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. 

Divided Nation

I was on my way to meet a couple of photographer friends in Austin over this past weekend. As I made my way into downtown, I found Congress Ave. to be eerily quiet. It was Sunday morning and I didn't think too much about finding a parking spot right on the street - something that almost never happens. I called my buddy to find out where they were and said that I was on Congress. "Oh, you must be in the midst of the protesters!", he said. "Huh?", I said. There weren't any protesters around! I wasn't sure what he was talking about but we agreed to meet up along the river trail.

Just as I put my car into reverse to back out of my parking spot, I heard a bunch of shouting. I stopped the car and looked down the street both ways. Sure enough, a parade of people was marching up Congress toward the Capitol building! I wasn't going anywhere then since the police were blocking up the street while the crowd passed. Still not sure what the protest was about, I got out to watch.

There were apparently two groups parading. The first group appeared to be an anti-Trump group. Right behind them was a smaller group of Trump supporters. A few people from the opposing sides appeared to be mingled in with each group, as I saw conflicting signs in the crowds. There was lots of yelling and in the cacophony of it all I couldn't make out much of what was being shouted through megaphones. Certainly there was a lot of angry speech by both sides. It was an interesting spectacle. The parade passed by loudly and quickly, like an orderly stampede, kept in line by a large police escort.

This is a photography blog and I have no desire to discuss politics here. That said, as today is Independence Day I can't help thinking about the divisiveness in America. It is certainly concerning to see so much hateful rhetoric in the news and on social media these days. We are a free people. We are also so terribly divided. Marches like the one I observed are made possible by the freedoms that we celebrate this holiday. It is freedom of speech in action, although I don't know that all the shouting and demonstrating is particularly constructive. When a people and its representation are unable to resolve issues in rational discourse, I guess demonstrations like this become the only way some people feel like they have a voice. It's unfortunate that so many of those voices seem to be fueled by hate.

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.

Swamp Bats at Fado

My good friends in The Swamp Bats played a great acoustic set at Fado Irish Pub in downtown Austin last Friday night. I made the trip into town by way of bus since I'm not crazy about driving into the downtown area on weekend nights. Since I was on the bus schedule, I only got to catch about an hour of the guys' set. It would have been nice to stay all night. A Swamp Bats show is always a fun yet passionate performance by some of the most talented guys I know. In addition to the core band you never know who you'll see come up on stage as band leader Steve Klotz is fond of calling up other musicians he sees in the crowd to join in or lead a number. A love of music and sharing it with friends is how they do it in the swamp.

Solitude in the City

I've been quiet on the blog lately. A sinus infection that turned into bronchitis has had me down and out for a good week now. After days of sinus headaches, hacking coughs, difficulty breathing, fevers, and just feeling generally lousy, I'm starting to return to health. Seems like everyone is getting sick. Ah, spring time in Austin, allergy capital of the world. 

Speaking of Austin, those of us who have lived here for many years are finding our once little city not so little any more. Thousands of people move here every year. Our traffic has become a nightmare. Rush hour never seems to stop anymore. The open land around the city is getting consumed with growth as the landscape is bulldozed for more subdivisions. In the heart of the city, new construction extends skyward as high priced condos can't seem to be erected fast enough. The city is changing at an alarming rate and I can't say it is for the better.

The image above was taken a few weeks back in downtown Austin. I like to run out with an old manual-only film camera and a roll of film every so often. It's a breath of simplicity and sanity in this fast paced gadget focused world. It's a time to switch off the smart phone and wander about in search of images with only my creativity and experience to guide me. Exposures are made by my judgement of the light, no computers involved, no batteries required. Perfection doesn't matter. I'll make mistakes. Not every frame is a keeper and it costs me time and money to find that out. A little skill, a little chance, maybe a picture worth keeping. 

It is getting harder these days but if know where to look in Austin you can still find a quiet moment of solitude. The Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge is a popular place and usually full of people on a nice day. As I was walking below the bridge I glanced up and saw the one guy. In that brief moment it looked like he had the bridge to himself. Far from it, of course. For a short time at least, he had his solitude in the city.

Image captured with an Olympus OM-1N 35mm camera with 50mm f/1.8 lens and red filter. Poly Pan black and white 50asa film.

