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.
I wanted to finish this year’s coverage of the ROT Rally with photographs from the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II. Most of these are street photographs with a few posed portraits. They’re the kind of images that I feel comfortable making with the Olympus 17mm f1.8 prime lens. The camera and lens are fast which works well for this genre.
Much of my ROT Rally coverage this year centered around photos I took with a point and shoot camera, which I call my Photo Sketchbook. This Panasonic ZS50 has a 24mm – 720mm equivalent zoom which allows me to frame images differently. The camera is a lot slower, compared to my Olympus, so the photos tend to be more deliberate. The E-M5 Mark II is my fast action camera and with a fixed 34mm equivalent, I can compose and shoot quite quickly.
Cameras and lenses can dictate the style of photography. Not to mention the technical quality of images, of course. The Panasonic ZS50 limits me with a narrow envelope of image quality, the Olympus limits with the fixed 34mm focal length. I’m trying to balance slow and deliberate against fast action grabs. It keeps things interesting and challenging to shoot two different types of cameras at the same time.
Over the years, I’ve photographed the ROT Rally Parade with a number of cameras. I’ve used Olympus mirrorless cameras such as the E-PL1, E-P3 and OM-D E-M5 Mark II. I’ve shot it with a Canon 6D DSLR and even the retro cool, Fujifilm X100S. This year, I’ve gone small and totally amateur, challenging myself with a point and shoot from Panasonic called the ZS50. I call this camera my Photo Sketchbook, since I use it to explore different types of photography on an experimental basis. Imposing limitations forces creativity, I believe, and that’s the basis of this year’s parade post.
I did bring my Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II as backup. I shot a few frames, including the photo above. It’s my go to camera when I need to get the shot. And as nice as the image is, it’s not very different from the photographs I took at previous ROT Rally parades. The Panasonic ZS50 would be different. Its tiny sensor and slow lens would lead me down another path, which I think, produced surprisingly compelling images. Certainly different from my usual, which I guess is the main reason for experimenting.
Cameras with small sensors, including smartphones, work well in bright, even lighting. But as the light levels drop, the image quality takes a nose dive. I like to stay at ISO 800 or below on the ZS50 but with a slow f3.3 to f6.4 lens, the limitations impose themselves unexpectedly fast. A crisp, high quality photo was nearly impossible given the required shutter speeds, so why not embrace the motion blur.
Unlike my previous motion blur images where I held the camera steady, here I panned the camera to follow the bikes. When done well, you get a soft background blur and a decently sharp subject. Most of my pans weren’t very exact, but I got some desirable images, nevertheless.
I tried several different shutter speeds but found my preference at about 1/5 of a second. The photos at a 1/2 second, had their own charm and produced a more ghostly look, like the three above.
This one at 1/13 of a second, didn’t produce enough background blur and my desired level of abstraction.
The nice thing about this ZS50 travel zoom is its long zoom range. I shot bikes, pointing left, on my side of the street, usually at 24mm to 50mm equivalent range. I captured bikes on the other side of the street, pointing right, at about 200mm to 250mm.
The sensors of these point and shoots are only moderately larger than a smartphones’, but they can have the advantage of a true optical zoom and, on this camera, I get quick controls to set the desired shutter speed or aperture. These are tangible advantages over standard camera phones and with built-in image stabilization, it makes it easier to shoot these kind of images.
I’m no free spirit. That probably won’t surprise you. I’m known for remarkable consistency, in most things, and change comes in measured steps. One of my few acts of irrationality, is my penchant for collecting cameras, now numbering around 40. My annual visit to Eeyore’s is a view into an alternate world. One that I don’t entirely understand but respect, nevertheless.
Over the years, I’ve discovered that, in my own way, I’ve done more experimenting at Eeyores, than any other event. No, I’m not talking about controlled substances. Rather, I’ve explored different aspects of photography via equipment, technique and technology. Whether it was backlit images, super saturated images or using film. This year, I went with only a single camera and shot in black and white.
Though I used a zoom lens this time, I shot many at a 28mm equivalent, which got me in closer — I think there is a touch more intimacy. I’ve noticed that, over the years, I’m using wider focal lengths. Perhaps becoming less of an observer and more of a participant.
Here’s a good cross-section from Eeyore’s. Enjoy a slice from a quirky Austin tradition.
Nothing like a casual get together in Austin’s east side. Last Friday, my friend Amalia had a showing of her Portraits of a Changing Economy at the The Room Gallery. This was my kind of place. Friendly people enjoying art and photography at a backyard setup that had none of the pretentiousness of a traditional gallery. It was also an unlikely place for a bit of street photography and portraiture.
There were two showings that night. Niz Graphics, a Peruvian stencil artist, also showcased her work, as you can see above.
I’m making a conscious effort to bring a decent camera with me. The Ricoh GR, which looks like a chunky point and shoot, tends to blend in and looks relatively harmless. I would love to carry it on a daily walking commute through target rich cities like New York. Unfortunately, my morning and evening suburban drive doesn’t afford much opportunities. Hence, I try to bring it with me if there’s any hint of interaction.
Amalia’s work was displayed in the blue hut, as you can see through the doorway.
The light was nice in the evening and I asked Tripler to pose for a portrait. She helped organize the event and as well as the social media efforts. The GR’s 28mm equivalent isn’t the classic portrait lens but it can work when you include the environment. And, while traditional portraits with a long lens are nice, I tend to like these kinds of casual images.
Finally, here’s a look at the two gallery spaces. I’m always attracted to soft, incandescent string lights, which in my head, I equate to parties and get togethers.
Things got dark quickly after this photo and the GR is not ideal for low light, despite it’s large APS-C sensor. Ironically my Olympus cameras with a smaller sensor work better in low light. They have image stabilization and options for a faster lens as well as a better JPEG processing engine.
Despite its limitations, the GR does fill a spot in my vast camera lineup. It’s compact and unassuming and has the ability to take sharp images in decent light. It also works well for street photography and street portraits.