Last week, I was at the newly developing Northside section of The Domain, for a Drink and Click. The Domain, like many new mall developments, combines stores and restaurants with apartments, office space and even hotels. Done right, they have the feel of a traditional downtown.
Documenting the still developing area, I was impressed with the way it was progressing. The Archer Hotel appears to be the centerpiece with a constellation of would be stores, with their facades covered by black plywood panels. A gentleman standing next to me commented that he built that hotel.
Rusty turned out to the head honcho for the hotel’s development company. He offered to give me a tour of the work in progress. I’ve always had an interest in architecture and construction, so I jumped at the chance. And, as I’ll explain later, I have a special interest in this hotel.
The Archer is a small boutique hotel chain with locations in New York City and Napa, California. It’s kind of neat to have such an upscale hotel in Austin, particularly in the northern suburbs, far away from downtown. We entered on the 2nd floor and grand staircase impressed, looking down into the lobby.
I’m no expert in interior design but to my untrained eye, the hotel appears to mix modern design, with Texas vernacular, interspersed with bits of whimsy. I think it works well. It feels fresh and new, but doesn’t feel cold like some modern spaces. It’s clearly an upscale place but doesn’t appear to take itself too seriously.
The chandelier and stairwell certainly impresses architecturally and I’m looking forward to seeing it fully furnished. As you can see, it’s truly a work in progress. Rusty says they have about month and a half before it’s completed. I feel lucky that I got an advanced tour.
The other notable area is the atrium that houses the bar and restaurant, which is next to the lobby. There’s a nice scale to the place. In a midsize market like Austin, it’s a sizable hotel, even for downtown. But remember, this is located in a shopping mall.
With the surrounding bars and restaurants, already brimming with business, I think the Northside will steal customers from downtown. It caters better to suburbanites that value convenience, easy parking and cleanliness over a “real” and often gritty downtown.
Throughout the hotel, there are large-scale photographs of Austin and the surrounding areas — that have been turned into wall coverings. Many of the hotel rooms have their own theme and unique photo walls. This room has a scene from 6th street, for example.
I mentioned my special interest in the Archer and that’s because they licensed this photograph from me. I shot this with a 16MP Olympus E-PM2 and the Panasonic 14mm f2.5 with the wide-angle adapter. I also did the post processing to the specifications dictated by the interior designer. As you can see there is a complex mix of color and monochrome.
I licensed the photograph almost a year ago and I wasn’t sure if the hotel was actually going to be built. Nice to see it for real and nearing completion. I’m hoping to go back when the room is fully furnished.
This larger room had a fancy open plan bathroom with this sculptural tub. Luckily, the walls can be closed for added privacy.
Finally, the corner rooms are particularly fancy, resembling upscale one bedroom condos. They have their own balcony, and a spectacular bathroom with floor to ceiling two-tone subway tiles. You can see the reflection of Blue Bonnets in the mirrors. This is yet another photo wall covering, of the Texas state flower, which blooms in the spring through the surrounding Hill Country.
I’m looking forward to the completion on the Archer and perhaps they’ll let me take high quality photos of the place. I shot these with my humble Panasonic ZS50 point and shoot. Not bad, I guess. But high quality photos on tripod will be my preferred way to document the place.
It’s natural for me to compare the Texas State Capitol with the one in Wisconsin. I’ve lived in Austin for 25 years and I’ve photographed my state capitol often (though I don’t post many images of it). On my recent trip to Madison, I was looking forward to shooting another dramatic building.
Nothing says “important government building” than ornate flourishes and a giant dome. The Wisconsin Capitol does not disappoint. Unlike the tall but skinny Texas dome, I think the Wisconsin’s is more full-figured and substantial. The capitol is set in the center of Madison, on a giant city square, that affords the building 8 angles, 4 corners and 4 sides. Each view is subtly different and it took me shooting several angles until I realized its overall architectural design.
I think HDR worked particularly well to capture the soft glow of the dome as well as the surrounding grounds. The increased dynamic range helps in these cases. As usual, I shot this on tripod at ISO 200. I used the Olympus 9-18mm wide-angle.
I’m glad I took these exterior photos on the first night. Subsequently the weather only became more foggy but at least it was uncharacteristically warm.
During the second day, after the tour of the University of Wisconsin, my boys and I viewed the interior. It’s a very impressive structure, one that I can spend hours inside. Because I was there with two impatient boys, I opted for some quick handheld snaps. Because the Olympus E-M5 Mark II’s impressive image stabilization, I was able to make decent photos at least, without a tripod.
