Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography


Haiku Photo: The Counter Santana Row

The counter at The Counter, Santana Row - San Jose, California

Fancy burgers served
The counter at The Counter
So Cal’s chain moves north

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In search of a little character in Silicon Valley

At the bar, Duke of Edinburgh - Cupertino, California

At the bar, Duke of Edinburgh – Cupertino, California

Silicon Valley, the center of all things tech, is not a very exciting place. At least photographically. It’s a bedroom community with suburban tract homes separated by high-tech industrial parks. There are exceptions. Palo Alto has a charming downtown. San Jose, while not as vibrant as Austin, has some worthwhile spots. That’s why, whenever I’m in the Bay Area, I go to San Francisco. I guess, arguably, San Francisco has more than enough character for the entire area.

I wasn’t up for driving to San Francisco tonight and a chain restaurant experience, wasn’t going to cut it. The Duke of Edinburgh, an English pub in Cupertino, sounded like a good compromise. The “Duke” is not a fancy place and by area standards, it’s downright worn down. It was perfect.

The crowd was lively but well-mannered. The sum total of conversations made for a comfortable murmur which feels good when you are all alone on a business trip. The only semi-district conversations can be heard immediately next doors. To my right a gentleman with a British accent. To the left, a couple of Japanese tourists.

It felt wrong not ordering a Scotch or an Ale. I wasn’t up for a beer — too heavy. And I haven’t developed a taste for Scotch. So, with a bit of guilt I ordered a Vodka Tonic, or two — my usual. I found out that I like Tito’s, a local Austin Vodka, more than Grey Goose, the fancy version from France.

There can be a certain antiseptic quality to digital photography, at least from a film shooter’s perspective. Digital can be too clean and exact. The lower resolution and the grainy texture of film has more character. In the same way, the Duke of Edinburgh was my analog experience, tonight. A little worn and textured with a good helping of character.

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

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Three campuses, three presentations and my university impressions

Abraham Lincoln, University of Wisconsin - Madison, Wisconsin

Abraham Lincoln, University of Wisconsin – Madison, Wisconsin

When we took a trip up north recently, during winter break, it was to look at college campuses. We went to Madison to see the University of Wisconsin and in Chicago we visited the University of Chicago and Northwestern University. It was instructive to see them within days of each other — each were unique and had different perspectives.

Up top is Bascom Hall with Abe Lincoln proudly overlooking the hill in the heart of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. UW is a top-notch state school with a nice, clean and organized campus which integrates well with the City of Madison and is located between two substantial lakes. It looks like a great place to live, though it can get brutally cold in the winter.

Student Union Auditorium, University of Wisconsin - Madison, Wisconsin

The school gave a comprehensive presentation which answered all my questions — it was my favorite out of the three. The new student union is beautiful and the facilities looked well equipped. My boys and I came away liking the school and the city as well. There’s enough buildings that it felt like a city but it also had a friendly, small town feel. I think the proximity of the campus to the downtown is a real plus.

University of Chicago Campus - Chicago, Illinois
Classroom, University of Chicago - Chicago, Illinois

Located south of downtown, University of Chicago had the most impressive campus, architecturally. The central square had a real old world feel, kind of what you’d expect from Oxford or Cambridge in England or the Ivy League universities on the east coast. Unfortunately, the neighborhood is not that great. The immediate area, Hyde Park, is residential and decent enough but it’s surrounded by less desirable areas. It had the feeling of an oasis in the middle of a tough neighborhood.

Presentation wise, it was the most disorganized. We met in a relatively small admissions office and then were taken to an impressive but old Chemistry lecture hall. There the presenter talked about the school in a sometimes hard to hear manner. There were no audio / visual aids and the presenter couldn’t answer a basic question like, “How much does the school cost?”. Perhaps if you have to ask, you don’t belong there?

It seemed like the school wasn’t trying too hard to entice students. And it probably didn’t have to either. The school has a fine reputation and with less than a 10% acceptance rate, they probably attract all the great students they need. Overall, I found them stodgy and it seemed like they took themselves too seriously. The tour guide, however, was very passionate and clearly loved the school.

Visitor's Center, Northwestern University - Evanston, Illinois
Auditorium, Northwestern University - Evanston, Illinois

Located just north of Chicago in the City of Evanston, Northwestern is located on the shores of Lake Michigan. They’re older than UChicago but they seem to lack a large number of old buildings with gravitas. They did have architecturally dynamic, modern buildings, however. The visitors center was particularly nice with both the waiting area and presentation room facing the lake.

The presentation was complete and well done with the expected Powerpoint slides. I think the UW Madison presentation was the best, but Northwestern did a good job of conveying their strengths. Academically, Northwestern is on par with UChicago, though in some rankings, UChicago is a bit more selective.

What I found interesting is how different the two Chicago schools were from each other. While UChicago seems to stress tradition with an old world feel, Northwestern felt young and perhaps even hip. Marketing wise, Northwestern was significantly more impressive than their academic competition to the south.

Out of the three, my son likes UW Madison the most. And while this excellent state school is not ranked quite at the same level as the two private schools in Chicago, they seem to offer a well-rounded university experience. University of Wisconsin’s proximity to Madison is what my son and I particularly like.

