I went trick-or-treating with my younger son last night along with other parents and kids from the neighborhood. It was a perfectly enchanting 70 degrees with clear skies.
My Olympus E-P3 with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 was my photo tool of choice. I got some great candids of the kids and of course the girls were always more stylish and more savvy about posing — It’s probably in their genes. Beyond the kids photos, my goal was to make a decent architectural, blue hour photo that looked Halloween-ish.
Taking such a photo in the suburbs is certainly a challenge. These places lack the density, details and interest that make downtowns more interesting. There was a nice looking halloween display but I was much too far to get there in time for blue hour. The image above was the best I can do given my limitations. This house had the most minimal of displays, just 2 orange light bulbs. No pumpkins, ghosts, goblins or vampires. No twinkling lights or inflatable monsters. Just a subtle change in light color to mark the occasion. But the orange light looks great against the blue sky. Simple is good in photography, so it works for me.
I briefly considered going downtown. Get some shots of those crazy costumed people on 6th street. I’ve thought about going for the last several years. Alas I was too tired and lazy. It was past 10pm when my family duties ended and heck it was a school night. Perhaps I’ll make it next year. But for 2012, I was stuck in the burbs with a photograph of a minimalist tract home. At least I spent some quality time with my son.
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Careful followers of my other blog, mostlyfotos, may have noticed that I recently added a new lens to my micro 4/3 arsenal. I put EXIF data on most of my photos and if you hover over the photographs with a mouse, on this blog as well as mostlyfotos, you can see what camera and lens I used. Like I usually do with a new piece of gear, I fully embrace it. I’ve shot a lot with this new lens and here are the first set of photographs with my new baby.
Of course Lucky, our family dog, always knows when I get a new lens or camera and tries to help out. Here, he is modeling for my new Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 lens, shot wide open. The first photos I take always seems to be of him. He is more agreeable and complains less than my kids. Inevitably, I needed to take the lens out for a spin in the real world and I decided to walk downtown on a quiet Sunday night.
I’ve eyed this 25mm f1.4 for a while. It consistently gets great reviews but it’s pricy (a list price of $600, though the price is starting to drop) and I already have the Panasonic 20mm f1.7, which is sort of similar. I finally decided to bite the bullet when I found a great deal. So far, no regrets. There is a difference between the two lenses and I’ll go over the pros and cons and compare it to the 20mm f1.7 in a future post.
But for now, take a look at the photographs I shot downtown. The amazing thing is that these were shot at ISO 200 and ISO 400, at night. The f1.4 aperture really helps and it’s fantastically sharp wide open. No comparison to my Canon 50mm at f1.4 which is more dreamy than sharp. This new Panasonic Leica is going to be a great tool for my urban night photography, I can’t wait.
So I don’t know what the exact relationship is between Panasonic and Leica. Clearly a $600 plastic shelled lens is not the same build quality as a $2000+ Leica M lens. The lens is made in Japan by Panasonic and maybe Leica shares their secret sauce. Regardless, this is a fantastic lens and I’m really enjoying it.
Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.
See more photographs taken with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4. Click << Previous Photo to see more.
It’s been a busy week and I’m just getting caught up with my postings. Last weekend, I went on two photography events. On Saturday, there was the Scott Kelby World Wide Photowalk. On Sunday, I went out to Smithville for the fourth annual Texas Photo Festival. Then during the week, I hopped out to California for several days on a business trip. Between these three activities, I have loads of new photographs to post and to talk about for future blog entries. It’s always a fun challenge to feed the blog beast with new content.
Tonight, I want to showcase a photograph I took during the World Wide Photowalk. In many ways, this image captures the mood of that rainy night. In Austin, there were several different Scott Kelby photowalks. I, of course, chose the one at night, lead by my friend Alex. I’m sure my regular blog readers know that I like the evening light especially for urban landscapes. This photo combines several elements that I like. Elements that I don’t always succeed in capturing, so I’m happy when it all falls into place.
