Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography


Moving beyond portraits at the Texas Photo Festival

Rusted Eye - Smithville, Texas

Rusted Eye – Smithville, Texas

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, last month, I headed east to Smithville to attend the Texas Photo Festival. It was the third time out of the last 4 years that I’ve gone. The format of the event is pretty much the same though I’ve noticed that it has become more popular over the years. This year, there was a hefty crowed of photographers shooting in a confined space in and around Main Street. The event was interesting and weird at the same time. There were sets setup with models and props along the street and the adjoining park where people could shoot, primarily portraits. The thing is, the event was now so popular that many of the sets were overflowing with weekend photographers encircling the subjects. It was difficult to get a clean portrait without getting loads of distracting photographers in the background. It has become an amusement park for photographers.

A novice photographer can have a great time going out to the Texas Photo Festival. The thing is, I guess after the 3rd time, I was ready to move on and do other things. Taking portraits in the mid day light, surrounded by lots of people, was no longer appealing. And perhaps, over the years, I have grown as a photographer or at least my interest has changed. My friend Mike pretty much agreed and we decided to walk around Smithville instead, to capture bits and pieces of this old place. We shot architecture, trinkets at antique stores and the mellow decay that we found interesting.

We reserved the best light, at the end of the day, for most of our architecture. To pass the time we explored stores and found details that would not be affected by the harsh mid-day light. Smithville is a city in transition and the Chamber of Commerce is working hard to promote the place. A couple of big Hollywood movies (Hope Floats and The Tree of Life) were filmed there and these type of events (like the photo festival) draw people from Austin and Houston. Only a few blocks away from the Main Street sets, the place was calm. As a big city person, I found the hunt for visual treasure in this small place, relaxing. For part 1 of this series, I wanted to showcase the color and texture of Smithville, as seen on that warm October afternoon.

Window with Artistic Distress - Smithville, Texas

Window with Artistic Distress – Smithville, Texas

Window with Texture - Smithville, Texas

Window with Texture – Smithville, Texas

Old Lamp with Character - Smithville, Texas

Old Lamp with Character – Smithville, Texas

Mossy Curb - Smithville, Texas

Mossy Curb – Smithville, Texas

Candy Red Pickup with Flag - Smithville, Texas

Candy Red Pickup with Flag – Smithville, Texas

Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.

See more photographs that I shot with the Olympus E-P3 and Panasonic Leica 25mm and use the << Previous Photo link to see the next page of photos.

All of the photographs on this post were shot with an Olympus E-P3 using the Panasonic Leica 25mmf1.4 lens. I brought two cameras but used just one. Nice and light and easy to carry all day with no problems.

Celesta Harvey, Miss Rodeo Texas 2010

Celesta Harvey

Celesta Harvey at the Texas Photo Festival – Smithville, TX

This past Sunday, I went to the 2nd Annual Texas Photo Festival in Smithville, TX. for nice relaxing afternoon of photography. I mentioned on my previous post about my first visit to the Texas Photo Festival. I had a great time last year and was looking forward to going again. This year, the festival had a special guest, the 2010 Miss Rodeo Texas, Celesta Harvey, who patiently posed as one of the many models in this small Texas town. Celesta was hard to miss with her bright red jacket and bright white smile. While the other models were people from around town, there was no mistaking Miss Rodeo Texas with her color coordinated outfit — even down to her white stetson hat with red trim.

How strange it must have felt for Celesta to have several dozen people, many with large cameras and long lens, taking pictures of her. While I’m sure she’s been at the center of attention, especially with her Miss Rodeo competition win. it’s a different thing to pose in front of photographers. Miss Harvey did a wonderful job and after some direction from the seasoned portrait photographers, she was a natural. The portrait session started around 2pm, so the harsh mid-day sun was tough even with some scrims setup to soften the light. I was equipped with my Canon 7D with my new favorite 70-200 F4 IS lens along with an external Canon flash. While I may not have the largest camera/lens combo in “photographer equipment arms race” (you know these photo festivals are a great place for photographers to show off their gear) I was happy with my setup. My gear was nice enough to get the images that I wanted without being too big and heavy to carry around.

Towards the end of the day, when most of the other photographers had either left or attended a Photoshop seminar, I was able to take my best photographs. By this time, the sun was softer and lower in the sky. There were more open shaded areas where I could get nicer images of Celesta. The temperature was a bit cooler and by this time and after hours of practice, Celesta was more relaxed and comfortable in front of the camera. Or perhaps she was just too tired to worry about posing as a model and her true self came shining through.

Celesta told me she is going to Las Vegas next to complete in the national Miss Rodeo competition. I wish her the best of luck to win the national title for herself and for the great State of Texas.

[View all of my portraits of Celesta Harvey]

My Thought Process

All of my portraits were done with one lens, the 70 – 200 F4 IS. This is a great lens and works wonderfully for portraits. Also, it’s not too heavy to carry around for many hours. Canon also makes F2.8 version of this lens, which are also very nice but they are significantly heavier. While I previously used the 85mm 1.8 Lens for portraits, this new zoom lens will probably be my new default portrait lens, especially places with decent light.

