Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography

Texas

The movie Boyhood and the little connections that make it more meaningful

Boyhood Book Signing, Precision Camera - Austin, Texa8

Boyhood Book Signing, Precision Camera – Austin, Texas

I watched Boyhood the other day. You might have heard about this movie, created over 12 years by Director Richard Linklater. It recently won a Golden Globe for Best Picture, Drama and is up for several Academy Awards. Don’t worry, no spoilers in this post. Just in case you want to see it. And I do recommend that you watch the movie.

As this is a photography blog, most everything I post is somehow related to photography. If you watch the movie, this connection will be obvious. But for me, it goes beyond that, which makes this a particularly interesting film.

I’m not a film critic so I won’t go much into it. All I’ll say is, unlike typical Hollywood movies, Boyhood is authentic. Perhaps a bit more drama than a typical family but totally believable. You get to follow a family, especially the son, over 12 years, filmed in real-time. This may be the first time this has ever been done.

The movie was shot in and around Austin and I recognize may of the places, which is always fun. But it’s more than that. As a father of two boys 15 and 11, I see them growing so fast. Not quite as fast as in the movie but close enough for discomfort. I have my own Boyhood moments when I look at photos of my kids that I took years ago. They seem like just yesterday.

There are other enjoyable connections too. Late last year, I was in Precision Camera and stumbled on a book signing. Local photographer Matt Lankes, who got to document the movie over the 12 years, created a wonderful portrait and behind the scenes book on Boyhood.

Closed Canyon - Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

Then two weeks ago, at our monthly Austin Photographic Society meeting, Matt gave a talk on his photography and the movie. We found out they filmed their final scene in Big Bend. Yet another connection, which we explored when we visited Closed Canyon in Big Bend Ranch State Park, last week. You might recognize this photo, if you watch the movie. A neat place for sure and it was one of the highlights or our trip out west.

So a big thumbs up for the movie unless you want to see car chases, explosions, zombies or a dystopian future Earth. Boyhood doesn’t fit the typical Hollywood mold and that’s what makes it all the more special. Oh and pickup Matt’s book too.

Boyhood Book - Austin, Texas

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I took all the photographs with the Pentax Q7 in JPEG.

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The best sunset of my Big Bend Trip

Highway Sunset - San Antonio, Texas

Highway Sunset – San Antonio, Texas

I got back from my first excursion to Big Bend last night, actually right during the Super Bowl. No worries, I’m more interested in photography than football. It was a good trip and this city boy made it safely though 5 days in the country.

The weather was better than expected but we still had a fair amount of overcast or uninspiring skies. Ironically, the best sunset occurred on the way back home. I shot these photos out the back of the minivan as we passed through San Antonio, Texas. Beautiful skies to be sure, but we all wished that we got something like this out in Big Bend — mountain silhouettes are usually more inspiring than overpasses. But of course, I’m usually an urban photographer so perhaps it’s just fate.

Highway Sunset - San Antonio, Texas

Therein lies the challenge with landscape photography, of course. You have no control of the weather and not much control over the light. Composition maybe the only saving grace but that only goes so far. So on my first serious landscape photography trip, I learned to make do with whatever I had. It was a fun time and I’ll certainly talk about the details over the next bunch of posts.

Highway Sunset - San Antonio, Texas

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My first Big Bend Trip: A city boy is going to the big open country

Planning the Big Bend Trip - Austin, Texas

Planning the Big Bend Trip – Austin, Texas

I’m going to the country. This may not be a big deal for most, but for me, it’s a momentous occasion. You see, I was born in New York City and lived mostly in big cities. Actually, Austin is one of the smaller places I’ve lived. When my family goes on vacation, we go to larger urban areas to recharge.

My situation is a source of endless fun for my friends. After all, I’ve never been camping, never been on a horse and never done other typical outdoorsy activities. Not to say I haven’t lived life though. I ask my nature-loving friends if they’ve ever ridden on the outside of a subway train before. Well anyway, that’s back when I was in high school and they frown upon outdoor train riding in NYC now.

from Austin to Big Bend Map

I’m going to Big Bend National Park, all the way on the South Western end of Texas near the border with Mexico. A photography expedition and a workshop of sorts. My friend Alex Suarez is leading it. Between him and the other participants, we have a lot of experienced people and a total of 8. It will take at least 7 hours, not including food and rest stops.

hiking boots

It’s been interesting preparing for it, mainly the non-photography gear. I’ve gone to REI more than I ever have, picking up comfortable hiking boots and assorted knickknacks. So, I’m going to a desert in the dry season in a middle of a drought and the forecast says it’s going to rain? Are you kidding me? Back to REI for some weatherproof pants.