So why do I like this image? First, there is the glow of light that always attracts me. And it’s harder than you think to find strong sources of light. Austin, like many U.S. cities, is not brightly lit. This is in stark contrast to the mega Asian cities like Tokyo where the ambient light at night can be surprisingly bright. In this photo, the light is courtesy of the Paramount theater on Congress Avenue. Next, there are all those great reflections that amplify the glow. We get a nice reflection off the car window but there is also a satisfying shine off the rain-soaked streets. Finally, that bright and contrasting color adds a bit of punch. Both the yellow and the purple are again supplied by the Paramount.
I think the dark shadows, the urban look, and the rain all captures the feel of that night. There were several bouts of rain that threatened to cut short our photowalk. For the most part, we were lucky and the bad weather held off. A final light shower added that bit of sparkle. All that’s needed is some Jazz and a cocktail to complete the scene.
Have a great Sunday evening.
Please make sure to click on the photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.
In this final posting about 2012 Austin Fashion Week, I’m going to share scenes from the catwalk at the Driskill Hotel. I got a special opportunity this year to shoot at one of the “serious” fashion show venues thanks to Kellye King from AZIZ Salon. While it’s not New York, Milan or Paris, the event still had a feeling of a big production. Certainly on a different scale from the shows that I’ve gone to at local Salons.
Unlike the photos from Austin Fashion Week, behind the scenes, where I shot with my 35mm f2.0 prime lens in a documentary style, the fashion show photos were taken with my 70-200mm f4 zoom lens. In a nod to the Wizard of Oz, the black and white of the behind the scenes gives way to glorious color as the transformed models take the stage.
My friend Steve Wampler, who has a lot more experience at these things gave me some pointers. He mentioned that the lighting was adequate at f4 so I decided to use my 70-200 zoom lens for maximum flexibility. I also brought my 85mm f1.8 prime lens but found that it did not work as well. Even with the bigger aperture, I preferred a deeper depth of field and the image stabilization of my zoom. Something I didn’t realize is that there is a standard look to shooting these catwalk fashion shows. Steve mentioned that you usually don’t want to cut off any part of the model and you ideally want the model’s back leg to be lifted. And he is right. When I look through the fashion shots from the New York Times, for example, most of their images follow this standard look. I found that it took a bit of timing and I need more practice to get that perfect shot. I do admit though, that after an hour, just trying to capture this look got a little boring.
It makes sense to show the model from head to toe. After all, it is a fashion show, and the clothing and the shoes are the main attraction. For me though, I’m more interested in the models and I frequently found myself wanting to zoom in. Getting a half body or more of a head shot to focus more on the face and their expression. I ended up doing a mixture of both to keep it interesting. I was perched on a 8 x 10 foot platform with about a dozen media photographers and videographers at the end of the runway. And while this type of photography was not very creative, the whole experience was kind of fun. I felt like I was part of the media and I had a level of access that I usually do not get.
The hardest thing about shooting this kind of event, the weight of the camera. The entire show, including intermissions, ran about 3 hours. For a person used to using light micro 4/3 cameras these days, the Canon 7D with the 70-200mm f4 lens started getting pretty heavy as the night went on. I noticed that my shots towards the end where not framed as straight. Steve did suggest that I use a monopod which would have really helped. I didn’t bring one since I didn’t have a head that allowed my to position the camera in the portrait orientation. If I were going to do this kind of shooting with any regularity, I would definitely invest in a good monopod with an adjustable head. My shots would have been better and I would be less tired.
Between the behind the scenes and the fashion show, I had a fun night of photography. I shot both halves in a very different way which allowed me to experience more variety. If I had to choose, I liked the documentary style of shooting better. I found it to be more creative and less predictable. I is also similar to street photography which I enjoy doing. That said, being up on “stage” with the other photographers is something that I usually don’t get to do. New experiences can also be fun and keeps the whole photography thing fun and fresh.
Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure details.