Death Valley High at the Dirty Dog

My buddy Mark asked me I could stop by his studio and give him a hand with a photo session for the band Death Valley High. This San Francisco based group is on tour and they got Mark to do some studio shots for album art work before their Austin show. I was happy to help and these guys were a lot of fun to work with. They invited me out to their show last night night at Dirty Dog so I headed down their with my camera for some live music shooting. The guys put on an awesome show I enjoyed capturing some stills of their performance. Here are a few favorites of mine.

Full image gallery from the show is here.

Fujifilm X-T1, XF 35mm f/1.4, Classic Chrome

Burnet at Night - A Revisit

I've posted before about walking along Burnet Rd in Austin at Night. It's not particularly interesting during the day, at least to me. It takes on a different look at night when light is sparse. Things that seem mundane in the daylight become intriguing in the subtle brushes of light from manmade sources. I enjoy the calm and quiet of an evening stroll while observing what the interplay of darkness and light choose to reveal.

Windows

Quiet Places

Objects

Hot Rods at Top Notch

Top Notch Hamburgers in Austin hosted a vintage hot rod show last Saturday and I stopped by to check out the rides and, of course, snap a few photos. While I'm more into motorcycles than cars, I appreciate vintage vehicles of all varieties. There was a nice turnout at this burger drive-in. There wasn't a lot of light left in the day by the time I got there so I quickly made the rounds, pausing briefly to capture the cars and details that caught my eye. Here are a few favorites.

Full image gallery from the event is here.

Fujifilm X-T1, XF 23mm f/1.4, Classic Chrome

Obscured by Echos at Red 7

I caught my friends, Obscured by Echos, at Red 7 last week. A couple of years ago I did some promo shots for the band and this was the first time I've been able to make it to a live show. It was a long time in coming and I was happy to see their short set at Red 7. It turns out this was my only chance to see them at this venue. Red 7 is sadly closing its doors, the latest in Austin's trend of making it possible for small music venues to survive with ever increasing rent in downtown. Got to have more condos. So much for Austin's "Live Music Capital of the World" tag line. The small clubs that have been the heart and soul of the Austin music scene are slowing being squeezed out by the dense construction of high rise condos, hotels, and offices.

OBE has an interesting sound - kind of a psychedelic rock, punchy yet ethereal. Not the sort of thing I've really listened to before but I enjoyed the show. They had a little bit of a rough time due to a malfunctioning keyboard and managed to work around it. I thought they sounded great and pulled off a tight set in spite of the technical difficulty. 

More shots from the show are here. Images were taken with a Fujifilm X-T1 and XF 35mm f/1.4 lens.

Late Night on Burnet

I met up with my good friend Tony for dinner and a few drinks last week. We didn't really plan on taking any photos that night. It was more about hanging out, venting about some things, laughing about others. Being that we are both photographers we just happened to have cameras with us - imagine that. After dinner we took a brief walk down Burnett road. It's not the most exciting bit of Austin. It was dark and quiet - eerily so in some places. We each found a few things of interest on this mundane stretch of road. The search for something interesting in poorly lit ordinary areas like this is challenging and distracting - in a good way. It takes my mind off of my cares and worries. It makes me happy.

Images were captured with a Fujifilm X-T1 and XF 35mm f/1.4 lens.

Night Rides

I had just finished watching a flick at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz on 6th St. in downtown Austin one Tuesday evening. Being a weeknight, the street wasn't as crowded as it typically is on Friday or Saturday. The street is closed during peak party times to allow the inebriated masses to wander freely without fear of being hit by cars. Since Tuesday is a fairly quiet night on "dirty 6th" the street was open to traffic. Bikes and pedicabs are popular in the congested downtown area these days. You also see a good number of motorcycles on warm nights. I saw a few small cab-like carts that I have never noticed before.  

Having my pocketable Fujifilm XF1 with me, I lingered outside the theater a little while and snapped a few images of folks riding by. I love the energy and motion in these shots. While that  compact camera isn't the greatest in low light it worked fine for these panned captures. When you're dragging the shutter like this almost any camera with manual control can work. You can shoot at a lower ISO with the longer shutter to keep noise down a bit. I personally don't mind graininess and sometimes add more grain in post. I also don't fret too much over getting a pan shot's subject in perfect focus. The abstract feel of some of the blurrier shots often appeals to me. It's more about mood, gesture, and texture than critical focus.

