Why Austin is Cool – Big Circle Tx

Big Circle Tx

Big Circle Tx at 121 Bar, Austin, TX

A couple of weeks ago, I was on a photowalk with several friends (the same night I took this image of the Congress Avenue Bridge). As we walked north on Brazos street in downtown Austin around 10:30 at night, I noticed a bar with a live music performance by an open window. Thinking that it might be a neat photo opportunity, we started to take photographs through this open window. Just then a guy came out of the bar and headed straight for us. I was expecting him to say no photographs but was pleasantly surprised. He encouraged the four of us to come inside and shoot the band.

121 Bar Mao

121 Bar Location

The 121 Bar was small but nicely sized to host the group of 5 musicians. There was a fun, lively group of people dancing and swinging to the folk-rock music. It turned out there there were several other people with cameras and some video gear recording the performance. The band that was playing is called Big Circle Tx and they sounded great. Check out their myspace page if you like to hear a sample of their music and find out more about the band. As I enjoyed the music and shot the photographs, I was thinking how cool it is to be in Austin. To actually be invited to take photographs, instead of being denied access.

I had my 50mm F1.4 lens on my camera from the street shooting I was doing just before I entered the bar. This lens has a very large maximum aperture (lens opening) so its a great lens to use in low light areas. I shot a few images and focused on the lead singer, Carol Turner. The lens allowed me to blur the other band members while I can have Carol in sharp focus. The image below is one of my favorites. The lead singer, who is the subject of my photograph, stands out since she is in sharp focus. We still get the context of the image with the out of focus band members but there is less ambiguity as to the intended subject.

Lead Singer, Carol Turner - Big Circle Tx

Lead Singer, Carol Turner

I also had my super wide-angle Sigma 10-20 lens with me, that I typically use for my urban landscapes. I wanted to get a low and wide shot of the entire band and stage with the wide-angle. I was hoping to create a dramatic image from this low vantage point. The first image on this post is an example of the image I captured with this technique. For these wide images, I put the camera on a tripod, low and close to the floor. I next thought it might be neat to do a wide-angle with some motion blur of the band during their performance. I dropped the ISO down to 800 to slow down the shutter and get the side benefit of getting a higher quality image. The image below is my favorite motion blur image shot at a slow 1/5 of a second shutter speed. It usually takes me several tries get the right amount of blur but I’m happy with the way this one came out. Motion blur shots can be interesting since, I believe, they give a nice sense of movement. Too much blur and you no longer see the subjects so you need the “right amount” as judged by the photographer to get the intended effect. The camera also needs to be on a tripod or steady surface to keep most of details in sharp focus while you have the other details with the motion blur. In this case, you can see that the stage and background are sharp but the band members have that blur effect.

Motion Blur

Big Circle Tx with Motion Blur

Finally, after enough wide-angle images, I switched back to my 50mm lens and did some closeups of the lead singer. As usually the case in these bars, the light was dim so I had to crank up the sensitivity on my camera (increased the ISO value) to get decently sharp images. Since my wide-angle does not have a large aperture, I needed to really increase the ISO setting quite high to get the images I wanted (between ISO 2500 to 3200). Once I switched back to the 50mm, I brought my ISO down to a decent 1250. I also hand held my images that I took with the 50mm lens so it allows me the free-form flexibility to move around to get the framing I liked. Tripods are nice for stability but tend to be a pain in the neck when you want to move around quickly.

Carol Turner Closeup

Close Up on Carol Turner

I was only at the bar for about 20 minutes. The band was wrapping up and I need to get home at a reasonable time on this Wednesday night photowalk. It was a great way to finish up an enjoyable photography evening. I have more photographs from Big Circle Tx in my Performances Gallery on my Portfolio. I have much larger images on my portfolio page and if you are interested, you can even purchase prints and or downloads of Big Circle Tx.

My Thought Process

Image 1: I wanted to get a nice sharp wide angle of the band and stage. I stayed low on the floor and shot upward on a tripod.

Image 2: The 50mm with a large aperture setting allowed my to do selective focus on the lead singer. I wanted to show the other band members but have them out of focus.

Image 3: I wanted to get a sense of movement so I purposely slowed down the shutter to get some motion blur. I could have slowed the shutter but decreasing the aperture size but I wanted to get a higher quality image so I lowered the ISO value instead.

Image 4: The lead singer showed some great expression during her performance. I wanted to do a closeup and hopefully get a nice energetic expression.

Image Details

The images were taken with a Canon 7D with both the Canon 50mm 1.4 and the Sigma 10-20mm. Images were taken at 18MP in RAW and JPEG.

Post processing in Apple’s Aperture 3 program included some sharpening. Also applied additional noise reduction on the RAW images using Topaz Denoise 5.0

Image 1: f4.5, 1/25 sec, -2/3 expose compensation, ISO 3200 at 11mm
Image 2: f1.4, 1/200 sec, -1/3 exposure compensation, ISO 1250 at 50mm
Image 3: f4.5, 1/5 sec, -2/3 exposure compensation, ISO 800 at 10mm
Image 4: f1.6, 1/250 sec, -2/3 exposure compensation, ISO 1250 at 50mm

5 thoughts on “Why Austin is Cool – Big Circle Tx

  1. Hi Andy,
    I am Big Circle’s tour manager and the one who asked you all to come in and shoot. Wish we had more time to talk but at the time you came in they were shooting a video,recording a live CD and making a biography about the band.

    Can’t begine to tell you how proud I am to get to work with such great artists in the best club in town every week. There is a part of the event you did not get to see and that was the Big Circle itself. Aside from the band, there are many more people involved in the group. After the show we go upstairs and artist of all sorts show up to join the circle. The band has food and fun for all so please come up and join us the next time you are in. This includes a dance troop from Alessa’s dance studios. We will be doing a joint show at the Boyd Vance theater in Nov. combining music, dance and art.

    The band ask me to thank you for taking interist in what they are trying to recreate. Look up the members of this band and you will see that they all had a big part in making Austin the live music capital we all long for.

    Really love your work and cant wait to talk to you again. You are always welcome at the 1 two 1 and I will make sure you are always on the guest list so let us buy you a drink.

    Thanks Again,
    Vincent Beall

    1. Vincent,

      Thank you for your kind words. Wow, I didn’t know the “Big Circle” part after the show. And I thought it was just the band’s name. I would love to go and see the group again. Thank you for the invite. My schedule recently changed and I have to wake up at about 6am so some of the weekday shows maybe a challenge to get to but I will certainly keep it in mind.


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