Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography

Texas

Could this be the ultimate haunted house for an elementary school fundraiser?

Dorothy's House , Wizard of Oz Themed Haunted House - Austin, Texas

Dorothy’s House , Wizard of Oz Themed Haunted House – Austin, Texas

Several months of planning. Several days of building. And several hours of fun.

My kids were lucky to go to a really good public elementary school here in Austin. Every Autumn, just before Halloween, they have their very elaborate and profitable fund-raising carnival called the Hoot. This is not just some random collection of inflatable rides. The school, the PTA and a huge crew of volunteers go all out. One of the most popular attractions is the Haunted House, put on by the 5th grade parents.

We had an architect, interior designers and other creative parents planning this for months. They transformed a portable building, usually the music classroom, in the Haunted House in a matter of days. I helped out too this year, doing the photography inside the attraction. I came up with a fairly elaborate system which I will discuss in an upcoming post. My involvement though pales in comparison to all the hard work that went into this place. Today, I wanted to share the inside of this Wizard of Oz themed Haunted House.

I shot these photos in the short window just after it was completed and before the first kids started going through. This year’s design was particularly sophisticated and, dare I say, artistic in many ways. Keep in mind that this was all built for a 4 hour event. At the end, it would be torn down and converted back into a regular elementary school classroom. The amount of effort put into this project was truly impressive.

As the first photograph shows, we start in Kansas in Dorothy’s house. This is the first room, where the kids enter. Pushing past the working screen door and you get to the tornado room. You are outside in the field with the storm cellar to the right and the twister visible front and center. There are fans blowing in here create that stormy and windy feeling.

Tornado Room, Wizard of Oz Themed Haunted House - Austin, Texas
Tornado Room, Wizard of Oz Themed Haunted House - Austin, Texas

Tornado Room, Wizard of Oz Themed Haunted House – Austin, Texas

This was my favorite room. It had a minimalist, “art installation in a museum” kind of feel. I wish I could have shot this from a higher angle looking downwards instead of the other way around. My main tripod was already pressed into service for my photo project so I had to use this old short tripod that just happened to be in my car. At eye level, the white ceiling fades from view and you see the simple, artistic details in this room.

Incidentally, as you might have guessed, I used HDR, shooting 3 images at 2 stops apart. Most of the rooms were very dark and I needed a tripod to keep everything aligned and steady. I used my usual Olympus E-PM2 with the Panasonic 14mm and wide-angle adapter.

The Good Witch, Wizard of Oz Themed Haunted House - Austin, Texas

The Good Witch, Wizard of Oz Themed Haunted House – Austin, Texas

After going through a dark hallway decorated with corn stalks, you arrive in the land of Oz. You can see the good witch off in the distance. There are several more rooms and hallways until you get to the yellow brick road that leads through the forest. After, you pass through a room where you can see the Emerald City in the distance, projected from the back via a computer controlled projector. Next you get to the witch’s castle.

Yellow Brick Road, Wizard of Oz Themed Haunted House - Austin, Texas

Yellow Brick Road, Wizard of Oz Themed Haunted House – Austin, Texas

The castle is where I shot the photo of the kids that passed through. The objective was to get candid shots of them being frightened by the Wicked Witch that pops out of the window. Then, there is a final dark passage that has closing doors on either end, where the zombified Dorothy appears (we took liberties with the original story line).

Witch's Castle, Wizard of Oz Themed Haunted House - Austin, Texas

Witch’s Castle, Wizard of Oz Themed Haunted House – Austin, Texas

Hidden from view, and located in the center of the building is the control center where all the technology and actors resided. Throughout the entire experience, there were sounds of screams, dialog and music that added to the mood. The 5th graders, wearing costumes, slipped in and out of hidden passageways to both scare the kids and get to their pre-set positions. Beyond all the designing and building it was a momentous scheduling job as the actors changed shifts every 30 minutes or so.

Once it started, I was too busy to take it all in. I was manning the photography which kept me busy. As usual, the line for the Haunted House was long and wrapped around the corner. The kids and older folks seem to enjoy it. I’m glad I was a part of this creative crew and truly impressed with the teamwork.

Coming soon, a post about how I did the photography in the Haunted House.

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Photographs taken with my Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 lens and the Panasonic wide-angle adapter.

Click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.


The 2013 Austin Dia de los Muertos Parade

2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

Colorful Dancers, 2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade – Austin, Texas

'til death do us part
2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas
Last Saturday, I went to the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Parade here in Austin, Texas. I missed last year’s but I went 2 years ago. Want a window into another culture? Go to these events. As you can imagine, being in Texas, we have a lot of Mexican influences. Heck, Texas was once a part of Mexico back before it was part of the United States. But day-to-day, I have to admit my Mexican cultural exposure is limited to Tex-Mex food (which is really not Mexican) and the occasional blast of Tejano music. I can’t vouch for the parade’s authenticity, but it was certainly fun, colorful and a wonderful place for some street photography.

Go photograph the world from your neighborhood. No plane tickets and passports required. If you have limited time or budget, going to these cultural events allow you to step into another world while staying at home. It’s excellent for photography too. I can practice, make mistakes and hone my street shooting, locally, without any pressure. I can experiment with a new technique or new gear. And it’s wise to do this before you go on that expensive international trip, if the opportunity ever presents itself. About a half-year after I went to this parade in 2011, I got an unexpected chance to go to India and Singapore. Shooting in those foreign lands was much easier because of the experience I gained here in Austin.

SoCo Location Map

The Parade Route

For my first parade in 2011, I used my, then new, Olympus E-PL1 with the 20mm Lumix lens. I just started down the one camera, one lens journey, moving to lighter cameras and less gear. I’ve modified my equipment style slightly but have stayed true, for the most part, to the less is more philosophy. This year, I brought my Canon 6D with the Canon 40mm pancake lens. The 40mm view worked so well last time that I decided to do the same again, although with a different camera. I also packed my Olympus E-PM2, mainly as a video camera, since the 6D doesn’t autofocus adequately when shooting video.

Before the Parade

I shot in and around the parade terminus on 5th street when I realized that I was an hour early. I decide to make the 1 1/2 mile walk to the start of the parade on East 6th street. And it was worth it. I got a behind the scenes look at the preparation. I also ran into some of my photographer friends that I haven’t seen in a while. Austin is still small enough that I constantly bump into people I know.

My week-long trip to Cancun this summer gave me a tiny bit more background on the history of Mexico, from its Pre-Columbian roots, the Aztecs and Mayans to the Spanish influence. I recognized the similar elements at the parade as I did at the tourists spots in Mexico. Though ironically, I probably got to interact more with the true culture here in Austin, compared to the decidedly more isolated resort and tourist experience in Cancun.

Parading Down 6th Street

The parade started exactly at 6pm as we walked westward towards downtown. We travelled along East 6th Street through the traditionally Hispanic and African American parts of town that appear to be gentrifying at a rapid pace. The sun was low and the shadows were long which made it difficult to shoot. I tried to use the shadows as design elements but mostly I did my best to avoid them, opting to, when possible, shoot in the even shade.

