Photos of Two Concerts from 32 Years Ago


Since the Austin Shutterbug Club’s still-life photography workshop, it’s just been blazing hot here in Austin, and I so I have not been out taking any photos since then.

Recently, I told the story about finding my long-lost shoe box containing a dozen smaller boxes of photographic slides. Since it’s been so hot outside, I spent some time during a couple of evenings scanning a few more of these slides into my computer. What I have here to show you in this post are photos that I took during two rock concerts, which occurred in 1981. That’s 32 years ago!

On Thursday, September 24, 1981 my first wife and I went to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at the Frank Erwin Center here in Austin.


In 1981 my 35mm camera was a Canon AE-1, and I had three prime lenses: a Canon FD 50mm f/1.8 lens, a Canon FD 100mm f/2.8 macro lens, and a Canon FD 200mm f/2.8 lens. The slide film that I was using was Kodak Ektachrome, and I believe that it was ASA (ISO) 64.


Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

I am not sure which lens that I used for the photos that I am showing to you here, but I’m pretty sure that I only brought one lens with me to each of these two concerts. I doubt that it was the 50mm lens.


Back in 1981, nobody seemed concerned at all when I would show up at the entrance door, with ticket in hand, and my camera and lens hanging from my neck strap. I did not have any special “photographer’s pass” for these shows. I was located at the seat indicated on the ticket shown above. In the previous photo, you can tell that the heads of the people in front of me blacked out the lower right corner of the photo, which would be due to my reluctance to just stand up and take a photo while everyone behind me was sitting down.


Since I was 16 rows from the stage, I can only assume today that I was using my 200mm f/2.8 lens to get the musicians to appear this large within my photo.

Tom Petty has always been one of my favorite musicians over the years, so I was very glad to find these slides of this concert!


The first photo that I took at the concert was frame number 29 on the roll, and I managed to get 37 photos from that roll of Ektachrome. I just showed you the best 4 of the 9 photos that I took at the Tom Petty concert. I can only imagine how many photos that I would have taken today with a digital camera. I’m sure that it would be at least 100 photos during a 90 minute concert. Oh yea, I forgot… today you can’t get into a concert with a camera, …. unless of course it is built into your cell phone.

It’s also worth noting that the camera equipment that I was using didn’t have any autofocus. There wasn’t any image stabilization. I didn’t have an LCD on the back of the camera to tell me if I needed to add or subtract any exposure compensation (there wasn’t any histogram or any “blinkies”). No, I simply had 8 or 9 frames left on the roll of slide film, and I really didn’t have any idea of how well the photos were exposed until I received them back, after sending them in the mail to Kodak for processing.

Next up are some photos that I took at a Christopher Cross concert, which was also on a Thursday. This was earlier that same year, on March 26, 1981 and it was also at the Frank Erwin Center here in Austin.


Christopher Cross, who lived in Austin at the time (and still does?), had his self-titled first album come out in 1979 and won 5 Grammy awards (including Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist)! This concert in the spring of 1981 was during his meteoric rise to the top of the music world.


Kodak Ektachome slide film was intended to be used in daylight, and not with ever-changing colors of theatrical stage lights, like those used at rock concerts. Even so, it did a good job of capturing, and preserving, the colors in the scene. This next photo clearly had the musicians illuminated by different colors of lights.


What I thought was interesting as I first viewed these slides in my little Pana-Vue 1 slide viewer, was the varied backdrops that were used behind the band during this concert.


Here’s a photo of Christopher playing a “double-necked” guitar.


This next photo is my favorite of this entire post, and that is also why I used it as the opening photo in this post.


While the smoke still filled the stage, I managed to get another shot of the band.


This next photo must have been taken during their encore. I believe that is the case because Christopher has changed his shirt to be the Houston Oilers jersey of Earl Campbell. Earl won the Heisman Trophy playing football at The University of Texas here in Austin, 3 and 1/2 years earlier in 1977. Earl was a local favorite, and Christopher was showing his support of another “local legend”.


