Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography

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Shooting the neon of Beale Street, a point and shoot vs micro 4/3

Beale Street Neon - Memphis, Tennessee

Beale Street Neon – Memphis, Tennessee


Like Austin, Memphis has a reputation for great music and a healthy nightlife. Beale Street is where the action is, downtown, with loads of bars, restaurants and live music joints. It’s equivalent to Austin’s 6th Street but with so much more. Not only is it more famous, it’s cleaner and more family friendly. But what really enticed me was the plethora of neon.

I’m a sucker for neon. The colors are wonderful, of course, and when combined with old buildings with texture, at night, it’s a recipe that’s hard to resist. It’s a visual feast for someone who loves to shoot the city. That’s one of the reasons I brought my Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II, the neon along with my plan of shooting the fireworks during the 4th of July. I knew the higher performance and low light capability of the camera would be better suited than a point and shoot with a small sensor. While I’ve shot successfully with the Panasonic ZS50, I knew it wasn’t well suited for the night.

Beale Street Neon - Memphis, Tennessee

As expected, the Olympus, with a fairly large micro 4/3 sensor, did a fine job. Coupled with the 12-40mm Pro zoom with a constant f2.8 aperture, scenes like these are easy to capture, especially with the help of a capable in-body image stabilization.

Beale Street Neon - Memphis, Tennessee

But, on a lark, I put the Panasonic ZS50 to the test and the results surprised me. Under the Scene mode, a “Handheld Night Shot” option did a remarkably good job. The camera shoots a burst of photos and combines them in-camera to create a single clean image. When coupled with the ZS50’s also excellent image stabilization, it’s hard to believe what a small sensor camera can achieve these days.

Is the Olympus OM-D superior in image quality? Absolutely. But for a small, carry anywhere point and shoot that’s 7x less expensive, the Panasonic did a remarkable job. Computer technology has remarkably augmented a smaller sensor to give very usable results, even in tough low light conditions.

Here’s more neon from Beale Street. Not sure which camera I used? Hover over the photograph with a mouse to see the exposure details.

Beale Street Neon - Memphis, Tennessees
Beale Street Neon - Memphis, Tennessee
Beale Street Neon - Memphis, Tennessees
Beale Street Neon - Memphis, Tennessees
Beale Street Neon - Memphis, Tennessee

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Photo Sketchbook: Rum Boogie Cafe Reflection

Rum Boogie Cafe Reflections - Memphis, Tennessee


Reflections can be fun, especially when they’re in unexpected places and with interesting details. This is the backside of the Rum Boogie Cafe, located on the famous Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. Beale Street is known for nightlife, music, bars and restaurants, the kind of place that I love shooting, particularly at night.

Shot hand-held at 1/4 of a second with the Panasonic ZS50 as part of my ongoing Photo Sketchbook series.

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Photo Sketchbook: Grain Silos at 65mph

Grain Silos from Car - Interstate 30, Arkansas


Found somewhere in the middle of Arkansas along Interstate 30 — even as a city person, I recognize these structures as a grain silos. I snapped this one, along with a lot of surrounding negative space, which nicely isolates that subject. Shot at 50mm with the Panasonic ZS50, my Photo Sketchbook, while my son drove from Hot Springs, Arkansas to Memphis, Tennessee.

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Fireworks over the Mississippi

Fireworks over the Mississippi - Memphis, Tennessee

Fireworks over the Mississippi – Memphis, Tennessee


Back during this year’s 4th of July weekend, I had just started my four state college tour with my son. We needed to be in Memphis by July 5th for the first college visit, so I did some planning to optimize my photography experience. After all, even though I’m doing my parental duties to look at institutions of higher learning, there’s no reason I can’t combine that with some photographic fun.

Memphis seemed like an interesting place on a number of levels. It’s a city with rich nightlife and there was a fireworks show over the Mississippi river, for the 4th. While I missed the opportunity to take more fireworks photos from the 360 Bridge in Austin this year, I figured a change in venue might be instructional as well as logistically necessary.

I brought my compact tripod, my wide-angle Olympus lens, the 9-18mm, and my Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II as my primary tools. I scouted several possibilities in an alien city without much context. Where do they shoot the fireworks? How far does it go up? I made educated guesses and composed to get a surrounding view of Memphis, while trying to estimate the size and position of the pyrotechnic explosions.

I made multiple exposures with varying shutter speeds and slightly tweaked framing. The result — satisfied. I captured several decent explosions but settled on this one. Though, I do admit this photo has been enhanced, composited and otherwise optimized. I combined 3 images to create this — both to get a better foreground, as well as adding more fireworks for a more impressive showing. All in the name of art, of course, as well as recording a memorable evening in a new city, far away from home.

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Up close and portrait, details of Hot Springs, Arkansas

Quapaw Baths Detail - Hot Springs, Arkansas

Quapaw Baths Detail – Hot Springs, Arkansas


Over the years, as I moved to digital, the orientation of my photographs have shifted. Back in the film days, I had a healthy mix of photos in both the portrait and landscape orientation. But the horizontally oriented computer screens have had an undue pull on my images. Now, a vast majority are oriented in landscape, better filling monitors.

I’m trying to break free from my hardening conventions and with my recent experimentation with my Photo Sketchbook, I’m trying different things. I’m making an effort to shoot vertically again. And for some reason, this portrait orientation seems to have more of an artistic feel, especially for subjects like architecture. Perhaps the atypical orientation introduces a bit more abstractness to the images.

I shot these in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Details from the wonderful 100-year-old restored bathhouses that form the centerpiece of Hot Springs National Park. I zoomed in close, closer than I usually do, to isolate details and simplify the composition.

They are not true abstracts of course, but I think they have a certain artistic feel. Different, for sure, than my typical wide-angles in a landscape orientation. I took all photographs with the Panasonic ZS50 travel zoom.

Fordyce Baths Detail - Hot Springs, Arkansas
Buckstaff Baths Detail - Hot Springs, Arkansas
Fordyce Baths Detail - Hot Springs, Arkansas
Quapaw Baths Detail - Hot Springs, Arkansas

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