Here is the third in a series of portraits that I’ve done this week at Austin Fashion Week. These photos were taken on Monday at the Adore Makeup Boutique and Salon. I used the same equipment as the first two salon portraits, the Canon 7D, a 50mm f1.4 lens and an external Canon Speedlite 430EX. Nothing ground breaking; the last two sessions went well so I followed the same formula for this one.
I own several different cameras (Canon 7D, Olympus Pens and Sony NEX-5) with a set of lenses for each. When I switch cameras or get a new lens, I tend to stick with it for a while. It gets me familiar with the equipment especially when I use the same setup several times in the row. The feel of the camera, the placement of the controls and the angle of view through the lens can vary a lot. I need some time with each permutation to have it stick in my head. Until recently, I’ve used my set of Olympus Pen cameras for a lot of urban architecture and street shooting. The Olympus E-P3 and the Lumix 14mm f2.5 have been my most use combination for the last several months.
My friend asked me why I wasn’t using my Olympus for the fashion week shoots. He seemed a bit surprised that I broke out the Canon 7D. Two simple reasons really. The first and most important is that I own an external flash for the 7D and I don’t have one for the Olympus. These Fashion Week venues can vary quite a bit; you never know what kind of conditions to expect. Part of the fun and challenge is to bring a well thought out set of gear to partially anticipate the situation as well as to be flexible. As much as I love my Olympus gear, I’m not setup for these kind of environments. Shooting in darker, slow-moving scenes in the middle of the city, no problem. My Olympus gear can handle that. But when I need good powerful light bounced off a ceiling, my Canon setup is already available for this sort of shooting. Reason two is that I’m having a heck of a lot of fun doing shallow depth of field portraits. That 50mm f1.4 gives me that look that my current Olympus lenses do not.
Would the Olympus E-P3 work in these venues with a large exterior flash? Probably. My depth of field will not be as shallow but the Olympus will certainly be cable of making portraits in these locations. Of course, I would have to buy an Olympus flash but it might be fun to experiment with it in the future (though I wonder if I can use my Canon flash in manual mode?). The thing is, one of the main reasons I like the Pen series cameras is because of its small size. If I attach the large exterior flash, the size advantage is greatly reduced. In addition, the balance of the camera may not work as well. The Canon 7D is a chunky camera but the bigger body with a beefier grip work better when you add an external flash and larger lenses.
I know I’m lucky that I get to choose from several cameras to shoot with. The point of this post, in addition to showing pretty models, is that there is no perfect camera. There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to all the gear; there is a set of trade offs with each configuration. While in many ways, the Olympus Pens have become my primary, most used camera system, it does not mean they work for every situation. My Canon 7D certainly came in handy this week.
Finally, there is a set of non-technical considerations. Good or bad, there is a perception created based on the camera being used. Most people consider a person with a larger camera, more professional. This is not true of course but that’s the reality I experience. When I want to be more discreet and less visible on the street, the Olympus Pens work great. At Fashion Week, walking into a venue with a larger camera commands a bit more respect or at least parity. There are a lot of pros and amateurs with big cameras, a Canon 7D is nothing impressive, it just makes you one of the crowd. So ironically at these events, using a larger DSLR makes you more discreet. Sometimes, fitting into the crowd makes everything easier, so you can just go about your business making great images.
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In the last post, I talked about how I decided impromptu to go out to a Austin Fashion Week event on Sunday. The first stop was “The Salon at the Domain” which I blogged about here. After the action tailed off I made the trek to mid-town Austin to Mantis Salon, a converted house near the Rosedale neighborhood. The salon/house was a bit warm but they had friendly people, a nice vodka bar sponsored by Little Black Dress Vodka and 4 models, all with black outfits. I settled in quickly especially since my camera gear and I were all warmed up from the previous event. Any rustiness I had with my recently reactivated Canon 7D was all gone by the time I hit this second location.
The lighting at Mantis was completely different from the Salon at the Domain. It was night-time now and there was no longer any ambient light coming from outside. The warm interior lights were not adequate for a good exposure indoors, especially at iSO 400. While I used the external flash at both locations, they were used in different ways. At the Domain Salon, with its big windows and natural light, the flash was used to fill in a bit of the darker spots on the models. A bit of fill light to make the color and exposure pop. I usually shoot these in Aperture Priority mode. At the second, darker venue, the flash was the main source of light. I still wanted to blend the warm, ambient interior lights but the flash did more work. I change my setting to Manual exposure and used a bounce flash off the ceiling. A couple of adjustments with the aperture, shutter speed and flash exposure compensation and I was good to go.
Virtually all my photographs are taken with Aperture priority, the A or Av mode on most cameras. I like to determine the depth of field via the aperture and have the camera automatically set the shutter speed. Often times, I tend to shoot with the largest available aperture too unless the lighting or scene dictates a smaller one. When I shoot landscapes on tripod, for example, I usually opt for a smaller aperture. I use the M mode, manual exposure, when I shoot in darker conditions with a flash, however. This was the case at this salon. In manual, I get to set both the aperture and the shutter speed. Usually the exposure will be on the darker side but I use the light from the flash to illuminate the subject. I can also use the flash exposure compensation to increase or decrease the light output from the flash. I used the Canon 50mm f1.4 and kept the aperture on the large side to capture a lot of ambient light. I set a fast 1/200 to 1/250 second shutter speed so that I would have a nice steady image.
Interestingly, the salon had two very petite models, Bianca and Gabby and two very tall models, Tamica and Dominique. For the short models, I shot them standing since their hight and mine were more evenly matched. For the tall models, I got them to sit down on the salon chairs so that I could get a better angle. I had a great time. A relaxed, unpretentious Austin kind of place. A couple of people asked for some shots and I was more than happy to oblige. I had a nice talk with the models had a nice vodka drink and enjoyed shooting beautiful people. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday night. With my Canon 7D dialed in and having fun with my new old camera, I decided that I would go to a few more Fashion Week events this week.
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It’s mid-August in Austin with the usual 100 degree weather. It’s also Fashion Week and if memory serves this is the 4th annual event. I’ve traveled so much and shooting urban landscapes and street photography that I’ve been out of practice doing portraits. I wasn’t even paying attention this year and the event crept up on me. A quick google search revealed that I missed Saturday’s events but there were still more to come. I was all ready to kick back and enjoy the closing ceremony at the London Olympics and I decided at the last minute to go do some Fashion Show photography.
I headed over to “The Salon at the Domain” in the fancy faux city like development in North Austin. I was a bit late and the “The Inside Stitch” fashion show had already started. I dusted off the Canon 7D, the external speedlite and the 18-135 lens and started shooting. I also brought my Canon 50mm f1.4 and the Olympus E-P3 with the 20mm f1.4 attached, just in case. I shot a few, the show ended and I was fumbling around. As my regular blog readers know, I’ve been shooting primarily with my Olympus Pen cameras these days. My Canon was used only on occasion for some weekend kid’s soccer pictures, but that’s about it. I’ve definitely gotten rusty.
It probably took me about 10 minutes to remember all the buttons and settings and to get the bounce flash working properly. The shots with the 18-135 didn’t fit what I wanted. I tend to use this lens for long runway type fashion shoots but for individual portraits, it didn’t do the trick. I swapped it for the 50mm f1.4. The Canon 50mm f1.4 is not a very sharp lens wide-open, but it does have a nice dreaminess and extremely shallow depth of field (DOF) even on the cropped APS-C sensors. Perfect for blurring out all the background distractions at this salon. And after looking at these images, I’ve fallen in love again with these shallow DOF portraits.
The Olympus Pens have a smaller sensor so the DOF is not quite this shallow even when I use the Olympus 45mm f1.8 lens. After shooting with the Pens for a while, I forgot how shallow even a APS-C sensor is when shot with a 80mm equivalent lens at f1.6 or so. Perhaps the new Olympus 75mm f1.8 might have a similar look but I wasn’t going to spend $900 to find out. Especially since I already have my Canon 7D with a decent collection of lenses. I managed to focus decently on the eyes and got a level of sharpness that satisfied me. Maybe all the stars aligned tonight because its not always easy for me to get accurate focus at this DOF. I’m also happy with the fill flash exposures I got. I’m glad that after the many months of limited use, I was still able to get the 7D to do what I wanted.