In the opening paragraph I stated that I haven’t been out taking any photographs lately. Well, maybe, maybe not… I am writing this blog post on Saturday morning. It will go live early Wednesday morning. On Sunday morning, Barb and I will have driven down to Galveston, gotten on a cruise ship, spent Monday at sea, and Tuesday in Key West, Florida. When this blog post goes live, we will be nearing The Bahamas. I will not be anywhere near a computer, or the internet. If you leave a comment, I will not be responding simply because I am ignoring you. Instead, I’ll be out taking tons of vacation photos, and drinking margaritas!

Thank you for stopping by and visiting my blog today.

Austin Shutterbug Club Still-Life Workshop


Last Saturday, August 3, 2013, the Austin Shutterbug Club had a still-life and tabletop photography workshop at the Northwest Austin Recreation Center. This was a welcome outing for the month of August, as it was something that we could do indoors, in an air conditioned room!

The workshop was presented by the club’s president, Brian Loflin. Brian had brought along several interesting items that could be arranged on a tabletop and that we could use to photograph, while observing the effects of different lighting techniques.

Brian set-up 4 different still life sets and he emphasized that he was going to light them with very simple setups. The first scene was a bowl of apples in top of a lacey old tablecloth. The light source was a north-facing window to the right of the camera, and a white foam core board was just to the left of the bowl of apples.


Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

I was using my Canon 5D Mark II camera and my Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens for all of these photos. In the photo above, I had set the aperture to f/5.6 to get a relatively shallow depth of field. Later on, I came back to this bowl of apples and shot it with my aperture set to f/25, and as you can see, the table cloth behind the apples is now in focus, too.


In between the two “bowl of apples” shots, Brian had set up an interesting arrangement of old photography books, a pen, and some reading glasses. He used the light from a window, but used to small foam core boards to block the light into a very pleasing “slit of light” across the objects.


Next, he set up a collection of sewing tools and supplies on a black piece of Plexiglass. He then used one of my Fotodiox 312AS LED lights placed behind the objects (backlight) and used two small white foam core boards on either side to bounce some light back onto the fronts of these objects.


Even though Brian had cleaned that sheet of Plexiglass right before he set this scenario up, when I brought this photo up onto my computer monitor, I was very surprised at all of the dust and scratches that the camera had captured. I spent at least 45 minutes in Photoshop cleaning all of that up….

For the last still life setup, Brian had placed a vase of yellow flowers in front of a dark green velvet backdrop. We all set our cameras to capture some ambient light, while we used a snoot on a speedlite to put a circle of light right onto the flowers themselves.


I was very pleased to get the opportunity to participate in this little workshop. It was a fun thing to do inside, away from the Texas summer heat. I could easily see myself doing much more of this type of photography in the future! Maybe I can convert one of our spare bedrooms (sometimes) into a miniature little product and still life photography studio. Honey?

Thank you for stopping by and visiting my blog today.

The Armadillo World Headquarters – December 27, 1980


In my previous post, I told the story about finding my long-lost shoe box containing a dozen smaller boxes of photographic slides. Over the years, I have kept wondering what happened to that shoe box. There was only one small box of slides that I really wanted to find, as I really had no memory of what any of the other boxes of slides contained.

The box that I really wanted to find contained photos that I took inside of the Armadillo World Headquarters on December 27, 1980, which was just 4 nights before they closed their doors forever. That box of slides was plainly marked “AWHQ 12-27-80″.

This place has played a legendary role during the 1970′s for helping to put Austin, Texas on the map as a prominent center of music – behind only Los Angeles, California and Nashville, Tennessee. Wikipedia has an excellent history of the place, as well as a pretty decent list of the bands that played there, and the albums that were recorded there over the years. Here is a link to the site that declares itself the official web site for this place that closed its doors more than 32 1/2 years ago. Under the lower left corner of the photo, click the link to “Enter The Site” and then on the left side, click on the photo that says “Performances”. The list is truly staggering in length!

