The New Year Post

This post feels kind of obligatory in a way. The weather is a bit cold and dreary so I’ve spent most of the day at my computer going through unprocessed images. Since it is the start of a new year and I was rather negligent with my blog in 2018, I thought I’d kick things off with a post on this first day of 2019. So much has been going through my mind lately, but since this is a photography blog I’ll keep my thoughts focused there.

Due to my busy job and my school work, photography just hasn’t been a huge priority the past year. It’s not where I’d like it to be in my life anyway. I have worked on simplifying things, which has helped. My gear is minimal these days and my photography niches are mainly live music, cars/bikes, and some urban landscapes. I’ve been doing mostly black and white work and I even considered ditching color photography altogether. In fact, I toyed with the idea of a New Year’s resolution to that effect - a year of black and white? As intriguing and tempting as that idea sounds, I’m not committing to that this time around.

I picked up a book of Saul Leiter’s photographs recently and I have to say it has really changed my attitude toward color photography. The muted tones and deep contrast in his photos are quite appealing. Looking through his work was the kick in the pants I needed to look harder at my color photography and try a few things. While I’ve been looking for ways to minimize my gear and workflow, I’m not sure I want to be so specialized as to not work in color at all - at least for now.

My openness to color work and different ways of processing my images resulted in my creating my first photographs of the new year in color. Yesterday I took a drive through some back roads and visited a few small towns. In all honesty, my intention was to photograph in black and white. Actually, I went as far as setting my Fujifilm X100F set to the Acros film simulation, along with raw files being saved. The sky was mostly cloudy and the light was downright uninteresting to me. I’d rather have contrasty light with deep shadows for the kind of imagery I like to create. Despite tweaking the contrast of the black and white JPEG files in camera, the results were downright “meh”.

I could have pushed the files toward what I wanted in Lightroom but it was feeling too forced. Instead, I created a new set of images from the raw files in camera, using Classic Chrome instead of Acros. A bit of punch and tone was added to these in Lightroom, resulting in some contrasty color images with a bit of warm tone that defied the climate of the day. While my heart was initially set on black and white, I liked what I came up with in the end.

I’ve got a lot of plans for the new year and I hope I can work in more photography. One thing that I do want to mention is that I’m giving Medium a try as a blogging platform. There are ultimately more things that I’d like to talk about on my blog besides photography. I don’t know if Medium will replace or just supplement this blog. For now, I’m just kicking the tires. I’ll be reposting some of my posts there to kick off some content and will add some writings that will include things including, but not limited to photography. Come visit me on Medium here.

Taylor Reflected

I was leaving a show in downtown Taylor in the early evening at the end of a balmy summer day. It was late enough to be cooled down enough that I decided to take a walk around a block before heading back to my car. As I walked, my attention was drawn to the reflections in some of the windows so I turned my camera toward them.

Combined with interior details, the reflections created some deep and unusual scenes. I explored this a bit with my camera. Some elements of the interior and exterior were complementary. Others were an oddity. All were an interesting new take on a familiar place. It was a fascinating exercise that I look forward to repeating.

Images were captured with my Fujifilm X100F using the Acros film simulation.

Doors and Windows of Lometa

I wandered around the small town of Lometa, TX one afternoon some years back. It was back in the day when I was usually traveling with a tripod and shooting brackets of images for HDR work. Meh. I hardly ever do that sort of thing anymore. Not knocking it - it just isn't for me any longer. My walk around Lometa produced a bunch bracketed sets of images and as I was going through my archives the other day I found these. I deleted all but the essential single exposures and put together a few black and white conversions. Simple is better these days.

Doors and windows always attract my attention. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because they can be like portals that separate very different worlds and lives. Sometimes they are like gateways to a time past. Lometa had that kind of vibe. I wonder what life was like back before these old portals began to fade and crumble due to vandalism, reclamation, the ravages of time.

Downtown Dallas

For my Christmas post I shared some photos I took in Dallas a few years back. While I have a bit of time off for the holidays I have been going through my archives and revisiting old images that I never got around to processing and sharing. The images below are a few more shots from that same Dallas trip back at the beginning of 2012. 

It is amazing what a few years makes in a city. Six years ago Austin didn't have a whole lot of high rise buildings and I decided to make the trip to a "real city" to get a few architecture shots. These days construction is underway at a frenzied rate and Austin is starting to look like a mini Dallas. However, at the time I took these shots I felt like I needed a different setting. I spent a lot of time in downtown Austin in my early years of learning photography and a new muse was in order. While I don't consider myself an architectural photographer, I do enjoy dabbling. It is the shapes and contrasts, particularly in hard light, that attract my interest. 