I’ve carried around my Panasonic Lumix ZR1 almost everywhere. It’s small enough that it easily fit into my pant’s pocket. And though this is an inexpensive, refurnished point and shoot I got for $70, it really does take decent photographs especially at ISO 80. So much so that, for now at least, it ‘s my daily carry around camera. For a while I was hoping my water proof Sony TX5 would fill that role but I found that ultimately, even at its lowest ISO, the image quality didn’t satisfy. I stopped carrying it around, even though it was rugged and smaller than the Panasonic.
I took this photograph a couple of days ago. We were going out to dinner and I noticed these stormy clouds after a day of badly needed rain. It was still bright enough that I could shoot easily at ISO 80. A little motion blur, leading lines and a melancholy blue image creating a moody photo for the start of a new work week. Taken in West Austin traveling along Loop 360, also know as the Capital of Texas Highway. What a cool name for a highway.
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A couple of weeks ago, I went out to the Roaring Fork restaurant in North Austin with a friend. We talked about life, photography and art. The meal was a prelude to a downtown photowalk. The thing was, both of us were ambivalent about making the trek down south. The meal and drinks were nice and we felt comfortable just talking about the challenges of life and photography. I did want to test my Panasonic ZR1, however, by creating urban landscapes. So instead of going downtown, we settled for making images in and around the modern, upscale restaurant.
As you know, urban landscapes and architecture is one of my favorite subjects and I’m in the middle of my point and shoot challenge. I want to make photographs with this cheap $70 point and shoot that equals the quality of the images that I get with my other, more expensive cameras. And at ISO 80 the little Panasonic does a really nice job. Surprisingly so. The thing is, with a maximum aperture of f3.3 and at ISO 80, I need to use a tripod for any image that is not in good light. This was certainly the case for the 3 photos I took with the ZR1.
The mercury vapor lamps created this odd green color and it looks fantastic against the blue sky. The out of camera JPEGs were enhanced with even more color saturation, to give that extra pop. Since the camera lacks any kind of P S A M control, I have to use the appropriate scene mode to create these long exposures. The camera doesn’t have any exposure compensation on any image that is over about a 1/4 second. I use the Night Scenery mode or the Starry Sky mode instead to approximate the best exposure.
How good are these JPEG images? At ISO 80, I have no complaints. The photograph at the bottom was taken with the Olympus E-P3 and 14mm lens. The framing is not exactly the same and the Panasonic at a 25mm equivalent is a wider than my 28mm Olympus view. The colors were a lot different too but I tweaked the Olympus RAW to approximate the Panasonic color. The Olympus RAW is sharper but the image is actually noisier than the ZR1 point and shoot. I ran Topaz Denoise on the Olympus RAW and the resulting image was amazingly similar to the Panasonic output.
It would be hard to pick the two apart other than, even at F9, the Olympus still has a slightly shallower DOF. The deep DOF on the point and shoot was beneficial here and allowed me to take a brighter image, 5 seconds faster, since its aperture was at f3.3. Since the point and shot has such a smaller sensor, even if the aperture is wide open at f3.3, the DOF is still deeper than f9 on the Olympus.
Surprising and interesting results. Image quality and noise levels can vary a bit depending on the scene so this in not a comprehensive test, however, very promising results nevertheless. If I’m willing to use a tripod. the is no telling what this little camera can do.
Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.
Here is a change of pace from the previous fashion show post. Several weeks ago I went to the first high school football game of the season, McCallum vs. Anderson High School. High School football is practically a religion here in Texas and I was going to shoot it with my newest camera, the Panasonic ZR1. For those of you that are following my blog you know that I’m in the midst of a challenge. To make compelling images from this inexpensive point and shoot that I got factory refurbished for $70. All cameras have limitations and this one certainly has its share. So how do I overcome its shortcomings and still make an interesting image?
Unlike a DLSR or my mirrorless system cameras, these point and shoots, with their tiny sensors get noisy at modest ISOs. The usable, high-quality limit in color for this camera, maybe ISO 400. I sometimes push the black and white images up to ISO 800. I was zoomed into the action and the maximum aperture was f5.9. The light was starting to fade and keeping the ISO at 400 at this aperture meant a shutter speed of about 1/50. Not enough to get a tack sharp image. I decided to make the best of it and go for the motion blur. It took several shots and this one looked the best. Just the right amount of blur, enough to look purposely done but you still see enough detail.
