Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography

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My 26 megapixel full frame camera that I got for $75

Tesla Showroom Glows - Austin, Texas

Tesla Showroom Glows – Austin, Texas

I noticed this beauty in the used camera case at Precision Camera. The tiny and odd Rollei 35 is the smallest all mechanical camera when introduced back in 1966. Yes, it’s a camera but unlike any I’ve ever used. No computer, no exposure meter, vague focusing and no battery required. It’s as far away from digital that you can get while still being a full-fledged camera.

Actually, you can use a battery to power a primitive exposure meter but I opted to go fully mechanical and use the camera without power. For a computer oriented digital photography guy like me, this thing is totally bizarre. If it weren’t for the precise mechanicals and well made metal box, it could pass for a pre-Columbian archeological relic, at least in my book. I was fascinated that I can simply turn the dials and, if I got the settings correct, actually create a high quality photograph.

Interesting Suburban Architecture - Austin, Texas

The magic happens via chemistry, of course, and when the film is developed. The Rollei is merely a light-proof box with an aperture setting and a shutter mechanism that keeps the hole open for a pre-determined time. When you boil it down to that, photography seems so simple, especially compared to the sophisticated electronics that are required for the modern equivalents.

Colorful Cranes - Austin, Texas
Downtown and More Construction - Austin, Texas

I had no idea if this camera worked — I knew the film counter didn’t — but at $75 I was giving it a try. Worst case, it would become another mechanical jewel that would be added to my collection of film classics from a bygone era. As you can see from these images, the Rollei 35 worked and worked marvelously.

Runners on the Pedestrian Bridge - Austin, Texas
Residential City Rising - Austin, Texas

People familiar with the way I shoot, like my fried Mike Connell, would be amused. In the digital realm, I shoot fast and I shoot often. With this contraption, I meter manually with an iPhone, adjust the aperture and shutter knobs and estimate distance so that I can approximate focus. Yup, not even a rangefinder to tell you if it’s focused right. I know there’s a little bit of irony that I use a super sophisticated pocket computer to figure out exposure. You’ll have to forgive me. My skill at judging exposure is currently below rudimentary.

Lamar Bridge Silhouette - Austin, Texas

All of the photographs on this page (except for the last one) were shot with the Rollei 35 with a new roll of Kodak Ektar 100. I got it developed and scanned at ultra high-res last week at Precision Camera. Precision has several scanning levels and the ultra high-res gives me 26 megapixels of digital goodness. I don’t get any prints made. I go from film development to digital in one convenient step through Precision’s service. While Ektar 100 is a colorful film, I enhanced it further using digital post processing in Aperture 3.

Building Boom of 2014 - Austin, Texas

Scans are a digital capture of an analog process and I think the results look different from pure digital. It’s hard for me to put it into words but I think there is a richer and mellower look. Digital is crisper but more clinical. I must say that I’m liking the color a lot.

Texas State Capitol at Dusk - Austin, Texas

Most of all, I’m happy and amazed that all the photographs came out. Somehow, it makes me feel like a real photographer. Beyond the primitive mechanical limitations, with a maximum aperture of f3.5 on this 40mm lens with slow ISO 100 film, I need a lot of light unless I break out the tripod.

So what does this mechanical wonder look like? Here is a snap I took recently at the Apple Store. Posted on Instagram, I call it “Old and New Cameras. The Rollei 35 (1966) and the Apple iPhone 6 Plus (2014)”.

Old and New Cameras. The Rollei 35 (1966) and the Apple iPhone 6 Plus (2014)

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I took all the photographs (except for the last one) with the Rollei 35 loaded with Kodak Ektar 100. The negative was recently scanned to digital and I post processed it in Aperture 3.

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


Opening the 4 year old time capsule

Skyline by the dog park - Austin, Texas

Skyline by the dog park – Austin, Texas

I mentioned in my previous post that I’m going to experiment with film. I’m intrigued by the analog color which seems quite different from digital. I’m starting by unlocking a 4 year time capsule.

I have a Canon EOS Rebel T2 film camera which I bought for $40, with kit lens, when Wolf Camera was going out of business a number of years ago. This may very well be the last film SLR Canon released. What’s cool about this camera is that it’s fully compatible with all my Canon EOS lenses that I use on my modern, digital Canon 6D. So the Rebel T2 is perfect for my exploration of film.

I dug out the old camera and popped in a battery and noticed that I had a few frames left from an old roll. Best I can remember, I loaded this with some cheap Fujifim Superia 400 film about 4 years ago. I had no idea what was on it. I shot a few snaps and brought it into Precision Camera for film developing and an ultra high-res scan.

Apparently it’s a thing to actually shoot with expired film. If you do I recommend that you greatly overexpose, my newly shot photos came out dark and exceptionally grainy. From what I found out, film loses its light sensitivity as it grows old. But the images I captured 4 years ago look interesting in an artistic way. Increased grain with random color splotches but exposures looked decent.

