capture. What resulted was a smokey mess but the images had some potential. Unlike the very colorful photographs from my first Chinese New Year post, I decided to go in an entirely different direction. To recover the most details out of the haze, I decided to lose the color. In found with black and white, I can push the detail recovery a bit more than in color. So as an exercise, I decided to experiment with my Topaz B&W Effects plug-in. The software is designed to create black and white conversions that mimic the old style black and white films. While the software has a large number of presets, I decided to do a custom effect. As I played with the software, I ended up creating images that, in my mind, reminded me of vintage travel photographs from the Far East.
What resulted is something I find interesting. Something certainly different from my norm. If you don’t look closely and you ignore the camera bags and the bits of modernity, I find myself transported back a 100 years to some village in China. To me, these images seem timeless and exotic. So I deem my experiment a success, if only to show an alternate reality of a scene from Austin, Texas in 2012. The photograph at the top of the post is my favorite. I posted the original RAW at the bottom for comparison.
The photographs were taken with my Olympus E-PL1. Please make sure to click on a photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.
Here is a sample of my work. I’ve posted them on my one-photo-per-day photo blog, mostlyfotos. There are a lot of images so click the << Previous Photo link to see more. You can also hover over the photos to see the exposure information.
NOTE: I posted an An alternative view of the Chinese New Year for a completely different take on the very colorful images on this post.
In last week’s blog post, I wrote about how I made a mistake and went to a photo event on the wrong day. I made the best of this by getting some interesting and possibly exotic images at a local Asian supermarket. I was also in search for my dragon image that I wanted to post on the Chinese New Year. I headed up to the Chinatown Center again, yesterday, in north Austin for the Chinese New Year’s day festivities. This time, I definitely had the correct day and place. Even at 10:30am the place was jam-packed with cars. I brought the same camera and lens setup as last week, the Canon 7D with the 70-200 F4 and my trusty Olympus E-PL1 with the 20mm lens. If you account for the various crop factors, I had a setup that covered 112mm to 320mm with my Canon and 40mm on the Olympus. Turns out the combo worked out great. From behind the ropes surrounding the performance area, I was able to get closeups with my zoom and use my E-PL1 as a wide-angle. Later on, I also used my Olympus exclusively when I was able to walk up close to the action.
The festivities started at 10:45 am with some traditional Chinese music. The two stringed instruments set the mood and the pace and action continued to increase from the opening performance. The music was followed by dancing and then drumming. Of course, there were the usual martial arts demonstrations.
I haven’t been to one of these events in a while. Interestingly, many of the performers seem to be from the Austin area, including a large contingent from Summitt Elementary School which is part of the Austin public school system. Back 5 years ago, the performers came in from Houston so it definitely seems like the Asian population is Austin is growing. The dragon and lion dances were the main attractions of the Chinese New Year celebration. After a bit of research I discovered that the participants parade the dragon around on poles. The multicolored costumes worn by two people are the lions.
Lee Leffingwell, Austin’s mayor came out as the guest of honor, lighting the fireworks for the finale. The action shifted away from the makeshift stage to the back. The crowds at this point were 5 – 6 levels deep in most places. I somehow was able to escape from the stage and moved over the the backside where the firecrackers were in full force. The smoke and noise were so loud, it started to disperse the onlookers in the back. The people in the know had ear plugs which really is a necessity. Luckily for me, a blog reader suggested that I bring ear protection, something that I definitely would not have thought about — thank you, Jack. I was easily able to slip to the front right, right on top of the small explosions. By this time, I switched exclusively to my Olympus Pen camera. The 40mm lens was perfect for catching the up close action. I probably would have gotten even closer but the lack of eye protection made me hesitate.
After the main firecracker lion dance, the performers shifted to several locations around the shopping center. A large firecracker performance occurred in front of the Asian supermarket that I visited last week, intimidating some of the customers. After that, smaller firecracker lion dances erupted in front of the various smaller stores throughout the complex. Between the smoke and fast action, it was a bit of crap shoot to get great images. With all the mini-explosions near me, I didn’t have my usual time to compose the shot. Overall, I was extremely pleased with the performance of the cameras. The lenses I used worked great for me and by having two cameras I didn’t have to change lenses. Certainly a plus in this very smokey environment. Incidentally, my Canon 70-200 f4L and the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7 are my two favorite lenses. It was nice to put them through their paces on the same shoot.
I was a bit out of practice carrying the 7D with the 70-200 and the 430EX external flash. This is my heaviest combination and after a while my back started to feel the weight. I guess I need to work out more since my light weight mirrorless setup is making me soft. I may have look a bit strange with 2 cameras, with a dramatic size difference, around my neck, but it worked for me.
I’m not sure how this New Year’s festivity compares to the traditional celebrations in Asia but for a few hours I felt transported to another place. I’ve talked about seeking out other ethic celebrations in your hometown before on this blog. Whether it is the Dia de los Muertos celebration or the Chinese New Year, it is great to be able to shoot a different and diverse slice of American life. For the readers that have such opportunities, I encourage you to go seek out your local celebrations.
The photographs were taken with my Canon 7D and Olympus E-PL1. Please make sure to click on a photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.
Some more information on the Lion and Dragon dance teams. Here are links to the Texas dragon/lion dance team and the Summitt Dragon/Lion Dance Team just in case you are interested in the groups or thinking about partaking in new year’s celebrations.