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.
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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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The corner of Milton Street and South Congress Avenue transforms itself into a magical place at a certain time of the day. It is one of my favorite spots to shoot and take in the atmosphere. On this corner, a silvery airstream sells cupcakes and a musician serenades the customers. When the sun sets and the sky turns a deep blue, for a few minutes the combination of warm lights, silvery reflections and the friendly Austin people make for really neat place to photograph.
I’ve shot here many times before, aways trying to time my image captures around the blue hour. I love those bare light bulbs, in series that adorns this small patch of ground. I frequently talk about the contrast between the blue and the man-made warm lights, the glow and reflections that can found at the right angles. All of these elements come together here when you time it right. And though the cup cakes may be tasty and the people friendly all the time, these magical images can only be made minutes after sunset.
I’ve talked about my recent South Congress photowalk several times in my recent postings (here, here and here) but the focus of this photowalk was the blue hour. And for the blue hour, I decide to shoot it here on this corner. The blue hour, in Central Texas, only lasts for at most, 15 minutes. About 10 minutes after sunset, the sky starts turning a vibrant blue and continues to darken as the minutes tick by. At some point after 15 minutes, the sky is more black than blue and you realize that another blue hour has slipped away. For this reason, you really don’t have the luxury to move around and photograph many things during this time. It helps to have an idea or place in mind and be ready before the color turns. But the blueness of the sky depend on the direction you face; it does not evenly turn to black. Shoot towards the west and you can eke out some great color for a bit longer.
I used my 14mm Panasonic Lumix lens for all but one. I also used the wide-angle adapter that attaches to 14mm for many of the images too. The EXIF data does not show the use of the wide-angle so I’m not a 100% sure on which images I used the adapter. You’ll think that it would be easy to distinguish between a 22mm equivalent and a 28mm but I seem to find it a challenge. I shot a bunch of images of the guitar player and this one that seem a bit soft but nicely dreamy. I used the 45mm f1.8 shot at 1/30 second at ISO 800 for this shot. Not the ideal conditions hand-held but I was happy I created a moody image.
Finally the last two images shows the scene toward the end of blue hour. You can tell because the electric blue has been replaced by a deeper, mature blue. The total elapsed time between the first and last image, 8 minutes. The peak color only lasts for a few minutes and I was facing east so the sky color darkened quicker. After this, I was off shooting other things, and no longer using the sky as a key element. I find that in most cases, a black sky is not nearly as interesting. Once this magical time passes, I change my subjects and concentrate of other things or I go to dinner like I did that night. Part of the group already headed to Wahoo’s for some fish tacos. I was going to meet them too but only after I squeeze the most out of my favorite blue hour.
Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure details.