I’ve been out of sync with my holiday rituals since getting back from Japan. By the time I fully recovered from jet lag, Christmas was upon us. I realized that I didn’t shoot my usual downtown holiday photos including my yearly documentation of the Driskill Hotel Christmas tree. Even though it was after the fact, I went downtown on the 26th and created these images.
Downtown was quieter than usual, especially for a Friday. No doubt the usual revelers where taking it easy after Christmas. I had my Pentax Q7 with my 08 Wide-angle, the 01 Standard Prime and a tripod on hand for a super compact system. I headed down Congress Avenue and captured the Paramount Theater and the colorful Kruger’s Jewelers before turning on to 6th Street towards the Driskill.
You think after the 6th time, I would get bored of this, but every year the Driskill Tree changes. I shoot it differently too and with a variety of cameras. This year’s tree look skimpier then in years past. Also with construction off to the side, I shot closer than usual, which changed the angle and framing. Luckily I’m back to shooting with a super wide-angle so I got everything if frame, including the stained glass.
As long as I was on 6th Street, I wanted to further test the Pentax Q7 and create HDRs. The Soho Lounge’s blue neon is a frequent subject and with fewer people than normal, I got less of the distracting motion blur. Just enough to express motion but not enough to obliterate details.
Across the street, the most lively place seemed to be the Bat Bar, at least on the outside. A women frequently performs light twirling by the window that attracts attention. I also like the blue lights and colorful laser spots that adds to the visual interest.
Satisfied that I got what I came for, I switch to the 01 Standard Prime and shot free hand. I tested the high contrast black and whites that I often did in Japan for that dark and moody look. Tokyo is very bright at night and those black and white shots were easy to do. 6th street and many places in the U.S. are a lot darker — would the Pentax Q7 work here in America? I’ll post those images separately to see what you think.
I remembered that there was Christmas Tree in front of the Texas State Capitol so I headed back up Congress Avenue. While it’s tempting to shoot the Christmas Tree and the Capitol together from the street, I found that too much of the building is obscured. I couldn’t find a balanced composition that I liked. From the capitol grounds, however, I like this shot of the tree looking south.
Turn the other way and you get the view of the Capitol. The damp heavy air seems to give a soft glow around the lights. I think there’s a nice mood here and luckily without many people. Perhaps I should go downtown again after Christmas next year. It may be the perfect time for some quiet photography.
It’s become a tradition of sorts to shoot the Christmas Tree at the Driskill Hotel. This is the 5th year I’ve done this. Every year, I tend to shoot it from about the same place. I get subtle variations since the shape of the tree changes and my post processing has also changed. But I didn’t shoot close enough to get the details. The decorations that change every year tend to blend into a colorful texture.
This year, I decided to get closer and do multiple angles. While the cameras have changed, the technique remain the same. I shoot on tripod and with 3 exposures so that I have the option of doing HDRs. Despite the years of doing this, there are still two challenges.
First, I find it difficult to center my subject in the middle. Even with a level, which the Olympus E-PM2 does not actually have, getting the plane of the camera parallel to the subject is my biggest pain. I’m not going for perfection so I just eyeballed it. You think after all of these years, this would be easy.
The second challenge is to have patience. The Driskill is Austin’s grand old hotel and there are many tourists that pass through. Creating a photograph without people takes a lot of time and some luck. Of course the easiest way is to probably go there around 3am when nobody is around. I met my friend Mike at 9pm, which was way too early. There was a steady stream of people posing and taking pictures in front of the tree.
People would typically take their photo and proceed to have a 5 minute conversation within my field of view. Of course, I didn’t want to ruin their special holiday moment so I don’t say anything and patiently wait for a chance for 3 clean exposures. I was lucky. I got a few quick breaks that allowed me to get my shots. Mike, on the other hand, probably waited nearly 30 minutes. By 10pm, it was a lot more quiet. Note to self, go there much later next year.
Finally, for something completely different, here is a lightly toned black and white. I purposely included a couple that was admiring the tree.
I hope you have a Merry Christmas and a joyous holiday season.
As I mentioned in my post several days ago, I been shooting the main Driskill Hotel Christmas tree for four years now. But this year, I shot another one, tucked back in the corner on the other side of the hotel. It’s in the Driskill Bar right near the 7th street entrance.