I gave suggestions of how to take great photos with point and shoots but here is another tip. Embrace the limitations. You are not going to get Sports Illustrated caliber images with a point and shoot, especially in marginal light. For that you need long lenses with large apertures and a fast focusing DLSR. Instead think of how to make interesting images within the available parameters. That is what I tried to do here. I zoomed in, the equivalent of 200mm, to simplify the composition. The motion blur gives a sense of the action and something potentially more interesting than a tack sharp image.
I shot the image below during the same football game. Since there was no action, I could further slow down my shutter and increase quality by using a lower ISO. I used a different technique since the circumstances and limitations were different from the action shot.
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I’ve posted a bunch of entries this year from Austin Fashion week. All the events that I blogged about were free, open to the public and held at local salons. It was good fun and a great way to practice my portrait taking skills. For the first time, with the help of the fine folks at AZIZ Salon, I gained access to a major Fashion Week Event. It was held at the fancy and historic Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin. Unlike the Salon events, this one costs $60 to attend. In exchange for access, I shot the event for AZIZ.
I was granted special access to the back room where I shot behind the scenes photographs. This was where the models were being “prepped” for the big show and where AZIZ Salon did the hair styling. I was probably there for about 30 minutes and had a blast shooting the models during their transformation. It almost felt like street photography and I shot it in that style and even turned the images into a classic black and white.
I also got access to shoot the runway show. There was a small 10 foot by 8 foot raised platform, at the end of the runway, where all the media people were positioned. I was one of about a dozen people packed on that stage. There were still shooters from news organizations and video cameras from the local TV news crews. Everyone was very respectful even friendly as we shared this small area. I’ll talk more about the runway portion in another post. Today I wanted to showcase the behind the scenes photographs. A big thanks to Kellye King for getting me into this event. She directs Public Relations for AZIZ and is responsible for much of the marketing and event production.
Like my other Fashion Week events, I used my Canon 7D. I had 3 lenses, my 70-200mm f4 IS, the 35mm f2.0 and the 85mm f1.8. I brought the 35mm specifically to use behind the scenes. I briefly considered bringing my 50mm instead but decided that the 35 will work better in tighter spaces. I think I made the right call. I also considered using a bounce flash but the ceilings in the ball room where really high and painted yellow. A bounce flash didn’t work well and the yellow color cast created by the light bouncing off the ceiling was a bit nasty. I decided to use the 35mm with a big aperture and a higher ISO and no flash.
Shooting the back room was fun. I found it quick and easy. Sort of like a combination of street photography with a bit of event photography thrown in. I purposely wanted that unposed photo-journalist look, catching the models and the stylists in action. Ideally, I would blend into the background so that my subjects would not realize that they were being photographed. For the most part I succeeded or they just ignored me, which worked out great. While I used the 7D, I think my Olympus E-P3 with the 20mm f1.7 would have worked just as well. I didn’t want to bring a lot of equipment so I decided to stick with just the Canon for that night.
I culled my favorites down to about 50 images. The actions shots of the hair and makeup were important but I really liked catching the models in their relaxed state. Some sat there zoned out, others were lost in their music. I posted a small sample here but you can see more behind the scenes photographs at AZIZ Salon’s Facebook Page.
Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure details.
Update 9/10/2012: Here is a montage of photos taken at the event. It’s not a complete collection but it gives a nice flavor of the type of images I created.
Is your photo library protected against catastrophe? I thought I had a pretty good backup strategy until that terrible day a year ago. Labor Day weekend 2011, after the hottest summer on record in Texas, a fire broke out in Bastrop county, just east of Austin. The fire raged for a month and destroyed nearly 1,700 homes. The worst wildfire in Texas history. I remember that day. Driving down a highway in Austin, to the West I saw a large plume of smoke and to the East an even larger bank of smoke from Bastrop. The record heat and drought ignited wild fires throughout Texas. On that windy day, there were multiple wildfires raging in the Austin area.