I did notice that after shooting with the micro 4/3 format for a while, I really now dislike the 3 by 2 format of the DSLRs. They really don’t work well with most portraits. The frame is generally too long, I find. The 4 by 3 works great for portraits and I got used to it. I struggled somewhat to get a composition I liked with my Canon. For the first 2 portraits, I cropped it to 4 by 3 format in post. The last image I kept at 3 by 2 since the slender form of San Juanita seemed to work better. All and all, not a bad first outing. I went to a second Austin Fashion Show location after this one which I will talk about in a future post.
It was a fun night and perhaps I will go to a few more events this week. Life is not all street photography and urban landscapes. And as much as I like my Olympus Pens, its fun to break out the other cameras for time to time. Remember, each camera has its strengths and weaknesses. Using the right one aways make it more fun and easier.
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Last week I went to dinner with my friend Mike. Just before we walked into the restaurant, my attention was distracted by some festive hanging lights and a beautiful blue sky. Yes, it was the peak of blue hour and as usual I was drawn to it. My apologies for talking about blue hour again but you know how much I like this special time of the day for photography. I excused myself for few minutes so I could explore. Mike is also a photographer so I’m sure he understood. It’s not so easy with non-photographers or the family, however. They seem to be more disapproving when you go off wandering, just before dinner.
The blue sky was nice but the hanging lights were only so so; I shot some frames but wasn’t too excited. Then close by, I saw the gleaming new rail station just sitting there. It was nicely lit up and isolated with the brilliant blue as the backdrop. I always talk about glow on this blog. The glow of made-made lights and other beautiful light sources. When you find the right subject and the warm yellow lights with its contrast to the deep blues, it makes for an image that I find hard to resist.
Like my image in the previous post, this architecture photo may not be exiting to some. But it’s right up my alley. The kind of imagery that makes a modest train station come alive. And like my previous post, I think there is a sculptural quality about this structure too. There it sits, all by itself with its curvy roof. It’s warm and inviting yet the lack of people makes it seem impersonal. It’s a simple, minimal composition and with few distractions — the train station takes center stage.
The problem with photography, especially with the kind that I do, is that you never know when and where you’re going to get that next favorite shot. I was lucky I had my Olympus E-P3 with me. I tried carrying my tiny Sony TX5 before as my “capture the moment” camera. But as good and convenient as it is, ultimately the TX5 did not meet my picky image quality standards, though for the general Facebook crowd it is more than enough. Despite loving my Olympus Pen series, part of me is secretly waiting for that tiny camera that crosses that magical image quality boundary. What makes my situation worse is that I need that high quality in marginal light, the kind of environment that I most enjoy shooting. Hence my fixation with high quality high ISO performance, The small cameras are rapidly evolving. The Lumix LX7 and the Sony RX100 are the latest salvos in this area. And until that special camera arrives I will carry around my Olympus Pens and just hope that all the stars align for my next favorite image.
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The corner of Milton Street and South Congress Avenue transforms itself into a magical place at a certain time of the day. It is one of my favorite spots to shoot and take in the atmosphere. On this corner, a silvery airstream sells cupcakes and a musician serenades the customers. When the sun sets and the sky turns a deep blue, for a few minutes the combination of warm lights, silvery reflections and the friendly Austin people make for really neat place to photograph.
I’ve shot here many times before, aways trying to time my image captures around the blue hour. I love those bare light bulbs, in series that adorns this small patch of ground. I frequently talk about the contrast between the blue and the man-made warm lights, the glow and reflections that can found at the right angles. All of these elements come together here when you time it right. And though the cup cakes may be tasty and the people friendly all the time, these magical images can only be made minutes after sunset.
I’ve talked about my recent South Congress photowalk several times in my recent postings (here, here and here) but the focus of this photowalk was the blue hour. And for the blue hour, I decide to shoot it here on this corner. The blue hour, in Central Texas, only lasts for at most, 15 minutes. About 10 minutes after sunset, the sky starts turning a vibrant blue and continues to darken as the minutes tick by. At some point after 15 minutes, the sky is more black than blue and you realize that another blue hour has slipped away. For this reason, you really don’t have the luxury to move around and photograph many things during this time. It helps to have an idea or place in mind and be ready before the color turns. But the blueness of the sky depend on the direction you face; it does not evenly turn to black. Shoot towards the west and you can eke out some great color for a bit longer.
I used my 14mm Panasonic Lumix lens for all but one. I also used the wide-angle adapter that attaches to 14mm for many of the images too. The EXIF data does not show the use of the wide-angle so I’m not a 100% sure on which images I used the adapter. You’ll think that it would be easy to distinguish between a 22mm equivalent and a 28mm but I seem to find it a challenge. I shot a bunch of images of the guitar player and this one that seem a bit soft but nicely dreamy. I used the 45mm f1.8 shot at 1/30 second at ISO 800 for this shot. Not the ideal conditions hand-held but I was happy I created a moody image.
Finally the last two images shows the scene toward the end of blue hour. You can tell because the electric blue has been replaced by a deeper, mature blue. The total elapsed time between the first and last image, 8 minutes. The peak color only lasts for a few minutes and I was facing east so the sky color darkened quicker. After this, I was off shooting other things, and no longer using the sky as a key element. I find that in most cases, a black sky is not nearly as interesting. Once this magical time passes, I change my subjects and concentrate of other things or I go to dinner like I did that night. Part of the group already headed to Wahoo’s for some fish tacos. I was going to meet them too but only after I squeeze the most out of my favorite blue hour.
My newest and most underused lens is the Olympus 40 – 150mm f4 – 5.6. I bought it before I went to Japan, just in case I did some nature photography and wanted its range and its telephoto abilities. I didn’t use it much. Last weekend I took the zoom on a photowalk to get to know it better. I posted More Abstract Agaves of SoCo where I did some closeups with the lens and I also captured some nice looking cloud formations too. During the SoCo outing, we congregated at a corner of Congress Avenue and Nellie Street, where we socialized and waited for the blue hour. I started playing with my 40-150 zoom and my wide-angle 14mm; switching between the two and experimenting.
I’ve shot a lot with my 14mm (28mm equivalent). Of the 10,000 images I took in Japan, up to 80% were shot with this lens. Previous to this, I used the Lumix 20mm (40mm equivalent) as my only lens for 10 months. So I’m quite familiar with lenses from a moderate wide-angle to normal point of view. I find telephotos a lot more of challenging. The image above was shot with the 14mm. I managed to exclude all the visual clutter and created a simple composition. The telephoto versions of the Heritage Boot Neon sign are my experiments with this 40-150 zoom. I didn’t shoot these all from the exact same position so this is not a focal length comparison. Rather, I was attempting to make interesting compositions, from different angles, using various focal lengths.
After shooting so much with the 14mm, I now see compositions very easily at this focal length. That is one of the advantages of non-zooming prime lenses. You are locked into a certain way of seeing things and that helps you to create compositions before you shoot them. Being “locked into seeing things” seems like a bad thing in photography, where you want to be creative and flexible. However, the irony is the constraint of using a prime strengthens the eye and the brain. Counterintuitive I’m sure but it’s helped me. I think the 28mm focal length works nicely for architecture in these urban environments. Wide enough to be inclusive but not so wide that objects become too distant. That’s the challenge when using super-wide lenses such as the 16mm to 18mm. The distance between you and the subject looks so far away that the point of interest looks tiny. For super-wides, you need to have foreground and mid-ground elements to make a balanced photograph. This is not not the case with the 28mm. I also found using the Lumix 20mm (40mm equivalent) often times feels a bit constraining for architecture, especially when shooting on the diagonal.
