For people in Central Texas, you might be interested in going to the Texas Photo Festival this Sunday, October 13, 2013. It takes place in downtown Smithville, a small town about an hour east of Austin. Here is more information, if you are interested.
I’ve been there 3 times so far and it is pleasant way to spend an afternoon, especially if you like photography. It’s geared towards amateurs though there’s always the enthusiasts that bring out their big guns. There are many sets with staged Photo Ops and models to shoot. There are also seminars and tours of the town. Do you know two Hollywood movies were filmed in Smithville? “Hope Floats” and “Tree of Life”. It’s a bit like a small town carnival but with rides replaced by sets and photographers.
In addition to the official sets, there is the town itself. Smithville has some neat old buildings and I’ve enjoyed going there just to capture the small town architecture. Here are an assortment of images that I’ve taken over the years. People, buildings and details. A great way to train the eye and learn to see. I’ve shot with Canon DSLRs and Olympus Pens. I’ve done straight portraits with long lenses as well as HDRs on tripod.
I find it interesting to rediscover the cameras I used during each of my visits to the festival. My first one in 2009, I brought my Canon Rebel XT and Canon 20D. In 2010, I used my Canon 7D. I skipped a year and went back last year where I used my Olympus E-P3 with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4. My ancient HDRs were shot on the modest 8MP Rebel XT with the 18-55mm kit zoom. As always, hover over the photographs with mouse to see what camera and lens I used.
I haven’t decided if I’m going this year. I’ve covered the event from different perspectives, with different cameras and different techniques. I’ll have to find something that will entice me to get out there again for the 4th time. I always seem to have new cameras which does change, somewhat, what and how I shoot. But, the equipment is ultimately a secondary consideration. The most important thing, of course, is the ideas and creativity behind the image.
Forcing myself to see new things in the same place has both challenged and improved my photography, I believe. Perhaps then, I should go again for some mental (photography) exercise.
iPad Mini in coach – At 30,000 feet
On the ongoing quest to lighten my technology load, I’ve experimented with different technologies. Camera wise, you know I’ve embraced mirrorless cameras. My main travel cameras are the Olympus Pens which together with the smaller lenses, make it much lighter than DSLRs. But my post processing and blogging platform weights a lot too.
On my Cancun trip, I experimented with the iPad Mini as my post processing machine. I also did some rudimentary blogging too. While it’s possible, I found some deficiencies that I’m working to reduce.
The Maxell Airstash works great but I wanted to speed up the download process. I got the iPad lightning SD Card reader which improved speeds about 65%. It takes about 3 seconds instead of 8 seconds to download to the iPad.
I also got a bluetooth keyboard that improved the typing experience tremendously. The built-in touch keyboard works great for little bits of text but for longer blog posts, a physical keyboard is the way to go. And even if this keyboard is small (it doubles as a screen cover) it works better than expected.
The Logitech keyboard also makes selecting and copy and pasting text a whole lot easier — which was one of the more frustrating parts of linking to my photographs.
So I sit here in the now familiar cramped coach class, writing blog entries. You can see how small the setup is. The passenger in front can fully recline and I can type unimpeded. I’ve also used this setup in the car (as a passenger) and at restaurants. It’s becoming a really useful writing platform.
I now use Evernote to write my posts. This free cloud based system automatically syncs my documents across all my devices, my Mac, the iPhone and iPad. I can start writing on one and continue on another.
A great window view – at 30,000 feet
I’m marveling at technology as I enjoy a great window view at 30,000 feet. I guess with a WiFi enabled plane, I can even post directly from here. The creative blogging has made the time pass quickly. The 3 hour flight is nearly over as I fly into Washington DC. I’m out-of-town for several days. I brought my Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 + wide-angle and Canon G15 on this trip. I’m travelling really light.
Beach Tools, On the Beach – Cancun, Mexico
I’m running an experiment on my vacation in Cancun. As I mentioned last week, I decided to forgo bringing my 15″ MacBook Pro and use an iPad Mini instead to backup my photos. I’m also using my iPad to post process photos and create this blog post.
I’m using an Airstash to both write photos to the iPad from SD cards and to copy photos from the iPad to SD cards. You can see the black and green drive in the photograph.
The Airstash, made by Maxell, allows me to insert a SD card on one end and it has a USB connector on the other, which charges it. There is a file server and WiFi built into this thing which allows iOS devices to read and write to SD cards, via a free App.