The place was quite dark and I had some doubts if this would come out. I used my Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm lens on a table top tripod and put it on a cushy ottoman. I shot three photographs at 2 stops apart and use the HDR bracket option that is new to the E-PM2 — this isn’t available on the E-P3. Just to be clear, the HDR bracket feature just takes the photographs, it does not do any in-camera HDR processing.
I used my standard, subtle HDR processing technique to get it just right. I wanted the Christmas tree lights be bright and festive but still wanted to keep the moody, wood-paneled bar feeling. I’m happy with the way it came out.
I hope everyone has a great Holiday Season. I’m shutting things down here and packing up for a family vacation to the East Coast. I may have one more post coming before I go for the rest of the year.
Click on the photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure detail.
It’s become a mini-photo tradition for me to photograph the Driskill Hotel Christmas Tree — this is the fourth year. I’ve posted images of the tree from 2009 and 2010 and part of a three tree set last year. I went downtown a couple of nights ago with my friend Mike to capture this year’s tree.
While the position of the Christmas Tree remains constant, every year the shape of the tree and the decorations vary. I’ve also used different cameras and techniques over the years. In 2009, during the beginning of my HDR phase, I shot the tree as a 3 image blend with my Canon 20D with a 29mm equivalent. The 2010 and 2011 trees were simply shot with the Sony NEX-5 with 24mm equivalent lens, down low with a table top tripod. This year, I used the Olympus E-PM2 with a 22mm equivalent lens (the Panasonic 14mm f2.5 with a wide-angle adapter) with the same table top tripod.
I decided to go back to a lightly-processed HDR technique this year and blended 3 photos. It enabled me to capture the detail in the stained glass and keep the rest of the exposure bright. I also altered the white balance to more of a warm red just to change my artistic interpretation. I’ll post more Christmas decorations from the Driskill, Austin’s grandest old hotel, over the weekend.
I just download some photographs that I took earlier in the week with my new Olympus 45mm f1.8 and I was so excited by the results that I decided to do a quick blog post. In the post, Canon losing the buzz, why I’m not interested that I posted 2 weeks ago, I talked about my quandary about buying either the Olympus 45mm f.8 or the new Fujifilm X10 camera. Well, from this post, you can tell I went with the Olympus lens. I’ll go into the details of why I chose the lens over the camera in a future post but today, I wanted to show you the results I’m getting with this lens. It was the first real lens test I did outside my house in low light.
This past Wednesday, I went downtown with my friend Mike to capture some holiday images and get together for some dinner. I wanted a picture of the Driskill Hotel Christmas tree, which I’ve shot for the last several years. You can see that shot I got, along with some other noteworthy trees in my previous post, Three Christmas Trees for the Holiday Season. I used my Sony NEX-5 for that wide-angle but I also brought along my Olympus E-PL1 with the 45mm f1.8 lens to give it a workout. The results are spectacular and I’m very excited by the first real test results. The nice shallow depth of field and the fantastic bokeh (the quality of the out of focus areas) was what I was hoping for with this lens. So far, I am not disappointed.
I took a bunch more photos with this lens that night but I just wanted to show the images from the Driskill Tree in this posting. All of the images were shot at ISO 800 and wide open at f1.8.
Make sure to click on a photograph to see a larger image. Hover over the photo to see the exposure details.
A 45mm lens on a micro 4/3 camera like the Olympus has an 35mm equivalent of 90mm. You just double the focal length to get the equivalent. At 90mm, you get a fair amount of compression, which you can see above. The distances between objects are “compressed” so they appear close together than you see in reality. This is one of the reasons why a 90mm lens makes for a great portrait lens. It compresses the facial features so that you don’t have noses protruding as much.
I love this ornament. It seems so personalized for the Driskill. That’s also a picture of the Late President Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, in the background. At f1.8 and at this distance, the depth of field is quite shallow. You can even see that the entire note card is not even in complete focus, with only a slice of sharp focus in the center of the card. The lens appears to be very sharp even at its largest Aperture. Too bad my Canon prime lenses aren’t this sharp.
And finally, here is an closeup of the entire tree in portrait orientation.