Elegant but Edgy

Posts tagged “Texas

New BMX & Skate park in Austin, TX

Right next door to the Austin Recreation Center (ARC) where Kim plays volleyball, a brand new BMX and Skate park has been opened.  The official opening was on June 16, 2011 and it is already a huge attraction for local skaters.  The park was funded by the City of Austin and has been over 5 years in the making.  The park is the second skate park in Austin, and you could also count as the second bike park to the BMX dirt track over on 9th Street.

Kim had a game at 7:30pm at the ARC next door, so I took advantage of the hour or so to walk across the parking lot and check out the action.  I was amazed at the number of skaters and BMXers that were there, around 60 or so people.  The park is amazingly well designed and the article I read says that it was done by professionals.  It really shows!

On one end there is a huge bowl with a lot of geometry to navigate.  There are rails built into almost every edge and drop-ins along the rim for skaters. I started off with the longer zoom lens to survey the whole area (30,000 sq. feet!) and get some shots off from a bit of a distance until I was comfortable and more importantly, the people there were comfortable with me taking pictures.

Everyone was super polite and the unspoken respect for taking turns was strong.

On the other end of the park is a more “urban” type setting with rails, grinds, stairs, a small half-pipe, and a seating area.  I switched lenses to the wide angle to get more action in the frame.

On this end of the park is an amazing functional sculpture by a local artist, that resembles a giant wave.  The skaters can use it for tricks and it just looks cool.

After a while, I started chatting with a few of the guys and showing them some of the shots on the camera LCD.  They got pretty stoked, and some of them started doing better tricks for the camera.

I picked a great time to show up, while the sun was sinking over Austin.  The light was just incredible and I barely had to bump the ISO up on the camera until close to 8:30.

As the hour wore on, some new people showed up and turned it on!  I think the guy below came to school some of the younger BMXers.  I did a single image HDR conversion to the photo, to bring out some of the detail in the building and of course, the rider.

Man this place had such a great old school vibe.  I edited the photo below in that spirit, like it could be any of the past four decades.

The temps were up around 97 degrees, even that late in the day, but everyone was going hard and having a great time.  This is definitely a gem for the city and I will probably become a regular fixture there.  There are so many great photo ops, and the people were just cool, but it has always been that way with the skate and bike crowd.

I can’t wait to go back…


Once we have taken more images, we will place them on our website for viewing and a super discounted price to purchase digital downloads.


An Interview with Light Painters

A few weeks ago, I did a blog post about light painting, and I thought it would be cool to have some friends share their experience with everyone.  With me are three Light Painters and photographers, Mike Ross (TxPilot), Jake Ramirez (DigiCord) and Andy Dufeau (Pixelated~Light).  All of these amazing guys call Texas home, and we have had some fun times hanging out and light painting together.  I should note that we did part of this interview during a two and half hour road trip for a LP session of epic proportions.

Guys, we’d like to hear some of your thoughts on things, especially light painting and photography, but anything is game!

  1. When and how did you get started with light painting?  Who were your influences?

Mike:  I started light painting on the 4th of July in 2009 with my nieces and nephews writing their names with sparklers while I was doing some long exposures of fireworks. I was already on Flickr and being curious, I did a search on long exposures with lights and found an incredible shot posted by another Flickr member that goes by tigtab . The shot was one that she did using a light stencil of butterflies that just blew me away! I started experimenting with different light sources and doing silhouette shots using different techniques, while spending a small fortune on different light tools in the process! Having a background in electronic and computers, I thought a lot about programming various lights and LEDs to create images with light, my ultimate goal was and still is to paint the Mona Lisa with light.

Jake: Well it all started because Adri (other half of DigiCord) was into photography and one day out of pure boredom and luck I found the website DIY Photography and the main page had a tutorial by a fellow named TCB on a Light Wheel he used to create some tunnel shots. After a bit of research on Flickr I made me a wheel and took some not so great photos in our living room but was instantly hooked. At the time i knew nothing about photography so with the help of Adri and TxPilot (who was the first person to message me about being a fellow Texas Light Painter woot woot!!) I started learning the wizardry of the Camera. I had a background in electronics so I soon ordered some LEDs, bought various cold cathodes and we started our adventure into the night. We have met a lot of awesome people, Mike has been a tremendous help and mentor. I have managed to make some great friends with light painting through our meet ups and done some crazy shit with you know who….(points at Andy!  He is probably climbing something as i type this).  DigiCord’s first photo posted to Flickr was of an Orb (shown below) in November 2009, which has been the bane of my existence for quite some time now but I love it and making all of the other various light tools I have created. One day…..I will rule the world with an orb….


