Town & Country

Recently, David traded in all his Canon camera gear and with the trade-in money, he bought a Nikon D850. Where the Canon set up made a little more sense to him, it was more logical to go Nikon because of all the Nikon lenses and gear that I have in my kit. Also, David isn’t a big fan of reading camera manuals and understands things better by being shown how to do something with the camera.

That’s where I come in. I am one of those people that likes to sit down with the manual in one hand and the camera in the other hand and go step-by-step down the menu options, clicking on the buttons and rotating the dials just to see what they do and how I can program them best to use them to my advantage. My reasoning is that I have this expensive piece of equipment, a little computer sitting in my lap, so I best make the most of it. So, I read the manuals and then explain everything the best I can to David, hand “talk” included.

The D850 is an amazing camera. I can take a picture with it, upload it to Lightroom and barely have to adjust the image, except for a few minor tweaks. Usually just clicking on the “Camera Profile” tab in the top right corner in the “Develop” module will do the trick. (Incidentally, that’s a marvelous little feature to customize on your camera if you don’t already know about it. In Nikon speak, I have all my cameras set to “Picture Control Standard”. When I click on the profile tab during editing, Lightroom applies that same profile to my picture so then the image becomes what I saw on the back of my camera, more or less. I shoot RAW and the little thumbnail on the camera’s LCD screen is JPEG, so there’s just a slight difference in appearance, but I can then tweak what I need to and move on to the next image. For all you Canon shooters it’s called “Picture Style”.). The D850 is sharp, renders colors beautifully and, like I said above, barely needs any re-touching, which is how I like to edit. I’m not a big fan of, what I call, “Instagram-y” images, the pictures where the shadows are pulled way up to make it look vintage and faded or the “film” look which is huge right now. I like my photos to look clean, colorful and rich, just as I saw the scene in front of me.

Like I said, I’m kinda a camera nerd.

Image overlay applied in camera.

Last Saturday we finally had a day free of obligations and decided to try out the D850 around Fayetteville. I brought my D5 and flash because I’m always wanting to get more experience using flash outside. The sky was overcast when we set out, so throwing the speed light in my bag made sense.

We first tackled the entertainment district of Fayetteville with its large colorful murals adorning the walls of apartment buildings and restaurants. There’s a wonderful bridge just west of the district which leads up to the university. The bridge was built in 1901 and is a popular spot for portraits, so naturally I had David pose for me so I could get his photo.

We meandered about taking pictures of various things, stopping for lunch and deciding to head down to Boxley Valley to see if we could see any of the elk that live there. I was a little doubtful that we would, seeing that it was the middle of the day, but David reminded me that by the time we got there, it would be close to evening, so why not?

We weren’t disappointed. When we got there, there was a pretty good size herd of elk grazing in one of the cow pastures, with the bull elk sporting a massive pair of antlers. We stayed for a good 45 minutes, taking turns with my camera photographing and marveling at the animals. When we finally decided to pack up and head back home, the sun was well on her way to setting, her lovely light spilling over the valley, highlighting the farm animals and barns along the highway, casting soft, quiet golden light over the world.


Lightning Storm

Last Friday night, we had a huge storm move in over northwest Arkansas and central Arkansas. It brought high winds and heavy rain, even a few tornadoes touched down in central Arkansas. We made it through unscathed, not even losing power. Some neighbors down the street lost a few tree limbs, and I saw more branches scattered about yards as I left for my run this morning.

But wow! What a lightning show we were treated to before all hell broke loose. I had stepped outside for something after dinner and the bolts of light that were being thrown around the sky made me run back inside to grab my camera to try and snag a few photos. David came out to watch and suggested that we try to do a time lapse. I’d never done one before, so he helped me set it up, showing me how to set the intervals and the amount of time I wanted the camera to record. I set up my tripod, fastened the camera onto it and then sat back in the patio chair with David next to me, letting my D5 do all the work while I enjoyed the show.

I’m not exactly sure of the settings I was using. I want to say I had the camera set to ISO 640, f/8, 1/6 sec. . . . but I could totally be off base. The images below I pulled from the video, and apparently Lightroom doesn’t save the EXIF data for videos, so thus the guess as to my settings.

