If you follow my blog from time to time, you know that I shoot a lot of my photos after hours, in the evening or at night. I love blue hour. The short 15 minutes, despite the name, of rich saturated blue skies you get only twice a day, once in the evening and once at dawn. I also love the reflection of lights off of the street and other man-made objects. I’m always in search of the elusive “glow” that I talk about; which is my short hand for the wonderful glowing light you get in the urban areas after the sun goes down. But when I’m forced to shoot photographs of buildings and architecture during the day, I’m lost. My usual fall back position of finding nice color, reflection and glow, is just not available. I need to contend with either harsh light, shadows or uninteresting, flat and dull looking buildings. Even during the nice light that occurs about an hour before sunset, I still struggle to make images that I like. Sure when I’m photographing people either on a model shoot or during street photography, the golden hour is great; the soft warm light makes people look good. The golden light can also improve buildings but I still gravitate towards the evening. I can get the extra dimension of man-made light mixing with the ambient natural light, which adds additional interest to a building.
So it was under these non-optimal (for me) conditions that I went on a photo walk this past weekend on the University of Texas campus. My friend Alex, organized the trip and about 15 of us met at 7pm and started on a path through the center of campus. The area was very quiet. It must have been finals since there were very few students walking about. With the lack of street photography subjects, I turned my attention to architecture. Without my crutch of rich blue hour colors and warm incandescent lights, however, I generally found the architecture uninspiring. There were some interesting buildings on campus but most seemed unremarkable. They lacked texture or detailing of classic Beaux Arts and the modern structures were generic like government buildings. I shot, what I thought, were the most interesting angles, as I waved though the mix of old and new structures. But as the sun began to set, my interest began to increase. I was getting closer to my element, the glow of evening lights and deep blue skies were now within reach.
But, an interesting thing happened after I got back and started processing my images. Those relatively dull buildings in day light looked much more interesting in black and white. Most lacked great color anyway and when I stripped out the color, the lines and textures began to pop. That’s the great thing about black and white. The extra, unnecessary stuff gets stripped away and if what’s left has enough structure, texture and interesting lines, the entire image is transformed. I’m not saying that these images are masterpieces but I strongly believe that they look a lot more interesting in monochrome. So with my new-found love (or crutch) for black and white, here is a monochrome tour of the University of Texas at Austin campus.
The photo walk started at the Blanton Museum of Art, the same building that I mentioned in my previous post about Shooting the Olympus E-P3 in a Sea of Leicas. Again I used the E-P3 with the Panasonic Lumix 14mm lens with is equivalent to 28mm in 35mm terms. The Blanton images are a study in curves. I explore wall texture with the two modernist images above.
Nothing like some heroic statues, two of many on campus. The first one is part of the Littlefield fountain, probably turned off because of the drought. Without the water, you can really appreciate the artistry in the design. The second one is called The Torchbearers by Charles Umlauf which represents the passing of knowledge from teacher to student. I think the white building makes the sculpture pop nicely from the background and the dark structural landscaping anchors it to the ground.
There is an out-of-place greenhouse in the middle of campus just north of the famous UT Tower. This greenhouse became the focal point for three images in this post. The photo at the top is my favorite; I like the moody feel, the reflections off the glass and the delicate tree branches balancing out the frame. The image with the relaxing coed gives context and the greenhouse acts as a backdrop to the expanse of lawn.
The pond with the lilly pads and the large tree is just beyond the greenhouse a bit east and north. The last three photos are from Guadalupe Street, also known as “The Drag”, a commercial area just on the western edge of campus. As the photo walk reached The Drag, my favorite Blue Hour was almost upon us. You can see the glow of the lights even in black and white, but they are best appreciated in color. Here is an example of the Blue Hour color on the drag and a closeup of neon set against a nice blue sky.
I took these photographs with my Olympus E-P3 with the Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5. Please make sure to click on a photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.