Tragically, my friend lost her home and almost everything in that Bastrop fire. The story could have been worse. Luckily there was no loss of life. Her family, her horses and pets got out safely. She also had portable backups of her photographs which she was able to save. I took these photographs of my friend’s place when I went out there to help her clean up. The photos are used with her permission so that I can make a point. You may not be able to save everything when a catastrophe happens but your digital files can be safe.
I’ve always been very good about my photo backups. I use Apple’s Aperture 3 software and I have two backup vaults on two external drives. I also have a backup on a portable USB drive which I store offsite. But I realized that there were holes in my backup strategy, and the tragic Bastrop fire brought them to light. Here are 5 tips to protect your digital photo library.
1. Make at least 1 copy of your photo library on an external drive, the more copies the better. If possible, use an automated process to continuously backup your photo library.
2. I you don’t have an automated process, have a good manual process that ensures backup. This is what I do. I make sure that I have 3 copies of a photograph before I erase my CF and SD cards. I have two external drives connected to my Macintosh and I use Aperture 3′s vault system to back up my Photo library to both drives.
3. RAID systems and Drobos may work fine but I don’t use them. I prefer multiple separate external drives. Each drive is a separate, independent entity. If one drive happens to go bad, I have a 2nd completely separate backup drive. The potential issue with multiple drive RAID system is if there is a glitch in the drive interface, all of your data on the multiple drives may be at risk. Also if you use a proprietary backup solution, what happens if that company goes out of business? If I need to get my data out of the building, carrying a single external drive is a lot easier than carrying a big RAID box full of multiple drives.
4. Have offsite backup. I also use a small, portable USB drive for backup and keep it offsite. Offsite means anywhere out of your house or office. Bring the drive to a friend’s house in another part of town. Keep it in a safety deposit box. Put it any place safe, separate from where your main photo library is located. The downside with this solution? If you shoot a lot of photographs like I do, your offsite back is never complete. Suppose you copy and move your library offsite religiously once a week. You can still end up loosing a week’s worth of images. And let’s be honest. Most people will find it difficult to use this offsite method on a consistent basis. Inevitably your once a week schedule may start slipping. At least mine did.
5. Have an automated offsite backup. This is the change I made to my backup strategy after the Bastrop fire. I now have an automated cloud based backup solution. There are many services out there. Backblaze, Carbonite, CrashPlan, Mozy and a bunch more. If you have a large library, it will take you a while to upload all your files and you do need a fast internet connection. After a bit of research I decided to use CrashPlan. I’ve been using them for year now with good results. Within the last year, I have updated a failed drive and moved to a new computer. I was able to successfully reconnect my new computer and new drive to my cloud based Crashplan backup. I’m now up to 900GB of storage in the cloud.
So there you have it. My backup strategy for my precious photographs. Is it completely bullet proof? Probably not. But I do have multiple redundant backups updated in a consistent and automatic process. And my friend in Bastrop? She has rebuilt her home and getting settled in her new life. While she might have lost most of her physical possessions, at least she has her photographs which she can cherish.
Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure details.
The Panasonic arrived last night. I ordered the Panasonic Lumix ZR1 several posts ago and even with free shipping, it got here in just one week. Everything was packed properly in a huge brown, generic box with the sticker that said it was a refurbished Panasonic product. A surprise bonus camera case and 2GB SD card was also included; these items were not mentioned in the Adorama product description. Nice. I popped the battery in the charger and a green light came on so I figured it was already charged. With the battery in the camera, the power level read 3 bars, fully charged. The camera is small and very light. Well built but has a hollow, aluminum shell feeling. Despite the 8x zoom, it easily fits in my front pants pocket.