Andy:  I started way back in ’96,but not with my own camera. I shot with my brother Eric and his Sears badged Pentax K1000. So he got me started. We did simple stuff like outline each other with sparklers, shoot jumping jack fireworks, play with black lights, lasers, x-mass lights, parking lot light globes, you name it. I started doing my own stuff in ’03 with my 1st camera a Nikon FM10. and my 2nd Graflex 22 medium format. I did mostly just lighting buildings and broken down cars. The 1st light painter I was inspired by was was Troy Paiva aka Lost America. I was mesmerized by his full moon lit shots of America’s waste lands. Living in city like Austin TX I couldn’t just go out and find a yard of rotting cars and planes, so I never masted that form of LP. It wasn’t till I joined Flickr in ’07 where I found the real light junkies. Tdub303, {tcb}, Jannepaint, Captain Blithering, and all the other light junkies really opened my eyes to what is possible in front of the camera. In ’09 I tried my 1st serious light painting shoot, I was blown away with what I had created. I was hooked! Shortly after that I met Digicord, (you Greg) and the rest is history… Digicord and I shot every chance we had and learned so much.

  1. So everyone is going to ask…how the heck do you light paint anyway?  Give us the details!

Mike:  I usually compare light painting to photo long exposures of freeways in the city at night where you see headlight and taillight trails of cars but do not see the cars. Most people have seen those shots and can understand the concept of long exposure times with the car lights leaving trails like that. You have to set your camera to bulb for the super long exposures for the more complex light painting shots, typically using a remote trigger. I usually set my camera to f/13 – 16 range and 3 to 10 minutes exposures on average depending on the brightness of the tools and the ambient lighting involved. This is to keep the shots from being overexposed. One of the benefits to the stopped down aperture is nice starbursts on some of the lights that I use. This is also affected by the shape of the aperture opening as well.

Depending on the type of image I want to create, I may use one of the tools I built for the purpose, such as the light-painting multi-tool (shown below), which allows me to attach various light tools and manipulate the angles and arcs that the tool goes through to create shapes for the image. For example I can create a planet with rings with a combination of these tools or a dome or ball of light.

Jake:  Personally I have just started telling people its magic…..I borrowed Harry Potters Wand…duh. jK. First things first is u need a camera with a bulb setting. I try and explain to people that bulb setting keeps the shutter open and in a dark place any light movement or ambient light is captured by the camera. This is why i say magic, because I don’t even understand what i just said haha..I will leave the explaining to the pros haha. but you can check out my Orb tutorial for a little bit more elaboration.

Andy:  That’s a big question. 1st you need a tripod, shutter cable, lights, and what ever your mind can come up with. Most of light paintings are done with “light tools”. My weapon of choice is the orb tool. Battery, switch, long piece of wire, and some LEDs. You can draw on the walls, in the air, make circles, make orbs, light things, its such a versatile tool. Now on how I light paint?  It depends on what I’m after, the biggest thing is balancing your light sources. If I’m downtown I want to use the brightest light tools I have to fight off  light pollution. If I’m in a tunnel or some were dark. I want to use my light tools + a spotlight to light up key areas. I never have a plan when I set out I usually find a dark place and think. “What can I do here?..”  I just try things until it evolves into something I like. Its hard to explain LP I’ve tried it many times and most people ( non photographers ) just end up looking like a dog who was shown a card trick… ~tilt head~ “Huh?” I will try and walk you though my tilt shift half orbs shot. 1st I set up on top of a hill to get a good vantage point, with my Hartblei Tilt Adapter and 80mm 2.8 medium format lens mounted to my Nikon D80. I set the tilt to 8 deg. try to focus where I want my orb, hit the shutter, run down the hill spin a quick half orb, check and adjust focus. Now I set the aperture to f/ 5.6 to get a wider DOF, spin my half orb, and I do this by turning the orb tool on and off at every downward stroke. Run up the trail some more spin the top half ( This took 11 shots to figure out how to get right ) run back to my camera and change the f stop to 2.8 to get the full tilt effect, wait a min. or so and end exposure. The whole shot took about 3 min. I like to work fast.

  1. So, do you need to be nocturnal to be a light painter?  Is it exclusively an outside night time activity?

Mike: No and no. I have a regular day job, but most of the light painting does occur at night, just because it’s easier than finding a large dark interior space. We recently did a major shoot inside of an empty warehouse.

Jake:  You can light paint during the day if you have a dark room.  I have done something called physiograms inside in the living room with the windows blacked out.

Andy:  No, but it helps. Any where dark will do. I work 8-6 as a Toyota mechanic and I always try to find time to go out and shoot.

  1. What about the gear?  You can’t just get this stuff at the store.  Where would someone start?

Mike:   Any light source will work for light painting ranging from cell phones to flashlights and all sorts of other specialty lighting. To get specific effects, you will have to experiment with different types of light sources and techniques in using them. The photo below includes just a sample of the different light tools that I have used in the past.