But there are disadvantages to a moderately wide lens too. There are always disadvantages. If I wanted to include the Blackmail and Heritage Boot Neons signs together, it may not be possible to exclude unwanted elements. While the lone neon sign at the top of the post works well because of a simple, uncluttered composition, the one below with the two signs does not work as well. There is too much clutter and other distracting elements that weakens the image. You can tell that the first image up top is obviously about the neon sign even if it was taken with the same 14mm lens as the image below. The cluttered image below has two neon signs, another sign cut off, and a window among other things. To me it’s not clear what the focal point is. Compare that image to the last one on the post. The 80mm equivalent on the zoom lens allowed me to exclude more elements and concentrate on the neon signs. Clearly the photo is about the two neon signs and their interplay.
I certainly need more hands on time with this telephoto zoom. I don’t think as easily in telephoto but perhaps with more practice I will get better. I may think more in wide-angle but there are always advantages for each focal length. Perhaps some walks in downtown Austin, pointing my zoom as the new high rises would be a good way to start.
Continuing with images from last weekend’s photowalk in SoCo, I present to you, agaves. The last post was about colorful clouds this one is about sombre plants. Agaves are wonderfully sculptural plants that I really love to shoot. This one, with the textured blue – gray is especially nice. I was playing with my new and underused lens, the Olympus 40 -150mm f4 – 5.6 that I purchased before my trip to Japan. I brought it along on the photowalk hoping to better explore its capabilities. Being a telephoto, it certainly has the ability to bring distant things closer and compress the space between objects near and far. However, when you are up close to a subject, you can use it somewhat macro like and zoom in on smaller objects.
I decided to zoom in and isolate the leaves of this fantastic plant to give an abstract feel. The first image emphasizes a single leaf with its tiny barbs and beautiful texture. It is balanced by a faded and out of focus leaf that echos the focal point. I used the zoom at 150mm (300mm equivalent) to get up close. The auto ISO setting jumped up to 800 to give me an adequate shutter speed and the higher ISO noise serendipitously added character to the vertically patterned leaf.
For the second image, I pulled back to 58mm (116mm equivalent) which gave me a slightly wider view. I wanted to emphasize the layers of the plant and the changes in shade as you go deeper into the plant. I remember I made sure that the center between the leaves had the same blue – gray color so that it would blend into the image. I believe a different colored background would ruin the consistent layered colors of the Agave.
A telephoto can certainly help shoot distant objects but it also has the ability to greatly simplify a composition. The more you zoom in, the angle of view decreases. It becomes easier to exclude unwanted objects from the frame. I used this technique to create these abstract images. I’ll have to keep this in mind and try to use this lens so more.
Interestingly, this is not the first time I shot agaves on South Congress. Almost 2 years ago at the genesis of this blog, I posted agave photographs taken with my Canon 7D. I used a 35mm f2 lens that gave a shallower depth of field and a very different look. Different tools and different focal lengths but a similar subject. There are always multiple ways to capture an image. Neither is right or wrong, just different.
Yesterday’s South Austin photowalk was the perfect way for me to get back in sync with my photography friends. I was only in Japan for 3 weeks but somehow the radical change in lifestyle made me think that I was away a lot longer. Alex Suarez, who organized the last big walk at the University of Texas campus organized this one too, with a suggestion from my friend, Tony. We met at 7pm for a SoCo Blue Hour walk and finish up with food and drinks at Wahoo Fish Tacos. Turnout was great, we probably had about 20 people including Jerry, the owner of the local, last remaining, full service camera store, Precision Camera.
The challenge I find in Austin is that despite Austin’s notoriety and cool factor on the national scene, it is at best a medium size city. There is only a limited number of places to do urban photowalks. I’ve been to SoCo (South Congress, an area of Austin just south of downtown) many times on photo excursions. I went on this photogathering more to meet my friends and not do serious photography. That said, it is always nice to create a few frames that are new and unique. And arguably going back to the same places over and over and trying to see different compositions is the mental challenge required to become a better photographer. Yesterday turned out to be better than expected. The weather cooperated and created wonderfully expressive clouds and a brilliant sunset that you only get once in a while.
I brought along my usual trio of Olympus cameras, the same set that I used in Japan, 2 E-PL1s and 1 E-P3. Lens wise, I had my usual 14mm f2.5 and 45mm f1.8 but left my 20mm f1.7 at home. I decided to try out my 40mm – 150mm zoom lens that I purchased just prior to my Japan trip. I didn’t use that lens very much in Japan but at $159 factory refurbished at Cameta Camera, it wasn’t very expensive. Many photographers have a favorite focal length and I’m beginning to think that I like the wide angles more. A long telephoto like the 40mm – 150mm (80mm to 300mm equivalent) is not what I end up using for the type of photographs I usually take. However, I end up creating two exposures last night, closeups of the clouds, that made it worth while. As you can see below, the telephoto really isolated the clouds and produced an abstract feel. They were both taken at 150mm (300mm equivalent) and it would not been possible with my usual suit of lenses.
Beyond my two telephoto images, I took the rest of the photos with my 14mm and 45mm primes lenses. The primes produce a higher quality than the zoom and because of the larger apertures, I was able to use these prime lenses well into the night, without using a tripod. The explosive color muted to a rich blue as the blue hour approached. I’ll post these blue hour shots as well as some more photos from this walk in a future post. For today, it’s all about the clouds.
The last couple of posts were about HDR. It can be subtle or wild but I made the case that HDR is a merely a technique. A way to get closer to the internal “vision” for the image you wanted to create. Today, it’s all about black and white. A way to set a different mood; less color than HDR but equally dramatic. It can have such an artistic feeling, simple and dramatic at the same time. And with a long history of monochrome, it is an established photographic look. I’ve used black and white before to emphasize texture but this time, it is to simplify. To get an interplay between the dark and light.
Before the ROT (Republic of Texas) Rally parade, I searched for Harley art, the sublime curves of the rumbling beast. The participants take pride in their vehicles and most are shined and buffed to perfection. The black and white, mutes the colors and makes the chrome pop. The engine is a natural centerpiece and a work of art. I saw several designs, all beautifully sculptural.
The dials and gauges are another focal point; nicely symmetrical circles. Some are the height of minimal design, a single speedometer. Others took on more of a cockpit aesthetic.
Finally, the front wheels in formation, captured as a row of bikes were parked by the curb. I used a telephoto lens to compress the distance between the wheels.
So whether you use black and white or HDR, they are both in service to your photography. Two very different looks on the same subject.
To be continued…
I talked about HDR in the last post — subtle, gentle HDR. Many photographers have a distaste for HDR, because they claim it does not look real. I find it curious though that the same people who poo poo HDR because it doesn’t look real, accept and even embrace black and white photography. Of course, black and white photography is no more real than, HDR. So what is it about HDR that makes it not look real? Perhaps they are reacting to badly done HDRs. If you read my previous post and looked at my example photograph, hopefully you are convinced or at least slightly more open to the notion that HDR can be done in elegant ways. I argue that HDR is just a tool and it can be applied in many ways. It can make photographs look artistic, surrealistic, realistic and everything in between. So today, I present to you some wild HDR; amped up more than usual, but given the subject, I think it’s fun. It’s the brash side of me jumping up and shouting a little.
I see more colorfully lit bikes these days; probably made popular with the advent of tiny LED lights. Even without the HDR enhancements, the colors of these motorcycles can be quite vivid, especially as they bounce off the shiny chrome. HDR techniques are used to enhance dynamic range (or apparent dynamic range, really) but the technique also has a side effect of emphasizing texture or making shiny things even shinier. And emphasizing the shine is what makes these images fun. These techniques also work great on the gaudy and fanciful interiors of Las Vegas hotels too.
The first two images were taken on 6th street. They are basically different angles on the same bikes. I’ve done this kind of effect before at previous ROT Rallies but this year I went light and used my Olympus E-P3. Last year, for example, I used my Canon 7D with a super-wide angle lens. This year, I had a modest setup with a 28mm equivalent lens. As you can tell, you don’t need fancy DSLRs to do HDR. My Olympus E-P3 works great, just as good as my 7D.
After an evening of shooting with my friends, I headed back to my car via Congress Avenue. The street was a lot quieter, several hours after the parade and I captured a few more HDRs. The Panasonic Lumix 14mm lens that I was using was surprisingly capable of doing this kind of photography. It doesn’t have the super-wide angle view but it still worked well enough that I might use it more often for urban HDRs. Wide-angle distortion can be fun but I’ve realized that if it’s not done properly, it can really be wonky and gimmicky. The 14mm which is equivalent to 28mm in the 35mm world gives a wide enough view without extreme distortion. It renders a more realistic point of view.