Back when I took these photos I was into HDR and I always embarked on my photographic journeys with a tripod so I could capture bracketed exposures. When I went back through my archives and started working on these images, I deleted all those extra exposures. I processed each image from a single raw capture with my camera at the time, a Canon 5D. Like the changing city of Austin, I've gone through a lot of change in my photographic style and process. It's funny to look back now and see how I tried to bring out so much shadow detail in my images. These days I'm nearly opposite in my approach. I don't mind dark shadows and crushed blacks when they contribute to the overall look and mood I'm going for in an image. 

A Quiet Christmas

I wanted to wish everyone who takes the time to read my blog a very Merry Christmas. I have to admit this year Christmas has just about slipped past me. Things have been so busy and hectic for a variety of reasons. This morning my racing mind is finally calming a bit, along with the realization that Christmas is here regardless of the fact that I'm in no way ready for it. I haven't been able to embrace Christmas this year, at least not in the sense of what it entailed in years past - the frenzy of shopping and social get togethers. I didn't even manage to dig the tree out of the closet. My wife and I, along with Lucy the poodle, are simply spending a quiet day at home. Maybe we'll watch A Christmas Story. I'm sure it's playing on one of the channels.

Usually I try to get out and enjoy the decorations around the city at Christmas. While it got a bit chilly overnight, the weather this far south in Texas hardly feels like a winter wonderland. Sometimes festive holiday displays can help to foster that Christmasy feeling. While I didn't make it out for any Christmas photo excursions this year, I've been spending some of my holiday time off from work going through my archives. I found a few images from a day trip to Dallas back on New Years day of 2012 that have a bit of a holiday feel.

Back then I was still fairly new to photography. I toted around a Canon 5D DSLR with several lenses and a tripod. I was into HDR then so almost everything was shot from a tripod. Ugh. I don't miss the days of lugging around all that gear. All the images below were shot in brackets with the intention of processing with HDR and I never got around to doing anything with these. My mindset and technique has changed a lot over the years. HDR is a rarity for me now. After doing minimal processing on single raw files for each of these images, I deleted all the other files in the bracketed series. I just don't need those anymore. It's not how I want to work and I'm happy to reclaim the disk space. 

I'll talk more about my great photo library purge and the recent changes in my approach to post processing in another post eventually. For now, have a great holiday however you celebrate and enjoy some time with friends and family. 

East Side Transformation

I was down in East Austin last month checking out a Punk Rock Flea Market and I decided to take a little stroll. This part of Austin has slowly been transforming over the years from a grungy high crime area to a renovated urban landscape of condos and art studios. There is a certain tension between the old and the new, apparent in art and architecture. Graffiti vs murals, derelict remnants vs sleek modern structures.

This wasn't a photo centric trip so I was toting only my iPhone. That and the Blackie app are all I need to take in the city. I wish now I'd done more photography down here before so many condos started popping up. I wonder how long it will be until condos with trendy businesses on the first floor that dominate the entire east side of Austin. That seems to be where things are headed. Hip and expensive living is the trend in Austin.

iPhone Urban Exploration

My buddy Mark got a new DSLR recently and we met up to wander around downtown Austin for a bit so he could get some shots to test it out. I was minimally equipped for photography that day, having only my iPhone with me. Paired with my favorite camera app, Blackie, I was able to grab a few snaps of some decrepit old buildings down by the railroad tracks. As fast as condos are going up in Austin, I doubt these places will exist much longer.

While I'm still not sold on the 4:3 native format of the iPhone, I am quite pleased with the results I get when paired with Blackie. There's a raw noir look to the images that I love - deep crushed blacks with decent preservation of highlights. Amazing stuff for a camera phone. The dynamic range exceeds my early DSLRs and the apps these days let me get a look I want with little to no post production back on my desktop computer. And to think I used to despise Smart Phone cameras. 

A Ride and a Roll

It had been way too long since I'd taken a ride on a motorcycle down some Texas backroads when I decided to saddle up on my Road King one warm afternoon in early Autumn. Nothing clears my head quite like a ride down some lonely roads, yet I seem to find precious little time to hop on the bike and head away from the city with no particular destination in mind. Photography isn't usually a big priority on little outings like these. Still, there are plenty of interesting sights that stir up nostalgic thoughts and I can't help pausing along the way to capture a bit of a quickly fading past. 

