Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography

Texas

Exploring the colors and textures of the Dia de los Muertos Parade

2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade – Austin, Texas

My previous posting, The 2015 Austin Dia de los Muertos Parade, was in black and white. It was an homage to classic street photography and an acknowledgement of my growing interest in monochromes. But it would be a shame not to share the event’s wonderful colors and textures. I shot the entire parade in both black and white (JPEG) and in color (RAW), so I got to choose which I liked better.

2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas
2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

I have a simple rule of when I use color versus black and white. I try to maximize impact. I like dynamic images after all, and if the color is not adding anything, I’m more likely, these days, to explore monochrome. Here, colorful textures and the deep blue of these costumes are more than enough to justify color.

2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

Sometimes, I’m torn between the black and white and color versions of a photograph. You may remember this picture from my previous post where it was in monochrome. I like that image very much, it’s one of my favorites. This version works too, I think, though it changes the emphasis slightly. The costumes to the right distract somewhat from the central subject — but the layers of colors are enticing. Ultimately, I think the subject is strong enough to hold attention and the color enhances and does not completely overwhelm. Which do you like better?

2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

Here is an example where color is a necessity and there is no doubt of its efficacy. The figure in green anchors the image and separates it from the other elements. I found that without the color, the center didn’t hold.

2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas
2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

Along the way, I captured noteworthy spectators. The parade was held on Halloween this year and I found some costumes, on the sidelines, made for colorful image making.

2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas
2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

Here’s my favorite character, this time in the middle of Congress Avenue, near the end of the parade. The red paint makes him look even more fierce.

We reached the terminus in front of a shiny modern office tower. These hand-made papier-mâché characters contrasted nicely against the sleek glass exterior.

2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

I’ll finish where I started, women with their airy lace parasols. White outfits with a slash of red and its bold use of color. As much as I love color, I realized it’s not necessary to always use it. Photography, in once sense, is the art of exclusion. How do you simplify the image while still telling the story? I’ve come to realize that color can take away from the strength of an image, adding more complications without much benefit.

I’m not shying away from color. It’s definitely something to use when it adds benefit — sort of like those touches of red in the costumes. To be sure, in a richly textured event like this, it would be a shame not to explore color.

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I shot the photograph with the Leica X Vario and minimally post processed with Aperture 3.

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The 2015 Austin Dia de los Muertos Parade

2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade – Austin, Texas

It was a busy Halloween for me this year, photographically. I went downtown for my 3rd Annual Halloween Portraits on 6th Street where I shot street portraits at night with a flash augmented with post processing — the portraits have sort of a studio feel. And earlier that same day, I was down on the east side shooting a parade in a more typical street photography style. I’ve been enjoying black and white a lot lately. I actually shot both color and monochrome, but for this post, it’s all black and white. Sort of a nod to the roots of street photography.

2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas
2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

I think the key to these events is to get down there early. I was there at 11am, an hour before the parade started and was rewarded with the opportunity to document behind the scenes. Photographing the parade is fun, but I wanted to capture the candid, atypical views.

2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

The event has become popular. This is my 3rd time and I’ve noticed a dramatic increase in photographers. Even compared to my last visit, 2 years ago, I noticed more pre-parade onlookers. The thing is, I didn’t want to shoot the same portraits, like most people. I was challenging myself to shoot things the other people weren’t.

2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas
2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas
2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

I got close and searched for interactions.

2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

I looked for gestures and patterns.

2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas
2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

When I did portraits, I wanted them to look more casual

2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

I also took pictures of the parade, of course. East Austin is changing rapidly with new apartments, gentrifying. Two years ago, I didn’t see any of these hip accommodations. Documenting this parade had the added benefit of documenting a changing east side.

2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas
2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas
2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

I wasn’t content just shooting from the sidelines. It’s fun but challenging to use a wide-angle and get in close. I would jump in the middle of the action, once in a while, to get these. But I didn’t embed myself in the parade the entire time, since I didn’t want to get in the way of the other onlookers.

2015 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

Finally, I was on the lookout for interesting people on the sidelines. I asked these sharply dressed women for a portrait and later sent them a copy (both in color and black and white).

After looking at my 2011 and 2013 parade posts, I’ve noticed a some shifts in photographic style but nothing dramatic. Perhaps a few less portraits but I’ve shot mostly candid street photographs. While I’ve changed cameras over the years my style remains intact. Not sure if that’s good or bad, maybe I’ve setted into a look that I like.

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I shot the photograph with the Leica X Vario with in camera black and white JPEG and minimally post processed with Aperture 3.