Andy:  Yes you can! Auto parts stores, Dollar stores, electronic stores, hardware stores, and just about any store that sells lights. You just have to look. I once made an orb tool at a party with a flash light and some string. It took seconds! I would start at any big box store.

  1. Is Texas a hotbed of light painting activity?  Where else in the world can we find people doing this amazing stuff?

Mike:  There are Light Painters scattered everywhere around the globe! I know of several light painters in many parts of Europe, Australia, Canada and China as well. There does seem to be a small concentration of them here in Texas but I know of a similar concentration in Melbourne, Australia.

Andy:  I don’t think TX is a hotbed for LP?… I only know of 4 or 5 people in TX who LP regularly, and I shoot solo 99% of the time. You can find LP all over the world! There is so much talent out there, it’s hard to keep track.

Jake: I don’t know what these 2 are talking about…Texas for the win!!! (jk) Texas just happens to have some really talented light painters but they are really scattered throughout the world. Just search on Flickr and you will see all them crazy people running around at night in strange places all over the this planet.

  1. Some light painters are instantly recognizable.  Do you have a signature style?  Is it the gear?  The camera work?

Mike: I don’t know if I have a signature style, but many people recognize images where I have used my programmable light sticks. It’s definitely the gear and how it is used. I like experimenting with different techniques and different types of images, but I think a lot of my work is recognizable by other light painters as being my work. I can look at a lot of images from other light painters and recognize who the artist was almost instantly simply by the type of image they created.

Jake:  I like to think I don’t have a style but I am primarily known for my orbs. Its something I work very hard on and spent many nights practicing. I’m still in the pursuit of my perfect orb…one day dammit….when I get them robot legs. I think its easy to pick out the style of a Light Painter by there camera work combined with the light painting, its a unique signature everybody has.

Andy:  I like to think my style evolves as I pick up new skill sets. I do like my shots to be clean, balanced and have purpose. I don’t really go for the wild abstract hot mess shots often. The images I enjoy doing the most are the technical ones. Shots that take 5-11 times to nail. Like my recent tilt shift half orbs shot, or “though the viewfinder” shots. The pay off is so satisfying. If you don’t have the right gear you can’t really do the technical stuff. Camera work can be mild to wild. You can just set the focus to infinity f stop, bulb, and do what you want. Or you can change the focus and aperture during exposure to get added focus and light control.

  1. Words of advice for newbies?

Mike: Practice, practice, practice. Visit the discussion area of the Light Junkies group on Flickr for tutorials and ideas. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

Jake: Don’t be afraid to fail. It is easy to discouraged, just keep at it and it will start to look the way you want.

Andy:  Experiment 1st and go from there… We all started somewhere.You learn so much though failure. I sucked so bad at orbs when I started. Once you find something you like practice, practice, practice, and before you know it,  you begin to evolve in to a light junkie. Look for new lights every time you go to a store. Thinking of new ideas at work, and scouting for new locations.

As always, it is a blast hanging out with y’all. For those that are interested and would like to learn more about this art form, just follow the links provided to their Flickr accounts.  There is a wealth of knowledge there and tons more amazing images to see.



Our road trip to Ingram, TX was really awesome and here are a couple of images from each of our cameras at Stonehenge II, where we did a light painting session for the ages!

The Hill County Arts Foundation has taken it upon themselves to make this amazing work part of their grounds. More info can be found here:

You can help by donating to the preservation effort.  They have setup a PayPal account to accept contributions for this awesome piece of art, which reportedly has cost over $50,000 to move and setup/repair.  They are in need of anything that people can offer, and have plans to build a picnic area and install lighting and informational signs.  Please take a moment to visit and give a little.  Thanks!

Also, if you would like to purchase prints of our Stonehenge II images, we will be donating the proceeds to the preservation efforts through the end of August and offering 15% off prices.  Visit our website to purchase prints and use discount code StonehengeII at checkout.


If you are interested in using any of these images or re-blogging, please contact us.

USAV Nationals Tournament 2011

Today we are bringing you some images from the 2011 USA Volleyball Open National Championship Tournament in Dallas, TX.  The tournament is held every year around Memorial Day and the host cities change each year.  Kim has been playing volleyball competitively since middle school and has a team that she captains here in Austin, TX.  Throughout the season, teams play in local and regional tourneys to get seeded for the National competition, and her team usually makes it to this event.  We were lucky this year that it was hosted in our home state, and her club had several teams represented there.  Go ATX Volleyball!

