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.
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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.
In this final posting about 2012 Austin Fashion Week, I’m going to share scenes from the catwalk at the Driskill Hotel. I got a special opportunity this year to shoot at one of the “serious” fashion show venues thanks to Kellye King from AZIZ Salon. While it’s not New York, Milan or Paris, the event still had a feeling of a big production. Certainly on a different scale from the shows that I’ve gone to at local Salons.
Unlike the photos from Austin Fashion Week, behind the scenes, where I shot with my 35mm f2.0 prime lens in a documentary style, the fashion show photos were taken with my 70-200mm f4 zoom lens. In a nod to the Wizard of Oz, the black and white of the behind the scenes gives way to glorious color as the transformed models take the stage.
My friend Steve Wampler, who has a lot more experience at these things gave me some pointers. He mentioned that the lighting was adequate at f4 so I decided to use my 70-200 zoom lens for maximum flexibility. I also brought my 85mm f1.8 prime lens but found that it did not work as well. Even with the bigger aperture, I preferred a deeper depth of field and the image stabilization of my zoom. Something I didn’t realize is that there is a standard look to shooting these catwalk fashion shows. Steve mentioned that you usually don’t want to cut off any part of the model and you ideally want the model’s back leg to be lifted. And he is right. When I look through the fashion shots from the New York Times, for example, most of their images follow this standard look. I found that it took a bit of timing and I need more practice to get that perfect shot. I do admit though, that after an hour, just trying to capture this look got a little boring.
It makes sense to show the model from head to toe. After all, it is a fashion show, and the clothing and the shoes are the main attraction. For me though, I’m more interested in the models and I frequently found myself wanting to zoom in. Getting a half body or more of a head shot to focus more on the face and their expression. I ended up doing a mixture of both to keep it interesting. I was perched on a 8 x 10 foot platform with about a dozen media photographers and videographers at the end of the runway. And while this type of photography was not very creative, the whole experience was kind of fun. I felt like I was part of the media and I had a level of access that I usually do not get.
The hardest thing about shooting this kind of event, the weight of the camera. The entire show, including intermissions, ran about 3 hours. For a person used to using light micro 4/3 cameras these days, the Canon 7D with the 70-200mm f4 lens started getting pretty heavy as the night went on. I noticed that my shots towards the end where not framed as straight. Steve did suggest that I use a monopod which would have really helped. I didn’t bring one since I didn’t have a head that allowed my to position the camera in the portrait orientation. If I were going to do this kind of shooting with any regularity, I would definitely invest in a good monopod with an adjustable head. My shots would have been better and I would be less tired.
Between the behind the scenes and the fashion show, I had a fun night of photography. I shot both halves in a very different way which allowed me to experience more variety. If I had to choose, I liked the documentary style of shooting better. I found it to be more creative and less predictable. I is also similar to street photography which I enjoy doing. That said, being up on “stage” with the other photographers is something that I usually don’t get to do. New experiences can also be fun and keeps the whole photography thing fun and fresh.
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