I even “invested” in a new camera backpack too. A nice Thinktank Streetwalker Pro which seems perfect for the gear I plan to bring. When I travel on planes and through cities, I go light with a small messenger style bag and mirrorless cameras. This trip is different. We’re going by car (minivan actually) and it’s going to be packed to the gills with everyone’s photo gear. We’re supposed to be hiking too, which got me a little concerned. Remember that bit about never being in the country?

I’m going to say it right here, before the trip, that my gear selection might be a colossal mistake. But, I’m doing it. I’m taking 5 cameras! Crazy right? I know. And not all of them are the small mirrorless variety.

Thinktank Backpack

First up, I’m bringing my Canon 6D with the 24-105mm f4 lens. It’s my highest quality digital camera and I’m going to use it for landscapes. I also have an old manual focus Tokina 19 – 35mm which I’ll use for night, wide-angle shooting. Big Bend is supposed to have the darkest skies in the continental U.S., I want to shoot the Milky Way. Oh, did I mention that I’ve only seen the Milky Way once or twice in my life? Stargazing in NYC, not good.

I said in my previous post that I’m getting into Medium Format Film. So, I’m also taking my Mamiya 645E with 3 prime lenses. I now have a 55mm, a 80mm and a 150mm. In 35mm terms, they equate to a 35mm, 50mm and 93mm focal lengths. I’m really curious how medium format film compares to my full frame (digital) Canon 6D. How are the colors? The detail? I think Big Bend will be a wonderful landscape test for both cameras.

I’m also bringing my Nikon 35Ti compact film camera. I get to shoot it along side the big film camera — with the same film. Kodak Portra 400, which I always use and Fujifilm Velvia 100 slide film, which I’ve never shot. Slide film is more challenging than negative film so I’ll see how that goes.

film

I’m taking my ultra compact Pentax Q7 system with 3 lenses. I’ll have the 40mm equivalent prime but also the 18 – 28mm and 70 – 210mm equivalent zoom lenses. The entire system weighs a mere 1 pound. Ironically, I’m going to have the most reach and flexibility with the lightest system. It will be fun to document the trip and I might even use it for landscapes.

Finally, I’m bringing the Olympus OM-D E-M10. Charles from Olympus let me use it along with the wide-angle lens. I’m going to do something special with it, which I’ll talk about after the trip. It will be neat if it actually works.

So there you have it. My crazy kit for my first ever landscape excursion. I won’t hike with all my gear but with tripod and water, the backpack is still going to be 20 pounds. Much more than I’m used to carrying since I’m usually a light and nimble mirrorless guy. We’ll see. As I get tired, I might shed gear on subsequent hikes.

Wish me luck, I should be back Sunday.

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I took all the photographs with the Pentax Q7 in JPEG.

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More Experiments with film: The Nikon 35Ti at the Texas football game

University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas

University of Texas Football – Austin, Texas

I mentioned that I was testing a new film camera during my first ever University of Texas football game. I shot most of it with the Olympus E-PM2, a small mirrorless digital camera, my workhorse when I want a smaller camera with the flexibility of interchangeable lenses. But you know that I’ve been on a film kick lately.

I recently got a Nikon 35Ti, a high-end compact camera from 1993 with a fixed 35mm f2.8 lens. It was a premium compact which sold for $1000 back in the day, which is equivalent to about $1650 in today’s dollars. I got this slightly worn, titanium clad camera from Adorama for $265. Like the Rollei 35, which I picked up for a song, it’s possible to get very nice film cameras for a fraction of their original prices.

The Nikon 35Ti, unlike the Rollei 35, is a fully automatic camera with a sophisticated Nikon matrix meter and auto focus. It’s easy to shoot and unlike a SLR, it’s very compact though without the capability of changing lenses. It works for me since I love the 35mm focal length. In a way, this 35Ti is like the Fujfilm X100S of its day. They look very different, with the Fuji sporting a faux range finder treatment, but they are fundamentally compact auto focus cameras with a similar fixed focal length.

So why the attraction to film in this age of nearly perfected digital cameras? It’s all about the color and the feel. 35mm film is grainier with less resolution and it doesn’t perform as well in low light. By most modern standards it just doesn’t measure up. However, I’m fascinated by film’s character. I shoot differently too. When each shot costs real money, I’m more discriminating. I don’t necessarily think it makes me a better photographer, but it does impose limits which makes me try harder.