So there you have it. Two examples of HDR. Wild and colorful on this post and tame and realistic in the previous post. Each being used to service my “vision” of the type of photograph I wanted to create. So HDR should not be an end goal. You shouldn’t necessarily use it for every shot; I know I was guilty of that when I was just starting out. Now I use HDR for a specific purpose. It’s not my trademark style, it’s just one more tool in my arsenal. The key is knowing when to use it. For my next post, I’ll change it up again and use a different technique to set a different mood.
A couple of days ago, I posted a bunch of photographs from the ROT Rally Parade that took place last week, here in Austin. The light was good and I shot it all handheld but the parade ended after sundown and the darkness was approaching quickly. My friends and I broke out our tripods and started shooting long exposures with the benefit of a stable base. But how do we catch the range of light from dark to light? Having a tripod will allow for longer exposures but it won’t improve the dynamic range. Look at the scene above. We got some nice looking lights in the marquee but if I expose for them, the foreground motorcycles will look like dark, shapeless hunks of metal. I won’t be able to see any details. Of course, if I properly expose for the motorcycles, the lights on the Paramount theater will be blown out. What to do? One technique I use is HDR, high dynamic range photography. Yeah, I know. A lot of photographers have visceral reactions against HDR. Some have embraced it but most seem to hate it. But I’m here to tell you that not all HDRs have to look like “Technicolor Vomit”, to quote my friend Kirk Tuck. HDR is a tool, a technique, and it can be applied subtly or be amped up. Like many techniques it can be done well or not so well.
I’ve always been fairly subtle in the use of HDR, though the level of subtlety varies on the subject and my “artistic mood”. And I’ve really decreased the number of HDRs that I do; I now only use it when it’s warranted. I have to admit that early on, I used it quite a bit but as my photography matured, I’ve decreased its usage. Or maybe I’ve gotten more lazy. You see, doing HDRs properly does require more effort on the image capture side as well as post processing. In this case, I used an Olympus E-P3 and set the auto-bracketting mode to 5 shots with 1 stop in between. I put the camera on a tripod and mashed the shutter down until the camera took all 5 photographs. Post processing wise, I used 3 software packages to achieve the result that I like. Like many people, I use Photomatix Pro to do the initial HDR but then I use layer blending techniques in a program called Pixelmator, which is a poor man’s version of Photoshop. Finally, I do color correction, saturation adjustments and sharpening using Aperture 3.
The result is, I hope, an image that looks believable and matches more or less what people saw on that Friday night. This is the effect I was going for, but you have artistic license here. There is no correct way to do this. Some people like to process their photos to look more surrealistic and you can do this and still have a beautifully done image. For my next post, I’m going to get a bit wild with my HDR. A nice counterpoint to today’s sedate image.
Please make sure to click on the photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.
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.
I’ve added a lot of black and white photos recently, time for some color. A couple of weeks ago I posted A Monochrome Tour of The University of Texas with 15 black and white images. I was trying to do something different and counter conditions which I found challenging. I’m not used to shooting architecture during the day. My interest and experience is evening and night photography; I feel really at home under these conditions. So here are some images from that same UT photowalk, with decidedly more color.
I’ve mentioned my love of catching images during blue hour, numerous times on this blog. Unfortunately, blue hour here in Austin last only, at most, about 15 minutes. During this photowalk, I decided to take it easy and just shoot at one corner of the UT campus, 24th and Guadalupe. Back, not too long ago, when there were record stores, this corner boasted a Tower Records. I still remember when Tower came to Austin. Somehow it felt like Austin joined the big leagues, matching ranks with the more famous international cities. The record store is long gone and is now replaced by a bunch of chain restaurants. At least these establishments have some colorful lights and when set against the deep blue sky, they work for me, on a photographic level. Upon close inspection, I noticed that last remnants of that record store. Famous musicians, displayed graffiti like, on the walls. Do UT students think it odd to have musicians displayed in front of restaurants or do they ignore these little bits of history as they rush by?
After the the blue hour faded, a few of us joined the rest of the photowalk gang at a local pizza parlor. Even inside, there are possibilities of catching color and glowing lights. I wandered into the Austin’s Pizza restaurant on Guadalupe street and was immediately attracted to the warm glowing lights, the reflections off the floor and the striking color. It’s not blue hour but it has many of the same elements that I like. Even when getting dinner, there are chances to make images.
I headed over to Precision Camera this past Saturday, mainly to ogle the new Olympus OM-D. Precision was having a mini-photo expo and they had a bunch of camera vendors as well as classes going on at their store. Going to these things is always a nice diversion and something photo-relatd to do on the weekend. And while I have more than enough equipment, it is aways nice to look at what’s new and dream a little bit. You know you’ve been going to these things too much when the Sony rep and Canon rep recognize you and the Olympus Rep even knows your name. Being the only full service camera store left in Austin, you end up running into a lot of friends. I ran into Gary, my Black and White film, Leica shooting friend as well as Kirk Tuck, professional photographer and super blogger, at the store. After an hour or so (hard to tell because I always experience time wraps in camera stores), I decided to leave the store when I got sucked into a portrait shooting class that was happening just outside. Local, professional photographer and humanitarian, Randy Kerr, was teaching a small group how to see the light and make great looking portraits.
I’m not sure when the class started but I ended up partaking for the last part of the demonstration. Randy had a model perfectly positioned under a covered walkway in front of the camera store. And though it was midday, the harsh light was blocked by the overhead structure and we got great bounce light off the parked cars. Laura was there, nicely dressed and posing quietly by the pillar. Not wanting to lose a model shooting opportunity, I decided to hang out a little longer to do some shooting. I had two cameras with me, the Olympus E-P3 with the Lumix 14mm lens and the Olympus E-PL1 with the Lumix 20mm. I was really wishing I had my Olympus 45mm f1.8 lens with me, It’s my go to lens for portraits. Between the two, I was going to use my 20mm f1.7 for the portraits. There was enough distractions around (did I tell you we were shooting next to a parking lot) that I didn’t want to use my wide-angle. That’s where a 90mm equivalent lens will nicely isolate the subject and would be easier to omit or blur away unpleasant surroundings.
Most of the people in class appeared to be beginners. Some were still figuring out the balance between shutter speed, aperture and ISO. Randy went beyond the basics and talked about how to see the light and how to connect with the people being photographed. The class made me realize that I’ve come a long way since I got serious into photography but that I still have a long way to go. Sure, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, focal length, all that is second nature to me, now. But that is just the plumbing of photography, the mechanics. It’s important stuff to know but it’s just the first step in creating a great photograph. Layer in good composition and good lighting above the basics and you get a decent technical photograph. To make a really great photograph, you ultimately have to connect with the person you are shooting. This is what I’m trying to work on. Not to say I’ve mastered all the basics just yet, I know I haven’t. Listening to Randy was a learning experience since I can now concentrate more on the artistry and the emotional parts of the lesson, and not just the plumbing.
And yet, despite my gains, I’m still working on same basic things like controlling the background in my portraits. I’ve gotten better at looking at the subject but, at times, I don’t pay enough attention to the background. Are there distracting shapes and colors? Is the background brighter or darker than the foreground? You can see by the 2/3 length portrait above, that the covered hallway in front of the camera store is not the ideal place for a photo shoot. But I started to maneuver my camera around to both nicely frame Laura but also get a less distracting background. I moved in closer to eliminate more the side elements.