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Halloween Portraits on 6th Street: The 2015 Edition

Portraits, Halloween on 6th Street 2015 - Austin, Texas

Portraits, Halloween on 6th Street 2015 – Austin, Texas


This is the 3rd year in a row that I was down on 6th Street for Halloween. I’ve grown fond of these street portraits and wanted to continue the series. While the technique is the same, every year brings a new cast of characters. Here are the Halloween portraits I did in 2013 and 2014.

I used the same technique and exactly the same equipment as years past, which I describe in this post. I briefly considered using my newest Olympus, the OM-D E-M5 Mark II, instead of the E-PM2, but decided to use the old camera for nostalgia’s sake. Since everything is manually set, the more advanced features of the E-M5 Mark II added no benefit.

I did make one minor change to the process. I used gaffer’s tape to make sure my controls and focus didn’t move. This made it faster and easier. I shot about 60+ portraits in record time, about an hour and a half. I was there by 8pm and done by 9:30. It started to rain and I was tired from my earlier photography event, so it was an early night for me.

Without realizing it, I framed the portraits a bit differently this year. I was further away, so I mostly captured from around the knee up. In previous years, I composed more from just below the waist. While I liked my compositions, the added distance made my portraits a bit darker and required additional post processing. Something to keep in mind for 2016 portraits?

Portraits, Halloween on 6th Street 2015 - Austin, Texas
Portraits, Halloween on 6th Street 2015 - Austin, Texas
Portraits, Halloween on 6th Street 2015 - Austin, Texas
Portraits, Halloween on 6th Street 2015 - Austin, Texas
Portraits, Halloween on 6th Street 2015 - Austin, Texas
Portraits, Halloween on 6th Street 2015 - Austin, Texas
Portraits, Halloween on 6th Street 2015 - Austin, Texas
Portraits, Halloween on 6th Street 2015 - Austin, Texas
Portraits, Halloween on 6th Street 2015 - Austin, Texas
Portraits, Halloween on 6th Street 2015 - Austin, Texas
Portraits, Halloween on 6th Street 2015 - Austin, Texas
Portraits, Halloween on 6th Street 2015 - Austin, Texas
Portraits, Halloween on 6th Street 2015 - Austin, Texas
Portraits, Halloween on 6th Street 2015 - Austin, Texas
Portraits, Halloween on 6th Street 2015 - Austin, Texas

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Photographs taken with my Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 lens.

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The Big Bend National and State Parks with the Nikon 35Ti and Portra 400

Land Rover, Santa Elena Canyon - Big Bend Nation Park, Texas

Land Rover, Santa Elena Canyon – Big Bend National Park, Texas

You might remember that I used a slew of cameras on the Big Bend trip a week and half ago. A mind-boggling, to some, 6 cameras in total. I had my “high profile” cameras such as the full frame digital Canon 6D, or the medium format film, Mamiya 645E, as well as my ultra fun compact digital, the Pentax Q7. But the camera that really delivered some beautiful photos was my 20-year-old 35mm compact, the Nikon 35Ti.

The Nikon 35Ti was a rich man’s travel camera introduced back in 1993. This titanium clad beauty was sold for a hefty $1,000 back then. I picked it up last year for under 300 bucks. My first roll, the tried and true Kodak Portra 400, a very easy film to shoot.

I mentioned earlier that my first experiment with Velvia 100 didn’t turn out as well as I hoped. I under exposed the film too much and I wasn’t crazy about the colors either. No such issues with Portra 400. Nearly every shot from the first roll came out great. Portra is easy to expose since it has so much latitude and I’m also familiar with the way the 35Ti meters.

About the only gripe with this camera, at least for landscapes, is the fixed 35mm focal length. I would have loved to shoot something wider, at least 28mm or more. That said, I think I managed some nice travel shots. What I love the most is the warm and mellow colors. That’s the main reason I’m experimenting with film.

Trees, Santa Elena Canyon - Big Bend National Park, Texas
Path, Santa Elena Canyon - Big Bend National Park, Texas

On the first morning, we went to Santa Elena Canyon. There was a wonderful old Land Rover parked in the lot. The group rushed out to the canyon but I stayed behind and shot the wooden path with several of my cameras. As you know, I like the man-made and like how the path created a winding leading line towards the massive canyon walls.

Rio Grande, Santa Elena Canyon - Big Bend National Park, Texas

At the river itself, I couldn’t find a good composition. My sensibilities wanted me to be in the middle of the river with the walls rising on either side but I wasn’t prepared to risk my equipment for that vantage point. Obviously, I’m not a serious landscape photographer. By the way, this is the “mighty” Rio Grande which separates the U.S. and Mexico. So yes, the cliff on the left side is Mexico while the right side is in the “country of Texas”.

