Austin, Texas

Austin, Texas is a diverse town with a rich culture that runs the gamut from government and academics to night life and sports.  Though not quite considered a "small" town, it still has a small town vibe (except for Mopac anywhere near rush hour during the school year).  Yet, Austin is big enough to have a little something for everyone. 

Recently, a good friend came to visit and we decided to take our cameras and walk around the city and check out some of the the more prominent landmarks.

The Texas State Capitol Building. Canon 5D III, 17-40mm f4.0L @24mm, f5.6 for 4 secs.

The Capitol Building at night is lit up on all sides.  Even when the sun goes down it's still a popular tourist attraction.  Luckily for photographers, when we capture low lit scenes we tend to need long exposures.  Long exposures have a convenient way of eliminating unwanted pedestrian distractions and it can look like we have the entire site to ourselves.  Here the walkway was teeming with people but you wouldn't know it!

University of Texas Tower. Canon 5D III, 70-200mm f2.8L II @70mm, f11 for 30secs.

While we were on the University of Texas campus the university was celebrating the 100 year anniversary of the Humanities Department.  The tower was lit with the number "100" going down the sides.  However, this was also the week Longhorn Nation lost Coach Darrell Royal, the man who brought Texas to sports prominence and established the school's football program among the elite in college football.  I took the original image into Photoshop and rearranged the lights in the windows to symbolize what many believe to be Coach Royal's greatest contribution to the sport, the wishbone offense.  Without going into the intricacies of the offensive scheme, the wishbone has a very unique formation out of which all the plays are ran.  Directly behind the quarterback is the fullback and flanking the fullback are two running backs on either side.  The lights above are how that formation would look on a chart.  With all due respect to the Humanities Department, this is how the university should have lit the tower that week.  (The Longhorns did run out of the wishbone for the first play against Iowa St. that weekend in honor of Coach Royal's passing.)

University of Texas Tower, Canon 5D III, 70-200mm @85mm, f7.1 for .8secs.

Here's the top of the tower seen through the trees that line Speedway Drive.  We walked around campus looking for a just the right set of trees to frame the tower and found them a block away to the east.  The trick was to capture the tower, the trees, and the stars in one image. 

6th Street, Austin. Canon 5D III, 14mm f2.8 @14mm, f22, for 1.3 secs.

To the delight of the students, 6th Street is just a quick walk south of campus.  This area of Austin is renowned for its live music and active night life.  I wanted to get a shot that showed The Frost Bank Building looming over the bars on 6th Street.  The beautiful Frost Bank Building has come to dominate the Austin skyline and from this angle it looks like a large clockwork owl ready to wreak havoc on the partygoers, Godzilla-style.

Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial. Canon 5D III, Sigma 50mm f1.4 @50mm, f2 for 1 sec.

No single person more personifies the Austin music scene as Stevie Ray Vaughan does.  SRV was taken from us in 1990 but his musical legacy is just as strong today as ever.  This memorial statue sits on the other side of Lady Bird Lake from downtown Austin.  When we arrived it was pitch black.  There are no lights shining on the statue.  This poses a problem for any photographer that forgets to pack a flash.  I may or may not have been said forgetful photographer, but luckily my shooting partner had his.  The conundrum here is that I had no way to trigger it off-camera.  We solved this by setting the camera on a tripod and choosing a long exposure.  Then we manually triggered the flash during the exposure.  With no way of adjusting the flash's intensity in pilot mode we had to adjust our distance from the subject with our feet.  After a few test shots we found a good distance and took the above shot.  It was a very low tech solution but it worked!

Pennybacker Bridge. Canon 5D Mark III, 17-40mm f4L @ 31mm, f22 for 40 secs.

Our final stop was Pennybacker Bridge on Loop 360.  The bridge has a cliff on its north side, but the legality of scaling the cliff to get this shot exists in a grey area.  You aren't allowed to park on the side of the road, but there are clear and obvious trails leading up from what looks like a parking area.  Regardless, like any self respecting photog we threw caution to the wind and disregarded personal safety to get the shot.  The cell phone towers over the right side of the bridge are an eyesore during the day, and perfect cloning fodder, but at night they light up and add delightful visual element to the background.  Austin's lights can be seen on the horizon to the left.

Austin's night scene is lit with vibrant lights of many colors, as if metaphor for Austin themselves.  With cities in general, sometimes it's fun to get out and photograph a side you don't usually see.  For me, I'm normally in Austin during the day so when it gets dark Austin can look foreign and different - and that's the spice of personal projects like this.

-JD