I got rid of the distracting window signage but still had the white ceiling and crooked lines in the back. I finally discovered that if I shift my camera towards the pillars at the right angle, I could use the two closest pillars to form a backdrop eliminating most of the distractions. The last two images did this the best, though not perfectly. In the photo immediately below, you can still see some terra-cotta color in between the two pillars. You can still see the gray floor in the bottom right corner. The last image almost got it right, from a background point of view. Of course the foreground, the image of the person, is ultimately the most important. I failed to combine my favorite expression, the one at the top of the post, with the best background. I don’t aways like the smiling portraits because it’s hard to get a natural looking smile but Laura got it perfect. She has such a natural, un-model like feel and I’m starting to gravitate towards this kind of look. It’s fun, at times, to take pictures of the typical model poses but, in the end, they look really staged. My skill level is not there to elicit a natural response from all my subjects. I can’t take any credit for this shoot either. It was all Laura. Now, if I can get that natural simile and kind looking eyes in all my portraits…. that would be an accomplishment that I would be proud of.
I took these photographs with my Olympus E-PL1 with the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7. 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 taken with the Olympus E-PL1 at mostlyfotos, my one photograph per day photo blog.
Last week I took a trip to California. I was on a 7am flight from Austin connecting in Dallas-Fort Worth to another flight out to Sacramento. I was sitting in an aisle seat on a 737, a bit sleepy and getting ready to catch a few winks on my flight out to the coast. I was one of the early ones to board and the others in my row still had not arrived. The window shades of the plane were pulled down and the interior was lit with the dull yellow – green fluorescent mood lights. On a whim, I reached across 2 chairs and pulled up the plastic window shade. To my surprise, I saw the most glorious sunrise out the right side of the plane. Th sun the rising behind the terminal building and the cloud configuration was perfect to scatter the light and adds some interest to the sky. The rich color also reflected off the silvery wing and in the distance there were several more American Airlines’ planes ready to make their journey to distant hubs.
I quickly took out my Olympus E-P3 with the attached Panasonic Lumix 14mm lens. I was traveling light this time and only brought one camera and one lens. However, I always keep the camera handy, ready to use at a moments notice. I like taking architecture photos and the airports are one the best places in the United States to capture some decent modern interiors. I would have never guessed that I would be treated to such a wonderful sunrise. I quickly took several images, changing the composition and settings between the frames. I had only a few minutes until my fellow passengers would block my access to this spectacular scene.
Sometimes it pays to look around; lift the covered shades and observe the environment. Try to have your nice camera with you because you never know when you will be treated to a spectacle. Sure, a camera phone is better than nothing but it’s not going to capture this scene with this much quality. That’s why I like the mirrorless cameras so much like the Olympus E-P3. They are small enough to bring anywhere but have the image quality without compromise. Sure, I could have taken this with a DSLR, but would I have brought it with me on this trip? Maybe not. How many of you who have DSLRs bring them with you on short trips? Especially these days when carry-on luggage space is at a premium. Yes, I use my small, mirrorless cameras all the time, but these are the times this kind of camera truly excels. So pack lightly, take a high-quality, small camera and travel often. Oh and remember to pull up the shades just to make sure, because you never know.
I took this photograph with my Olympus E-P3 with the Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5. 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 taken with the Olympus E-P3 at mostlyfotos, my one photograph per day photo blog.
If you follow my blog from time to time, you know that I shoot a lot of my photos after hours, in the evening or at night. I love blue hour. The short 15 minutes, despite the name, of rich saturated blue skies you get only twice a day, once in the evening and once at dawn. I also love the reflection of lights off of the street and other man-made objects. I’m always in search of the elusive “glow” that I talk about; which is my short hand for the wonderful glowing light you get in the urban areas after the sun goes down. But when I’m forced to shoot photographs of buildings and architecture during the day, I’m lost. My usual fall back position of finding nice color, reflection and glow, is just not available. I need to contend with either harsh light, shadows or uninteresting, flat and dull looking buildings. Even during the nice light that occurs about an hour before sunset, I still struggle to make images that I like. Sure when I’m photographing people either on a model shoot or during street photography, the golden hour is great; the soft warm light makes people look good. The golden light can also improve buildings but I still gravitate towards the evening. I can get the extra dimension of man-made light mixing with the ambient natural light, which adds additional interest to a building.
So it was under these non-optimal (for me) conditions that I went on a photo walk this past weekend on the University of Texas campus. My friend Alex, organized the trip and about 15 of us met at 7pm and started on a path through the center of campus. The area was very quiet. It must have been finals since there were very few students walking about. With the lack of street photography subjects, I turned my attention to architecture. Without my crutch of rich blue hour colors and warm incandescent lights, however, I generally found the architecture uninspiring. There were some interesting buildings on campus but most seemed unremarkable. They lacked texture or detailing of classic Beaux Arts and the modern structures were generic like government buildings. I shot, what I thought, were the most interesting angles, as I waved though the mix of old and new structures. But as the sun began to set, my interest began to increase. I was getting closer to my element, the glow of evening lights and deep blue skies were now within reach.
But, an interesting thing happened after I got back and started processing my images. Those relatively dull buildings in day light looked much more interesting in black and white. Most lacked great color anyway and when I stripped out the color, the lines and textures began to pop. That’s the great thing about black and white. The extra, unnecessary stuff gets stripped away and if what’s left has enough structure, texture and interesting lines, the entire image is transformed. I’m not saying that these images are masterpieces but I strongly believe that they look a lot more interesting in monochrome. So with my new-found love (or crutch) for black and white, here is a monochrome tour of the University of Texas at Austin campus.
The photo walk started at the Blanton Museum of Art, the same building that I mentioned in my previous post about Shooting the Olympus E-P3 in a Sea of Leicas. Again I used the E-P3 with the Panasonic Lumix 14mm lens with is equivalent to 28mm in 35mm terms. The Blanton images are a study in curves. I explore wall texture with the two modernist images above.
Nothing like some heroic statues, two of many on campus. The first one is part of the Littlefield fountain, probably turned off because of the drought. Without the water, you can really appreciate the artistry in the design. The second one is called The Torchbearers by Charles Umlauf which represents the passing of knowledge from teacher to student. I think the white building makes the sculpture pop nicely from the background and the dark structural landscaping anchors it to the ground.
There is an out-of-place greenhouse in the middle of campus just north of the famous UT Tower. This greenhouse became the focal point for three images in this post. The photo at the top is my favorite; I like the moody feel, the reflections off the glass and the delicate tree branches balancing out the frame. The image with the relaxing coed gives context and the greenhouse acts as a backdrop to the expanse of lawn.
The pond with the lilly pads and the large tree is just beyond the greenhouse a bit east and north. The last three photos are from Guadalupe Street, also known as “The Drag”, a commercial area just on the western edge of campus. As the photo walk reached The Drag, my favorite Blue Hour was almost upon us. You can see the glow of the lights even in black and white, but they are best appreciated in color. Here is an example of the Blue Hour color on the drag and a closeup of neon set against a nice blue sky.
I took these photographs with my Olympus E-P3 with the Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5. Please make sure to click on a photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.
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.
My latest camera acquisition started with a quest to get a new point and shoot camera. I’ve been using my two camera setup with great success but I noticed that in India, I had some unexpected challenges. I talked about them in my two earlier posts in this series, Fujifilm X10 vs Canon S100 and The system trumps the individual. Ultimately, I decided to buy a Olympus E-P3 because it seems to meet my needs, it is compatible with my other Olympus cameras and I got a great price. With two hours to spare, I received the new camera just before a downtown photo walk. After skimming through the manual and attaching my Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7, I was good to go. I didn’t even have to charge the battery since it uses the same one as my E-PL1. With a fully charged battery or two, I headed downtown to meet my friends.
I parked near the Texas State Capitol and I started shooting on the capitol grounds and down Congress Avenue. The camera feels good in hand. A bit heavier than the Olympus E-PL1 but not enough to ruin the experience. In fact, the camera has a solid feel and the extra heft reinforces its flagship status. The Lumix 20mm, my favorite micro 4/3 lens, looks great attached to my black E-P3, a real compact, classic looking camera. Even my wife commented that it looks retro and old style. The metal and build quality moves the E-P3 several notches above the E-PL1 in visual appeal. While I like the image quality from the E-PL1, I’ve always said it has a cheap and utilitarian feel. Not so with my newest Olympus Pen. It’s premium all the way. Something that you can feel proud of carrying down the street. I like the black model, it looks better with the lenses that I own. The shiny tones of the silver model seems to be mismatched and didn’t give the unified look that I like. Of course this is personal preference and I’m sure there are many that prefer lighter and shinier model.