2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

Long Shadows at the start of the Parade – Austin, Texas

Traditional Aztec Dancers, somber, painted Catrinas and colorful costumes blended for an eclectic mix. I’m sure the Segways are not very traditional as well as other elements that are not familiar to me, but it’s a parade and it’s an excuse to have fun. Local Congressman, Lloyd Doggett even made an appearance. As we made it past the bars of 6th street, the fumes of alcohol and the party spirit must have infected the crowd. The level of dancing and rhythmic music seemed to amplify.

2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas
2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas
2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas
2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas
2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas
2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

As a photographic challenge, using a single 40mm prime lens might be fun. But it definitely made me work harder — I had to get close to make interesting images. I couldn’t just stay on the sidelines and zoom in. I needed to dart into the parade and momentarily join in to capture my desired framing. Having a zoom particularly a 70 – 200mm has its advantages though. Make an easier shot is not the main goal, rather, getting a shallower depth and isolating the subject would be my main objective. I would also be able to compress the distance between the dancers to get an entire different kind of framing. Perhaps next year, I will use a single zoom.

Dancing in the Street

As we turned the corner on to Congress Avenue, the main North – South street in downtown, the parade morphed into a block party. Dancers and the drummers took over and the spectators joined in. Austin sure likes to have fun and the carefree spirit pervaded.

2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas
2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

On of those new Capitol Metro double length buses passed by with the skull decorations. A nice touch.

2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

While I shot exclusively with the Canon 6D during the parade, I began to mix in the Olympus E-PM2, initially to shoot video of the party like atmosphere. I also took some still images and, I admit, I really like shooting with the Olympus a lot more than the Canon. It’s not just a matter of size. I find that the exposure metering on the Olympus is superior and since I can compose using the back LCD, it allows me to shoot in a more free form way. This style of shooting also blended better with the mood. Having a big black DSLR to your face seems to remove me from the action. It works for sports shooting, when I need to concentrate on one subject. But here when the people are dancing around, the small light camera felt like a more modern and apropos device to capture the action.

2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas
2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

The Olympus E-PM2 video quality is serviceable but ultimately a bit of a let down, especially after using the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and E-P5. The E-PM2 video hunts too much and I see more compression artifacts. It still works however to get a quick video of the action.


Evening

As the light levels fell, I came into my element. Shooting at dusk and into the night is what I really like. As sunlight is replaced by the man-made urban lighting, the city comes alive for me. The Olympus does a pretty good job but I didn’t bring my f1.4 lens. This is where the Canon 6D shines with its high ISO capability. Even with my f2.8 pancake lens, I was able to shoot in the moderately dim.

2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas
2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas
2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

Patricia, the woman in the skeleton costume was still dancing. She was a constant source of amazement and I offered to send her photos, if she was interested.

2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

I absolutely love the warm glow on the mother and daughter’s faces as they previewed images from a photo session. It’s one of my favorites.

2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

The Aztec dancers were still at it. I knew the light levels were too dim to get a clear shot. I decided to take the opposite tack and go for maximum (hand-held) motion blur. I switched to the Olympus, which has in-body image stabilization and set the shutter to 1/10 of a second. It took a bunch of tries with this hit or miss technique, but I created an image that I like. With both motion blur and some camera shake, the net effect is one of movement. The lovely purple nicely contrasting against the yellow ambient lighting.

2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

Finally, I snapped a well dressed couple on Congress Avenue as I made my way back to my car. Shot here with the city as the backdrop and the ubiquitous technology in hand, it came out great at ISO 10,000.

2013 Dia de los Muertos Parade - Austin, Texas

I must have walked 4 or more miles and my feet were starting to tire as the cool air finally filtered into Central Texas. My back and shoulders held up though. I was able to carry my 6D with the 40mm lens plus the Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 in my usual compact Domke bag. A nice, really compact setup. Not quite one camera and one lens like two years ago but not that far off either.

Here are all of the photographs I took at the 2013 Austin Dia de los Muertos Parade. There are extras I didn’t include in this post.

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I took the majority of the photographs with the Canon 6D with the inexpensive Canon 40mm f2.8 pancake lens. I also used the Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 lens.

Click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.


Action and Candids at the Great Southwest Equestrian Center

Jump, Southwest Equestrian Center - Katy, Texas

Jump, Southwest Equestrian Center – Katy, Texas

About 2 weeks ago, I made the 2 1/2 hour drive to Katy, Texas a suburb of Houston. Some friends of mine where shooting an Equestrian competition and I decided to help out. I’ve never shot something like this so I thought it would be interesting. Something a bit different from the usual urban landscapes and street photography that you see on this site.

My main purpose was the shoot the action — to capture the precise timing of the riders and the jump of the horses in this competition. Jerry is the primary shooter and his wife Suzanne helps in multiple ways. On that Saturday, I acted as a third shooter, filling in where I can. Jerry Mohme Photography is the official photographer for the event. They have a sophisticated setup with a trailer and several computers which helps them organize and sell photos. They process, quickly cull and upload images to an online gallery where people can order prints.

As you can imagine, speed is the name of the game. Ideally, all of the riders in the main competition are photographed multiple times. Everything is shot in JPEG and then quickly made available to potential customers. I shot about 1,200 photos and several times through out the day, I brought my SD card over to be download and entered into their system.

I didn’t know what to expect so I brought my Canon 6D with 3 lenses, the 24 – 105mm f4 IS, the 70 – 200mm f4 IS and a 50mm f1.4. I ended up using the 70 – 200mm exclusively. That focal length is surprisingly good in most cases, though at times perhaps a reach of 300mm would be ideal. I only had a f4, which worked great for the two outdoor arenas. For the one indoor arena, a f2.8 zoom would work better. At 1/500 per second shutter, I needed to shoot at ISO 6,400 or higher with the f4. The 6D at ISO 6400 and 8000 is still adequate but I concentrated on the outdoor events.

While the Canon 6D is far from a sports camera, in actually usage, it performed admirably. The name of the game is timing and not gunning the shutter. Jerry, who’s been doing this a while, shoots with a Nikon D800 and doesn’t use burst mode. He times his shots and shoots one image per jump. I too did the same, more out of necessity rather than skill. The Canon 6D only shoots at 4.5 frames per second so it didn’t shoot quick enough to get a second chance during a jump. The Olympus E-M1, which I reviewed recently, would have worked great here, I was thinking — though Olympus still has not introduced a 40 – 150mm f2.8 zoom, which would have been perfect. At 10 frames per second, perhaps the Olympus would have worked better for a novice like me to get the perfect jump position.

The ideal pose, photographically speaking, is when the front legs of the horse is bent and the rear legs have just left the ground. Shoot too early and the horse doesn’t look right with its rear legs planted. Shoot too late and the rider and horse looks like they are hovering or worse, they have already landed. It took some practice to get it right and towards the end of the day, my timing finally improved. Of course the timing of little kids on Ponies are different from the older folks on the bigger horses. Switching back and forth made it doubly hard.

While the bulk of the shots were of the action, I had an ulterior motive. What I really wanted to shoot were candids of the event — the behind the scenes or unguarded moments between their competition runs. Perhaps, it’s the street photographer in me that seeks these images. And while learning to precisely time shots and capturing the ideal pose is interesting, I would gladly trade that for the perfect candid expression.