The image above is my favorite. The tall building under construction is the Austonian that has long been completed. The two other cranes mark the beginnings of the W Hotel and the Four Season’s Residences. That was the last boom. Today in 2014, Austin is going through yet another one, even larger than the one four years ago.

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I took the photograph with a Canon Rebel T2 film SLR. The 4 year old negative was developed a few weeks ago, scanned to digital and I post processed it in Aperture 3.

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


Recent photography projects and an unexpected influence

Green Fields - Maui, Hawaii

Green Fields – Maui, Hawaii

I’ve been busy with a few photography related projects and it’s cut into to my blogging time. I’m hoping to resume regular posts soon. I have a lot to talk about.

I gave a HDR lecture last Thursday that took a good deal of prep time. Not just creating the slides but the mental energy thinking of what to say and all the angst associated with public speaking. I’m happy to report that it went well and several people had complimentary things to say. We had a larger than normal turnout and a healthy 15 folks continued the discussion over a late dinner and drinks. It was a good time.

Surprisingly, a few thought I was a veteran public speaker but this isn’t so. It’s the first time I’ve talked in front of an audience for nearly 2 hours. I’ve been in front of a small group for a few minutes during business presentations at work, but that’s about it. My biggest observation? Between the 2 hour live talk and the 1 hour practice at home, my throat was sore. The larynx is made partially of muscle after all and I have never stressed it so. I suppose, like any muscle, with practice it will get stronger.

HDR is a good topic for me, I guess. After more than 4 years of practice, I should know it cold. I’m glad it’s over though — it frees up time for other things. I’m thinking of how I can deliver this HDR content through the blog. A few followers suggested that I tape the lecture but I wasn’t ready to take on that challenge. Time is always a constraint but I’m thinking of covering the content through a series of blog posts. Let me know if that interests you. Your feedback may determine how motivated I become.

Puffy Cloud Stuck on a Mountain - Maui, Hawaii

On to my other projects.

I’m working on getting my film negatives scanned to digital. The highest priority was the first 2 years of my older son’s life. I shot film with a point and shoot until 2002. Those scans are finished and I’m going backwards in time through my wedding and pre-wedding photos.

Quite unexpectedly, the scanning project has really altered my perspective on film. I was never a serious photographer until digital, so despite being 50 years old, I’ve never truly experienced film. I have no nostalgia for it, in fact, and I generally despised it. The smaller 3 1/2 by 5 inch prints never looked that great and it was always a crap shoot of how well a photograph came out. I merely took snap shots with a fully automatic point and shoot to document key life events.

As recently as four years ago, I first got my son’s newborn pictures scanned. They didn’t look great and it just reinforced my already negative view of film. But something changed.

My recent scans are different. The colors look better and the resolution, higher. Scanning technology has improved as well as my post processing skills. I started to unlock color and details that I never knew existed in my humble negatives. Keep in mind that I used inexpensive consumer grade film with a modest point and shoot. And these negatives are 15 years old or older. Who would’ve thought?

So because of the film scanning project, I’m taking a fresh look at film. I’ve started down that road and I’ll talk more about it in upcoming posts. Yes, film is grainy and it has many disadvantages compared to digital but I love the color — It’s a very different feel. Like many parents in Central Texas, I have photos of my baby sitting in a field of Bluebonnets, Texas’ official flower. My boy was wearing a bright red shirt, surrounded by blueish-purple flowers and green grass. The colors are awesome. I’ve never seen colors like this coming out of my digital cameras. I’m curious what fresh film in a better camera with my photography skills can do.

Film maybe old news to some of you, please excuse the diversion. I just have to see what it can do, to satisfy my curiosity. It’s a brave new retro world, at least for me. The two photos above are scans of Maui shot from helicopter 17 years ago, during my honeymoon. I post processed the negative scans to bring out more color.

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I took all the photographs with a film point and shoot 17 years ago. The negative was recently scanned to digital and I post processed it in Aperture 3.

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


The advantage of night-time HDRs: Just after the rain in Breda, Netherlands

Restaurants around the Grote Church - Breda, Netherlands

Restaurants around the Grote Church – Breda, Netherlands

NOTE: I will be giving a free lecture on HDR this coming Thursday (September 25th) in Austin. I will discuss how I process my realistic HDRs and I will show you how I created the photographs on this post. Click here for the time and directions to the event.

Continuing with the night-time urban landscapes in Breda, here are some I created with my Olympus E-PM2. Unlike the photographs I posted previously, which I shot during a rain storm, I shot these on tripod and used my realistic HDR technique. Luckily a break in the rain allowed me shoot without fumbling with an umbrella.

The streets dried quickly so I didn’t get the same level of shine but the HDR allowed me to increase texture and dynamic range. And with the 22mm field of view, it gives a different kind of look from the 35mm on the Fujifilm X100S.