My image gathering companion on this trip was a Zeiss Ikon Nettax medium format film camera. It's quirky to use, with no working meter and focus distance guestimation. This beautiful camera, a gift from a dear friend, is a well suited for travel on two wheels. It folds to a thickness not much more than a deck of cards and slips into a jacket pocket or hip pouch. Sure, so does my iPhone. The limitation of shots on a roll of film, 12 in this case, is just what I need to keep me from turning a ride on a beautiful afternoon into a snap happy photo excursion. It's all about balance. 

Evening Walk in Taylor

The small town of Taylor has become a favorite place to hang out for my wife and I, along with our little poodle, Lucy. In the early evening the sidewalks are adequately shaded from the last of a scorching sun by the wonderful old buildings. We love having a fairly cool and quiet place to walk on these summer nights.

Lucy trots along, happily pausing to meet passersby, while letting out an annoyed snort if I break the pace for a quick photo snap. I enjoy taking in the sights, doing a little window shopping, and capturing interesting details with my iPhone. We usually end up having a cold drink in town at a favorite bar. Ah...Taylor.

All photos were taken with an iPhone 6S Plus using the Blackie app.

A Little Serenity

I met a couple of photographer buddies in downtown Austin last weekend. They had been taking photos around town in the morning and they decided to walk down the trail along Lady Bird Lake. It's July and that means it is brutally hot out. Taking the humidity into account, heat indexes are running into the 110F degree range.

One of the bridges provided welcome shade and a bit of photographic interest. Plenty of people were paddling by on the lake and many paused under the bridge for a break from the scorching sun. It was still quiet hot and muggy on the river bank under the bridge. Still, there was a peaceful serenity there that we enjoyed for a few moments before calling it a wrap on photographic pursuits and retreating to a nice air condition bar for a few cold beverages.

Taylor on a Saturday Night

My wife and I stopped by Texas Beer in the small town of Taylor this evening for a refreshing adult beverage. We've been enjoying visiting Taylor lately. There are a few neat places to eat or grab a drink in renovated buildings downtown. It's such a nice change from Austin, which is getting downright unpleasant to visit these days. It's great to be able to pop into town without the traffic congestion, expensive parking, noise, and crowds of people in the bigger city. 

It seemed extra quiet, even for Taylor, this Saturday evening. There were threats of severe thunderstorms so maybe people decided to stay in. A brief storm passed while we enjoyed our drinks. To our delighted surprise, the oppressively muggy weather was replaced with cool Autumn-like air. Weird how fast the weather changes in these parts. As we walked back to our car, I snapped a few shots on the quiet streets with my iPhone and my favorite app, Blackie.

Taylor at Night

It was a long day at work yesterday and the sun had long since set as I left the office. I was looking for a cold beer and a good dinner but I wasn't up for the Friday night crowd in the Austin suburbs. After pondering the thought of just heading home and microwaving my dinner, I decided to enjoy the cool evening and headed to Texas Beer in Taylor. I knew there would be a couple of guys selling BBQ sandwiches at the bar and I could get a pint or two of their house made beer.

After eating my sandwich, I took my beer outside to a picnic table on the sidewalk and in the quiet night I felt like I had this small town to myself. It's a nice retreat from the bustling Austin nightlife and I was able to mentally unwind from my work week. I enjoyed drinking my beer at a leisurely pace as only a trickle of pedestrian traffic occasionally passed by.

It was too nice of a night to not take a little walk around downtown and, of course, snap a few photos before heading home. My little late evening stroll was a striking contrast to a walk I took in downtown Austin a while back with a couple of friends. In comparison, Austin was congested with traffic, loud, "Dirty 6th" fully lived up to its local nickname with grimy streets and repulsive smells, and aggressive panhandlers were swarming the sidewalks. As people continue to move to the Austin area in droves, I don't know how long downtown Taylor will remain the quiet respite from Austin that it is today. I'll enjoy it while I can.

All photos were taken with an iPhone 6S+, Blackie app, contrast adjusted in Lightroom.

Softness in the City

Last night I joined my friends Tony and Andy for dinner and a short photo walk around downtown Austin. It had been quite some time since I'd walked around downtown. While I love a lot of things about the Austin area, I find myself avoiding the heart of the city lately. The thought of dealing with traffic, crowds, parking, and legions of panhandlers makes it tough for me to choose downtown as a destination for a leisurely dinner and a stroll.