Unlike normal street photography where I would shoot with a 50mm or wider, I uncharacteristically continued to use the 70 – 200mm. I wanted to get close to my subjects, as usual but being up close to horses could either be risky or not have the proper angle.

With the assortment of candids, portraits and action shots, I hope you got a feel for the event. You can tell there’s a lot more going on than just the competition. Luckily a big thunderstorm just missed us and caused no interruptions. The people were friendly and my street photography and street portrait experience came in handy.

I did manage to whittle my selects down from 1,200 to 86 images. The vast majority of the shots were of the action, jump variety. I will leave Jerry and Suzanne to deal with those. For me, it’s the behind the scenes photos that I wanted to showcase. I’ll close with just 3 more. You can find all these images on my Events gallery along with a few more I didn’t post.

Thanks for visiting.

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Photographs taken with my Canon 6D with the Canon 70-200mm f4 IS lens.

Click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.


Top Golf: A non-golfer shoots some images

Entrance, Top Golf - Austin, Texas

Entrance, Top Golf – Austin, Texas

One of the slick new places that opened in Austin, that makes us collectively think that we are no longer in a secondary market, is Top Golf. I’ve heard breathless excitement about this new fun place from Dallas. Turns out Houston has one too and the establishment is not even out of Texas. Top Golf is a UK-based company that is building upscale driving ranges with a twist. Combine a night club like bar and a restaurant with an upscale driving range on which you can play games and you begin to understand the premise of this place.

I am not a golfer. That last time I tried was over 25 years ago. Even back then, I played 18 holes with a 5 iron and a putter, so you know how serious I was about the sport. At least to my credit, I tended to whack the ball straight down the course. Except with only a 5 iron, I needed to do a lot of whacking. So why did I got to Top Golf? To take photographs of course.

Driving Range, Top Golf - Austin, Texas

Driving Range, Top Golf – Austin, Texas

The Course, Top Golf - Austin, Texas

The Course, Top Golf – Austin, Texas

When invited by friends, they insisted that I needn’t be a golfer. Luckily I wasn’t the only one. I got to socialize, have a few drinks and eat some tasty bites. The key for me, of course, is that I got to take photographs. Photography is up there, high on my fun scale, so I don’t care if I was at St. Andrews in Scotland — I would be capturing images instead of stroking that little white ball.

Top Golf Snipetts
Top Golf Snipetts
Top Golf Snipetts
Top Golf Snipetts
Top Golf Snipetts

I took my Olympus E-PM2 with my usual wide-angle and a tiny table top tripod. This was going to be my compact HDR machine. I didn’t bring my usual full size tripod since I wasn’t sure if the Top Golfers were amenable. I also had my Canon G15 as usual for miscellaneous shots that I converted to black and white.

Lounge, Top Golf - Austin, Texas

Lounge, Top Golf – Austin, Texas

It turned out that a couple of non-golfers also liked photography so we talked shop as I snapped some images. I can’t tell you much about how the golf games worked but I saw some great shots that flew so far that even my photography trained eye lost track. I’ve lived in Austin for 22+ years but get the feeling everyday that I no longer live in that small College town. Top Golf has 3 levels of driving ranges like the kind that I saw in land strapped Tokyo. The only difference? The surrounding area is still mostly nature as opposed to a solid wall of high rises. We are safe from that. It would take untold centuries of development in Austin to reach Mega-Tokyo like densities… I think.

Registration, Top Golf - Austin, Texas

Registration, Top Golf – Austin, Texas

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Photographs taken with my Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 lens and the Panasonic wide-angle adapter. Black and white photographs taken with the Canon G15.

Click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.


The Canon G15 enters the scene

Lucky taken with the Canon G15 - Austin, Texas

Lucky taken with the Canon G15 – Austin, Texas

Tradition dictates that Lucky, our family dog, need to be involved in any new camera acquisition. So here is Lucky reluctantly posing for my new Canon G15. The G15 is a high-end point and shoot nearly at the top of Canon’s range. They also have a G1 X, which is the most expensive PowerShot, but that one’s a dog. It has a focusing system in the same league as the EOS M (before the firmware update). So effectively the G15 is the best and highest end point and shoot that Canon makes.

About a month ago I mentioned that I had bought two more cameras in addition to the Canon 6D. The PowerShot G15 is one of those cameras — I’ll also reveal the 2nd new camera by the end of the week. These cameras join a crowded collection of devices that is filling every niche that I can define. The G15 is destined to fill the daily carry around camera role, the one currently occupied by the Olympus XZ-1.

Red is for Romance, Roppolo's Pizza - Austin, Texas

Red is for Romance, Roppolo’s Pizza – Austin, Texas

Jeweled Doorway, Hole in the Wall - Austin, Texas

Jeweled Doorway, Hole in the Wall – Austin, Texas

As much as I like the XZ-1 and I shot with it quite a bit during my travels — there was one thing that ultimately nagged me — I mentioned it in my Olympus XZ-1 review. Even at ISO 100, its lowest setting, the image quality was a bit lacking. There is a little bit of noise and the color is hesitant. For most people, I think its image quality is fine. For me, I found that it just quite didn’t deliver the quality that I wanted my casual “serious” work — the kind that I happen upon during my daily life.

The G15 is clearly better. At ISO 80, the quality is very nice. It’s nearly indistinguishable from my higher end cameras other than it tends to have more depth of field. Compared to the XZ-1, it might have about a stop of better high ISO noise performance. The G15′s ISO 800 kind of matches the XZ-1′s ISO 400. This allows me to make more acceptable images in marginal conditions. I’ll do a more thorough comparison between the two cameras in a future post. Keep in mind that the XZ-1 is nearly a 2 year old camera. The newer Olympus XZ-2 has performance similar to the Canon G15. It’s just that I had an opportunity to get this Canon at a great price.

Shiny Happy People, Target - Austin, Texas

Shiny Happy People, Target – Austin, Texas

Backlit Highway Grass - Austin, Texas

Backlit Highway Grass – Austin, Texas

I’ve been secretly shooting with the G15 for about a month now. I had the camera at the ROT Rally and used it along side the Canon 6D. Don’t worry, while I’ve added a couple of Canons to the mix but I’m still enjoying and committed to the Olympus cameras too. Though, ultimately, I really don’t care about camera companies and camera models. I care more about what capabilities they give me as a photographer.

So here is a mix of photos I’ve shot in the last month. There is a lot of variety since I try to carry it everywhere. I also shoot photos out my car too, though rest assured that I’m doing so at red lights. I noticed this beautifully waxed red Mustang. The owner was looking at my strangely. Quite understandable. Why would some one be shooting out their car, with the window rolled down? Heck, I’m sure more people would’ve been alarmed if I used my DSLR in this way. So is it called street photography when I shoot out the car? Maybe road photography?