It’s interesting to contrast the two types of photography, the free form X100S shots vs. the more carefully composed HDR images on tripod. I enjoy both for different reasons. I like the unencumbered freedom of photographing without a tripod. It helps me to see and catch quick compositions from different angles. I put up with the tripod, hopefully, to improve image quality. The HDR processing allows me to increase dynamic range and boost color. And perhaps the tripod helps create more precise compositions.

Empty Seats at Cafe Sam Sam - Breda, Netherlands

Reds can be weak on digital and I complain about that on my Fuji X100S. The Olympus does a better job and with HDR processing and layer blending, I added extra richness to the red neon. I find that HDR works great for capturing neon which can easily blowout unless you greatly underexpose a single exposure image.

Chanel Woman Watches - Breda, Netherlands

I made several different compositions to get the woman’s face to reflect in the puddle — to add foreground interest. Whenever shooting with a wide-angle, it’s especially important to have something interesting up close. And if you have things in the mid-ground and background, it leads the viewer’s eye deep into the frame.

Well Proportioned Street - Breda, Netherlands
Well Proportioned Street - Breda, Netherlands (black and white)

Here’s my favorite street again, which I shot several times during the day and night. The color version looks good enough, though I got some funky colored lens flare. I think there is something more compelling about the black and white, which looks more mysterious plus It also de-emphasizes the flare.

Koningin Wilhelmina Paviljoen - Breda, Netherlands

I’ve featured this building before, though the wide-angle adds the beautiful cobblestone texture in the foreground. I find it so well proportioned and the golden color beckoned me to shoot it against the blue hour sky. This is good example of how a HDR image can add a pop in color and shine compared to a single exposure (here it is shot with the Fuji).

Mysterious blending of old and new - Breda, Netherlands

I love the contrast of old and new. Both structures are well proportioned and complement each other. The curved roof adds that extra something that attracted my attention. I wanted a lot of shadows to add moodiness. HDR processing tends to remove shadows, which can be a mistake so I tweak my images to embrace shadows when I think appropriate.

Shopping District and the Grote Church - Breda, Netherlands

Finally I close with one of many shopping streets that lead to the Grote Church. The HDR actually helps a lot here. The church is no longer a dim structure in the distance, like you see here, when shot with the Fuji, which I underexposed not to lose detail in the store interiors. The HDR processing allows me to maintain detail in the interiors as well as the facades. The increase in dynamic range makes HDR worth pursuing at times, even if it means shooting with a tripod.

I hope you will agree that HDR can be a useful tool in your arsenal. Not as an end in itself but used for specific purposes. HDR doesn’t have to be an over processed mess that gives the technique a bad name.

Reminder: If you want to see how I processed these photos. Come see my talk this Thursday.

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I took the photographs with the Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 lens and the Panasonic wide-angle adapter.

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


Rainy Breda Nights: Extra sparkle and more reflections

Cyclist on Rain Soaked Streets - Breda, Netherlands

Cyclist on Rain Soaked Streets – Breda, Netherlands

When I last talked about Breda, over 2 months ago, I showcased urban night photography. This time, a slight variation. Although its only been 4 months since my business trip to the Netherlands, I almost forgot how much it rained over there. In today’s post, see how a little water can add magic to night photography.

When I was in Breda, I didn’t particularly appreciate the rain but it did add an extra sparkle to these night-time photos. I ventured through the historic core, umbrella in hand, to capture some shimmer. It required more effort after a long day’s work but I think it was worth it. Look at these glorious reflections.

Koningin Wilhelmina Paviljoen - Breda, Netherlands

Right next to Breda Castle, I caught this nicely proportioned building between rain showers. It was blue hour too, which contrasts wonderfully against the orange lights.

Nighttime Shimmer - Breda, Netherlands

I’ve featured this street before, during the day. I love the proportions here between the street, buildings and trees, plus the gentle curve at end. You don’t often see these details in the U.S., especially without the clutter of cars.

Purple reflection, Fly-N-HY Coffee Shop - Bread, Netherlands

As you may know, they don’t sell coffee in Dutch Coffee Shops. If you don’t get my drift, look at the name of the establishment. I don’t drink coffee or smoke so I didn’t go. I’m much happier capturing the neon reflections instead.

Lonely and Wet Cafe - Breda, Netherlands

As you imagine, the outdoor cafes were underutilized. But surprisingly, on drier nights, they are crowded late into the night, even on weekdays.

A shiny shopping street - Breda, Netherlands

I end with one the main shopping streets with the Grote Church standing dimly at the end. The smooth cut stone and the store lights create such beautiful reflections.

I shot these photos with Fujifilm X100S which did an admirable job, I think. To prevent over exposure on the light and reflections, I dialed in -1/3 to -2/3 stop of exposure compensation on most of these photos. I also shot HDRs with my Olympus E-PM2 which will give a different look. I’ll post those in the future so you can compare.

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I took all the photographs with the Fujifilm X100S in JPEG and post processed with Aperture 3.

If you find these posts interesting, please consider using my affiliate links for any future purchases.
Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.