Nevertheless, I was happy to have a chance to meet up with the guys and Sunday isn't so bad for getting into town. As luck would have it, I even found a parking spot on Congress Ave just a block from the restaurant we were meeting at. That never happens! I arrived a bit early and spent a little time walking around while waiting for the others. "Dirty 6th" still lived up to its unfortunate nickname with us locals. The smell of old beer and urine wafted from the alleyways. A panhandler hit me up for "spare" change every 20 feet. I decided to venture back to Congress.

My attitude toward downtown Austin was not improving. It was time to try something fun and maybe give myself a fresh outlook on the city. Before leaving the house I dropped a few soft filters in my bag. I don't think many photographers use them anymore. They were once a common method of softening a subject's skin for a portrait - you know, before we had Photoshop actions for that sort of thing. I thought it would be interesting to try them out on the urban landscape. After playing with different combinations, I settled on a couple of them stacked on my lens. The effect was a dreamy blur with glowing highlights and blooming lights at night. 

Autofocus was sketchy so I switched to manual focus. Even that was a bit tricky but I quickly adapted. I was loving the look I was getting. The way the filters scattered the light made it difficult to get the deep contrast that I prefer so I did touch these up a bit in Lightroom. The look is 90% there from camera. In these days of filters and presets it is easy to forget that there are ways to achieve interesting results optically.  

Daylight Wandering

Night Life

All images were captured with a Fujifilm X-T2 and XF 35mm f/1.4 or XF 18mm f/2 lenses using optical soft filters and Acros film simulation in camera.

Taking the Fuji 18mm for a Ride

It was a warm day for February, even by south Texas standards. While I should have been cleaning out my garage, it was just too nice not to be out riding my motorcycle down some backroads. So, I threw my Fuji X-T2 with my newly acquired 18mm lens in my saddlebag and took to the road, leaving my adult responsibilities behind for another day. 

After a quick breakfast at a favorite cafe, I wound down several curvy roads. While I do love photography, nothing clears my head and chases stress away like a nice ride down quiet backroads. I rode for a couple of hours before deciding to make my way back home. It was then that I'd realized I hadn't stopped to take any photos with the new-to-me lens. It happens - it's easy to get caught up in the ride. Not to fail my secondary mission, I took a detour on the way home and made a couple of quick stops in nearby Granger and Taylor - two great small towns that are wonderful to wander in with a camera. If you read my blog with any regularity, you know that Taylor in particular is a favorite testing ground for camera gear with me. 

Here are a few snaps with the 18mm. The 28mm-ish 35mm equivalent focal length is not a bad choice for documenting interesting details in the small towns I like to stop in while enjoying a ride on my Harley. I'll need some more time to get comfortable with this little lens since I've shot primarily with my 35mm Fuji lens for the longest time. It does look promising so far. Not as sharp across the entire image as my 16mm but it is much smaller, lighter, and considerably less expensive. 

All photos were taken with a Fujifilm X-T2 and XF 18mm lens, Acros film simulation.

A Breeze, Some Trees, and a Window

I was at Shiner's Saloon in downtown Austin the other night and while I was waiting on the band to get setup I snapped this shot. It is late January and we have had some warm days. A weak front was starting to blow in and there was a steady breeze blowing in through the open window at the end of the bar I was sitting at. Congress Ave looked oddly peaceful after I'd made my way into downtown through the heavy car and pedestrian traffic on a Saturday night. The bare trees, glittering with lights, had a calming effect as they swayed in the wind. A few couples walked by on the streets and sidewalks below. I felt a little more at peace in the moment so I took a photo to save it. Nothing special about the photo...and yet there is, to me anyway.

First Ride of the New Year

The first day of the new year was a beautiful one and I couldn't resist a ride down a few Texas backroads with my good friend Mark. We both had some work to finish this morning so we didn't get to hit the road until late afternoon. First order of business was a stop at a BBQ trailer in downtown Hutto. We enjoyed some great food at a picnic table outside in the 70 degree weather - ah, winter in south central Texas. After filling up ourselves, there was a quick stop to fuel up our bikes before heading north.

I took us out to Rogers, TX, a little town I'd ridden through before. We wandered around a bit and took a few photos of some interesting buildings and grain silos. I loved the way the light was raking across the town just an hour before sunset. I was shooting in black and white and loved the extreme contrast of the hard light. Next up, a short ride down from Rogers took us to Davilla. We were headed west directly into the setting sun so I was happy to get off the bike because I could barely see the road for the glare. This small speck of a town made Rogers look like a metropolis. A few neglected old buildings were excellent subjects for photos. 

