Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography

Posts tagged “Driskill Hotel

Christmas at the Driskill

2013 Driskill Christmas Tree #1 - Austin, Texas

2013 Driskill Christmas Tree – Austin, Texas


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.

2013 Driskill Christmas Tree #2 - Austin, Texas
2013 Driskill Christmas Tree #3 - Austin, Texas

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.

2013 Gingerbread Driskill - Austin, Texas
Driskill Concierge Desk - Austin, Texas

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.

2013 Driskill Christmas Tree #4 - Austin, Texas

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.

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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.

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



The Driskill Bar, a cozy, holiday filled corner

2012 Driskill Christmas Tree - Austin, Texas

Cozy and Festive Corner, Driskill Bar – Austin, Texas

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.

Photograph taken with my new Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 lens.

Click on the photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure detail.


2012 Driskill Hotel Christmas Tree

2012 Driskill Christmas Tree - Austin, Texas

2012 Driskill Christmas Tree – Austin, Texas

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.

Photograph taken with my new Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 lens with a wide-angle adapter.

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


Austin Fashion Week, The Driskill Fashion Show

Fashion Show, Driskill Hotel, Austin Fashion Week

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.

Fashion Show, Driskill Hotel, Austin Fashion Week

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.

Fashion Show, Driskill Hotel, Austin Fashion Week
Fashion Show, Driskill Hotel, Austin Fashion Week

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.

Fashion Show, Driskill Hotel, Austin Fashion Week

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.

Fashion Show, Driskill Hotel, Austin Fashion Week
Fashion Show, Driskill Hotel, Austin Fashion Week

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.

Fashion Show, Driskill Hotel, Austin Fashion Week

Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure details.


Austin Fashion Week, behind the scenes

Behind the Scenes at Austin Fashion Week

Behind the Scenes at Austin Fashion Week, Driskill Hotel – Austin, Texas

I’ve posted a bunch of entries this year from Austin Fashion week. All the events that I blogged about were free, open to the public and held at local salons. It was good fun and a great way to practice my portrait taking skills. For the first time, with the help of the fine folks at AZIZ Salon, I gained access to a major Fashion Week Event. It was held at the fancy and historic Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin. Unlike the Salon events, this one costs $60 to attend. In exchange for access, I shot the event for AZIZ.

Behind the Scenes at Austin Fashion Week

I was granted special access to the back room where I shot behind the scenes photographs. This was where the models were being “prepped” for the big show and where AZIZ Salon did the hair styling. I was probably there for about 30 minutes and had a blast shooting the models during their transformation. It almost felt like street photography and I shot it in that style and even turned the images into a classic black and white.

Behind the Scenes at Austin Fashion Week

I also got access to shoot the runway show. There was a small 10 foot by 8 foot raised platform, at the end of the runway, where all the media people were positioned. I was one of about a dozen people packed on that stage. There were still shooters from news organizations and video cameras from the local TV news crews. Everyone was very respectful even friendly as we shared this small area. I’ll talk more about the runway portion in another post. Today I wanted to showcase the behind the scenes photographs. A big thanks to Kellye King for getting me into this event. She directs Public Relations for AZIZ and is responsible for much of the marketing and event production.

Behind the Scenes at Austin Fashion Week

Like my other Fashion Week events, I used my Canon 7D. I had 3 lenses, my 70-200mm f4 IS, the 35mm f2.0 and the 85mm f1.8. I brought the 35mm specifically to use behind the scenes. I briefly considered bringing my 50mm instead but decided that the 35 will work better in tighter spaces. I think I made the right call. I also considered using a bounce flash but the ceilings in the ball room where really high and painted yellow. A bounce flash didn’t work well and the yellow color cast created by the light bouncing off the ceiling was a bit nasty. I decided to use the 35mm with a big aperture and a higher ISO and no flash.