University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas

Take this photo, for example. The film and my post processing has really brought out Texas’ burnt orange. I joke that I probably see more fall color in this shot than I’ll ever get in Austin. I used Kodak Portra 400 film and added additional saturation via digital post processing. Portra typically has muted colors that work well for portraits but I find that I can amp up the saturation which satisfies my taste.

University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas
University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas

Here are two pictures of the same scene. Ignore the differences in framing. The Olympus digital image on the top is at a 28mm equivalent and the film image on the bottom is at 35mm. While I think both photographs are equally colorful, they have a different look and feel. Notice how the orange seems to stand out more in the film photograph — there is a liveliness to it. On the other hand, digital has a sharpness and precision that the film lacks. One isn’t necessary better than the other and one isn’t necessarily more accurate. It’s all a matter of taste.

For me though, I’ve been trying to move away from accuracy in my photographs. That may sound strange but let me explain. I’m not a product photographer, luckily, where accurate color and realistic representation of the subject is paramount. I’m trying to create images that convey a mood or feeling, perhaps in a way that a painting would. Paintings are not judged by how accurate they look, rather they usually try to provoke an emotional response. I know that I have a ways to go, but this is what I want to do.

University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas

So is using film a gimmick? Is it like using filters in Instagram to make something look different? Well I certainly hope not but I suppose it’s possible. All I know is that, for now, film evokes a different response for me and I’m hoping that it does so for my visitors. It’s something that I’ll explore for a while and incorporate its effects into my soup of photographic knowledge.

As for the Nikon 35Ti, I’m going to keep it. The first roll gave some strange and inconsistent results and I was afraid that it wasn’t working properly. What you see here is what I shot on my second. The camera is small and easy enough that I can concentrate on framing. It’s not bulky like my Canon Rebel T2. And while shooting everything in manual on the Rollei 35 can be instructional and even fun, in a challenging kind of way, I want something more accessible for my daily film shooter. I’ll let you know how the Nikon 35Ti works out.

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My first ever University of Texas football game

University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas

University of Texas Football – Austin, Texas

In the 23 plus years I’ve lived in Austin, I’ve never been to a University of Texas football game. I got that opportunity this past weekend. My wife graduated from the University but it’s also been 20 years since she’s gone. We both had a great time, thanks to my friend Mark who generously gave us the tickets.

As you can tell, we had excellent seats. My wife remarked, as a student, she was stuck way up there in the nose bleed section. While photographically, a super wide-angle or fisheye would have rendered some interesting compositions from way up there, I was glad to have these seats as a football spectator. I didn’t do much exploring. I was content to take occasional snaps from where we sat.

University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas
University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas
University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas

And as much as I enjoyed the football game, I was equally entertained by the band, the flags and the spectacle that surrounds the game. The precision of the marching band and the pageantry of the flags made for more interesting images, I thought. At least from this level. While I also shot the game, I like the photographs from the pre-game more.

My gear selection, which always involves an interesting set of calculations, centered on being unobtrusive. The UT stadium allows detachable lenses of less than 10 inches. I remember vague, anecdotal comments of people being restricted from bringing “professional” cameras so I purposely went small to fly under any radar. I brought my Olympus E-PM2 with kit lens which looks small and non-threatening enough. I paired that with a small film camera that I recently purchased that I’m in the midst of reviewing. All told it was a humble setup that fit comfortably in my small Domke bag. In retrospect, I wished I also brought my Olympus 40-150mm. The security bag check looked much less imposing than I imagined.

Chanel Woman Watches - Breda, Netherlands

The afternoon was a success though, both for the Texas Longhorns and for my wife and I. Texas beat West Virginia soundly 33 to 16. We had a great time and I got to take snaps of the event. Nothing fancy. I wasn’t shooting on the field and had no illusions of being a sport photographer. All that I was going for was some nice pictures to remember the event. I even pressed my iPhone 5S into service for a decent looking in-phone panorama.

University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas
University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas

It occurred to me that a compact super zoom would’ve of been an ideal camera. Something small that wouldn’t raise the suspicions of guards on the lookout for wannabe pro photographers. Ironically, with all my different cameras, I don’t own a single super zoom. Nope, I’m not in the market for one either. After shooting for months with a fixed lens 35mm equivalent Fujifilm X100S, the 28mm to 84mm equivalent Olympus setup felt more than enough from my needs.

University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas
University of Texas Football - Austin, Texas

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I took the photographs with the Olympus E-PM2 with the standard kit lens.

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