I took my Olympus E-PL1, my current camera of choice, out for yet another photo event this past weekend. Two weekends ago it was the Dia de los Muertos Parade in downtown Austin. This time, it was something a bit smaller and calmer. One of those simple carnivals that seems to pop-up on parking lots on the outskirts of town or in the suburbs. This one, took place on at the Dell Diamond, the AAA baseball stadium for the Round Rock Express. I wanted to take my friend, Mike, out for his birthday and he suggested a short photography exercise before we went to dinner. Over the last year, both Mike and I, who both own big Canon DSLRs, have being going light. Often times, opting to take just a small camera with us, instead of the bigger iron and the assorted lenses and accessories. Mike’s been putting his Fujifilm X100 through its paces. My lightweight setup is the E-PL1 with very compact Lumix 20mm f1.7 pancake lens. Sunset was at around 6:47 so we met just after 6 pm to capture the golden hour and the equally nice “blue hour” that takes place after sunset.
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Many of you might be familiar with the golden hour, the time just before sunset or after sunrise which has a wonderful golden, warm light and makes for great looking photographs. The low angle of the sun and the softer light creates images that are warmer and smoother than the harsh mid-day light. The blue hour maybe a term that is less familiar to most people. And unlike the golden hour which may last an hour in length, the blue hour is considerably shorter and not anywhere near an hour, at least here in Texas. So what is the blue hour? It is the time of day after sunset or before sunrise when the sky becomes a bright and vibrant blue color. I love shooting at this time, particularly in urban environments where there are lots of warm, man-made yellow-ish lights. The blue color of the sky and the yellow lights make an excellent color contrast that, I think, works particularly well. A little research reveals that the term blue hour originated from the French expression heure bleue according to Wikipedia. I don’t know if this gorgeous blue period actually lasts an hour in France but here in the Austin area, it lasts maybe 15 minutes. For me, there is a bit of scrambling during these 15 minutes to get my perfect shots and then the magic is gone. The sky increasingly turns darker and once it turn black, the mood and color becomes completely different.
This simple carnival up in Round Rock and my nimble and light setup with my Olympus E-PL1 was particularly effective to capture the optimum Blue Hour color. First, unlike larger carnivals like the one at the Austin Rodeo, this small carnival allowed me to visit many rides very quickly. It didn’t take me much time to walk from one end to the other. Having the lightweight camera setup without a tripod was also a boon. No precious time wasted setting up a tripod. I can shoot multiple angles quickly and move on to the next exciting attraction. When nature has a 15 minute timer, every minute counts. I’m satisfied with the results. The Olympus and the fantastic Lumix 20mm lens allowed me to record high quality images at ISO 800 and below. Instead of wide-angle, long exposure images I took previously with my larger Canon 7D, this time it was all about seeing interesting compositions quickly. I’m trying to go light and train my eye to see images worth capturing. Some came out great and others were less exciting but with much practice I think I can get better. I feel that the kind of photographs I’m making now has changed quite a bit, especially compared to few years ago — hopefully they are for the better. Having a small camera with a fixed focal length (no zoom) can be liberating, training the eye and allowing the photographer to move faster when necessary. While the carefully composed tripod shots are still important, its nice to shoot in a different way from time to time.
By 7:30, Mike and I were done. The sky was already too dark and there wasn’t enough ambient light at the carnival to take the kind of images we wanted. We packed it in and went to dinner. We talked about life, photography and blogging among other things. It was a nice birthday dinner and a fun time shooting with a good friend.
Here are a bunch more photographs from the carnival.
These first two images were taken during the golden hour, when I first got to the carnival.
As the sun set, the blue of the sky started to come alive. I shot the starship photo at 6:53pm about 6 minutes after sunset. I shot the next image of the ferris wheel at 7pm, pretty much at the peak of the blue hour. The third photo of Crystal Lil’s was a couple of minutes after that. You can tell how quickly the light changes. Of course the direction that I face is also a factor. I was facing north for Spaceship 4000, east for the ferris wheel and roughly west for Crystal Lil’s.
As I’ve done lately, I wanted to take a candid portrait of a someone interesting on the street. Sandy had this colorful mohawk wig that attracted my attention. She was selling the souvenirs at a both in the middle of the action. I find that the 20mm Lumix makes a great environmental portrait lens. Just the right field of view to include the surrounding area and just enough depth of field to emphasize the person and nicely blur the background.
Finally, as the blue hour passed and things got dark, I shifted my photography to capturing shadows or shooting in brighter areas. We didn’t stay too long after sunset but here are two more images that I captured before Mike and I went off off to dinner.