Behind the Scenes at Austin Fashion Week

Shooting the back room was fun. I found it quick and easy. Sort of like a combination of street photography with a bit of event photography thrown in. I purposely wanted that unposed photo-journalist look, catching the models and the stylists in action. Ideally, I would blend into the background so that my subjects would not realize that they were being photographed. For the most part I succeeded or they just ignored me, which worked out great. While I used the 7D, I think my Olympus E-P3 with the 20mm f1.7 would have worked just as well. I didn’t want to bring a lot of equipment so I decided to stick with just the Canon for that night.

Behind the Scenes at Austin Fashion Week

I culled my favorites down to about 50 images. The actions shots of the hair and makeup were important but I really liked catching the models in their relaxed state. Some sat there zoned out, others were lost in their music. I posted a small sample here but you can see more behind the scenes photographs at AZIZ Salon’s Facebook Page.

Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure details.

Update 9/10/2012: Here is a montage of photos taken at the event. It’s not a complete collection but it gives a nice flavor of the type of images I created.

Behind the Scenes at Austin Fashion Week


Olympus 45mm f1.8 Lens Test at the Driskill

2011 Driskill Christmas Tree Details #1

2011 Driskill Christmas Tree Details #1 – Austin, Texas

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.

2011 Driskill Christmas Tree and Glass Dome

2011 Driskill Christmas Tree and Glass Dome – Austin, Texas

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.

2011 Driskill Christmas Tree Details #2

2011 Driskill Christmas Tree Details #2

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.

2011 Driskill Christmas Tree Details #3

22011 Driskill Christmas Tree Details #3

2011 Driskill Christmas Tree Details #4

2011 Driskill Christmas Tree Details #4

And finally, here is an closeup of the entire tree in portrait orientation.

2011 Driskill Christmas Tree Portrait

2011 Driskill Christmas Tree Portrait


Three Christmas Trees for the Holiday Season

Christmas Tree, Hotel del Coronado

Christmas Tree, Hotel del Coronado – Coronado, California

Christmas Tree, LAX American Airlines Terminal

Christmas Tree, LAX American Airlines Terminal – Los Angeles, California

2011 Driskill Christmas Tree

2011 Christmas Tree, Driskill Hotel – Austin, Texas


I wanted to celebrate the holiday season with not one but 3 beautiful Christmas trees. Two of the photos I took a year ago and was waiting for the perfect time to talk about them. The other one has become a tradition. While the fans of mostlyfotos have seen these images over the last few days, I thought this mini-series of Christmas trees will make for an interesting, longer post. Each photo has a back story and a set of decisions about why I used a particular technique or piece of equipment. While the photographs are linked by a common theme, their origins and motivations can be entirely different.

The first one is my favorite. I photographed it a year ago in Coronado, California at the Hotel del Coronado during a winter, family vacation to Southern California. This year, as I sit peacefully at home, with no traveling required, I get to reminisce about the story behind the photograph. As my family settled down in the hotel room in San Diego, I took the short trip over the bridge to Coronado, an upscale community on the other side of San Diego Bay. While most of my photography during this trip was to capture the family moments at Disneyland and other tourist attractions, I also brought my larger, more serious gear for some personal photography. So with my Canon 7D and tripod in tow, I found my way to the large, grand Victorian Hotel hoping to capture some holiday decorations. Mission accomplished! I shot several angles with multiple exposures, so that I could later post-process them using some HDR (High Dynamic Range) goodness. Fast forward to a couple of days ago, and after doing some HDR processing, I decided to go with a single exposure. My HDR processing has always been fairly light and I didn’t see much benefit of HDR in this image. I actually preferred using the middle exposure of my 3 exposure bracket. I like this image the most because of the environment that surrounds the tree. All of the trees in this post are beautiful but this one has the advantage of having some old world, richly ornate wood that surrounds the centerpiece. I love the glow of the lights reflecting off the wood work and the bit of shadows that add mystery to the scene. I think typical HDRs would over-brighten the scene, losing the shadows. The mystery and romance of the image would be lost. When I post-process the image to maintain the shadows, the resulting HDR didn’t look very different from a straight, single exposure. More and more, as I continue my journey in photography, I realize the power of shadows.

