What’s the first thing you do after riding 30 minutes to parade down Congress Avenue at the ROT Rally? Take a selfie of course. Or at least, use that smartphone to shoot the Texas State Capitol during blue hour.
It’s ROT Rally season again. Yes, many thousands of bikers have come to Austin to do what bikers do. I enjoy capturing the tamer aspects, via street photography, downtown. It’s my fifth year and things are about the same, every year. How do I keep it interesting?
Over the years, I’ve changed what I shoot. I started with sparkly neon bikes, when amped up with HDR, they look especially nice. It was a deliberate process, encumbered by using a tripod. More recently, I’m on a street photography kick, it’s light weight and fast.
My preferred cameras also change. It keeps things fresh and I get to play with my growing camera collection. Last year, the Fujifilm X100S was the primary with the Pentax K-01 in a small supporting role. This year, no surprise, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II gets top billing. I shot it with the Olympus 17mm which gives me about the same focal length as last year’s X100S. I also shot a few with the Pentax Q7, in black and white, which I really adore. Finally, I shot film too with a vintage Olympus Pen FT half frame camera.
I’ll do another posting when I finish the roll and eventually get it developed. But for tonight, I feature photos taken with the newest technology in the E-M5 Mark II. Yes, these photos are colorful, a bit gritty and with motion blur. They seem somewhat painterly and for me they capture the feel of the event.
This newest Olympus has some pretty special technologies. And while technology is always in service to the image and the creative goal, it’s interesting to talk about. These were all shot between 1/4 to 1/20 of a second or slower and are hand-held. Some are in-camera HDRs where the camera shoots 4 images at different shutter speeds, combines them accounting for camera shifts and people movement. The 5 axis, 5 stop image stabilization certainly helps but the sophistication behind this blows my mind. The net effect is that I get to create a different kind of image, in a way not possible before.
All the latest gadgetry is fine but I use it to explore photography. It’s also the reason I’m shooting film. Distinct technologies, old or new, create a different mix of advantages and disadvantages. New cameras create exposures too easily and I find myself pushing its boundaries. Conversely, exploring film counter balances all the new tech. Manually metering and manually focusing a 50-year-old camera pushes me in other ways. I’m really having fun challenging myself and it keeps things fresh, even if I do go to the same events year after year.
There’s a lot of neon going up on Burnet Road. I call it mid-town Austin, well within the still incomplete inner loop and north of downtown and the University of Texas. As Austin’s boom continues, the once sleepy, forgotten places have been injected with new life. New multi-story apartment buildings and restaurants highlight changes that’s been happening here for the last few years.
While still an atypical place for a photowalk, last Thursday Tony, Mike and I explored Burnet Road along with the neighboring North Lamar area. Unlike my usual Austin locations, these places challenge one’s observational powers. They are not filled with tourist destinations or obvious photography targets — visual interest needs to be pried out.
In many ways, we’ve been forced here. Despite the many years of growth and favorable press reports, Austin is not a big city. With years of exploration of the obvious Austin spots, we’re hungry for something new. We’re up for new challenges I guess.
What became evident as I shot here, was the small town, Texas underpinnings. The modest structures and visually scarring telephone poles still dominate. The successive layers of low-end development are finally giving way to more substantial structures. But unlike downtown, which is rapid transforming into a 21st century city, Burnet Road is still in its infancy.
Tony and I talked, wondering if this place will become the next SoCo (South Congress Avenue south of downtown). I’ve been to SoCo often and have talked about it here. 15 to 20 years ago, SoCo was low-end and dangerous with prostitutes and less reputable businesses. Now it’s one of Austin’s most visited and trendy neighborhoods. Burnet Road lacks the downtown access but might become a vibrant place to live — away from the crowded and super expensive downtown but with good access to night life and restaurants. Once can argue this is already happening.
And if this building trend is indeed the start of something significant, all the more reason to document its change, photographically. I’ve moved to Austin before SoCo was “In”, though I took no pictures — photography was not significant for me back then. Perhaps in 20 years, I can look at these images and wonder what happened to that small town that I saw on Burnet road back in 2015.
I finally started organizing my Hawaii photos from a few weeks ago.
As you may recall, I brought 3 cameras on my trip and here are the final picture counts. The Fujifilm X100S with 2219 shots. The Olympus E-PM2 and TG-2 came in about the same with 899 and 963, respectively. At 4081 total images, it’s noticeably less than the 6,500 photos I took in the Netherlands. And out of the 4000 or so photos, a majority are family snapshots.
I didn’t do as much “serious” photography, opting more to both document and enjoy my family vacation. But as you can imagine, I did get some alone time. My keeper rate was lower than usual, however. I was probably more distracted than usual (or less determined, photographically) and didn’t see as well as I usually do.
I’m not a morning person, which usually works fine because the city life that I photograph is more lively at night. But due to the magic of jet-lag, I was up earlier than normal. Blue hour, which I often talk about, happens in the morning too. Here is a rare, for me, blue hour photo from paradise, snapped at 5:31am.
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.
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.
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.
Click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.
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.
Please make sure to click on the photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.