I met my friend, Tony, for a quick dinner before we got together with the rest of the gang. The E-P3 is really fast focusing. A complete change from my pokey older Olympus. Even the relatively slow focusing Lumix 20mm lens does seem more perky on this camera, a change in opinion from my earlier observation. I think that the speed of focus is somewhat dependent on the attached lens however, even slower lenses do seem more responsive. Inside the restaurant, I shot some low light scenes and I did encounter focusing issues. This surprised me somewhat since I was expecting, not just faster focus, but good focusing in any situation. I distinctly felt, at the time, that my older E-PL1 had less trouble focusing in similar situations, however I could not test out this theory; I didn’t have my older camera with me. Perhaps focusing ability is dependent on the size of the focus point. The E-P3 has the ability to change the focus point size and maybe a smaller area may have more difficulty in darker, less contrasty places. At the time, I didn’t think about making the focus area larger, something to test before my full review. This low light focusing experience is not a deal breaker though. After further usage, in many other situations, I have not experienced low light focusing problems. And even in this dark bar, I was able to focus on and shoot Madelyn with no problem. I’ve always loved the glow of technology on people’s faces.
Tony and I left the restaurant and we gravitated towards the setting sun. That day, the light was particularly magical and we followed our instinct west along 6th street. I’m not sure why the color looks better on certain days even though the cloud formations look similar. I wished I was up on a hill shooting some breathtaking landscape with the sunset I experienced that evening. Instead I have a nice photo of traffic and road construction. The image at the top of the post was also from this spectacular sunset. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of having my camera set on ISO 1600 for some of the shots. Something I forgot to reset after leaving the dark restaurant. This is the kind of mistake that I rarely make anymore, perhaps I’ll blame it on my new camera. After all, its been only a few hours that I started shooting it. Now a days, I rely upon auto ISO and the Olympus cameras are smart enough to use it well. On my E-PL1, I have auto ISO set up to 800. To my great surprise, the E-P3 does have better high ISO performance. My pixel peeping on the DPreview test images seem to show comparable performance between the E-PL1 and E-P3. My own tests tell me that the ISO performance is better by 2/3 of a stop. Even at ISO 1600, the noise is finer and less blotchy, it cleans up well using noise reduction software. Consequently, I have now upped my auto ISO setting to 1600 on the E-P3.
We headed to the Driskill Hotel to meet two other friends for an evening photowalk, to shoot the night life on East 6th street. Three out of the four people on the walk own DSLRs but chose not to use them. I had my micro 4/3 camera, both Tony and Steven used new Ricoh point and shoots (they got a great deal on Amazon.com) and yet another Steven was playing with the Nikon P7000 point and shoot. Steven, that brought the Nikon, like me, just got his camera a couple hours before the walk. The gathering was a relaxed affair. All of us were experimenting with our new cameras, getting familiar with their controls and testing their limitations. I find that more often, my photowalk buddies, who all have DSLRs, choose not to use them and go with smaller cameras. Of course, I like my Olympus Pens because, while they are not much larger than point and shoots, they run circles around them in image quality. For me, they are the perfect balance between size and quality.
Shooting the Olympus E-P3 be be summed up in one word. Fun. The camera is fast, compact and handles very well. This is the funnest (I know this is not a real word) camera I’ve ever owned. For street shooting, the touch screen works great to quickly set the focus point. You can also touch and shoot with the touch screen but I prefer touch to focus. Using ISO 1600 and my f1.7 prime with image stabilization means that I can get really good photos almost anywhere at night on 6th street. The image stabilization also seems to be more effective on this camera compared to my E-PL1; I’ve successfully handheld clear shots at 1/10 second. Equally important, the ambient light and flash blending works very nicely. That was the key reason I wanted a new camera. As much as I like the E-PL1, I think its flash exposure is one of its weaknesses. Here is a picture of Tony that I took with flash. I used slow sync which blends more of the ambient light. It was quite dark, the exposure was 1/13sec at ISO 800 at f1.7. I won’t shoot everyone this way since 1/13 second is too slow to capture active kids but the camera and its image stabilization is quite capable. Incidentally, Tony is a professional, classical pianist who plays in Europe, Japan as well as in the United States. He shares a passion for photography and we have become fast friends since I first met him through Flickr. Here is a concert performance I recorded and here is Tony’s website. If you like classical piano, especially Debussy, please check him out.
The downside. This new camera sucks down batteries. The E-PL1 doesn’t have great battery life, maybe 200 – 250 shots but the E-P3 seemed a lot worse. To be fair, I was looking at the back screen (chimping) more than usual and I was doing a lot of flash testing. These tests all contribute to more energy usage, no doubt, but I need to be more cautious about power management. Luckily, I brought along a spare battery. For heavier shooting, I think I won’t be comfortable without brining two extra batteries. Generic batteries only cost $10 so while the additional battery expense is trivial, it does take more time to charge and manage the extra batteries. This may not be a factor at home, but it does become more significant when on the road. When I was in India and Singapore, it was a constant nuisance to make sure all my batteries were charged. Longer lasting batteries are certainly a plus in these cases.
Here is the summary of the Olympus E-P3 after my first photowalk. The camera looks great, shoots fast and has the right feel. High ISO performance is about 2/3 of a stop better and the image stabilization is improved. The flash exposure works nicely but battery performance is down. Most importantly, the camera is a blast to use. I think the high ISO quality is better than my original 2005 vintage Canon Rebel XT and about equal in quality to the equally old, semi-pro Canon 20D. In actual street usage, I get higher quality from this camera than those old DSLRs since I have a higher quality prime lens and in body stabilization. In fact, it might be hard to believe, but I get better night photos with the E-P3 and E-PL1 than with my newest DSLR, the Canon 7D. Sure. if I shoot the 7D on tripod at ISO 100, it trumps the Olympus but for real world, hand-held street photography in lower light, the Olympus rules. The enhancements on the E-P3 just makes it better, all around, than my previous Olympus E-PL1. Oh, and did I mention that the camera is really fun?
I took these photographs with my Olympus E-P3 with the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7. 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 taken with the Olympus E-P3 at mostlyfotos, my one photograph per day photo blog.
March in Austin is fantastic. A great time to visit Central Texas. The weather is warm but not hot. The wildflowers begin to bloom along the highways and there are two noteworthy events that keep the area hopping. The first is SXSW, South by Southwest, which I wrote about in the last couple of posts. This event continues to grow and with performances, screenings and lectures in music, movies and interactive computer technologies, there is something for everyone. Over on the outskirts, the Rodeo also makes it into town at about the same time. Rodeo Austin has been around a lot longer that SXSW and in many ways it is the opposite from the externally focused trade show. SXSW draws people from around the country and around the world on the premise of showing what’s new. The newest social networking service, the artsy indy movie or the hot new band, ready to be discovered. The Rodeo, in my book, is about tradition and a celebration of Austin’s agricultural roots. Sure the music acts at the Rodeo may change but the core attractions are the same, year after year. You have all the livestock shows and bull roping that I as a “Yankee” city slicker from the East Coast may not totally understand. There are also the carnival foods and carnival rides which surround the Rodeo and form the stable perimeter which gives continuity to the event.
I’ve been to the Rodeo many times but this is the second year that I’m going specifically for photography. Last year, I suggested that we should do a photowalk at the Rodeo, this year, my friend Mike, returned the favor. While the Rodeo is basically the same, a lot has changed for me. Last year, I took my big rig, the Canon 7D and tripod, along with my Sony NEX-5 as an accessory. I mainly wanted to do long exposures and HDR blending of the colorful carnival rides. Well as my emphasis and interest in photography continues to evolve, I decided to take a different tack this year. Yes, I was still planning to do some long exposures of carnival rides but this year I downsized. I brought along my smaller tripod that I purchased before my India/Singapore trip and planned to use my NEX-5 with the wide-angle adapter. I also wanted to do street photography and street portraits which I’ve increasing done over the past year. For this I had my usual two camera setup, a pair of Olympus E-PL1s. So, yes, I brought along 3 cameras not including my iPhone. Kind of crazy, right? Well you know, all 3 cameras together weigh about the same as my single Canon 7D with wide-angle lens. With my new setup, I get to shoot all kind of different subjects in low light without changing any lenses. So there is a method to my madness. And given the small Domke camera bag I use, nobody would suspect that I had so much gear with me. One of the many advantages for small mirrorless, interchangeable lens cameras.