We decided to leave Davilla heading in a southerly direction instead of the more direct westward route to avoid riding for miles into the brilliant sun as it sank in the cloudless sky. This was a new route for me and I was soon glad we went that way. We rode through Sharp and I was pointing at all kinds of cool stuff along side the road. Daylight was fading fast and I was making a mental note that we would have to return on another day when I saw Mark flip a U-turn in my mirror. We just passed an abandoned school and that was too much for my urban exploration loving friend to resist. After getting a couple quick snapshots and pinning our maps with the location we headed back to civilization. Neither of us had dressed for the rapidly falling temperatures after sunset and our leisurely ride ended with a hasty sprint home. Good food, good friends, and a good ride. Not a bad way to start the year.

All photos taken with an iPhone 6s Plus with Moondog Labs 1.33 anamorphic lens. Photo capture and initial processing in the Blackie app. Further processing in Adobe Lightroom.

Dinner in Georgetown

I met up with my good friend Andy in Georgetown this evening for dinner and a short walk around town. Andy is a talented photographer and we had a good talk about shop and life. We usually take a few photos while wandering about like this and tonight was no exception. Normally I'd have a "real" camera but this time I ventured out with just my iPhone. I think Andy was probably amused by this because it wasn't until about summer of this year until I really gave the iPhone a chance as a camera. While I won't go so far as to say I enjoy shooting with it, I have been more open to experimentation with it recently - particularly on outings where I might like to take a few photos but photography isn't the purpose of the trip. 

We ate at El Monumento before wandering around downtown for a bit. The town square is already lit up with Christmas lights and a Christmas tree was on the courthouse lawn. We saw several groups of people getting holiday photos made by other photographers in the square. I was content to snap a few photos here and there, enjoying the conversation more than seriously shooting. The snapshots below were all taken with a neat little app called Blackie, using a TRI-X simulation in the app. It may not be quite like the real black and white film experience but I do like the results I get with this app most of the time.

Maxwell, TX

My good friend Mark invited me out for a motorcycle ride one fine Spring day recently. We headed out down some backroads, well away from the gridlocked highways in Austin. A little town called Maxwell caught our attention on the map. Mark had driven through there before and remembered seeing some neat old buildings. I love photographing in old small towns so I was more than game. As is usual in these scattered little Texas towns, there wasn't a lot there. Unless you look closely and wander around - then the little details and oddities will appear as you explore the seemingly deserted urban landscape. A little cantina sat in the center of town and a few bottle and cans laying around were the only evidence of anyone being there in recent times. Maxwell was quiet and full of gritty detail as we wandered its empty streets. It was a perfect place to stop on a lazy day of riding a few meandering country roads.

3 on the Sidewalk

The hard light of midday cast deep shadows and a few things caught my eye on a particular corner near downtown Austin last weekend. Just 3 quick shots while waiting for a crossing light to change. The deep shadows were interesting and I could have walked around for much longer were it not for the oppressive heat right now. After a wet June we didn't see any breaks from the scorching sun in July. I'm looking forward to cooler temperatures. We have many weeks before we get there.

Exploring Granger and Bartlett

I went on a motorcycle ride with my good friend Mark recently.  There are a number of interesting small towns along the backroads near Austin and we took advantage of the relatively mild summer weather we've been having to make a few stops and explore a little. I led us on a path that took us through Granger and Bartlett. These tiny towns could use some renovation but I don't mind the rustic look. It's a pleasant break from the Austin cityscape - land of never ending condo construction. While it's a bit sad to see some wonderful old buildings in states of decay, there is something about walking the streets of towns like these that I find reassuring. It's a bit of the past that hasn't been leveled in the name of urban expansion.

Urban landscapes are a favorite photographic pursuit of mine. I've been challenging myself to look for interesting details instead of going after the big picture so to speak. I tend to shoot with a 50mm focal length lately, 35mm maybe here and there. That keeps me from running around snapping shots of whole buildings with a wide angle and calling it a day.  The tighter focal lengths make for a greater challenge in composition and force me to dig a little deeper in my explorations. In these 2 towns I looked for some of the little things - parts over the whole. Of course, it is always hard to resist interesting doors or windows. Some habits I won't shake.

Granger

Bartlett

Photos taken with a Fujifilm XF1, B&W red filter simulation.