I’ve always wanted to try my hand at time lapse, thinking it would be cool to try it out with a blooming flower. I think Dave and I are going to try it out on a busy street corner when he gets back from his upcoming trip to India next week.

Time lapse . . . just one more thing to teach myself about, but isn’t that the fun of learning?


New Lens Day

I’ve been thinking off and on for the last three years of purchasing a fish eye lens, but I couldn’t justify the expense and really, whether or not I would use it all that much. Lensbaby lenses would more or less do the same and they’re waaaay cheaper than a dedicated fish eye.

But then I got into mountain bike photography where the wider the angle of view is often times better (and makes the rider look like a total bad ass).

So, I did some research last weekend, took a good long run Monday morning to help me decide, came home and hit the “add to cart” button on B&H and commenced to waiting for the White Present Truck (a.k.a. Fed Ex) to arrive with my new 16mm f/2.8 fish eye lens.

As soon as it came Wednesday, I read the small instructional manual that came with the lens, packed up my backpack and headed out to my favorite hiking trails south of town where I hiked, explored and roamed, stopping to take pictures or stopping just to relish the quiet and the light shifting down through the treetops.

The lens is tiny and weighs next to nothing. The trick, and this was something that caught my eye in the manual, is making sure that I keep my hands and feet out of the frame. Something else that I had to watch was my shadow creeping into the bottom of the picture, so I had to make sure to re-adjust my position to the sun to make sure I stayed out of the picture. The great thing about this lens is that it’s teaching me so much about composition. Composition is something that has always come easy to me (it was understanding the Exposure Triangle that gave me fits), but with the fish eye, I’m really aware about doing, what I call, the “Eye Sweep” of the frame before clicking the shutter, checking to make sure that there isn’t anything included that I don’t want in the photo. I’ve always done the Eye Sweep before, but with this lens, I do it at least three times before hitting the shutter.

But I love the whole fish bowl effect, how it looks like I’m peering out into the world from my cozy little den or like I’m way on top of a mountain looking way down below me when I’m just a mere two feet off the ground.

Some of you may not like this effect. It might make you dizzy or carsick (I’m thinking of my daughter who has a hard time with my panning shots. 😉). But I like the whole fishbowl outlook on life, it makes life much more interesting.

I can’t wait to try this lens out on the next mountain bike event.

And the lens is great for making some silly portraits of Langley the Lab, too!


photocon 2018 memphis

Every year, our local camera shop holds a photo conference in cities nearby. They've had shows, classes, lectures and private workshops in Oklahoma City, Little Rock and this year they held their first one in Memphis at the beautiful and extremely friendly hotel, The Guest House at Graceland. I attended my first Photocon in 2016 over in Oklahoma City where I got to hear one of Sports Illustrated legendary photographers speak, and from that time on I was sold on these three day events. 

I am a firm believer in photo conferences and workshops as an extremely important learning tool if you want to progress as a photographer. Not only are you exposed to amazing teachers, but you get a chance to swap ideas with other attendees and pick their brains for ideas and solutions to your own photography puzzles. 

As an added bonus, you get to make new friends along the way.

This year's keynote speaker was the extremely talented Lindsay Adler, one of fashion's top photographers and one of my heroes from the very beginning of my photographic journey. She creates these beautiful high fashion images but on a budget. The headpiece that the model was wearing during the private class I was able to take with Adler was made out zip ties and a bag of "Bling It Beads"! Another thing she likes to employ is a prism made out of three small mirrors she picked up at a hobby shop, gaffer taped together and then she shoots through it creating these dreamy reflections of the model's face (see this post for examples). The woman is a budget-friendly, creative genius.

During our class, she explained how she assesses the scene when she walks into a new location, how she uses the ambient light, if she evens wants to at all. She then sets about constructing her shot: where to place the model, where to set up the lights, what lens to use, all the usual stuff that goes into setting up a fashion/portrait photo.

