Last Sunday, Trey Ratcliff of Stuck in Customs fame, organized a massive photowalk during the 2011 SXSW conference here in Austin. Trey is most famous for being an HDR photographer and has a large following. The SXSW photowalk drew over 200 people and we all got together at the famous Driskill Hotel before descending on downtown Austin. My mind was firmly locked into doing wide angle HDR photographs. So with my Sigma 10-20 lens and tripod in hand, I was ready to both help by being one of the photo coaches as well as capturing a few shots along the way. I mainly viewed this event as a way to meet and catch up with friends. Well, quite unexpectedly, a few models also showed up at the event. The problem was I didn’t have any of my typical equipment for optimally shooting models. At around 9pm, after a fun and successful photowalk and capturing a few nice urban wide-angles, I was ready to head home. A photograph friend, Jason St. Peter, came up and asked if a few of the remaining photographers wanted to do a model shoot along the bars and nightlife around 6th street. I decided to tag along, not expecting to get any good shots, but to have some fun. I tried my best with the equipment I had and was pleasantly surprised with what I captured.
A wide-angle lens is not what I usually think of using to do portraits. I like to get in close with my Canon 70-200 or get a shallow DOF with the Canon 85mm f1.8, my two go to lenses for portraits. The Sigma 10-20 works great for landscapes and urban architecture, but portraits? Also, the Sigma starts at f4, so it does not work very well in darker conditions and the lighting on 6th street at night is non-optimal. Of course having a flash, on camera or off camera would also have worked buy alas, my flash was also removed from my camera bag to lighten the load before my urban landscape photography with Trey. Well, you make do with what you have and I decided to shoot the models with the wide-angle on tripod. Super wide-angle lenses create a lot of distortion near the edges and even beautiful models can be rendered into freaks of nature, if you don’t be careful. I made sure to place the models, particularly their faces towards the center of the frame where the distortions will be reduced. I cranked up the ISO to 1600 to keep of a balance of decent quality and faster shutter speeds. The Canon 7D, which I was using, is capable of much higher ISOs but I knew I could use ISO 1600 and get nice clean shots without applying additional noise reduction in post processing. Shutter speeds varied from 1/4 second to 1/40 so a tripod definitely helped. I also told the models to hold still as much as possible.
The photographs turned out to be more interesting and better than I expected. I expected more motion blur and lower quality. The wide-angle gave an entirely different look that somehow seems to fit into this urban night scene. While I believe they are not the type of portrait photographs a model will use on a portfolio, I think it makes for a neat, alternative look that breaks out of the typical portrait feel. The ambient colors, the blue of the bar or the yellow of the outside doorway also make for some jarring colors. But for me it all seems to work. I will still use my standby portrait lenses for the serious portrait sessions but what that night has taught me is that it’s good to experiment. It’s good to hit limitations and work around them. It’s good to do something different because sometimes it opens one’s eyes to new possibilities. So maybe I will carry around that wide-angle lens on my next portrait shoot because you never know.
Click here to see all my portraits. You can also click on each of the photos to see a larger version.
After we left the Driskill Hotel, we found these bikes less than a block away. One of the bikers was more than happy to pose with Model 8 — as she likes to be called. This was shot on tripod at 1/6 of a second so I’m happy it came out as sharp as it is. Jason has a wireless flash setup but I just shot with ambient light. Next we headed to the Bat Bar a few doors down. Jason was leading the charge and he was not shy about asking permission to photograph the models on stage with the band. They seem to get into the photoshoot thing and I got some nice rocking scenes. With the band members and models moving on stage, I dropped the exposure down a stop to get the shutter up a bit to 1/40 of a second. I probably should have done that on the previous photo but did not think about it at the time.
Down 6th street a bit more and on the other side, the blue glow of the Pure Ultra Lounge beckoned us. Several of us photographers along with the models walked towards the back booths and did some shooting in the moody blue light. The night was still early and the place was still uncrowded. We moved around a bit and we also took some photographs at the glowing bar. The last location of the night was actually the first image posted at the top. As we backtracked towards the Driskill and our cars, we noticed this yellow doorway. After some shots around the doorway, we called it a night. The night was still young and the models were off to a party. I, however, headed home — satisfied — getting a bunch of urban landscapes as well as urban portraits.
My Thought Process
Image 1: I took a bunch of photos as varying distances but I like this one where I show the light on top and the models tucked away in the recess. The distortion from the super wide-angle make them look even smaller and tucked tightly in the door way. The walls look longer and more tilted which, I think, adds some drama to the image. Since the models are in the middle of the frame, they are not adversely affected by wide angle distortion.
Image 2: Again the model and biker were place in the center of the frame. The distortion makes Model 8’s long legs look even longer. However, I think her pose and the leg distortion adds some neat elements to the image. I also love the biker’s expression, he seemed to be enjoying the photo shoot.
Image 3: I had some doubts that the scene onstage would come out but I was pleasantly surprised. The models and band members were moving around and with the dark bar lighting, I figured they would all turn out to be a blurry mess. As mentioned above, I did lower the exposure 1 stop which worked well exposure wise but also doubled the shutter speed to 1/40 of second. While there were some blurry images, I took enough photos that I had a choice of several sharp photos.
Image 4 – 6 : These were all shot at the Pure Ultra Lounge. The blue light was neat but a bit spooky. Nevertheless, I think they look neat. The lighting was also very dim but here I told the models to stay steady so unlike the scene on stage, these were a bit easier to capture.
[Note: Make sure to click on the images for a larger version]
I took these photographs with the Canon 7D in RAW with the Sigma 10-20mm lens. The camera was used on a tripod for maximum stability under slow shutter conditions Minimal post-processing done with Aperture 3, mainly selective sharpening and some brightening and adding a vignette.
Image 1: f4, 1/8 sec, no exposure compensation, ISO 1600 at 10mm
Image 2: f4, 1/6 sec, no exposure compensation, ISO 1600 at 10mm
Image 3: f4, 1/40 sec, -1 exposure compensation, ISO 1600 at 10mm
Image 4: f4, 1/15 sec, -2/3 exposure compensation, ISO 1600 at 10mm
Image 5: f4, 1/4 sec, no exposure compensation, ISO 1600 at 10mm
Image 6: f4, 1/15 sec, +1/3 exposure compensation, ISO 1600 at 10mm