Cabin, Castolon - Big Bend National Park, Texas
Fence, Castolon - Big Bend National Park, Texas

A couple of stops later we got the Castolon Ranger Station. I made my way back to the historic displays which got me into my element. As you know, I’m a urban landscape photographer which means I’m at home in the city and near man-made things. Nature is great as long as its taken in moderation, I say.

Window, Castolon - Big Bend National Park, Texas
Little House in the Desert - Big Bend National Park, Texas

There is no question, I “see” a lot better with the hard angles and geometry of the man-made. I also enjoy the compositions more, I think. At least for now since I don’t usually shoot nature by itself. Unlike my typical city shots, I like how I get to juxtapose these structures with the wide open west.

These western landscapes have a painterly look to my city slicker eyes. I don’t know if it’s the light, the dust or some other mysterious X factor, but the images look different here. These were taken around noon but they don’t have the harsh look that usually dissuades me from shooting midday.

Road, Tuff Canyon #1 - Big Bend National Park, Texas
Road, Tuff Canyon #2 - Big Bend National Park, Texas

Next up we stopped at Tuff Canyon. I shot from near the car. The road and leading lines, attracting my attention. Again, the man-made mixed with nature, I guess.

Flowers, Tuff Canyon - Big Bend National Park, Texas

I did shoot the flowers though, that’s nature, right?

Path, Sam Nail Ranch - Big Bend National Park, Texas
Chisos Mountains from Sam Nail Ranch - Big Bend National Park, Texas

We quickly stopped by Sam Nail Ranch before having a late lunch at 2pm. We were just passing through. Those mountains in the distance, the Chisos, would appear golden if we came here at the right time near sunset.

A view from Chisos Basin - Big Bend National Park, Texas

The last stop, after lunch and a rest was Chisos Basin. This is one of mountain formations behind the famous “Window”, which we shot for sunset. The weather and light didn’t cooperate so our sunset “window” shot wasn’t impressive but at least I got this snapshot of the big mountain.

Th photo is grainer than the others, which means the image was most likely underexposed and the scanner brightened it. Portra was able to recover this well and I’m left with a decently exposed image. Velvia would be less forgiving in this case.

This was the end of the first day. We stayed until it got dark, past blue hour, and then headed back to our cabin.

Contrabando #1 - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas
Contrabando #2 - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas
Contrabando #3 - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas
Contrabando #4 - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

The 2nd day, we spend the bulk of the day at Big Bend Ranch, which is the Texas State Park that’s located next to the national park. Right off the road, not far from the entrance, is Contrabando, an old movie set. Several western B movies were filmed there. As you can imagine, my architectural interest drew me in for more of the man-made set in nature type photos.

Rio Grande from Contrabando - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

Behind the set was the Rio Grande again with its readily accessible border with Mexico. Incidentally, Big Bend is in a middle of a desert as is the Mexican side. The borders are permeable since no one in their right mind is going to be walking through the area. The tall mountains and the harsh climate forms a natural barrier going north or south.

Rio Grande from a rest stop - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas
Rio Grande at the Rest Stop #2 - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas
Rocky View from DOM Point - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

What’s great about the Big Bend State Park is the easily accessible dramatic shots right off the highway. We detoured several times at a rest stop and turn outs to get these dramatic views. Not much hiking involved, which is fine with me. I took all my gear including the tripod to shoot at these locations. The Nikon 35Ti though worked great handheld. It was truly an easy point and shoot experience. Not bad for a 20-year-old film camera, I say.

Framed, Closed Canyon - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas
A view from Closed Canyon - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

The highlight of the trip was Closed Canyon, where they shot the last scene from the movie Boyhood. It took a few snaps here with the Nikon as well as a whole bunch with my other cameras. I did my first real hike here, only about a mile and half round trip. The ground was more uneven than expected so the hiking boots really helped.

The Rio Grande - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

Finally, the last photos of the first roll were shot here, again just off the highway. It’s my favorite view from the entire Big Bend Trip. I think I shot nearly every camera from here and every photo looks different. It will make an interesting comparison for a future blog post.

It’s here where I switched out the Portra 400 roll for Velvia 100, which I shot for the rest of the trip with the 35Ti. I haven’t finished the roll but I’ll get that developed eventually to see if Velvia came out better on the Nikon than my medium format Mamiya 645E.

What struck me is that with 37 photos from the first roll, I covered a nice selection of scenes. I know I shoot like crazy with my digital cameras but selective shooting works great too. It’s so old school where you might only shoot several rolls per trip but end up with a lot of keepers.

I think the image quality from 35mm looks great too, depending on your target output. On my Retina 15” MacBook Pro, these images, full screen, look gorgeous. Lovely color, sharp details and not even a hint of grain. If all I wanted was photos for my MacBook Pro, 35mm would be more than enough. However, displayed on my external 27” monitor full screen, the image quality degrades somewhat.