The most important thing though is what does she want the photo to say, what kind of story is she trying to tell with the final image? That's actually the first question every photographer needs to ask himself, I think, because from there you can get to work to make the mental image you have in your head come to life in front of your camera.

The following images are ones from the first afternoon that Dave and I arrived, a BBQ place we found and devoured pulled pork and fries for lunch the next day, the opening speaker for the conference, and the private class that I took, which includes a few images I made of our model (with a little help from Adler). The gallery then moves into the keynote speech that Adler delivered to all the conference attendees later that evening, showcasing some of her work and her mission statement. I can't stress enough how much I learned from her and just how nice and down to earth Lindsay Adler was. After she finished her class, we were all gathered around her taking pictures, asking questions and just hanging out, when she whips out her cell phone and starts showing us pictures of her dogs that she'd posted to her personal Instagram account. 

And you really can't get any more real than that.

highlight reel

The highlights of the past week:

Meghan moving into a new apartment off the town square. It's part apartment, part tree house and she couldn't be happier.

On my way back to my car Saturday after visiting Meg, I stopped to really look around me and found hidden details that I had never seen before.

Last Sunday, David bought a new mountain bike as an early Father's Day present since he has to travel on the actual holiday and he took me along for his inaugural ride. It was fun, exhilarating and slightly horrifying. I came home with scrapes and a gnarly black and blue welt on my left thigh from taking a corner too tight on the trail. David says I've got street cred now, I say I prefer sticking to the pavement!

I hope you all have a good weekend filled with laughter and fun, and Happy Father's Day to all of you dads out there!


shaking things up

I realize that I go through very specific spells as a photographer. I think we all do, all of us that photograph, that write, that draw, that create. When I first picked up my camera in late 2010, I shot landscapes, nature and macro, never even entertaining the idea of taking pictures of people, of girls making baskets on the court or boys making touchdowns on the field. I never thought about  hunkering down in weeds (and possibly poison ivy) along a single track of dirt hidden away in the woods in the middle of Red Star, Arkansas and taking pictures of mountain bikers barreling down on me, twisting their bike frames in mid air to make an epic leap over small hills even more epic. I never imagined thinking that food could be made beautiful, of all the hours spent getting the props right, arranging linens just so, of how detailed a photograph of milk and cookies could become. I also never imagined ever, ever shooting with artificial light, of going down that rabbit hole and finding out how fascinating off camera flash could be.

When I began learning about photography, I was happy taking pictures of sunsets and ladybugs, creeks and cows. 

But sunsets fade, ladybugs fly away, creeks dry up and cows move to different pastures and I moved on, discovering what a thrill it was to shoot junior high football, traveling girls basketball teams, high school softball and baseball.

And then I fell completely head over heels in love with photographing outdoor adventure sports. I got to get dirty, listen to the birds singing high above me in the tree branches and watch spiders spin their webs. Watching mountain bikers tearing it up on the trails, seeing the pure joy (okay, and a little bit of sheer terror) on their faces as they whizzed by me, some shouting profanely if their chains had popped off during the descent, others wearing big grins, made me feel so in the moment, happy that I caught them with my camera. And if I was out on the water kayaking or stand up paddle boarding with David and Joe, I got to get wet and play in the river. I basked in the wonderful isolation of just being.

But then winter and cold weather hit and I was driven indoors to figure out what else I could do while waiting for warm weather to return. 

That was when I hit upon food photography. I photographed food every day of the week for months. It was frustrating, exhilarating, tiring, but oh, so worth it when the picture in my head appeared on my computer screen afterwards. I discovered the thrill of thrifting, spending hours (and, ahem, quite a bit of money) mulling over teapots, creamers, spoons and rolling pins. I watched classes and read books, all trying to better myself at this new calling I had found. I thought I had finally settled on what it was I was meant to be photographing.

Once again, I have proven myself wrong. Food can be pretty, but let's admit it, it can be a little boring and predictable. My love of sports and off camera flash fascination never left me over the winter, and I found myself eager to get back to the trails, the water and the basketball courts. This past weekend, I cleaned out my food props closet, keeping just a handful of useful items I can use if I found myself shooting food in the future, gathered up all but two of my surfaces and donated everything to Goodwill Monday morning. I have to say, it felt very cleansing to do so.