Mike and I get there early enough to catch some nice golden afternoon light. Just past the entrance there was a selection of machinery that I guess they use on farms and such. I have no idea, but I saw this New Holland loader that I figured would look good in wide-angle. Then I headed off to the livestock area. It was still too early to start shooting our main attraction, the light and color of the carnival rides so I wanted to pass the time. Who could resist cute farm animals. I whipped out my Olympus with the 45mm f1.8 lens and decided to take animal portraits.
My favorite animal shot is the one at the top of the post, the one of the Angus nose. I’ve never seen an Angus Cow up close and living. My usual interaction with anything Angus is distinctly less alive and usually comes with a bun at a restaurant. You can tell I don’t make it out to the country much. Speaking of food, you got to love the carnival food. I shot this in front of one of the food stands. Compared to the usual carnival fare, this must be the healthy food section, because this stuff looks mostly normal. Where are the deep-fried butter and the deep-fried Twinkies?
I did find a pizza on a stick and I love this portrait of Dwayne. It is important to emphasize that this is the Original Pizza on the Stick, as marketed on his red apron. You can sense the pride and satisfaction in his expression. I’ve noticed that much of the food here come on a stick. I’m originally from the East Coast of the US and there pizza slices are already considered portable food without the stick. Do you remember the opening of the classic disco movie, Saturday Night Fever where the main character walks down the street eating a pizza? (two slices at once, actually).
The light turned more ideal as we entered the peak of the golden hour where the light becomes warmer and softer — fantastic for portraits. I saw this great looking group of young Texans and I asked if I could take a portrait. I’ve done these street portraits more often lately. People are, of course, a key part of any event or place and I want to document the people just as much as the man-made objects around me. To Mike’s surprise, I’m actually shy about asking people for their photograph. I guess I’ve done this more lately and Mike assumed that this came easy to me. Not at all. But like anything else, with practice, stuff gets easier and more natural. I fight the fear of rejection and ask more and more people if I can take their picture. And more often than not, most people seem happy to have their photographs taken. My equipment of choice, the Olympus with the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7. It usually allows me to frame a small group and still get some decent blurring of the background. My 45mm f1.8 is more often than not , used for a single person.
As sunset approaches, the light rapidly changes. I captured this Fire Ball ride at sunset with my wide-angle lens on the NEX-5. This thing reminds me of the teleportation device in the science fiction TV show, Stargate. Wouldn’t it be interesting to step through this thing and get teleported to another planet? Yeah maybe. But who knows if my digital cameras will work on the other side?
As the light dimmed, I broke out the tripod and attached my Sony NEX-5 with the 16mm lens and wide-angle adapter. The Sony wide-angle adapter is designed to attach the 16mm pancake lens. The 16mm lens is really a 24mm if you account for the crop factor. The wide-angle adapter has a .75 multiplier which makes it a 12mm but if you, again, consider the crop factor of the sensor, this setup is equivalent to a 18mm lens. Did you follow that? I took the Fire Ball with the adapter for a 18mm equivalent view. I took the Freak Out line below with the adapter off at a 24mm view. The adapter attaches and detaches easily and without exposing the camera’s sensor, it’s very nice and convenient. I might do a review of it in the future. The lens maintains a maximum aperture of f2.8 even with the adapter attached. Though at f2.8 the extreme corners are very soft. I you shoot at f11 or so the corners become decently sharp.
As it got darker, I was in search of color, lights and long exposure blur. Nothing like a carnival to get great looking color and the nice thing about shooting in the evening is you get the additional twinkle of lights. Sometimes you can get away without using a tripod by resting your camera on something solid. I took that image of the spinning ride by resting my camera on the metal barrier that surrounds the ride.
My favorite long exposure of the night is the one above, Freak Out Color Explosion. This Freak Out ride is the same one that is pictured a few photos up, with the line of people waiting to ride. Part of the reason I like long night exposures is you’re not entirely sure how they turn out. The color and shape of this ride was particularly interesting. It was taken at the tail end of blue hour, the time after sunset when the sky turns a bright blue before turning completely black. The peak blue hour in Austin only lasts at most 15 minutes so it is actually fairly challenging to get nice long exposures of these rides during this time. First, these rides always take longer than you expect to get loaded and running. The rides themselves only last a couple of minutes. Given these factors, you only get a couple of opportunities per night to get blue hour-long exposures of these rides. I much prefer a bright blue to a black background so once blue hour passes, I’m generally less interested in getting these kinds of shots. Unless the ride itself has a particularly nice and colorful pattern.
Once the sky turned black, I shifted my photography subject once again. I was now in the hunt for color and the glow from lights. I put away the Sony NEX-5 and my tripod and switched back to my large aperture Olympus cameras. It’s not just the rides that have that color and glow. The food stands compete for customers as they brighten the area with blast of color and light.
Finally as Mike and I were ready to head home, I decide to do some street photography and some portraits. “Waiting for Customers” below is one of my favorites. For pure street photography, I wanted a candid look so I used the 45mm f1.8 which is equivalent to 90mm. I was able to stand back somewhat so that I can catch the scene unnoticed.
The 45mm is also an excellent portrait lens and I decided to take a shot at some portraits at night. The lighting is far from ideal but I was hoping to catch some game operators by the light of their stands. I first took a portrait of Faith by one of those ring toss around a floating duck game. She was agreeable to let me take a portrait and I shot a few frames. The light is a bit harsh with shadows so this portrait is not the cleanest. However, I think the 45mm still did a decent job. The second portrait with Johana came out a lot better. I got some decent even light without harsh shadows. Johana was funny. I asked her if I could make a portrait but she was shy and unsure. I said that was OK and was about to leave, not wanting to force anyone into a portrait. Yet, it was clear that while she was shy, she was still intrigued about having her picture taken and it turned out she actually did want me to take her picture. I also shot this with the Olympus 45mm and given the conditions, I think it came out great. I like Johana’s expression and after I showed her the image she seemed pleased. I then got her name and her permission to post her image on my blog.
As you can see there is so much variety to photography. You can do posed portraits, street photography and long exposures. You capture sunsets or farming equipment or farm animals, all within a several hour span at the local Rodeo or Carnival. I guess you can say I’m all over the place. Taking a little bit of everything. Last year, I concentrated on the carnival rides. This year, that no longer satisfied. I wanted to reach and extend my photography to other things, other people and different styles. Certainly having a certain type of gear also helps. I’m not sure if there is one camera suited to do all of these kinds of photography but my 3 mirrorless cameras seems to work well together. It allows me to quickly change topics and styles all without changing any lenses. The small cameras also keeps the weight down so I don’t have to drag a whole lot of stuff with me. Maybe next year, I’ll think about shooting some bucking broncos, now that will bring with it a whole set of different challenges.
The photographs were taken with my Olympus E-PL1s with the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7 and the Olympus 45mm f1.8 lenses 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.
I was unsure about going to the SXSW Japan Nite this year since I’ve been so busy lately and still recovering from my international trip. However, when a friend was nice enough to put me on the guest list, I figured that I should take the opportunity. I could do a whole series of posts just on SXSW — the interactive portion finished and the music events are in full swing, The corporate media environment of SXSW Interactive have morphed into a crazy street party which fits the “Keep Austin Weird” mantra that the city is known for. I could also do an entire posting on Japan Nite, which I may do in the future. Today, however, I want to highlight just one band, which I thought was so original, that it deserves to be showcased by itself.