The Heavenly States at the Continental Club

My friend Mark introduced me to a great band the other night. He was doing some concert photography for The Heavenly States and he invited me along to check them out at the Continental Club. I've never photographed a band at this venue and I jumped at the chance. The Continental Club is a legendary live music club that brings in some top acts and attracts large crowds that pack this inmate venue shoulder to shoulder on weekend nights. The Heavenly States put on a fantastic show and I'm now a fan. This group features keyboards prominently in their music, which can be hit or miss with me in the rock-n-roll genres. The Heavenly States make it work quite well with some thoughtful songs and catchy melodies. Definitely a fresh and different sound to my ears. I'll look forward to catching these guys again on one of Austin's many stages.

More pictures from the show can be seen here. Photographed with a Fujifilm X-T1 and XF 35mm f/1.4 lens. 

North Lamar

I took a stroll down North Lamar in Austin with my good friend Tony a while back. It's not unusual for us to wander the streets of Austin with our cameras. This particular area was a little different though. The challenge was to find interesting subjects in a rather bland looking part of town. Tony and I had done this sort of thing before and we found that while you might have to look a little harder than, say downtown Austin, there were actually plenty of things that drew our individual interests in a seemingly mundane area. As I'm usually inclined on outings like this, I kept things simple. One camera, one lens. I enjoyed some good conversation while wandering about, letting the night and minimal lighting inspire us to take a closer look at those things that we take for granted in daylight.

Windows

Gates

Signs

People

Things

Fujifilm XT-1 with XF 35mm 1.4 lens, Classic Chrome.

She Dances With Light

I was in downtown Austin for the Noir City film festival at Alamo Drafthouse last night. As my wife and I made our way through the 6th party crowd, I noticed that the Bat Bar had a dancer in their stage window. Since I happened to have my small point and shoot Fujifilm XF1 with me, I stopped to grab a few shots. The shot above is the scene that caught my eye. After firing off a few frames I realized that I needed to get closer. I framed the window tightly and fired away for minute or so. The quirky XF1 doesn't focus that great in situations like this and that didn't bother me. I was out to capture the patterns of light, the form and gesture of the dancer, and the energy of her dancing. It can't be an easy job - performing in a 6th St. bar window with an audience of mostly cat calling staggering party goers. Still, she seemed to feed off the thumping pulse of the music and danced with a passion.

Here are a few shots I like. I cropped them to squares since nothing outside the window mattered. I think I avoid square crops because it makes me think of Instagram. Sometimes it is what the image needs though. Harsh light, high contrast, and a little crunchy with grain. Hopefully some of the energy finds its way through. 

Lonestar Round Up 2015

Last weekend was the Lonestar Round Up, a great car show at the Travis Expo Center that draws a huge crowd to see a lot of custom car creations. It was a busy weekend for me and I managed to get by the show for only a couple of hours - not near enough time to see everything. I tend to gravitate towards the classics and the rat rods. Here are a few highlights from the show. As usual, I shot with my Fuji 14mm lens on my Fuji X-T1 so that I could get up close among the crowd. Full image gallery is here.

Hey! You Gonna Eat or What?

No, I'm not asking a question. That's really the name of one of the food trucks parked at The Picnic trailer food court in Austin. I was downtown running errands recently and decided to check out the Hey! You Gonna Eat or What? bus that I'd heard good things about. With a reputation for rudeness and a short menu of artery clogging fried cuisine, I wasn't sure about this at first. Well, I was pleasantly surprised. I'd heard the Monte Cristo is amazing so I ordered that from a surprisingly friendly and chatty guy at the window. If the warnings on the bus were any indication, I was expecting to be yelled at by an disgruntled musician running on 3 hours sleep after a dive bar gig on 6th. Maybe they only yell at tourists and hipsters. 

Another surprise was that owner and chef Eric personally delivers your food to your picnic table, dressed in kitchen attire like you'd expect to see in a ritzy steak house. Between the line and the queue of orders ahead of me, it took over half an hour for Eric to deliver my plate of fried goodness. He explained the details of my order's ingredients and preparation like a waiter serving a fine wine. Was it worth the wait? Heck yeah it was! Sorry, I didn't take a photo of my lunch. I'm not that guy. Go get your own. You gonna eat it or take pictures of it?