I alternate SD card downloads from my 3 cameras into the 64 GB iPad Mini. It had about 41GB free. I religiously make 3 copies of photos both at home and in the field. The iPad down load creates the 2nd copy since I’m not erasing the originally taken photos. I make the 3rd copy by using the Airstash to write photos from the iPad into a different set of SD cards dedicated for backup.
The system works fine but there are downsides. The two limitations are time and space. First, since the Airstash uses WiFi, it’s much slower than direct USB connections. A 15MB file takes about 10 seconds to download to the iPad and 15 seconds to upload to a SD card.
Storage space is also a factor — the iPad’s available space is key. The way I’m using this system, I’m limited to 41GB of photos. I delete any obvious non-keepers to save space. After a bit of management, it looks like I’m going to have enough space to backup my week of vacation photos.
The experiment has been fun in a low stress environment. For anyone with an adequately big iPad, this is probably a decent solution. If you only need to make one extra backup instead do two, it gets a lot easier. I would consider using Apple’s Camera Connection Kit. It should work a lot faster since it connects directly into the lightning connector instead of WiFi. You can not use it to write photos to SD cards however. That is the main advantage of the Airstash.
Palm Trees, Cancun Airport – Cancun, Mexico
I made it safely and quickly to Cancun, Mexico on Saturday. My previous tropical paradise was Hawaii, which takes a good 10 hours or more to get to from Austin. A two and a half hour direct flight and another hour or so and I was sucking down Margaritas on the beach. As an added bonus, no jet lag. Cancun is in the central time zone too, just like Austin. What’s not to like.
I took the photo above at the Cancun Airport, a clean and modern airport, and more importantly it has palm trees. Nothing says vacation and relaxation to me than swaying palm trees and blue skies. I shot the photo in RAW on the Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm lens and wide-angle adapter. I post processed it in iPhoto on the iPad Mini.
It’s Monday as I write this entry. I’m on a tour bus coming back for the ancient Mayan complex called Chichen Itza, it’s famous for a huge pyramid among a multitude of other ruins. I’ll upload this post later whenever I have time, most likely on Tuesday.
WiFi at the hotel is fair but I have to admit that I haven’t been online much. I’ve oped to spend time of the beach with the boys and suck down a few Mojitos and Margaritas. The Olympus TG-2 water proof camera has worked well except for one big scare. I’ll go into that another time.
The back up system has worked well so far, keeping up with all my shots as I back them up to the iPad Mini. I’ll try to get more reports out this week, if I feel inspired.
I’ve given a lot of thought to what I’m bringing on this trip to Cancun, Mexico. I’m going to do some technology experiments in addition to photography so it’s making the gear selection even more challenging. I’m spending some quality time with the family and taking loads of photographs, of course, but for the first time in a while, I’m not taking my computer.
I use a 15″ MacBook Pro as my main computer. I take it with me on trips, certainly for work, but also on vacations so I have somewhere to back up my photographs and do some blogging. This time, I’m trying an experiment by not bringing it. Between the computer, the power adapter and cables, I save nearly 7 pounds of weight. Ironically, while I’ve downsized the cameras by going mirrorless, the backend post-processing infrastructure has remained the same.
My long-term goal is the continue to slim down the computer and the backup mechanisms so that I can travel as lightly as possible. This trip is the first step in figuring all this out. I will certainly blog about what I’m doing and how well it works, just in case you want to do the same.
Originally, I was going to bring only two cameras. I’m taking the Olympus TG-2, of course, that I mentioned yesterday. This is my new waterproof camera and I’m going to use by the pool and beachside — it should be a carefree way to take photos, in a harsh environment. My high quality camera is going to be the Olympus E-PM2. I’ll have the Panasonic 14mm f2.5 lens plus wide-angle adapter for my urban landscapes. I’m also bringing the Olympus 14 – 42 kit lens for versatility and the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 for low light situations.
After a test packing, I decided to add the Olympus E-P3 too. I wanted to have a back up high quality camera, and these Olympus cameras are so small, I can easily find space for another. The E-PM2 and E-P3 share the same batteries so I need only one charger. The E-PM2 will be for wide-angles and the E-P3 will have the 20mm attached. This way, I also minimize changing lenses.
The iPad Mini is going to be the post-processing computer. I’m going to use it to backup photos was well as do image processing and even some blogging — if it all works out. I bought this gadget that I think will make it all possible. I’ve done some tests and things look doable. But, I’m worried. I take a lot of photos and I’m concerned that this infrastructure, while good for an average number of photos, would collapse under the volume that I shoot.