As you can see from my portraits, I have a tendency to get in really close to my subjects. I like tight shots and I rarely do full body portraits. I’m sure having such a long zoom is part of the reason but I’ve noticed with even shorter lens, I seem to prefer getting right up to people in my portraits. Only when I want to show the person in their environmental context do I back up to show more of the scene. For regular portraits, having a long zoom is great since facial features are flattened out and the backgrounds become nicely blurred. The person becomes the center of attention and background fades away.

Using some fill flash in these conditions can be very useful for several of reasons. If there is any harsh sun, the flash can be used to fill in some of the darker shadows. If the background is really bright, you can drop the exposure to darken the background while using the flash to add more light to the foreground. Finally, the flash adds some nice sparkle to the eyes by adding catch lights. Off camera flash is certainly preferable however all of Celesta’s images were done with flash directly on the camera’s hot shoe.

[Note: Click on the image for a larger version]

Image Details

The image was taken with a Canon 7D with the Canon EF 70 – 200 F4 IS lens. I also had a Canon 430EX flash directly on the camera’s hot shoe. The image above as well as all of Celesta’s images in the gallery were taken as 18MP JPEGs. I used Aperture to sharpen, add slight vignettes and warm up the image. I also used the brush feature in Aperture to add additional saturation and skin smoothing to just the face.

The image above was taken at f4, 1/320 sec , no exposure compensation, ISO 200 at 100mm. Fill flash was used with 0EV compensation.

A Small Town Photo Festival in Smithville, Texas

Gabby at the 2009 Texas Photo Festival
Hillary at the 2009 Texas Photo Festival
Mr. Davis at the 2009 Texas Photo Festival

These photographs were taken at the 2009 Texas Photo Festival that took place a little more than a year ago in the small town of Smithville, Texas — about an hour south-east of Austin. 2009 was the inaugural year and I’m happy to say the event is on again in 2010, this coming Sunday on October 10th. Here is the website to this year’s photo festival. I had a wonderful time last year and I am also planning to go again this year. The Texas Photo Festival is organized by Doug Box and Randy Kerr, Austin area photographers specializing mainly in portraits. For this reason, the event has ample opportunity to take many portraits of different people in various settings. Last year, the event had various “sets” created outside for environmental portraits as well as an interior studio with lights and a backdrop. The sets included a marching band, cheerleaders, high school seniors, fire/rescue people, basically a mixture of everyday folk in a small town. From the website description, this year’s event also looks similar though some of the sets are different from last year.

If you are not interest in portraits, there are opportunities for other types of photography. At the event last year, I took many portraits but I also took HDR photographs of this neat old Texas town. Smithville is a place that is trying very hard to market its small town charms to artists, photographers and movie producers. A couple of movies have been film there and events including this Photo Festival are used to draw artists to the town. There are many old-style brick buildings with a lot of character — perfect material for HDR landscapes and architecture. I’m saving some of these architecture images for a future blog post but if you glance at my Flickr stream back in October 2009, you will see some of these images.

So if you are in the area and would like a fun afternoon of photography, you may want to head over to Smithville this Sunday. I’ll be there taking portraits and HDRs — a strange but satisfying combination.

My Thought Process

For these portraits, I used one of my favorite portrait lenses — the 85mm f1.8. I like the image quality of the lens and the large aperture allows me to blur out the background to reduce distractions.

Image 1: With the cheerleader, I didn’t shoot the image wide open (with the largest aperture) since I wanted to show the marching band in the background. I have enough blur to soften the background but still give enough context to the image.

Image 2: Hillary, the young woman in the purple top was shot with a larger aperture. Not completely wide open again, since I wanted her entire body to be in focus. At this distance, if I used f1.8, the maximum aperture, only part of her face will be in focus which is not the effect I was going for. This image was shot by a doorway, under a covered porch. The natural light worked well and in fact looked better than the studio lighting setup that they had in this building.

Image 3: Mr Davis is a long time resident of Smithville and was a wonderful person to photograph. You can tell that he has great character and facial features. I shot this with pretty much the same goal as my portrait of Hillary. Have a large enough aperture to blur the background but keep the entire person in focus.

Image Details

NOTE: You can click on the photographs to see a larger version.

The images were taken with a Canon 20D with the Canon 85 mm F1.8 lens. All 3 images were taken as 8MP JPEGs.

All of the images were sharpened a bit, added a slight vignette, slightly increased color saturation and brightened the mid-tones some using levels. I used Aperture 3 software to make these adjustments.

Image 1: f4.5, 1/500 sec, no exposure compensation, ISO 100 at 85mm
Image 2 (L): f2.8, 1/320 sec , +1/3 exposure compensation, ISO 800 at 85mm
Image 3 (R): f3.5, 1/1000 sec , +1/3 exposure compensation, ISO 200 at 85mm


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