Glowing Red Mustang, Frontage Road - Austin, Texas

Glowing Red Mustang, Frontage Road – Austin, Texas

Dreaming of Motorcycles, 2013 ROT Rally - Austin, Texas

Dreaming of Motorcycles, 2013 ROT Rally – Austin, Texas

I’m sure I’ll be posting more from this camera as I capture the casual, unscripted moments of my life. Capturing these are fun especially if its something that is unexpected and unusual.

All photographs taken with my Canon G15 point and shoot.

Click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail. Multiply the focal length by 4.66 to get the 35mm equivalent


SXSW Japan Nite: Kaori’s etherial petals

Kaori's Etherial Petals, Kao=S at 2013 Japan Nite - Austin, Texas

Kaori’s Etherial Petals, Kao=S at 2013 Japan Nite – Austin, Texas

It’s not often that I have a favorite photograph from a photography session or an event. Typically, I may have a dozen or so selects. Luckily, I was able to attend the 2013 SXSW Japan Nite last Friday and this photograph is my favorite. I shot about 800 photos and narrowed my choices down to about 100. This particular image still bubbles to the top. Of course, it’s from my favorite group, Kao=S. While Kaori, the lead performer, is known for some dynamic and aggressive samurai sword performances, this scene with the cherry blossom petals is quite the opposite.

I wish I can say that I can nail this kind of photo all the time but I do admit there is a certain amount of luck and good timing to these things. I didn’t know she was going to blow the petals and I just happen to be there to catch it and with a good expression. I think the color and light works well and the wispy, motion blurred petals have an etherial quality.

While good timing is key, having the right camera settings also help. Here’s how I got the shot. I used my Olympus E-PM2 with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 lens. The real star, equipment wise, was the little Olympus FL-300R flash. It’s a really compact flash that runs on two AAA batteries and is properly scaled to the small Olympus Pen bodies. I dialed in a really light -2 1/3 flash exposure compensation. This allowed me to add just a touch of fill on the subject while preserving much of the colorful stage lighting. I used ISO 800 and at f1.4 which gave me 1/160 second shutter.

Like last year, I also used my Canon 7D with the 50mm f1.4 lens but the Olympus Pen really hit its stride this year. I use the older Olympus E-PL1 and the 20mm f1.7 lens last year, with no flash. The images were usable but nothing special. This year’s Pen setup was dramatically better and in some ways bested the results from the 7D. Quite surprising, actually. I’ll talk about how the two cameras compared at Japan Nite, in an upcoming post. Please stay tuned.


Photograph taken with the Olympus E-PM2 with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 and the Olympus FL-300R Compact Flash.

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



Japan Preview Show: Experiencing Kao=S again

Kao=S at The Grackle #3, 2013 Japan Preview Show - Austin, Texas

Kao=S at The Grackle, 2013 Japan Preview Show – Austin, Texas

My favorite group from last year’s Japan Nite, Kao=S, was playing again this year. I wasn’t sure if I could make it to this year’s Japan Nite so I decided to go to the preview show on Thursday afternoon. Luckily Kao=S was the last group playing so I headed down there after work at about 6pm. The Japan preview show is a great, free alternative to the main show which is restricted to people of drinking age. It happens during the daytime and people of all ages are welcome.

This year, the performance was at The Grackle on 6th Street on the east side of town. I don’t get to this part of town often and naively assumed that parking would be a breeze. I was dead wrong. The parking situation is worse than downtown in this mostly residential area. I was lucky to find a tight spot 8 blocks away. The glass shards from multiple car break-ins gave me pause but I wasn’t going to stay late.

Kao=S at The Grackle #1, 2013 Japan Preview Show - Austin, Texas
Kao=S at The Grackle #2, 2013 Japan Preview Show - Austin, Texas

My timing couldn’t be more perfect. The 2nd to last band was finishing up and Kao=S was prepping the stage. I was pleasantly surprised when the band members recognized me from last year. Apparently, they really liked the photos I shot of them, which you can see on this blog post, Kao=S at SXSW Japan Nite, Original and Spectacular. On that post, I talk about why I like this group so much. They fuse Japanese instruments and culture in a modern context and it’s also a very theatrical show.

Kao=S at The Grackle #5, 2013 Japan Preview Show - Austin, Texas

Unlike the dark indoor venues which require high ISOs and/or flash, this was an outdoor event in bright light, on a small stage, setup under an open sided tent. I thought that it would be easy to make great photos but I was completely wrong. A couple of things conspired against me. By 6:30, the sun’s warm rays were streaming under the tent, creating uneven harsh shadows. Using a flash tamed the shadows somewhat but not enough to make high quality shots. There was also a lot of background clutter. The jumble of chain link fences, people and the East Austin Neighborhood didn’t give me that clean look that I was hoping for.

Kao=S at The Grackle #4, 2013 Japan Preview Show - Austin, Texas

My conversion to black and white solved several problems. The uneven color from the sun, the harsh shadows and even the background clutter were all tamed by my monochromes. I also think this gives a more photojournalist look. This use of black and white also nicely coincides with my recent interest which I talk about in SXSW Photowalk: A black and white exploration.

Kao=S at The Grackle #6, 2013 Japan Preview Show - Austin, Texas

Finally, as the sun dipped below the horizon and with the harsh rays safely tucked away, I ask the band if I could make a portrait. I shot several of the band and of Kaori, the lovely lead performer. With the lighting under control and the background somewhat simplified, I made satisfactory color photographs. A nice ending to a busy work week and I’m happy to report that my car was safely waiting for me, unscathed.

Kao=S Group Portrait, 2013 Japan Preview Show - Austin, Texas

Kao=S Group Portrait, 2013 Japan Preview Show – Austin, Texas

Kaori from Kao=S, 2013 Japan Preview Show - Austin, Texas

Kaori from Kao=S, 2013 Japan Preview Show – Austin, Texas

Photographs taken with the Olympus E-PM2 with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4.

Click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.


SXSW Photowalk: Google Glass spotted

Nicole sporting Google Glass, SXSW Photowalk - Austin, Texas

Nicole sporting Google Glass, SXSW Photowalk – Austin, Texas

The SXSW Photowalk I’ve been talking about was sponsored by Google. They gave out some swag, I got a microfiber cloth and a LED flashlight. Something that made even a bigger splash were a couple of people who sported that latest tech. Google Glass is a wearable computer, voice activated and still in beta. You will notice that these two women are wearing the computer on their face. The plastic piece attached to their “Glasses” on the right side of their face. It has a built-in camera and probably loads of other features that I don’t know.

Lisa sporting Google Glass, SXSW Photowalk - Austin, Texas

Lisa sporting Google Glass, SXSW Photowalk – Austin, Texas

The first photo features the latest in tech. In addition to Nicole’s Google Glass, she is also looking at a Lytro, light field camera. Just part of the nerd-like fun at these SXSW Interactive Photowalks. We didn’t get to use the Google Glass, so I can’t give you a first hand account. I’m interested in trying it but I’m uncertain about using it myself. It’s one thing to have attractive women sporting these devices but for me, not so much. I need to be decreasing my nerdiness, and I’m not sure if this device will help my case.

Photographs taken with the Olympus E-P3 with a Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4.