After much thought, I’ve decided to hedge my bets. I got permission from my wife to take her lightweight MacBook Air. It still weighs about 3 pounds but I save half the weight compared to my 15″ MacBook Pro. I’m still going to use the iPad Mini as the primary device — run the experiment as planned — the Air is there just in case. After all, it’s counter productive to stress about the technology during a vacation.
So I’m taking bold steps to reduce the weight, but with a backup plan. I’m curious if it will work. Regardless, at least I’ll have more to talk about on the blog. And if the WiFi works in Cancun, I might post even some updates along the way. See you soon.
Click on the photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure detail.
Happy New Year!
I hope y’all had a wonderful holiday season. I got back from my big East Coast trip several days ago. I needed a few days to recuperate from my vacation, which sounds strange but I’m sure you know what I mean. After a whirlwind 4 city, 6 state tour with my family, I needed some time to unwind. I’m happy to report that everything went off without a hitch after an initial worry due to a flight delay in Austin. We made our connection in DFW with 10 minutes to spare and a bit of good luck since our next plane to Richmond was delayed a few minutes too.
So where did we go? The photographs on this post reveal the answer — they are from our 4 major destinations. After we landed in Richmond, Virginia it was a quick one hour drive to Williamsburg. We stayed there two nights. Despite living on the East Coast for a while, I never visited that place before. I was quite familiar with the 3 other places. We stayed in Washington DC for 4 nights, Philadelphia for 2 nights and New York City for 4 nights.
First and foremost, this was a family trip so I made sure we did family fun activities but I did manage to take a bunch of photographs, both for my blogs as well as family snapshots. In fact, I got my latest camera, the Olympus E-PM2 with this trip in mind. After 4000+ photographs with the E-PM2, I know the ins and out of this camera quite well. For the most part, it worked well. There were, however, a few things that didn’t work as well as expected. I will do a full E-PM2 review soon.
Over the next few weeks and months, I’m sure I’ll post a bunch of photos from this trip. There is a lot of architecture and urban landscapes, of course, as well as some street photography in New York. If this was a pure photography oriented trip, I could have easily shot for 2 weeks or more at each place. Instead, I squeezed in shots as we travelled between museums, activities and the 4 cities.
Click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.
This is part 6 of an ongoing post about my trip to India and Singapore. The previous post is
The train to Agra, India – comfort, beauty and poverty.
When we last left off in India, I had just arrived at the Agra Cantt Station after a 2 hour trip on the Shatabdi Express Train from New Delhi. Train travel seems a bit old-fashioned, especially in the United States but it is a fantastic way to travel. For shorter trips under 3 hours, you usually get to your destination faster than on a plane. You also get to see the countryside and you don't have all the security screening hassles that makes plane travel less pleasant. On these long haul trains, it seems like a more civilized way to travel. I also like train stations. Unlike airports where you are many layers aways from the plane, at the station you get to see and feel the emotions of arrival and departure. You can greet people as they get off the train. You can see their faces through the window as the train departs. There is more of a human connection.
I’ve travelled to Japan recently and took the train extensively. And while the trains in Japan are newer and more sleek, the human emotions in and around the train station are the same as in India. There is a bustle of activity as the train arrives. There are vendors selling food on the platforms and there are restaurants where people can eat and wait. The drama of life unfolds in front of you and it is a fantastic place to take photographs.
I arrived in Agra, still early in the morning, after only a couple of hours sleep. I wasn’t in my fully warmed up street photography mode but I managed to capture some images of the place. I could have easily spent an hour here just shooting but I needed to meet my tour guide for my quick but location packed tour of Agra. My favorite scene, the red and blacked uniformed porters unloading suit cases. I didn’t see porters like this on the bullet trains in Japan. Perhaps the Japanese people took shorter trips or packed lighter but I didn’t see the piles of luggage like I saw at Agra. These porters remind me of old black and white movies I’ve seen, filmed before the advent of commercial airline travel; the golden age of train travel in the U.S. where well dressed men and women travelled in style through grand Beaux Arts stations. Those days are long gone in the U.S. but for a moment, my mind made a cognitive connection to this scene at Agra station.