Comparing the Texas Capitol with the one in Wisconsin might be asking for trouble, but I must admit that I was more impressed with the one up north. Not to say our Austin Capitol is not nice, it is. However, both buildings are superior, in my opinion, to the California and Virgina capitols.
Finally, to create a slightly uncharacteristic image, I shot this. I liked the capitol’s reflection and the modern counterpoint to the old. The dome, like an apparition.
I was at a loss of how to use a fisheye lens. Sure it was fun shooting the book signing over at Precision Camera but what else? You know I’m a city person that likes architecture, but how wacky would a fisheye be? I decided to embrace the distortion head on and I found the perfect place to shoot it.
The neighborhood around the former Seaholm Power Plant is starting to take shape. The first phase is nearly complete, the corporate tenants are moving in and the first store has opened. In fact, the new residential towers in the area across from the Pfluger pedestrian bridge have turned into a quiet and desirable spot. The centerpiece of the pedestrian bridge is its circular ramp that allows joggers and cyclists to flow smoothly on to the bridge. The fisheye had an exceptionally nice effect, I think.
I headed across the bridge and towards the old power plant. I discovered that, used in a particular way, the wild curves are somewhat tamable. Sure the distortion is still there but I think these two shots don’t scream fisheye. The look more like super-wide angles.
I decide to convert these to black and whites, like the super-wides I created in downtown San Francisco. I’ve received a lot of positive feedback about the San Francisco architecture photographs and I wanted to echo the look but with a fisheye twist.
But of course, why use a fisheye to minimize the effect. Here I show it off. These stairs lead to underground parking for the entire complex which is comprised of the retrofitted Seaholm Power Plant, a small shopping area and a substantial condo building. You can see the condo in the background, which is the last to be completed.
I’m glad the architects kept the maze of steel and catwalks intact, behind the power plant. The utilitarian structure now acts as modern art that hints at the building’s original purpose. In fact, I’m sure the dark pipes in the second photo are actual art pieces added to the structure. I had a chance to visit Seaholm years ago, before any hint of renovation and I don’t recall these dark elements.
They’ve added skylights too, which should help light the multilayered substructure. You can see how the Seaholm Power Plant looked before the renovation, It was a fantastic industrial space. The main building is now corporate offices, which is disappointing. I was hoping the the power plant’s interior would house a large shopping mall where the public can admire its structure. The main hallway had the feel of an old train station, sort of like a minimalist, industrial Grand Central Station in New York City. Unfortunately, just a single tenant gets to enjoy this centerpiece. Perhaps they might let me take some “after” photos.
They also kept the giant smokestacks. They loosely define the boundary of the power plant from the new areas beyond. There’s a grassy plaza that forms a courtyard bounded by stores and the large condo. The three buildings forms a nice semi-enclosed space — I like how this turned out. Beyond the courtyard, to the east, the new Central Public Library is going up. To the north, the streets are now seamlessly connected to the neighborhood that continues to sprout new high-rises. To the south, the popular hike and bike trail and greenbelt that runs along the river.
Back across the pedestrian bridge, I’m now by the river front park. The framed opening is the same structure shown at the top of the post but from below. And just to show it’s not only architecture that can benefit from some fisheye fun, here’s a majestic Oak Tree.
The Olympus 8mm fisheye might be a very specialized lens but I certainly had more fun with it than expected. This Pro lens is high quality and expensive however, it might be just the ticket for anyone wanting to create that unique perspective. My thanks to Charles from Olympus that let me use it for a couple of weeks, before it hit the stores.
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I visited two magnificent churches in Amsterdam. Both beautiful in their own way and both very different. So different, in fact, that I shot them in distinct ways with my two cameras.
What’s a trip to Europe without shooting some of these wonderfully ornate structures. I had my Olympus E-PM2 with a wide-angle lens for this purpose and luckily both places seemed fine with me using a tripod. I also shot my Fujifilm X100S but in a different way. I knew the 35mm equivalent lens on the X100S would not capture the entirely of the place. Rather, my purpose with that camera was to concentrate on details.
Basilica of St. Nicholas
First up is the Basilica of St. Nicholas, the major Catholic church in the middle of the old historic core. It’s an easy walk from the Amsterdam Centraal train station. I’ve shot a fair number of interiors over the years and this place was one of the most challenging. The inside is dim with its dark-colored stonework and stained glass windows. How do you capture the beauty of the dark walls while still maintaining the color and delicate translucency of the windows? With HDR of course, but with a lot more exposures than normal.