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SXSW Photowalk: 6th and Congress sparkles

6th and Congress Sparkles - Austin, Texas

6th and Congress Sparkles – Austin, Texas

A mass of 200 – 250 people stormed through Austin last night with cameras in hand. We organized at City Hall and took a zig zag pattern though downtown. Yes, I attended the SXSW Photowalk organized by Trey Ratcliff, yesterday. As the group moved, we spread out into smaller clumps, occasionally regrouping as we travelled through the colorful entertainment districts. Why so many photographers? Was there a celebrity nearby? People were either confused or accepted that maybe this was just another wacky SXSW stunt.

I reached the corner of 6th and Congress Avenue at the peak of blue hour. I popped open my lightweight tripod topped with the Olympus E-PM2 and the 14m with wide-angle adapter. My camera was pre-set perfectly for HDRs, set to manual focus, ISO 200 and a deep aperture. I shot several brackets, this one, my favorite.

The streets were busy, the trees sparked and the Frost Tower shined. The mid-60′s temperatures tricked visitors into thinking that Austin is perfect — just wait until summer. But for now SXSW is in full swing. Interactive winds down as the music spins up. 4 days gone, 6 more to go.

More photos to come…

Photograph taken with my Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 lens and the Panasonic wide-angle adapter.

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Precision Camera Transforms

Precision Camera Exterior - Austin, Texas

Precision Camera Exterior – Austin, Texas

Precision Camera, the only remaining full service camera store in Austin opened a brand new, shiny store last week. Actually they moved from their old store to a new location 4 miles north on Anderson Lane. And what a difference. The old place was cramped and dark. The new place is light, airy and upscale, in a friendly and accessible way. The showroom is at least 2 1/2 times larger and now located in a place with ample parking.

I walked into their new digs last Saturday, a couple of days after the official opening. I saw Jerry Sullivan, the owner, and congratulated him. He was beaming like a proud Papa and he gave me tour of the entire place, including the back offices and the repair and print centers. The store now has the space for people to breath and congregate. Along the left side, a long counter with all the cameras available for personal demos. In the back left, a repair and equipment rental facility. To the back right, a comfortable lounge is positioned in front of a mini camera museum. And on the other side of the museum display, a 70 person classroom.

Precision's Wall of Cameras - Austin, Texas

Precision’s Wall of Cameras – Austin, Texas

Jerry told me that traffic is up noticeably from the old location and, with all the additional space, you no longer feel like you are tripping over people or knocking into shelves. Gone is the dark cave like feeling, replaced by lots of natural light and natural wood tones. The place encourages people to linger and talk to other customers. And talk I did, for 2 1/2 hours. After Jerry’s tour, I ran into my friend, photographer and blogger, Kirk Tuck. We caught up for a while and even helped introduce the wonderful world of mirrorless to one of Kirk’s friends. Of course, Kirk was extolling the virtues of the Sony NEX line and I talked about my love for Micro 4/3.

The Central Aisle, Precision Camera - Austin, Texas

The Central Aisle, Precision Camera – Austin, Texas

The Lounge and Camera Museum, Precision Camera - Austin, Texas

The Lounge and Camera Museum, Precision Camera – Austin, Texas

It’s nice to live in a city with such a resource and I feel, more than ever, it will be the unofficial center of Austin’s photography world. If you live in the Austin area or visiting, you should stop by Precision Camera. Hope to see you there.

All photographs taken with my Olympus XZ-1 point and shoot.

Click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail. Multiply the focal length by 4.66 to get the 35mm equivalent


Seeing beyond the church at Mission San Jose

Tree with Character #1, Mission San Jose - San Antonio, Texas

Tree with Character #1, Mission San Jose – San Antonio, Texas

Mission San Jose is one of the 5 missions that are located in San Antonio, Texas. They were founded by the Spanish Missionaries in the late 18th century. While the Alamo is the most famous of the missions, Mission San Jose is known as the “Queen of the Missions” and is the most impressive.

I went there last week on a 4th grade class trip. While I did photograph the famous church itself, I was drawn to the bare trees that stood by the old mission walls. I love the structure of these “trees with character” and its contrast to the highly textured stone walls. I’m back on a HDR kick of sorts and I took my tripod and my Olympus E-PM2 to create these images.

I’ve been doing more HDRs recently for several reasons. First, it allows me to be deliberate, encouraging me to more precisely frame a photograph. Using a tripod, setting it up and waiting to take 3 exposures takes a bit more work than my recent free-form style. It’s not quite as exacting and precious as film but it does get me to slow down. Also, the look of HDRs is different with its simulated dynamic range and increased detail. I get a richness and color that a regular exposure does not produce. Finally, with my newest Olympus E-PM2, I now have a truly light weight setup that creates photos with, a no compromise, HDR quality. No need to lug my Canon 7D and bigger tripod with me.

Tree with Character #2, Mission San Jose - San Antonio, Texas

Tree with Character #2, Mission San Jose – San Antonio, Texas

This is my third time at this mission. On the first two occasions, I made the obvious photos. Multiple angles of the church exterior. The requisite shot down the middle aisle towards the altar. Sure, I shot those again, just in case. But I feel most proud of these alternate shots. The less obvious ones that perhaps not everyone would see. As I train my eye and improve as a photographer, I’m trying to create the less common photographs. Not totally unique, maybe, but something that breaks the “me too” mold. Not an easy task given that there are some many good photographers taking more photographs than ever.

Note: The last photograph is a black and white HDR. They don’t have to be in color and the HDR processing brings out more texture and detail. I didn’t like the color in this photo and the ground was much too cluttered and distracting. I found that the black and white conversion created a more compelling image.

Tree with Character #3, Mission San Jose - San Antonio, Texas

Tree with Character #3, Mission San Jose – San Antonio, Texas

Photographs taken with my Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 lens and the Panasonic wide-angle adapter.

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How technology has shifted from 4 years ago

Adobe House, Institute of Texan Cultures - San Antonio, Texas

Adobe House, Institute of Texan Cultures – San Antonio, Texas

I took the day off on Friday to go on a school field trip to San Antonio with my younger son. It’s an annual event for 4th graders and I went on the same trip with my older son 4 years ago. They went to the same two locations, the Mission San Jose and a museum called the Institute of Texan Cultures. I thought it would be interesting to compare the two trips, photographically, and primary from a technology point of view.

First, I noticed a big change in the type of cameras the parents used. It’s no secret that point and shoots are diminishing in popularity. Most every parent I saw shot with iPhones. The kids used iPods and inexpensive digital cameras, perhaps the hand-me-downs that the parents no longer use. I also saw only one DSLR on the entire trip. Four years ago there were many parents that used DSLRs and smaller dedicated cameras. Not a statistically significant sample but interesting none the less. A couple of parents even said that they had DSLRs but they were too heavy to bring on the trip.

You know that I have shifted away from DSLRs. A bit crazy and unwieldy but I brought 3 cameras with me. The Olympus E-P3 with the 25mm f1.4, the E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 and the Olympus XZ-1 point and shoot. My rational? I was going to do two distinctly different types of photography on the trip. I wanted to shoot casual, mostly candid pictures of the kids to share with rest of the class. I also wanted to shoot HDR urban landscapes on tripod. You can see a subtle HDR that I shot during the trip at an old Adobe house. I used the XZ-1 for the casual snaps, mainly outdoors. I used the E-P3 with the f1.4 lens indoors so that I didn’t have to use flash. The E-PM2 was attached to a tripod and acted as my “serious” landscape camera.

