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.

Hutto JROTC Car Show

The Hutto High School AF JROTC hosted a fund raising car show recently and I stopped by to take in the sights with a couple of cameras. There was a good mix of cars from classics to modern muscle cars. I gravitate toward the classics and rat rods and I snapped a few shots of my favorites. The event was a great opportunity to try a little experiment. I've been auditioning an Olympus XA2 35mm film camera as a "carry everywhere" camera for times when I'm out doing things and serious photography isn't the priority.  The other camera was my new Fujifilm X-T2. The XA2 was loaded with Cinestill 50 color negative daylight film and the X-T2 was set to the Classic Chrome film simulation.

Cloudy skies skies at the time of my arrival soon gave way to bright sunlight. That was a good contrast for my experimentation. I got to see how both the film and digital mediums performed in flattish light and harsh extremes of light and shadow. It would have perhaps been a better comparison had I used a comparable 35mm focal length equivalent lens on the X-T2 but I neglected to add one to my bag. The X-T2's shots were taken with a 24mm equivalent lens. I often like to play with the distorted perspective so no great big deal to me. The exaggerated perspective do make the digital shots a bit obvious. For the record, the left images below are film and the right are digital.

All images were mildly adjusted with a contrast curve in Lightroom. It is amazing to me how much dynamic range there is in the film images. To be fair, I wasn't shooting in raw on the X-T2 so there is certainly more potential dynamic range. The purpose of my experiment though was to compare the two mediums in the use case of casual photography where I don't want to have to do a lot of post processing work. I did set the X-T2 to its DR200 dynamic range extension, which preserves a bit more detail in highlights. 

Which camera did I prefer? Honestly, the XA2 was more fun to shoot. The exposure is almost entirely automatic - all I had to do was set the ASA setting to the film speed. Focusing is by a 3 position switch and eyeballing the distance to set the proper range. I could just walk around and enjoy the cars, casually snapping without much thought. With the X-T2 on the other hand, I tended to be more attentive to exposure to keep highlights from blowing out. The instant gratification of the LCD screen is an ever present temptation. I try not to "chimp" my shots but I often take a look at the histogram of captured files in difficult lighting. All in all, I felt more in the moment with the film camera. There are pros and cons to both mediums. It's neat to work with film - no it is certainly not dead - and get nice results with a very compact and inexpensive bit of gear. I think I paid all of $40 for the XA2. The X-T2 was considerably more.

Hutto Relay For Life

I was asked by one of the members of the Hutto city council to take some photos of a special event last Friday night. It was called the Hutto Relay for Life and it was a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. The idea was to collect pledges of support and then spend the night on the track of a local school. Cancer doesn't sleep and neither would a whole bunch of people who committed to walking the track all that night. It is a worthy cause and I agreed to stop by for a few hours and get some shots.

There were some powerful moments at this event. Many cancer survivors were there, along with their families and support networks. The courage and fight in these people was evident, as was the joy and love of life as seen in their eyes. This shot was taken at the start of the survivors' lap around the track.

The most emotional time to me was the placing of hundreds of luminaries along the track. Each one represented someone lost to cancer or currently battling the disease. I placed a couple myself - one in memory of my grandmother and the other for a friend of my family who passed last year. Walkers would circle the luminaries throughout the night.

At one point, I was setting up some long exposure shots to capture the luminary lights in the darkness. A girl's voice called out behind me, asking if I would take a picture. I turned around and saw the following scene.

"Wow" was all I could think. I had nothing to do with setting up this shot. It came from their hearts. Eddie is a friend from school, an athlete who was diagnosed with cancer. They were there to raise money in hopes it might help him in his battle. I fumbled to change my camera settings while they waited. I was truly taken back.

The sun was gone from the sky when I returned to take some long exposures of the luminary lights. I snapped a few off and checked my results. Another "wow" moment hit when I saw this image on my LCD screen.

Now, it wasn't image itself that made it a "wow" moment. It was what I realized it represented. The blurry mixture of a crowd of people walking by, some with glow sticks or small flashlights, moving along a line of softly glowing luminaries, became a strong visual representation of what was going on. People moved together with one purpose and the lights represent the lives of those who struggle with cancer or have passed away because of it. People that we love leave something of themselves within us. Even if they pass on, that "something" never goes away. It travels with us, much like the wispy trails of light that flowed along the track amongst the crowd.

I'm glad to donate some time and images to charities when I can. It's tough work covering an event. But, who knows? You may come away with an enriching experience, helping others in the process.