As June arrives in Austin and the heat begins to build, the rumble of thousands of motorcycles can be heard. It’s that time of year again. Every second Thursday in June, The Republic of Texas (ROT) biker rally rolls into town. I’ve seen estimates as high as 50,000 participants and 200,000 spectators, making this one of the biggest biker rallys around. I’ve been going to the downtown festivities for the last couple of years and this year, I met up with some photographer friends, Pete, Jim and Dave. Friday night was the highlight of the downtown events with a big, boisterous display of motorcycles parading down Congress Avenue, Austin’s main downtown street.
My friends and I met a couple of hours early and shot the scene around 6th street. There was a fun, carnival like atmosphere, with thousands of bikers showing off their vehicles and partying at Austin’s most famous entertainment district. There were many non-bikers too enjoying the mood along with an ever-growing number of photographers documenting the scene. A healthy police presence ensured things stayed calm and from what I could see, they did an excellent job. But mostly, the mix of people were there to have fun and these events further Austin’s reputation of being a weird and eclectic place. I’ll leave the pre and post parade scenes for another blog post but today it’s all about the big Congress Avenue parade.
I shot the same parade last year, and I made a couple of changes for this year. First, I decided to stand on the opposite side of the street. The parade downtown starts at the State Capitol and moves south on Congress Avenue, does a loop, and heads back north on the same street. I was on west side so I caught the action as the parade looped back north. I think both sides are equally good and I don’t have a s strong preference. Next, I made big changes to my photo gear. Last year I shot with my Canon 7D and a 50mm f1.4 lens and also brought along a super-wide angle lens. This year, I used a trio of Olympus Pen cameras. I had my E-P3 with a 14mm f2.5 lens, a E-PL1 with a 20mm f1.7 and a E-PL1 with the 45mm f1.8. It’s hard to believe that a year ago, I didn’t even own a single Olympus camera; now I was sporting three of these small and light devices. And even with three cameras, they still weight less than last year’s setup.
Juggling 3 cameras may be a pain at times but generally worked well. I shot mainly with the 14mm and 20mm lenses. I used my 45mm when there was something interesting to zoom into like the handsome African-American couple above. they were clearly having a great time and I made a satisfying image with both my 45mm and 14mm lenses.
True to Austin, there were colorful and playful riders too. Love those horns, kind of gives a Viking on a motorcycle feel. And how about those two riders with the matching dogs with goggles. All part of the fun at the parade. You can tell the riders and the spectators had a great time. People stuck out their hands to greet the bikers. There were warm smiles and camaraderie between the riders and the on lookers.
As the sun set, the glow of the headlights took on a magical appearance. The wild LED colors that lit the engines cast an eerie glow. After they parade down and up Congress Avenue, the riders get to park their motorcycle in the middle of the street. There is a crazy jumble of bikes and people. To the right the bright lights of the old Paramount theater beacons and to the north, off in the distance, the Capitol of Texas sits proudly, anchoring the street. With the parade over, the second wave of festivities were just beginning. Down the street, a stage with live music. Some kind of southern rock, country music combo, blaring away. It’s the kind of music I couldn’t identify but it worked perfectly for this kind of event. It’s dark now and my friends and I switch from hand-held photography to tripods. There were bikes decked out in colored LEDs, calling us. We oblige.
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