I just looked at my archives and discovered that I brought two DSLRs with me on this trip, four years ago. I used a Canon 20D with a 18-55mm kit lens and a Canon Rebel XT with a 70-210mm. Outdoors, I also used an external speedlite to tame the harsh sun. Indoors, I cranked the ISO up to 1600. Back then, I had no need for a tripod, I just shot people and didn’t do any urban landscapes. Today, even with three cameras and a tripod, I’m pretty sure my gear weighs less than it did back then.

I was surprised to see the XZ-1 point and shoot held its own, in daylight, compared to the DSLRs 4 years ago. The XZ-1 has a slight edge in resolution, 10MP vs the 8MP DSLRs. The DSLRs have a shallower DOF and more dynamic range, however I used a flash on both cameras outdoors and the resulting images were very similar. Using flash outdoors tends to soften harsh shadows and reduces the need for wide dynamic range. Of course I used fairly basic lenses on my DSLRs back then so I’m sure nicer glass would have tipped the quality balance towards the DSLRs. Back then I only shot JPEG, while now I use RAW. The RAW has the benefit of grabbing more detail and dynamic range in favor of the XZ-1.

Indoors, the DSLRs will run rings around the XZ-1, of course. But the Olympus E-P3 with the f1.4 lens holds its own and surpasses the Canon 20D and XT. Noise wise, the E-P3 has similar performance to these 2005 vintage DSLRs. The Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 lens however is clearly superior to the Canon kit lens. Ironically, I was getting shallower DOF with the Olympus and the 25mm, then with my Canon DSLR with the kit lens. The image quality of my newest Pen, the Olympus E-PM2 is even better than these DSLRs.

It appears that my candid and posed compositions of the kids were no worse and possibly better than it was 4 years ago. This is noteworthy since I rarely shoot these kinds of photos anymore. Back then, it was all that I did. Nowadays, I do a lot more city and urban photography. There are also changes in the way I shoot and post-process photographs. These days, I tend to expose darker and my photographs are a lot more colorful. The JPEGs that I shot back then were minimally processed and had dull appearance. Ironically, even though I now shoot exclusively in RAW, my colors are a lot more rich and vibrant. I attribute this mainly to my post processing that has evolved over the last several years.

Finally, I guess after years of practice, I now have the ability to shoot different kinds of photographs on the same outing. While I concentrated exclusively on candid, event type photography 4 years ago, I’ve added tripod based landscapes with HDR to my repertoire. It certainly keeps me busy and perhaps a bit goofy juggling multiple cameras, but it seems to work for me. I have little downtime and no dust, since I don’t have to change lenses. Since the cameras are so light and small, I’m not bogged down with a huge load of gear like a pack mule. I’m curious to see what I will be shooting with, 4 years from now.

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2013 Chinese New Year Celebration in Austin

Girl with Parasol, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Girl with Parasol, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

The Chinatown Center in North Austin had their annual Chinese New Year celebration yesterday. I wanted to do something different from last year, photographically, not creating the same type of photojournalistic pictures. I took a different set of cameras and lenses and forced myself to see details instead. It’s easy to take snapshots of the event but I struggled to make more artistic images. There are so many distractions, people, poles, and fences what take away from the photograph. My tactic, get closer or zoom in to reduce clutter. I don’t think I was entirely successful but it forced me to see things differently.

Red Flags, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Red Flags, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

Lion Closeup, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Lion Closeup, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

Neon Characters, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Neon Characters, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

Color Clash, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Color Clash, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

I took 3 compact cameras with me, leaving at home the Canon 7D that I used last year. I brought my Olympus E-P3 with the 25mm f1.4, the Olympus XZ-1 point and shoot and the 40-150mm zoom on the Olympus E-PM2. I mentioned on a recent post that the Olympus 40-150mm lens was on sale for $100 but I didn’t use the lens very often. I decided to give it a try yesterday, taking advantage of the 80mm to 300mm equivalent zoom, to get close. The lens performed a lot better than expected. And since I’m not typically a telephoto guy, it taxed my brain to create different kind of compositions. I ended up using this lens the most.

Shades of Red, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Shades of Red, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

Lantern Dance, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Lantern Dance, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

Dancing with Parasols, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Dancing with Parasols, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

Alternating Colors, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Alternating Colors, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

The XZ-1 worked well enough but I used it the least. There are several reasons for this. Switching between two cameras isn’t too bad but things get rather confusing for me when I added a third. The XZ-1 focuses moderately fast but both Olympus Pen cameras are faster so I tended to use them for action. With up to 300mm of zoom, I got more range than the maximum 112mm on the XZ-1. Finally, I noticed that the XZ-1′s LCD was not quite as bright as the Pens so shooting in bright sunlight was less ideal. So while to the XZ-1 might make a handy all around, one camera solution, given the choice, I still rather use my Pens.

Lion's Eye, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Lion’s Eye, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

Lion's Fur, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Lion’s Fur, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

Of course the highlight of the celebration was the Lion Dance and the firecrackers. With all the smoke and commotion, I found capturing images were a bit hit or miss. The 40-150mm lens did allow me to step back just a little to get out-of-the-way of the exploding firecrackers. I’m not sure I totally succeeded in my photographic goals but the big surprise was the performance of my infrequently used long zoom. The image quality of course does not match my Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4, but it’s surprisingly good. The lens is not very big or heavy considering is long telephoto range. Perhaps I need to take it out some more and play with its capabilities.

Lion Dance #1, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Lion Dance #1, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

Lion Dance #2, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Lion Dance #2, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

Lion Dance #3, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Lion Dance #3, 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

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Happy Holidays, See you next year

2012 Driskill Christmas Tree - Austin, Texas

Holiday Bokeh, 37th Street – Austin, Texas

I took this photograph on 37th street near the University of Texas campus. It was during the Drink and Click photowalk that I talked about last week. The theme and contest challenge during the photowalk was “Bokeh”. This photo was going to be my entry — except I got a bit lazy and ran out of time so I’m posting it here.

Bokeh is a word frequently used by photographers, usually mispronounced and the meaning if often misunderstood. First of all, it is pronounced like Bo, sorta like Bo Jackson or Bo Derek, if you prefer. The second part is pronounced like Ke in the name Ken. It’s not Boka or Bokee. This Japanese world, in the context of photography means, the quality of the out of focus area. How good do the circle of lights look? Is the background harsh or smooth? It has nothing to do with depth of field (DOF) where some people call a photograph with a shallow DOF as having good bokeh.

I’m not a bokeh expert per say but from what I know this lens have very nice bokeh. I used the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 (which is a 50mm equivalent) on my Olympus E-PM2. Notice that the out of focus lights are nearly, perfectly circular with a consistent fill. You don’t see a doughnut effect. There is also a smoothness to the light.