All three schools are very expensive, however. The two private schools runs about $65,000 per year. University of Wisconsin is still expensive, for out-of-state residents, at $45,000 per year. With Texas state schools running about $20,000 per year, I wonder if these schools are worth 2x or 3x the cost?

The jury is still out. My son is still a junior so he still has time to look around.

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I took all photos with a Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with the Olympus 9-18mm f4-5.6 lens. If you enjoyed this post, please support me by buying my products through Amazon or Precision Camera, you get the same price and I get a small commission.

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The Wisconsin State Capitol

Wisconsin State Capitol and Statue - Madison, Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Capitol and Statue – Madison, Wisconsin

It’s natural for me to compare the Texas State Capitol with the one in Wisconsin. I’ve lived in Austin for 25 years and I’ve photographed my state capitol often (though I don’t post many images of it). On my recent trip to Madison, I was looking forward to shooting another dramatic building.

At an Angle, Wisconsin State Capitol - Madison, Wisconsin

Nothing says “important government building” than ornate flourishes and a giant dome. The Wisconsin Capitol does not disappoint. Unlike the tall but skinny Texas dome, I think the Wisconsin’s is more full-figured and substantial. The capitol is set in the center of Madison, on a giant city square, that affords the building 8 angles, 4 corners and 4 sides. Each view is subtly different and it took me shooting several angles until I realized its overall architectural design.

Walkway to the Wisconsin State Capitol - Madison, Wisconsin

I think HDR worked particularly well to capture the soft glow of the dome as well as the surrounding grounds. The increased dynamic range helps in these cases. As usual, I shot this on tripod at ISO 200. I used the Olympus 9-18mm wide-angle.

I’m glad I took these exterior photos on the first night. Subsequently the weather only became more foggy but at least it was uncharacteristically warm.

Christmas Tree, Wisconsin State Capitol - Madison, Wisconsin
Dome Interior, Wisconsin State Capitol - Madison, Wisconsin

During the second day, after the tour of the University of Wisconsin, my boys and I viewed the interior. It’s a very impressive structure, one that I can spend hours inside. Because I was there with two impatient boys, I opted for some quick handheld snaps. Because the Olympus E-M5 Mark II’s impressive image stabilization, I was able to make decent photos at least, without a tripod.

Hallway and Skylight, Wisconsin State Capitol - Madison, Wisconsin

Comparing the Texas Capitol with the one in Wisconsin might be asking for trouble, but I must admit that I was more impressed with the one up north. Not to say our Austin Capitol is not nice, it is. However, both buildings are superior, in my opinion, to the California and Virgina capitols.

Reflection, Wisconsin State Capitol - Madison, Wisconsin

Finally, to create a slightly uncharacteristic image, I shot this. I liked the capitol’s reflection and the modern counterpoint to the old. The dome, like an apparition.

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I took all photos with a Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with the Olympus 9-18mm f4-5.6 lens. If you enjoyed this post, please support me by buying my products through Amazon or Precision Camera, you get the same price and I get a small commission.

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Happy 2016

Clark Street Bridge - Chicago, Illinois

Clark Street Bridge – Chicago, Illinois

Happy New Year! May you have a great 2016.

As is typical for this time of year, I wanted to take stock of what I did in 2015 and my plans for 2016.

Looking back at my plan for 2015, the results were mixed. On the plus side, I travelled a lot less for business and had time to settle down. The big achievement was getting the backyard in order, which took a lot more effort than I imagined. 2015 was the year I reinvested in the house, stepping up the maintenance and the general upkeep. I also got rid of the unneeded cruft in the garage.

Where I utterly failed was in conquering GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). In 2014, I bought 10 cameras, as I officially started collecting cameras. I was hoping to buy less gear in 2015, but to my surprise, but probably not to yours, I continued at the same pace.

It turned out that I also bought 10 cameras in 2015. 5 digital and 5 film. My film cameras were inexpensive averaging $47 each. I got some fancier digital cameras which averaged to a more significant $469. All told, that comes out to $2580 dollars spent on cameras. Not a trivial amount of money but not bad considering how expensive the hot full frame digital cameras are these days.

I am happy with my gear acquisitions, however. And I got a good to great deal on all of my purchases. Believe it or not, 2015 is the first time I bought anything on eBay. That greatly expanded my pool of interesting and inexpensive cameras. Amazingly, only two cameras were purchased new. The rest were used or refurbished in fine condition.

For 2016, I really think I’m going to buy less equipment. Let’s see if I can do it. I now have a large collection of interesting and some noteworthy cameras. I’m hoping to start cataloging them on this blog. I have elaborate plans in my head but I’m daunted by the work required to do it.

I shot film last year and need to post more about it. However, I’ve been trending towards digital again. I did get a feel for film and why I like it and I’m working my digital processes to incorporate some of that analog feel. I expect that I will shoot more film in 2016, but at a slower pace.

There are still tons of things to organize both photographically was well other stuff in the house. It seems like a never-ending battle to fight entropy and maintain a semblance of order. I will continue to work on this for 2016. This includes organizing my film negatives as well as my digital albums. There’s always more organization I can do with this blog, of course. Finally, I want to create more photo books to curate the best images into a more permanent collection.

Looks like another action packed year. Thank you for your continued visits.

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