Soon as I got off the train, the food carts attracted my attention; these colorful and worn carts that sell all matter of foodstuffs for travelers. In India, I feel like there are so many more micro businesses where people trying to eke out a living in this crowded country. The carts look home-grown and unique. They don’t have the corporate conformity and the chain store look that you see in Japan or in America. The well used and different makes for more exciting photos, I think, compared to new and similar. On the second cart I spotted some wonderfully rich colored fruit and had to take a closeup. They had that exotic feel that looked different. And different is what I seek in travel photography. The light was great and I got a rich colored still life. I didn’t know what this fruit was called but I asked a friend who said it’s RasBhari.
Within a few minutes, the bags were unloaded, the arriving passengers dispersed and the train was loading a new set of travelers . I didn’t see my Agra tour guide in the shuffle so I was off to look for a man with a sign with my name on it. it was 8:30 in the morning and I was about to start an action packed day in Agra.
This post is part 6 of my travels to India and Singapore, Start from the beginning at, Quite possibly a trip of a lifetime and part 5, The train to Agra, India – comfort, beauty and poverty. Continue the story with part 7 Agra by car, a big part of the fun.
Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure details.
See more images from India on mostlyfotos, my one photograph per day photo blog.
This is part 5 of an ongoing post about my trip to India and Singapore. The previous post is Street shooting in Karol Bagh market, Delhi, India
After a night of not too restful sleep, I was up at 4:45am to get ready for my train ride to Agra. I only got a few hours of sleep on the flight between Austin and New Delhi, hoping that I’ll be tired enough to get a good night’s sleep. I went to bed at 10:30pm, quickly fell asleep and woke up promptly at 12:30am. Curse jet lag. For the next 3 – 4 hours, tossed and turned and only got a few winks. I had a couple of issues with my hotel room too. First, when I woke up at 12:30, the room was pitch black. I was in a daze but I could have sworn I left the light on in the bathroom so that I can navigate. I stumble around and attempted to flick on more lights, but nothing seemed to work. Maybe the hotel is trying to save power? Maybe the power would kick on later in the morning? Then I remembered that I needed to charge all my camera batteries for my big sightseeing trip. Also, what if the power didn’t come back on early enough? After all, I had to take my shower at about 5am and it would be challenging to wash myself in a dark room. I decided a trip to the front desk was a necessity. Luckily the hallway lights were on so it wasn’t a building wide power failure. On the ground floor, just next to the elevator, there was an unidentified lump in a dark corner that surprised me. It was one of the hotel staff taking a nap on the floor; definitely something that I have not experienced at a hotel in the U.S.
The attendant at the front desk looked groggy but awake. My questions regarding the lack of power seem to confuse him; but I did confirm that the power is supposed to be on all night; so it wasn’t a power savings ploy by the hotel. After a check by the hotel staff, the issue was narrowed down to a blown fuse in my room. Problem solved. I was back to charging my camera batteries. I tossed and turned, relaxed, read a book but I was generally unsuccessful getting any kind of meaningful sleep. And of course, the more you stress about trying to get sleep, the less you end up sleeping. 4:30 rolled around and I decided to take a shower but after 10 minutes of running the water, it refused to get warm. That’s strange, I got plenty of hot water earlier that night; I had taken a shower before I went street shooting in the market. I decided only to wash my hair, with cold water, which certainly got me going and fully alert.
The driver and guide arrived promptly at 5:30. In, what seemed like a 15 – 20 minute ride, I was at the New Delhi train station. Despite the early hour, the place was bustling with people, cars and all kinds of goods being transported. The beauty of having a guide is that they bring you right to the train and your exact reserved seat. I’ve read in guide books that you should allow up to an hour to find the correct train at New Delhi station. That’s because the signage is not too good and the darn place is quite big. The books suggest to listen to the audio announcements rather than trying to decipher the information screens. I felt lucky that I had an expert guild that whisked me through the chaos to the correct platform. We were there in plenty of time and before the 6:15 Shatabdi Express train to Agra arrived.
I had 1st class air-conditioned reserved seats on the Shatabdi Express Train to Agra. The travel agency told me that this is fastest way to get to Agra, a mere 2 hours from New Delhi. And I needed all the time savings that I can muster, I was scheduled to visit 3 locations in Agra and wanted to maximize my touring time before I take the 8:30pm express train back to New Delhi. A quick, one day trip to Agra was all I had time for. The express train was unimpressive by Western standards; its not the French TGV or the Japanese bullet train but it was clean and roomy. The dated decor was neither modern or old enough to be retro or cool. Most of the other passengers seem to be tourists and the occasional well to do Indians, like the couple that sat behind me. The couple lived in the United States and the husband worked in the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley; they were back in India for some sightseeing. At about $20 per one way trip to Agra, the 1st class Shatabdi Express is a nice way to travel that won’t break the bank for most Western travelers. I’m sure, however, that the ticket price is a luxury or beyond the means for many of the Indians, hence this section of the train seemed to be, more or less, dedicated for tourists.