In almost every case, my HDRs are created from just 3 exposures, usually 0ev, -2ev and +2ev. Here I shot 12 exposures ranging from -4.7ev to +1.7 ev. I cherry picked 4 exposures that gave me a decent range, -2.7ev, -1.7ev, -0.3ev and +1.7ev. I needed this to get the effect you see — the glorious detail in both the windows and walls. Our eyes and brain seamlessly merge these details but cameras struggle with dynamic range. Advanced HDR techniques are required to simulate what human beings do so well.
I knew taking a single photo with the Fuji was not going to do this place justice. After all, it takes a tripod and multiple exposures on the Olympus to do a half way decent job. Rather, I decided to strategically shoot images that had less dynamic range. Whether you have a smartphone or the fanciest DSLR, here, you might be disappointed with the results. Selectively shooting details might work well photographically but it hardly gives a feel of the entire church. St. Nicholas is a tough place to take great photos.
My second stop, Oude Kerk (Old Church) couldn’t be more different. Originally a Catholic church when founded 700 years ago, by 1578 it became Calvinist. Photographically, Oude Kerk is much easier. With light colored walls and with little stained glass, the dynamic range was manageable. While I started taking HDRs like I usually do, I soon realized that the Fuji X100S could also do an adequate job if I properly nailed the exposure.
Shooting the details here was more enjoyable than St. Nicholas, primarily because I could do a better job. HDR wasn’t required and I could concentrate on framing handheld rather than futzing with a tripod. While I’ve become quite adept at using the 3 legged appendage, I still find it cumbersome. Shooting free form with the Fuji, for me, is a purer photographic experience.
Oude Kerk charged 5 Euros for entry but I felt it was worth it. The place was less crowded than St. Nicholas and I felt less rushed. At St. Nicholas, I was unsure if I was allowed to use a tripod and the steady stream of visitors forced me to work quicker. The peaceful white walls of the Old Church put me in a Zen state of mind. I took my time to frame my photos, both on and off the tripod. Ironically, this church is located right in the middle of Amsterdam’s famous Red Light District. The contrast between the external environment and the internal sanctuary couldn’t be more different.
Old Church was larger and more open. I used the Fuji to capture the sense of scale by including people. The airiness of the place is its main attraction. For sheer detail and color, St. Nicholas impresses but capturing it photographically is a challenge. Using HDR might be the only way to approximate its grandeur.
As usual, knowing your gear and its limits are essential. Learning advanced techniques helps too in tough situations. Even though I only had two cameras and two fixed lenses, I felt satisfied that I captured the essence of both places.
I posted my first urban architecture photos from Singapore a week and half ago. I promised to dedicate a post to the Fullerton Bay Hotel, a set of buildings I found especially compelling. I didn’t stay there, but it seems like an upscale oasis. Trip Advisor ranked it #3 out all the hotels in Singapore.
Unlike the famous Marina Bay Sands and the Ritz Carlton, which are really big hotels, the Fullerton Bay seems more humanly scaled and accessible. A cluster of modern buildings makes for some wonderful architectural images — the kind, certainly, that I’m drawn to. Angles, reflections, light and the Singapore skyline as backdrop drew me in. I’m like a kid in a candy store in places like this.
As nice as the hotel is, its location within the city adds that extra dimension. I borrowed shapes from other non-hotel structures to add more interest. The round flying saucer like building, for example, is not part of the Fullerton.
Often, modern buildings are boring. They looks like cheap, simple, glass boxes — they have no soul. The Fullerton uses a mix of contemporary materials which adds texture. There is both a sense of intimacy and grandness. You get this sense of variety as you walk through their spaces.
The interiors are equally stunning. The lounge and restaurant have a view out to the bay. In the shot above, you can see the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino out the window, which is located on the other side of the bay. It’s one of Singapore’s newest and most recognizable landmarks.
All of these photos are HDRs, three images blended together to get the maximum dynamic range and added sparkle. I used my trusty Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm Panasonic lens plus wide-angle adapter. It gives a 22mm equivalent view. My frequent visitors will know that this is my preferred and standard setup for these kind of photos. The small camera allows me to travel lightly and quickly, but creates high quality images. I’ve gotten really fast and efficient creating these kind of photos.
You may think it strange to talk about efficiency in photography but let me explain. Often times, I visit these cities on business trips and don’t have a lot of time, but I want to make as many photos as possible. I know photography is not a race but there is a time component here — I don’t have hours to set up a shot. Familiarity with the gear and doing this for a while has allowed me to see compositions and execute them quickly. I took these photos (three per image) plus more that I didn’t post, in 23 minutes. That gave me time to shoot more of the city.
Efficiency can only go so far, however. I wish I had more time to shoot in Singapore. It’s the kind of place that will keep me blissfully occupied for a long time. I have some more urban landscapes to share as well as day time street photography. I’ll intersperse them throughout the coming weeks.