Many of the groups at Japan Nite are Japanese versions of Heavy Metal, Punk, Rock, Pop and Jazz. Sometimes quirky, slightly unusual Japanese variations on musical styles that can be found in other places. Kao=S is a completely different kind of band. One that I have not experienced in the several years that I’ve going to these Japan Nite events. Kao=S fuses traditional Japanese elements, music, its instruments, the clothing and culture and wraps them in a modern twist. Kaori Kawabuchi, dazzling and beautiful, is more than a lead singer, she is more of a performance artist. Her dancing, poetry, singing and yes even Samurai sword swinging performance is a spectacularly visual and original show. Shiji Yamagiri on guitar and Jack on Shamisen, a traditional Japanese stringed instrument, complete the trio that forms this most unusual group. And in an era of globalization and standardization across the world, it is refreshing to see traditional elements being used as a showcase, especially in a different country. There are rich cultural traditional around the world, wouldn’t it be a shame to have them lost in a single generic international style?
Rather that me try to describe what their performance is like, I found a YouTube video of Kao=S’ “Ogre of the Cherry Tree” performance that I added below. Like many YouTube videos, the production quality is not the greatest but it will give you a good idea of what I’m talking about. Modern music with a mix of Western and Japanese instruments. The flute sound you hear is the Shakuhachi which is a traditional Japanese flute. Unfortunately, they didn’t have Shakuhachi player at my performance, which I think adds another level of depth. You can also see and hear Jack on the electrified Shamisen, which along with the Japanese flute, gives this piece a distinctively Japanese feel. You can see Kaori performing her artistic dance, more like poetry in motion set to music. The story seems to end just after the 5 minute mark but keep on watching the video, you won’t be disappointed, especially if you like Samurai swords. For Final Fantasy video game fans, apparently Kaori’s dance moves have also been motioned captured and incorporated into the video game.
For me, I was busy capturing still frames, admittedly mostly of Karori. She is the visual star of the show and certainly very pleasant to photograph. Photography is certainly my passion and it was wonderful shooting this event but after watching the YouTube video, I have a twinge of regret not putting down my camera and watching. Most bands are fine to listen to and I can do that while photographing. This band is different and I feel I’ve missed an element of it by being distracted in capturing images. Though I have to admit that If I saw Kao=S perform again, I will still shoot photographs. My love for shooting and the lure of capturing beautiful visuals will be too much to resist.
Photographically speaking, I’m happy with the stills that I’ve captured. I’ve talked a lot about my recent Olympus Pen experiences and my Canon 7D has sat quietly at home, feeling unloved I’m sure. For this SXSW event, I decided to bring the 7D as my primary and my Olympus E-PL1 as a wider angle backup. On the 7D, I attached my 50mm f1.4 and also used my 430EX external flash. I’m out of practice with the Canon but after 10 minutes of so I got back into the swing of things. For me getting great images in these dark venues is always a fun challenge. I shot in Manual exposure mode, which I usually do not do (I usually prefer Aperture Priority), and used the external flash to bounce light off the ceiling. And yes, the club had relatively high black ceilings but you can still use a bounce flash and it does help, especially if you have a wide aperture lens. The Canon 50m f1.4 can be tricky to focus properly especially in dark areas with a large aperture. I ended up setting the aperture to f2 – 2.5 range and the shutter speed from 1/160 to 1/200 of a second. I wanted to have a fast enough shutter speed to catch the action and have a deep enough depth of field to have decent focus. The bounce flash adds enough fill light to get decent exposures at ISO 1600. The flash exposures were wonky at times and I constantly change the flash exposure compensation to get good exposures. Part of the challenge is that as I move the camera and the angle of bounce off the ceiling changes, I can get vastly different exposures. Though I also think that my flash was acting a bit more temperamental than usual. The light at the venue varied and was generally challenging. I didn’t use my E-PL1 much since it was too dark most of the time, even with my 20mm f1.7. Also complicating the issue on the Olympus is that I don’t shoot my Olympus at over ISO 800. I did end up with a few decent natural light images like the one below. I have a few Olympus shots scattered in this posting and if you can’t tell, hover over the image to get the image details. I used the Olympus when the action was slow, so that I may capture images with less motion blur
Using the right tool for the job is important and that is why this night was owned by the Canon 7D. When I need speed under dubious lighting and need to use my bounce flash, the Canon 7D rules. Under these conditions, the biggest apertured lenses on the Pen is not going to be enough. And even with my 7D, at times I struggled to lock accurate focus under these conditions. It’s times like these when I wonder what a Canon 1 series (professional) body can do.
It was a late night at SXSW, past my bed time but I had a fantastic time. Beyond the Kao=S performance, many of the other performances at Japan Nite were great. At 2:30am, downtown Austin was going strong with laser lights and throngs of people who would compete with the street life in India, which I saw just a couple of weeks ago. Many of the Japanese musicians were thoroughly taken with Austin. I assured them that SXSW was an anomaly and the life in downtown Austin is not usually quite this active. Many of these Japanese performers are from Tokyo which is a much bigger, world-class city. Yet, many of them were impressed with the energy and vitality of Austin. Good to know. And just maybe, at least for a couple of weeks a year, Austin might rival any city in the world for its street life and energy.
The photographs were primarily taken with my Canon 7D with a 50mm f1.4 lens and external flash. A few of the photos were also 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 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.
Several days ago, I posted Image post-processing, a necessity or cheating? that elicited a very healthy and civil discussion on my blog. The best ever and it is fantastic. I love how people may not agree but can still express their opinions in a constructive way. One of my readers called out this particular photo that I posted in mostlyfotos and was wondering about how I post-processed it. So I took a look back on my Aperture 3 library to see what I did with the image.
Before I get into the particulars, a little background on the image. This Airstream trailer is located on South Congress Avenue (SoCo) which is a hip and trendy area south of downtown Austin. It’s in the same neighborhood as the Heritage Boot image that I used as an example in my above mentioned blog post, thought the trailer image above was taken one week earlier. Ever since I got into urban landscape photography, I’ve been captivated by the blue hour and its contrast to made-made lights. I like the warm yellow glow of the lights contrasting with the blue sky. The challenge is that, at least here in Texas, the “Blue Hour” last about 15 minutes. I talk more about blue hour and my experiences around it in two other blog posts which you can find here and here, if you are interested. I also love these bare lights that are strung around the trailer. I don’t know why but these kind of lights always seem to make me happy. Maybe a reminder of a distant pleasant experience that has imprinted on me but that I have long since forgotten.
The most noticeable post-processing change I made was with the white balance. The RAW image had a color temperature of 4810K (Kelvin), I shifted the white balance to 3736K. I also added a bit of red to the tint so that image would be a touch less green. I wasn’t concerned with the exact white balance values, rather I shifted the slider to what I like aesthetically. Keep in mind that I was not going for color accuracy here. If I did, I would have done a custom white balance or shot with a gray card. I wanted to create an image with a certain feel. I wanted my blue hour sky to be a rich blue but contrast with the warm yellow glow. Next, I added saturation to intensify the colors a bit and brightened the mid-tones somewhat by using levels. Finally, I added some sharpening and definition (micro contrast). While the Olympus E-PL1 generally has satisfactory noise levels up to ISO 800, depending on the exposure, I can get more noise than I want. In this image, the blue areas were more noisy and my manipulations increased the noise level somewhat, but not overly so. I used the Topaz DeNoise plug-in to clean up the digital noise. I used Apple’s Aperture 3 program to post-process everything else, in fact, I solely use Aperture for 95% of my non-HDR images. I fired up a copy of Photoshop Elements 8 so that I can use the Topaz plug-in. This may sound like a lot of post-processing but with Aperture, I can do this quickly. I post-process all my images and most take about 10 – 15 seconds to do. I’m guessing that this one may have taken a few minutes, with the bulk of the time used to launch Photoshop and run the denoise plug-in.
I hope you found this interesting. A bit more detail of the mechanics of what I changed compared to my first post-processing blog entry. The original un-processed image is below for your viewing pleasure. There are things that bug me about the composition. For example, it won’t be the ideal product photograph since the Hey Cupcake! name is blocked by the pole. But I really like the colors and I think it captures the warm glow that I was after. And even though there is nobody in line, rather than looking cold and lonely, I find that there is a warmth and cheerfulness to the image. At least that’s the way I see it. What do you think?
Make sure to click on a photograph to see a larger image. 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.