There was a flurry of activity in the 15 minutes before departure. Porters carried heavy bags for what looked like American or British visitors. The Indian Railways staff first passed out 1 liter bottles of water and followed with newspapers in English and Hindi. The train left on time and it wasn’t long until we the cityscape gradually turned into the country. The sun was coming up and I was on the left side of the train, next to the window, which perfectly positioned me for sunrise photography. Shooting out the train was more difficult than I imagined. Initially, the light was dim so I had to have a higher ISO and larger aperture. However, even under better light, I kept the ISO high to increase my shutter speed and to have a deeper depth of field, Shooting into the sunrise, while beautiful also creates more challenges. The dynamic range is so wide, between the glowing clouds and the dark ground, that inevitably you end up with bright spots or shadows that are darker than you like them to be. I did my best to balance these factors and created a few misty and hazy sunrise photographs. Between the expressive clouds, and ground hugging fog these were some beautifully serene landscapes. I liked how the trees that dotted the landscape added another dimension to images
As beautiful as the landscape was, there was a another, more haunting scene, that would breakup the idyllic countryside. In little settlements and villages along the tracks, you see people sifting through the litter that was tossed out the windows. There was a wide swath of junk that is thrown out of the local trains, which have open windows, especially near the train stations. I saw maybe a hundred people walking along the track and searching through the garbage. I can only assume they were looking for bits of food that may have been tossed out. I guess any discussion and observation of India will not be complete without talking about poverty. I saw a small bit of that in the Karol Bagh market but certainly not on the scale I saw out the window of this train. And no doubt there are other places that are far worse. This was a gentle yet striking reminder that I live a privileged life in a privileged country.
During the 2 hour trip to the Agra Cantt train station, we passed though several stations and stopped at a few more. These were great photo opportunities for catching people when the train was slowing down or stopped. The ones below are some of the more interesting ones that I captured. The second image, with the colorful clothing and the luggage on top of the woman’s head, really gives an exotic feel. I would love to spend time just doing street photography at these stations. There were so many interesting people and with such different customs.
Finally, when I wasn’t shooting the photographs, I was enjoying the food service inside the train. First, we got some hot coffee or tea with cookies and biscuits. Then we got a cold breakfast with cereal and bread. I especially enjoyed that brown bread wrapped in the unassuming paper wrapper. The corn flakes were similar to the U.S. but I was not used to eating them with hot, sweet milk, which was served from steaming metal containers. I assumed the breakfast was complete but then there was yet another course, a hot entree. There appeared to be a choice of entrees but people who did not speak Hindi where just handed a container. My aluminum container had a spicy vegetable cutlet that really tasted good. Now, my perception might be clouded by expectation but I could swear that his food tasted better than the food I got in Business Class on American Airlines. Maybe I was expecting something fantastic on Business Class, which I didn’t get. And I wasn’t expecting any food on this train and I ended up with a nice two course meal. Either way, hats off to Indian Railways. They exceeded my expectations for a comfortable and enjoyable trip. I complimented the staff on the great tasting cutlet and I think he understood my happiness. He gave me another aluminum container of the same vegetable cutlet. Now that’s service. When was the last time you got extra food on the airplane? Of course, when was the last time you wanted extra airline food?
The train pulled into the Agra station on time and my real adventure for the day was just beginning. The two-hour trip was just a warmup and generally a pleasurable one. I was treated to great service, a fast and comfortable trip, tasty food and a beautiful sunrise. Of course, I got a small dose of reality in India. Seeing the poverty outside my window is certainly an eye-opening experience. One that I certainly have not seen in my limited travels to other countries. It is something that needs to be seen, however. The poverty is something that I wish more people in the developed world would see. Even if it’s just a small glimpse into a very tough world that I can not begin to imagine.
This post is part 5 of my travels to India and Singapore, Start from the beginning at, Quite possibly a trip of a lifetime and part 4, Street shooting in Karol Bagh market, Delhi, India.. Continue the story with part 6, Loving the train station bustle in Agra, India.
I took these photographs with my Olympus E-PL1 with the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7 and Olympus 45mm f1.8 lenses. Please make sure to click on a photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.
See more images from India on mostlyfotos, my one photograph per day photo blog.