A few photographer friends and I get together every so often to go on photowalks. We pick a spot in Austin and we go around as a loosely knit group to find something interesting to photograph. These photowalks are part social and part photography. We enjoy each other’s company, share ideas and take photographs for a few hours. East 6th street in downtown Austin is one of the areas we frequent. It’s the best known entertainment district in Austin with 50+ bars, clubs and restaurants in a 7 block stretch between Congress Avenue and Interstate 35. It’s a great place for street photography and capturing the color and lights at night. I must admit thought that when we go to 6th street, we tend to do more socializing than photography. Still, we have a great time and my goal is to get several good shots per night.
The Soho Lounge is currently our favorite bar on 6th street. It occupies a prime area one block from the famous Driskill Hotel. The 6th street area has a bit of a split personality. Earlier in the evening, even on the weekends, many of the bars are not very crowded. They compete vigorously for business and have lower drink prices. Later at night, when all the college kids arrive, the area is packed, they close the street to vehicular traffic and the drink prices go up. This schedule works well for us older photographers. We get there just after dinner time. We get to shoot around the area when it is not packed and have a couple of inexpensive drinks. In the last few outings, the Soho Lounge had one dollar mixed well drinks until 11pm. Perfect! A bunch of us photographers get to shoot the colorful interior and socialize before the place is packed with the younger patrons.
Recently, I’ve been experimenting more with catching reflections of light and color off of various surfaces. One of my usual photowalk friends, Tony, has certainly been an influence. You can see is work on Flickr, where he goes by the name –tradewinds•>. Though his style and mine are different, there are elements of his style that I have incorporated into my images. These light reflections are part of it. I find that bars make nice subjects since they tend to have interesting decorations and lighting. Most tend to be dark and moody which only enhances the color and reflections. Here are a smattering of images from the Soho Lounge taken on a couple of different outings.
My Thought Process
Image 1: I took this photograph at the bar just before Christmas, hence the festive lights. I loved the glow of the holiday lighting as well as the reds and blue of the bar. I made sure to catch the reflections of these lights and their colors. The Sony NEX-5 was shot directly placed on the bar without using a tripod. The lower position gave me the best reflections.
Image 2: I liked the curve of the table and again the reflections bouncing off the surface. The empty dark area between the table and the bar, I believe, nicely adds to the image. I believe I took this one with a table top tripod. When trying to catch reflections, make sure to raise or lower your camera from the reflecting surface to get the greatest effect. The best angle and height of the camera will be different with every scene. Hand holding in this low light is either difficult or degrades the photograph since you need to use a higher ISO. I like to use a small tripod so that I can take the photo at ISO 200, which is the lowest ISO on the Sony.
Image 3: I caught a really nice red, blue and yellow light reflection off a black counter at the back of the bar. I focused on the surface and reflections which left the distant lights softly out of focus. I also tried focusing on the lights and had the reflections out of focus but that version did not work as well. I’ve noticed that the best focus point varies on the scene and your taste. Try taking the photograph both ways to see which you like better. I used a small aperture to make sure I get the entire counter in focus. At this close distance, a larger aperture will focus on a very shallow depth of field and I would have missed part of the counter’s texture. I also think the shadows and the negative space enhances this photograph.
Image 4: Finally, I included a shot from the outside of the bar. You can see the Soho Lounge sign completes with all the other bars for attention — there are a lot of bars on 6th street! I took this with a table top tripod place on the sidewalk, again to get the best quality and an interesting angle. If you follow my blog, you will noticed that I’ve used this lower vantage point quite a bit.
[Note: Click on the images for a larger version]
I took these photographs with the Sony NEX-5 in RAW with the 16mm prime lens. I minimally post processed them using Aperture 3, sharpening, brightening and increasing color saturation.
Image 1: f8, 6 secs, +1 exposure compensation, ISO 200 at 16mm
Image 2: f2.8, .5 sec, no exposure compensation, ISO 200 at 16mm
Image 3: f10, 8 secs, no exposure compensation, ISO 200 at 16mm
Image 4: f6.3, .8 sec, no exposure compensation, ISO 200 at 16mm