Something else I realized about myself while taking this journey is I need challenges in my creative life, scenarios that makes me think and figure out a situation. The rush I get when I can stop a mountain biker mid-air with just my camera is indescribable. I get giddy when I pan a road biker , showing just how fast she's moving with that same camera. Those feelings just don't pertain to sports, either. I get the same excitement when I'm taking portraits of people, especially taking portraits and headshots. It's nerve wracking for me to ask someone to turn their head this way, their shoulders that way and then look at the camera. I'm not good with giving direction, but again, the challenge lies in swallowing down that fear in my throat to get the image that I want so badly. 

I'm getting used to being brave, I think.

I love shooting sports. I feel at home out in the woods and excited on the sidelines. I love the silence of the trees and the roar of the crowds. I marvel at what humans can do with their bodies, stuff that I could only hope to do in my dreams. The urge to cover sports, both conventional and not-so-conventional, never left me during the months when I shot food or nature or macro. I get happy when I see a team converge on a player, high five-ing them if they made a touchdown or scored the winning basket. I grin when I'm around a group of mountain bikers and get to overhear their banter, all eager to start their downhill descent along a narrow dirt trail, all of them giving each other a hard time, but all of them a team in their own right. 

Maybe it's because I was never on a team due to childhood asthma, but I feel a bit like an outsider looking in, as well as a welcomed member of the group when I have my camera to my eye.  Either way, I truly have found my calling and I'm eager to get going once again.

You may have noticed that I have changed my blog name back to "Kate Austin Photography". I did that to keep my website, my blog, and my social media accounts all uniform. I'm putting out feelers for more portrait/headshot work (because people are fascinating, too) and I hope to branch out in that area, thus the change in branding. 

shakespeare & roses

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

- - - William Shakespeare

buckle down

These are the words that greet me every time I sit down at my desk and stare at my computer. I wrote them on that bright orange Post-it note to keep me from mindlessly surfing the 'net, to stop reading fluffy blogs and photography articles that all say the same thing. I put them there to remind me that the only person who can make myself better at this work is me, that to get myself up the next big step, to wade in waters to where my feet don't quite touch the rocky bottom and I'm having to walk on tip toe to keep my head above the surface, that only person is me. 

And that's what I'm setting out to do from now on.

I have a wonderful project lined up with my friend, Sharon on May 30th and 31. We are donating our photography to the local cancer support house here in town, complete with make up artists, hair stylists, wardrobe, the whole kit and caboodle. 

A bit like Help Portrait, but in a much more scaled down form.

It's gonna rock.

Another project I've undertaken, and one that I'm determined to really get on top of, is off camera flash. I want to teach myself all about positioning lights, lighting ratios, modifiers, flash output, directing the light to fall where I want it to, how to light a white background to be pure white (and not have to cheat in Lightroom/Photoshop) and really, truly understand the Inverse Square Law once and for all.

And then to light other people the way I learned on myself.

I began this mission Tuesday, working with my 24" softbox from 9:30 in the morning to 4:30 in the afternoon when I literally told myself out loud to stop! enough already! it's time to start thinking about dinner!

I really could've gone all night moving the light stand around, trying out different lighting techniques and such. I'm getting back at it again next week with my Octabox once our first day back on the water and Mother's Day is over (Joey asked for a stand up paddle board as his graduation gift and it arrived Friday afternoon. I'm soooo excited!).

All this to say, I may not be around much. I've decided to take a summer vacation from Instagram and not to troll Facebook so much, and I may even take a break from this little space for a bit. I've started a modified 365 Project titled "lest i forget" where I write a few words about my day. I don't post every day, just when I feel like it. Less pressure that way.

I do so like this little space of mine where I can write to my heart's content and get my thoughts out. Some of you may like what I write here, some of you may not, but it doesn't really matter to me because I write, I shoot, I live for myself. 

And that's the way everyone should live.

And now it's time to buckle down and get to work.