Image two was taken at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in the American Airlines wing. I took it on the way back from the same family vacation I talked about previously. I had some time to kill before our flight back to Austin, nothing better than some photography, right? Unlike the relatively quiet, dark and old-world feel of the first image, this one feels modern, commercial and busy. I feel hesitant to break open a tripod in a busy place like an airport but I did my best to stay away from the main isles of traffic. Architecture again plays a major role in this tree image. This time I wanted a symmetrical composition between the archways. I placed the tripod low to the ground to capture the reflection off the floor and show the circular skylight above. I also purposely positioned the camera so the black floor pattern would be in the center of the frame and direct the eye to the tree. I used my Canon 7D and with the same super-wide Sigma 10-20mm lens that I used for my Coronado shot. In fact, this Sigma now stays on the camera most of the time. It is my go to lens for wide-angle interior and urban landscapes. I would have preferred to have fewer people in the frame, but this just was not possible. After shooting several long exposures, this one seemed the best. Unlike the first image, I did not plan a HDR for my LAX Christmas tree, just a long exposure to blur out the traffic.

The last image has become sort of a tradition over the last several years. This is the third year in the row that I shot the Christmas Tree at the Driskill Hotel. The Driskill is the grand old hotel in Austin. Because of the positioning of the pillars, I inevitably shoot the tree from the same position every year. You can see the previous two photos in the post I did last year called The Driskill Christmas Tree, One Year Apart. The tree of course looks different from year to year. One year it seems to be skinny. The next year it seems to put on more weight. This year seems to be a bit slender than last year’s. The image processing and composition also changes somewhat from year to year. I used my Sony NEX-5 again, the same as last year, with my 16mm f2.8. It was shot with a small tripod, very close to the floor, in an attempt to capture the sparkling floor reflections. This year’s image is a bit brighter and since I didn’t use HDR I lost a bit of detail from the stained glass. The white balance was tweaked to be a bit less orange than the 2010 version but still retain the warmth. The Driskill is a magnificent hotel but the darkness and shadows of the Coronado hotel lobby really brings out the tree for me. I would certainly love to take yearly photographs at the Hotel del Coronado but alas I think time and budge will make this more challenging. The quick trip to downtown Austin is certainly more accessible and I maybe taking a visit to the Driskill again next year.

Thank you to the readers of this blog for your visit. I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and happy and safe holiday season.


The Driskill Christmas Tree, One Year Apart

2010 Driskill Christmas Tree

2010 Driskill Christmas Tree – Austin, Texas

2009 Driskill Christmas Tree

2009 Driskill Christmas Tree – Austin, Texas


As I took at looked at my 2010 Driskill Hotel Christmas Tree photograph, I noticed how different it looked from last year’s image. They were both taken at the same hotel and from roughly the same area but they have a different feel for several different reasons. First, the tree itself is shaped very differently, this year’s is a lot wider then last year’s slender tree. The ornaments and decorations are also very different. I didn’t realize that the Driskill Christmas trees are so different from year to year, which is great because it encourages me to take photograph of the tree again next year. Photographically, the two were taken with different framing and a different white balance. What may not be obvious is that last year’s image was a HDR while this year was a straight forward, single RAW image. In addition, I believe I used my Canon 20D last year while I’ve used my latest camera, the Sony NEX-5 for this year’s image.

Beyond the equipment, processing and the differences in the tree, there are other more esoteric differences. These images which are separated by about a year represents another year of my photographic exploration. I’ve been changing and hopefully growing in my photography — some of the differences you see in these photos may reflect these photographic changes. I know that more recently, my exposures tend to be darker than a year ago. I also believe I am more aware of the effects of light and shadow. While the image from last year is more uniform in brightness across the entire frame, this year there is more shadows and variation in light. A year ago, I concentrated more on creating HDR images, while now, HDR has become just one of many tools to create my photographs. HDR is still important, though it no longer takes center stage.

I like both images. Which one do you like better?

Either way, I would like to wish my blog readers a Merry Christmas. Its been less than a half-year since I’ve started this blog, but it has been fun and educational for me. I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog and possibly even gotten some ideas for your photography. I have some more ideas for upcoming posts so I hope you will come back and visit again.

Thank you. Happy Holidays.