You may be interested to know that the worked bokeh, which should be properly spelled boke, is used frequently in Japan but not necessarily in the photographic context. It is used to mean fuzziness or forgetfulness. If one forgets something, they may say they are starting to Boke. Also if you say Boke Boke, that is a code word for senility or Alzheimer’s.

On that note, I like to wish my readers a very Happy Holiday. Thank you for coming back time and time again to read my blog — it means a lot. I have some ideas of where I’m taking this thing next year — some of which you are starting to see. I’m going on a family vacation to the East Coast so I probably won’t be posting here until next year. I will be posting photographs to mostlyfotos, my one photo per day site. Perhaps I may even post some photos from the road so that you can see where I’m visiting.

Have a Happy New Year!

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Photograph taken with my new Olympus E-PM2 with the 25mm f1.4 lens.

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Taco Cabana blue hour and capturing memories

Patio, Taco Cabana - Austin, Texas

Patio, Taco Cabana – Austin, Texas

About 20 years ago, I ate at my first Taco Cabana and my food world changed. I had just moved to Austin from the East Coast — my interest in Tex-Mex just starting. As you can imagine, the East Coast is no hotbed of Tex-Mex cuisine. Taco Bell was the only thing I could find back there and it was better than the sit down restaurant, Chi Chi’s. I was so taken with Taco Cabana’s food that I ate there twice a day for weeks on end.

Now, I still visit several times a month. Sure, there are better Tex-Mex restaurants in Austin, but as a fast food joint, Taco Cabana still does a nice, mostly consistent, job. Being a creature of habit, I have a happy hour margarita and bean and cheese nachos for 3 bucks before I go the my monthly photo user group meeting. At my last outing, my pre-user group meal coincided with blue hour. I took these photos to document a place that I have such fond, tasty memories.

Salsa Bar, Taco Cabana - Austin, Texas

Salsa Bar, Taco Cabana – Austin, Texas

The chain has gone through several remodels, with the latest happening recently. The food has pretty much stayed the same but the place has upgraded aesthetics and better service. The latest design has transformed this place into a modern and always colorful destination. Really for the price of a standard fast food burger, you can’t go wrong here. Plus, when is the last time you got margaritas and beer at your local McDonald’s.

Blue Hour Exterior, Taco Cabana - Austin, Texas

Blue Hour Exterior, Taco Cabana – Austin, Texas

I want to take more photos at everyday, mundane places. They are not breathtaking Grand Canyon vistas but arguably have more relevance to me. My small Olympus Pens really work in situations like this. I can shoot great quality photographs without looking strange or raising suspicions. Whipping out my DSLR just doesn’t feel right and a place with fond memories deserves more than a grainy point and shoot capture.

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

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Flo Rida and the other Alex Suarez

Flo Rida #1 - Austin, Texas

Flo Rida #1 – Austin, Texas

It’s F1 weekend in Austin. After 5 years, Grand Prix motor racing has returned to the U.S. and it’s the talk of the town. With the onslaught of visitors, most Austinites I know are just trying to stay clear of the mess. I too was going to stay in the periphery until my friend Alex called. Hey, I have free access to the Flo Rida concert, are you in?

Alex just got the email confirmation and called me 2 hours before it started. Our challenge, how do we get downtown and find parking on F1 weekend? How about the train? The last stop was conveniently at the convention center were we needed to go. Without going into details. This is the second time I took the Capitol Metrorail train and it is the second time I was disappointed. Luckily, we made it downtown on time, at least.

My photographer friend, Alex Suarez just happens to share his name with the bass player for Cobra Starship, the opening act for Flo Rida. He got us VIP passes and even gave Alex a photo pass. Unfortunately, we didn’t know the details before we left and we opted not to bring our big gun cameras. Doh! We debated our equipment options but didn’t want to risk being turned away at the gate for bring in a “Pro” camera. I brought my Panasonic ZR1 point and shoot instead and at least Alex and I both had our iPhones.

VIP Section, Flo Rida Concert - Austin, Texas

VIP Section, Flo Rida Concert – Austin, Texas

General Admissions Section, Flo Rida Concert - Austin, Texas

General Admissions Section, Flo Rida Concert – Austin, Texas

Krystal & Haley, COTA Brand Ambassadors - Austin, Texas

Krystal & Haley, COTA Brand Ambassadors – Austin, Texas

The crowds were light and the concert started later than expected. I had plenty of time to shoot the pre-concert scenes. Alex and I were bummed that we missed our photo opportunity but we settled in and had a few drinks. They didn’t do any screening at least at the VIP entrance so I probably could have snuck in my Olympus Pen with a pancake lens… oh well. I challenged myself to do good photography with my humble point and shoot.

The performances were great and the music was loud. My ears rang slightly even with earplugs. As expected, Flo Rida was wilder than Cobra Starship. Towards the end little skirmishes broke out, nothing serious — the men had to calm the testosterone pumped women down. I don’t go to concerts often. And while Flo Rida wouldn’t be my first pick, I had a memorable time with some amazing access. I was 3 rows from the stage.

Corba Starship #1 - Austin, Texas

Corba Starship #1 – Austin, Texas

Corba Starship #2 - Austin, Texas

Corba Starship #2 – Austin, Texas/h3>

Photographically, it was a challenge. How do I take good quality photos with my Panasonic ZR1 and iPhone? It would been amazing to have my EP-3 and 25mm f1.4 but, of course, that would be too easy. The photos with the ZR1 were better than expected. During Cobra Starship, I shot at ISO 400 and had less keepers because of motion blur. During Flo Rida, I upped to ISO 800 and occasionally 1600. ISO 800 was decent, better than I expected and the keeper rate went way up. I can view them on a 27″ screen and not cringe at the quality. ISO 1600 is nasty. I won’t use it but perhaps a non-picky non-photographer, may find them acceptable.

Flo Rida #2 - Austin, Texas

Flo Rida #2 – Austin, Texas

I got surprisingly nice photos from the iPhone 4s but many have motion blur because the phone automatically picks the exposure. If any of my readers know of an iPhone App that can control aperture and ISO, please let me know since the default App can’t do this. The iPhone’s main advantage over the Panasonic is the f2.4 lens compared to the ZR1′s disappointing f3.3. But the point and shoot’s strengths includes a bigger sensor, an optical zoom and optical image stabilization. Its biggest advantage however is the manual controls over exposure compensation, aperture and ISO.

Flo Rida #2 - Austin, Texas

Flo Rida #3 – Austin, Texas (iPhone 4s)

I shot primarily video on the iPhone since motion blur is less of a factor. And I’m amazed by what this phone can do. While it may not be the equipment of choice for serious videographers, it does a fine job in capturing the experience. I mentioned that I had an amazing up close experience at the concert. Here is the clip that gives you a feel. It may not be the highest technical quality but it leaves me with a wonderful memory of the event. It looks a bit like a frat party and it took me back to my youth.


At the concert we ran into Jake, another photographer friend and his wife Ashli. Jake kiddingly blames me for his conversion over to his Olympus OM-D. Thank you to him and his wife for driving us back to our cars so that we didn’t have to endure the train ride back north. Also thank you to both Alex Suarezes for enabling my access to a concert that I won’t soon forget.

Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.