With the ISO set at 80, its lowest value, I fired off some pictures. The image looked dark on-screen. The flash shots were also dull and exposed on the dark side. After a minute of use, the power meter ticked down a segment. I began to fear that this old refurb might have an old battery that no longer holds a charge. After a few more test shots I downloaded and started scrutinizing the images on my computer. ISO 80 was clean and basically noise free. Very nice, except the exposure was really dark and the colors were uninspired. Not an auspicious start. I began to have doubts. Should I return the camera to Adorama?
I continued testing and began to figure out the camera. This is a beginner’s camera. There are no P S A M dial settings. It tries to be intelligent, to anticipate the needs of a novice. My challenge, I need to out think the computer and reverse engineer its programming. I need to bend it to my will. I want to do long exposure low-light images at ISO 80. Not easy, I found. If this thing just had a darn Program or Aperture priority mode, life would be so much easier for an experienced user. For a beginner though, I think the behavior of the camera makes sense. There are definitely quirky things that are not fully explained in the manual. Oh and that dark exposure I got with ISO 80? If figured that out too.
After a couple of hours play. I cracked it. I figured out how to make it do what I want. I’ll explain all my findings in a future post. The “fully charged” battery was quickly exhausted. But this was, in my opinion, a bad design decision on Panasonic’s part. When you pop the battery on the charger, the light starts out green. OKay. I don’t know about you but I think it’s natural to have the light turn green when it is finished charging, not when it starts charging. The manual does not explain any of this and for your information, the green light turns off when fully charged.
Today, I went to Rudy’s a famous BBQ chain here in Central Texas. I had my Panasonic Lumix ZR1 with me. Testing it out. Putting it though its paces. It’s another hot 100 degree Texas day and I must have been thirsty. The two images from Rudy’s are inexplicably beverage related. ISO 80 is lovely. No noise and the colors look pretty good too. ISO 100 and 200 also works nicely. ISO 400 is still usable but a bit rough, I think it will depend on the image and its exposure. The top image was shot at ISO 80 and the second image at ISO 400. ISO 800 maybe ok as a black and white. I’m going to have fun pushing this camera or maybe pushing myself to the limit. So what’s the purpose of buying this camera? I wanted to prove to myself that I can make good-looking images with an inexpensive point and shoot. Challenging myself by using more limiting equipment. We will see how I do.
The AZIZ Salon’s grand opening was my biggest challenge of all the 2012 Austin Fashion Week events. I did my first blog coverage last week, where I captured a very excited and joyful model. It’s always great to see someone having so much fun and many of the visitors to my blog from Facebook seem to agree. I also mentioned in that piece that I found the event challenging to shoot and that I made some mistakes along the way. I’m happy to say the images turned out a lot better than expected and I’ll talk about some of these challenges I had at the end. I want to start with the event itself and how AZIZ organized a first rate grand opening and a terrific night of entertainment.
I arrived at the new AZIZ Salon in the upscale Arboretum shopping center in North West Austin. I was there about 30 minutes after the doors opened and it was already packed with a long line out the door. It probably took 15 minutes or so to get in. Of all the Fashion Week events I’ve gone to this year and in the 3 previous years, this was the most crowded. The salon did a masterful campaign to get the word out about their grand opening.
Once inside, the airy split level multistory interior was a buzz with activity. They had a generous supply of drinks, free makeovers, food and music. The event had a good vibe and everything was professionally done. I met my photographer friend, Steve there and I joined a few other photographers and talked in the corner. The fashion show was still more than an hour away, so we settled in to have a good time. I shot some guests and met the owners and had a drink. I attended the AZIZ event last year and I was pleasantly surprised that they remembered some of my images from that event.
The makeshift runway started from the front door, down a short flight of stairs, all the way to the end. The crowds formed a natural enclosure. What sets these salon fashion shows apart from the serious raised catwalk events is seeing the crowd interaction. If you look at my images, the ones with the model by the front door are not nearly as personal and interesting as the one with the audience around them. The audience’s reaction to the model is what I find interesting just as much as the models themselves.