These photos still look decent on the large screen but I can see difference compared to digital or medium format film. The grain is noticeable too though not really objectionable. This is the limitation of 35mm film. Displayed large, either on a monitor or paper, the image suffers.

People I know that shot 35mm told me that they feel comfortable with prints up to 8” by 10”. After that, sharpness begins to degrade. Interestingly, the 15” MacBook Pro screen measures 8” by 13”. Is it the perfect resolution and size for displaying 35mm? Perhaps. It’s not to say, these images can’t be blown up much larger. I’ve seen 35mm printed big and it can look nice, depending on the subject.

I’ll need to experiment more and even print some of those photos larger to see what they look like. But the surprising thing about the Nikon 35Ti, along with the Portra 400, is how wonderful these images look. They might not have the detail and resolution of digital, but I prefer the colors a heck of a lot more.

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I took all photos using my Nikon 35Ti 35mm camera loaded with Kodak Portra 400 film. I enhanced the color saturation digitally which were scanned by Precision Camera, when the film was developed.

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Observations on Velvia 100

Chisos Basin - Big Bend National Park, Texas

Chisos Basin – Big Bend National Park, Texas

I’ve always been curious about Velvia, the super saturated film that’s typically used for landscapes. I’ve heard about its legendary colors for years and now that I’m playing with film, I finally gave it a try.

I brought several rolls of Velvia 100, a reformulated version of the classic Velvia film (which is now called Velvia 50), to Big Bend. I got to use it for the majestic western landscapes both in medium format and 35mm. It was going to be great. Except, it didn’t exactly turn out that way.

Rockface, Boquillas Canyon - Big Bend National Park, Texas

Velvia is slide film, which is different. Unlike the easy to use negative film, Velvia can’t be overexposed or the highlights get blown, kinda like digital. It also lacks the large exposure latitude of standard (negative) print film. I knew this going in so I under exposed by about 1/2 stop. I also tweaked my exposures somewhat, depending on the scene. The problem was I over compensated — many of the images came out darker than I hoped. At least I didn’t blow out the sky.

Rio Grande at the Rest Stop - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

In retrospect, I probably should’t have worried about the sky for most of my landscapes. The dynamic range on slide film wasn’t going to capture everything anyway. So what if the sky looked white, as long as I properly captured the magnificent landscapes. Luckily, not all my photographs were a total loss. Lesson learned, hopefully.

No question, Velvia is colorful. I like bold colors and for the first time, in film or digital, I didn’t need to increase the saturation. But there is a bigger problem — I don’t like the Velvia colors. I find them too red and too cool. I generally prefer the warmer tones, like what I get with Kodak Portra 400, especially after I digitally increase the saturation.

Rio Grande at the Rest Stop - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas
Rio Grande at the Rest Stop - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

Take a look at these two photos. I took the first one with Velvia 100 on the Mamiya 645E and the second with the Nikon 35Ti with Portra 400. Portra is a portrait film with muted colors but I like the effect when I add saturation in post processing. I realize this is a personal thing. I’m sure some prefer the look of Velvia.

Rio Grande at the Rest Stop - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

I took the same Velvia image and shifted the colors to warm it up. I’m getting a closer match but things are a bit off and the sky is a bit wonky and I still prefer the warmth of Portra. The good thing is, I’m not a film purist. I have no hesitation to digitally manipulate my film scans to make them match my “vision”. But I don’t have a desire to do extensive changes. It’s a lot easier to get the look I like from Portra than Velvia.

Sharp Rocks and the Rio Grande - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

I understand the attraction to Velvia though, pre-digital. When you couldn’t increase saturation, Velvia was the way to go. I wouldn’t like Portra, for example, if I couldn’t amp up its colors. But Digital post processing is a game changer for film. I get the warmth of analog tweaked the way I want it. And even with all this digital manipulation, I still find that film, even manipulated film, has a different feel from photographs created with a digital camera.

Sotal Vista Morning - Big Bend National Park
Window at Sunset, Chisos Basin - Big Bend National Park, Texas

The salient question for me is, should I continue to shoot Velvia 100? I can tweak its colors but negative film is a lot easier to shoot and it costs less too. If my results with Velvia aren’t materially better, is it worth it? I hear that classic Velvia 50 is warmer with more yellows. Perhaps I should try that instead of the newer Velvia 100.

I’ve just started my journey with film and I have a lot to learn. It certainly is challenging but fun, in a different kind of way, from pure digital photography. I think there is a place for both in my repertoire.

Formation at Chisos Basin - Big Bend National Park, Texas
The

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I took all but one the photographs with the Mamiya 645E medium format film camera loaded with Fujifilm Velvia 100. I shot one photo using my Nikon 35Ti 35mm camera loaded with Kodak Portra 400 film.

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