Moving beyond portraits at the Texas Photo Festival

Rusted Eye - Smithville, Texas

Rusted Eye – Smithville, Texas

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, last month, I headed east to Smithville to attend the Texas Photo Festival. It was the third time out of the last 4 years that I’ve gone. The format of the event is pretty much the same though I’ve noticed that it has become more popular over the years. This year, there was a hefty crowed of photographers shooting in a confined space in and around Main Street. The event was interesting and weird at the same time. There were sets setup with models and props along the street and the adjoining park where people could shoot, primarily portraits. The thing is, the event was now so popular that many of the sets were overflowing with weekend photographers encircling the subjects. It was difficult to get a clean portrait without getting loads of distracting photographers in the background. It has become an amusement park for photographers.

A novice photographer can have a great time going out to the Texas Photo Festival. The thing is, I guess after the 3rd time, I was ready to move on and do other things. Taking portraits in the mid day light, surrounded by lots of people, was no longer appealing. And perhaps, over the years, I have grown as a photographer or at least my interest has changed. My friend Mike pretty much agreed and we decided to walk around Smithville instead, to capture bits and pieces of this old place. We shot architecture, trinkets at antique stores and the mellow decay that we found interesting.

We reserved the best light, at the end of the day, for most of our architecture. To pass the time we explored stores and found details that would not be affected by the harsh mid-day light. Smithville is a city in transition and the Chamber of Commerce is working hard to promote the place. A couple of big Hollywood movies (Hope Floats and The Tree of Life) were filmed there and these type of events (like the photo festival) draw people from Austin and Houston. Only a few blocks away from the Main Street sets, the place was calm. As a big city person, I found the hunt for visual treasure in this small place, relaxing. For part 1 of this series, I wanted to showcase the color and texture of Smithville, as seen on that warm October afternoon.

Window with Artistic Distress - Smithville, Texas

Window with Artistic Distress – Smithville, Texas

Window with Texture - Smithville, Texas

Window with Texture – Smithville, Texas

Old Lamp with Character - Smithville, Texas

Old Lamp with Character – Smithville, Texas

Mossy Curb - Smithville, Texas

Mossy Curb – Smithville, Texas

Candy Red Pickup with Flag - Smithville, Texas

Candy Red Pickup with Flag – Smithville, Texas

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 that I shot with the Olympus E-P3 and Panasonic Leica 25mm and use the << Previous Photo link to see the next page of photos.

All of the photographs on this post were shot with an Olympus E-P3 using the Panasonic Leica 25mmf1.4 lens. I brought two cameras but used just one. Nice and light and easy to carry all day with no problems.


Not your father’s school carnival food

Chicken Teriyaki #1, School Carnival - Austin, Texas

Chicken Teriyaki #1, School Carnival – Austin, Texas

Every fall, sometime near Halloween, my son’s elementary school has their fund-raising carnival. The school and the PTA put on a fun show and they raise a lot of money. This year, I was surprised by the change in menu. Sure they had the usual pizza and burgers but how does chicken teriyaki sound? Most kids still seem to like the traditional faire but the parents gravitated towards this new entrée — the colorful bowls sold quickly. The teriyaki bowls were courtesy of a restaurant called Roll On Sushi Diner. Each serving had a different look but it had the same ingredients, arranged differently. I just loved the color and the evening light was perfect so I just had to snap a few photographs. The Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 that I’ve been talking about recently did a great job.

It occurred to me that this is one of the great things about America. As the new wave of immigrants become settled and go main stream, so does their food. Until recently, sushi and teriyaki were exotic and unheard of. Now Japanese food is mainstream enough that, at least in Austin, they make it to the school carnival menu. I remember reading in Lee Iacocca’s autobiography that he was teased at school for bring a new fangled ethic food call pizza for lunch. Times sure do change.

Chicken Teriyaki #2, School Carnival - Austin, Texas

Chicken Teriyaki #2, School Carnival – Austin, Texas


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A boring but worthwhile Halloween in the burbs

Minimalist Halloween, Suburban Tract Home - Austin, Texas

Minimalist Halloween, Suburban Tract Home – Austin, Texas

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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Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4, a first look

Lucky Helps Out - Austin, Texas

Lucky Helps Out – Austin, Texas

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.

Lucky Neon and Frost Tower - Austin, Texas

Lucky Neon and Frost Tower – Austin, Texas

Random Blue Neon Circles, Lucky Lounge - Austin, Texas

Random Blue Neon Circles, Lucky Lounge – Austin, Texas

Lucky Lounge Interior - Austin, Texas

Lucky Lounge Interior – Austin, Texas

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.

Lights, Truluck's Downtown - Austin, Texas

Lights, Truluck’s Downtown – Austin, Texas

Foosball Table, Buffalo Billiards - Austin, Texas

Foosball Table, Buffalo Billiards – Austin, Texas

Cheap Drinks, Shakespeare's Pub - Austin, Texas

Cheap Drinks, Shakespeare’s Pub – Austin, Texas

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.

Busty Pirate, The Jackalope - Austin, Texas

Busty Pirate, The Jackalope – Austin, Texas

Frost Tower from 6th Street - Austin, Texas

Frost Tower from 6th Street – Austin, Texas

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.

All of the photographs on this post were shot with an Olympus E-P3 using the Panasonic Leica 25mmf1.4 lens. If you are thinking of buying this camera or lens please use these links. You will get the same low price and I’ll get a small commission, which helps support this site.


Bright Lights on a Rainy Night

Bright Lights on a Rainy Night - Austin, Texas

Bright Lights on a Rainy Night – Austin, Texas

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.


Austin Fashion Week, The Driskill Fashion Show

Fashion Show, Driskill Hotel, Austin Fashion Week

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.

Fashion Show, Driskill Hotel, Austin Fashion Week

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.

Fashion Show, Driskill Hotel, Austin Fashion Week
Fashion Show, Driskill Hotel, Austin Fashion Week

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.

Fashion Show, Driskill Hotel, Austin Fashion Week

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.

Fashion Show, Driskill Hotel, Austin Fashion Week
Fashion Show, Driskill Hotel, Austin Fashion Week

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.

Fashion Show, Driskill Hotel, Austin Fashion Week

Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure details.


Blue Clouds over Loop 360

Blue Clouds over Loop 360 - Austin, Texas

Blue Clouds over Loop 360 – Austin, Texas

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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The Panasonic ZR1 matches the Olympus E-P3

Blue and Green, Roaring Fork - Austin, Texas

Blue and Green, Roaring Fork – Austin, Texas

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.

Reflections, Roaring Fork - Austin, Texas

Reflections, Roaring Fork – Austin, Texas

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.

Green Bridge, Roaring Fork - Austin, Texas

Green Bridge, Roaring Fork – Austin, Texas

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.

Green Bridge, Roaring Fork - Austin, Texas (with a E-P3)

Green Bridge, Roaring Fork – Austin, Texas (with a E-P3)

Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.

I ordered my Panasonic ZR1 as a factory refurbished model from Adorama. I got it for $69.95. If you are thinking of buying this camera please use this link. You will get the same low price and I’ll get a small commission, which helps support this site.