I have been busy this week learning how to scan these slides on my Epson V500 scanner and using the Epson scan software that came with it. There is no metadata that I can look at to tell me anything about the settings that I used.

All I know for sure is that in late 1980 my camera was a Canon AE-1, and I had three prime lenses: a Canon FD 50mm f/1.8 lens, a Canon FD 100mm f/2.8 macro lens, and a Canon 200mm f/2.8 lens. I am not sure which lens that I used for which photo that I am about to show you. I also had a Canon Speedlite 199A external flash, and you can tell that I used it (in the hot shoe) to illuminate several of the photos of the artwork (but certainly did NOT use it to photograph the bands). The slide film was Kodak Ektachrome, and I am guessing that it was ASA (ISO) 64.

The ticket stub shown at the top of this post says that the show started at 9:00 PM, and my first wife and I arrived well before that. We were probably one of the very first people in through the door, and nobody said anything about me bringing in a camera with a large lens attached. It never occurred to me that they might not allow that, either.

I took my first photo of the stage, while the first band was still checking out their sound settings, and before any other customers parked themselves in my field of view.


Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

I remember that the first time I came to The ‘Dillo was in the spring of 1974. I remember that, because I remember the 3 other guys who I came with – we all lived next to each other in the dormatory at UT. I do not remember which band that we saw, however. I do know that we were all very impressed with the whole “experience” that we had that evening. I knew that I would be back!

The artwork on the walls was somewhat “iconic”, and that was the main reason that I wanted to bring my camera into The ‘Dillo.


This large canvas painting was hung high and to the right of the stage. My memory says that someone once told me that was Freddy Fender in the photo above, but I must admit that I really don’t know who it is. I just thought it was pretty cool! That canvas is probably 10 or 12 feet across.


The photo above was high and to the left of the stage. This is the legendary blues man, Freddy King. I guess he represented the heart and the soul of the Armadillo.

The women’s restroom was located to the left of the stage, and the door was in plain view of everyone in attendance. That door is in the lower right corner of this huge painting on the wall.


I walked to the back of the “concert hall”, where one of the two bars was located. This photo is exposed for the neon signs, but you can still see the pitchers all stacked up and ready to be filled with beer. On a “good night”, you had to hang onto your pitcher, as they would run out at the bar and then you could only order by the bottle (oh no!).


OK, so that’s all of the photos that I took before the first band came out on stage. I really do not remember who they were.


I do remember that the photo above was taken from our seats, which were the first row of metal folding chairs. Everyone in front of us was sitting on old beer stained carpet remnants scattered all over the floor. You can see that in the next photo, which I took during the intermission.


The 20 or 30 minutes between the two bands was usually enough time to get your pitcher refilled, and to go to the restroom. After the men had “done their business” in the trough, and they turned to exit the restroom, here is the larger than life-size artwork that they would see.


The main event of the evening was billed as “Joe Ely – Lubbock Reunion”. I had seen Joe at least 3 or 4 times before this show and always really liked what I saw and heard. I know that even today I still have a couple of his vinyl records and at least a half a dozen of his CD.

Lubbock, TX is the home of Texas Tech University, and is located exactly 400 miles northwest of Austin. Lubbock has been, and still is, the home of several highly respected musicians. Buddy Holly (and The Crickets) was from there. Later on Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore formed a band they called The Flatlanders.

Lloyd Maines, was also born and raised in Lubbock, and supposedly has appeared more times than any other musician on the Austin City Limits television show. He’s the master musician playing the pedal steel guitar!

OK, so it’s time for the main act, and here’s one of two photos that I took of them from my seat.


That’s Joe Ely playing guitar in the center, and Lloyd Maines is seated just to Joe’s left (your right). I guess I knew that if I was going to get any decent photos, I was just going to have to get up out of my chair and work my way into the crowd.