I noticed that the most popular camera seems to be the iPhone and there were a lot fewer point and shoot cameras. No big surprise there. It also seems like all the big cameras, the DSLRs are used by the men, including yours truly. It’s wonderful that so many people have cameras these days. Go back 10 or 20 years ago and I’m sure the scene will be entirely different. Perhaps they might have had one professional photographer covering the event and maybe a few people with point and shoot film cameras. The world of low-cost digital has a democratizing effect on seemingly everything these days. More people are partaking and creating their own content. No doubt a bunch of their images were shared on Facebook.
On the flip side, I wonder what kind of quality they are getting. While the salon looks well-lit to the human eye, it’s not really so for the camera. Even using a “serious” camera like my Canon 7D, it’s not a slam dunk to get, well exposed and sharp photographs. I’m sure my expectations of image quality is higher than the average iPhone shooter but here is why this environment is a bit harder to shoot that you will first expect.
The first thing you have to realize is that you are taking action shots in an interior setting, always a challenge. Getting a blur free, sharp image of someone who is posing for you is one thing, try doing that for someone who is walking at a steady pace down a runway. I kept my shutter speed at 1/200 of a second to minimize motion blur. I didn’t want to aim the flash directly at the models so I used a bounce flash instead. Direct flash shots usually don’t work very well indoors. Bouncing the light off the ceiling gives a softer illumination to the entire area rather than just the model. Even if you have an expensive camera, those direct flash shots give you that typical and less desirable “yes I used my flash” type look, which I try to avoid.
While I wanted to include the background and I really didn’t have a choice given the setup, I wanted to deemphasize it somewhat. Having the audience in the background is great but when they too are in sharp focus, it detracts from the subject. The background and foreground compete and you end up getting a very cluttered image. To make the background out of focus, you need to use a lens with a big aperture, setting your F number to the lowest available. In typical kit lenses your F number may go down to f3.5. On pro zoom lenses, down to f2.8. I used my 50mm prime lens which allowed me to take the Aperture down to f1.4. Here is where it gets tricky. How do you balance the aperture size, the light coming from the flash bounced off the ceiling, stopping the action with a high shutter speed and get everything in focus? This is why shooting in the place like this is a bit more challenging than it looks. At least it is for me since it’s something that I don’t do very often.
It took me a few minutes to get the settings dialed in correctly. And even then, I wasn’t entirely sure the images were coming out. I had to change several variables very quickly to adjust to the environment and situation. That is why shooting in these places can be fun, challenging and frustrating all at the same time. After fiddling with the shutter speed, aperture size, flash exposure compensation I hit upon a recipe that seemed to work. I wasn’t entirely sure at the time but it turned out better than I thought. While I usually shoot in Aperture Priority mode (the A or Av setting on the dial) I always use Manual exposure in these cases. My final settings, after all the experimentation, ISO 800, a shutter speed of 1/200 second, an Aperture of f1.8 to f2.2 and my bounce flash exposure set to a negative 1 stop. Of course there are always compromises. Having a non-zooming 50mm made it tougher and more restrictive in my framing. The shallow depth of field created by the f1.8 aperture made it more critical to focus and shoot quickly. At this depth of field, less than a step of movement taken by the model will throw her out of focus.
So what was the big mistake I made? It was at the beginning before I ever shot the camera. I chose to position myself in the middle near the steps, at the halfway point of the runway. Consequently, I was always forced to shoot models in motion. When they passed by me, there were too close and moving too fast for a good shot. I ended up taking pictures at either the doorway, where they started or near the end of the runway when they turned and headed back up. Catching the models when they are stopped is a whole lot easier to do. What I should have done was to position myself at the end of the runway where I can catch the models facing me and paused before they head back up. If I did this, much of the technical struggle to have a fast shutter speed and extra fast and accurate focus would have been reduced. All was not lost however. Because of my position, I undoubtedly got compositions that were different from the others. I also got the fun challenge of figuring out my exposure on the fly; forcing me to adjust and learn. The challenge made all the more fun since I ended up with images that I liked.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Please make sure to click on the photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure detail.
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.
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.