If you haven’t been to a volleyball match, it is exciting and fast-paced!  It is also an extremely difficult sport to photograph.  Most locations (gymnasiums) have poor quality lighting and limited space to move around.  The speed at which the ball can come off of the player’s hands is incredible.  In order to effectively capture the action, a fast camera, “fast lens”, and a high ISO value is needed.  Even at the Nationals location, the light was relatively dim, so I was shooting at high ISO values of 1600 – 3200 in order to get a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second or better.  Ideally, a shutter speed of 1/500 or faster is required to “stop” the ball.  On the plus side, the layout was great and I had unrestricted views of many of the courts.

There is so much going on at the Nationals event.  The teams are divided into men’s, women’s, co-ed, reverse co-ed, height restricted (men’s teams 6’1″ and shorter and women’s teams 5’9″ and shorter), special olympics, and sitting volleyball with different skill levels for each of those categories.  Each year, there are close to 1000 teams participating in this tournament spread out into two sessions over a week and a half and over 70 volleyball courts.

I was only able to attend a half day, but the actual tournament runs for a week and a half.  The teams typically play two days of “pool” play to get ranked for the playoff round brackets.  The third and fourth days are for playoffs, where the teams battle it out match by match.  The action is intense and everywhere you look, there is top level volleyball going on.

All of the players are athletic, but some of these guys can jump insanely high!

For people wanting to shoot indoor volleyball, the first rule is NO FLASHES!  Most sanctioned tournaments will not allow you to use flashes, since it is a major distraction.  This leaves little options except to get a professional dSLR camera with very high ISO capability.  As I mentioned, I was using ISO 1600 – 3200.  On some high-end camera models, this can be pushed even higher to ISO 6400 or even 12,800.  The higher the ISO value, the more light is allowed to enter the camera sensor.  With this comes the risk of introducing “noise” or artifacts in the image.  With software, you can effectively clean up the images using noise reduction and  I had to do this with some of the images at ISO 3200.

Another consideration is the quality of lenses used to capture the motion.  Better lenses with low aperture values (f/2.8 or less) are essential to allow the maximum amount of light into the camera, while also giving sharpness.  Focus speed is a major consideration when selecting a lens for this type of shooting.  I used two lenses during the tournament, the Canon 85mm f/1.8 and the 70 -200mm f/2.8 L .  Both have excellent image quality and focusing speed, and are probably some of the best lenses from Canon for indoor sports.

One factor you will notice in many of the images is the out of focus areas, or “bokeh”.  While this is desirable in many situations, it is also virtually unavoidable since the lenses were shot “wide-open” at the maximum apertures.  There are times when I would prefer to have sharpness throughout the image, and this can be done to a degree by moving further away from the subjects.  I was able to position myself in the stands for an adjacent court and shoot from a distance to create “clearer” images, even at f/2.8, however this may not be possible in all situations.  Think small high school gymnasiums!

I also brought a Yashica Electro 35 film camera with me, and took a few shots (non-action) with a roll of Kodak 400TX B&W film.  I wonder if 800 speed film (or higher) might be able to capture some action shots? Hmmm….

Although Kim’s team did not advance to the final day of bracket play, this experience itself is so enjoyable. It is also a good opportunity to see friends from all over the country, sometimes only once a year.  It is also a great networking opportunity for many of the players, as officials and board members of USAV are in attendance.

You can view these, and more photos on our website.  If you were there at the first session of Nationals, you may be in some of the photos!


A day at the Zoo!

We went to the Fort Worth Zoo over the weekend.  The Zoo is reportedly ranked number 5 in the country and it is easy to see why, the exhibits are really well thought out and you will feel immersed in the habitats.  Many of the exhibits feature interactive activities for kids and adults alike.  One of the best features for a photographer is the unobstructed view in many of the areas, which makes taking photos so much easier than shooting through glass or fences.  If you plan on bringing your camera, make sure you have a long zoom lens, and for shots through glass enclosures, try a circular polarizing filter to eliminate some of the glare.

There is a little train that runs through the zoo which beats walking if you want to get to the other end.  The ride is $2 each way, and of course the kids will love it!

There are wide range of animals from all over the world, and the zoo has done a great job of grouping them in a way that flows well.  As we were walking, you should have heard the squeals of delight from all of the kids when they discovered the Penguin habitat!  Definitely one of the more popular attractions.

I would recommend planning to spend the entire day, since there is so much to see and do.  If you bring a backpack, bring your own water.  Fort Worth tends to get hot and the water in the fountains is not so tasty.  There is a good selection of food and various shops in the park if you want to eat or buy gifts.  The MOLA (see zoo website) is just amazing and a must see, plus it’s air conditioned if you want a break from the heat.  After a long day, you will be ready for a nap!

To view these photos larger and purchase prints, please follow the link to our website.