That’s Butch Hancock sharing the microphone with Joe Ely. The next photo shows them together, as well as a better shot of Lloyd Maines on the pedal steel guitar.


I’m going to stop typing now, and just show the best 6 of the last 9 photos that I took while they played.












Wow, what a show! Being that close to the stage, the wall of speakers to either side of you just resonant right through to your sole.

After the show, and the lights were turned back on, I realized that there was another piece of artwork that I had missed.


The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers were always watching over the crowd at The Armadillo World Headquarters!

Last night after I had finished scanning this box of slides, I was really in a nostalgic mood. I got out my box of ticket stubs that I have saved over the years. I think I found all of the ticket stubs that I have from The ‘Dillo. This is certainly not all of the shows that I saw there – these are just the ticket stubs that I saved.


The Armadillo World Headquarters wasn’t the only honky-tonk that I would go to in the 1970′s. But The ‘Dillo was where you could go and drink your pitcher of beer right in front of the stage with all of the other cosmic cowboys. And in the 1970′s there wasn’t any other honky-tonk that I was aware of that everyone was welcome: hippies, cowboys, UT students, working people. In all the times that I went there, not once did I ever see, or even hear about, a fight. Not once did I ever feel unsafe or threatened. With all of beer that was consumed there, that  just doesn’t seem possible today!

Thank you for stopping by and visiting my blog today.

Discovering My Long-Lost Time Capsule


Last Sunday, I was rummaging around in one of our storage closets, where I had remembered seeing a box of old shorts that had become too big to wear. I was now tired of my size 36″ waist shorts being too tight, so I had succumbed to the disgusting reality that I now needed to get out those old size 38″ shorts again. After I got onto our short step ladder, I saw that there was a small box on top of the box labeled “Shorts – 38″, so I took that box down and opened the lid to see what the heck other useless junk we’d been saving around here.

What I found made me immediately start to tremble with excitement! This wasn’t a box of junk. This was a box I had been looking for for years. This was my box of 35mm slides!

After I put all of the “big boy” shorts into the washing machine, I sat down at the kitchen table and sorted out my new found treasure. Fortunately, inside the box I also had a GAF Pana-Vue 1 Lighted 2×2 Slide Viewer. Today, I am absolutely shocked to see that B&H still sells the exact same model that I have!

I was thankful that I never installed the size C batteries, as I was certain that they would have been corroded and ruin the electrical contacts. Instead, I just plugged in the AC adapter into the wall, pushed down on the light bar, and instant glow! The light bulb still worked, but man, was it ever dusty inside of this thing. A few blasts of air from my Rocket Blower, and I was all set to find out what sort of photos that I would find.

There was only one specific box of slides that I had been looking for, and it contained photos that I had taken inside of a famous local nightclub / concert hall just a few nights before it closed its doors forever. Those photos will definitely be used sometime soon for a blog post, as I am sure that they will be of interest to many other longtime Austinites!

That box of photos was plainly marked “AWHQ 12-27-80″, but only a few of the other 11 boxes were labeled in any way whatsoever. One said “Cats Jan. 1982″, one said “Fireworks Fujichrome 50″, and the others said “Zilker Gardens”, “Foreigner 4  1-17-1982, Cars 1-24-82″, “Lake Travis 3-81″, “Good Shots 1″ and “Good Shots 2″.

Obviously, I didn’t know anything about proper library management of photos 30 years ago! Even after I went fully digital in 2004, and right up until sometime in mid-2008, everything, and I mean everything that was worth keeping, ended up in a photo album. There are about 20 of these behemoths on a couple of bookshelves in one of our spare bedrooms. I listed the range of dates inside the front cover for the time span that was contained within that album, but rarely did I write any descriptions about who was in the photo, or where it was taken.

I got my first “real camera” in 1980. It was a Canon AE-1, and I got it with a 50mm f/1.8 lens. A year or so later I bought two more used Canon FD lenses from and advertisement in the newspaper. One was a 100mm f/2.8 macro lens that came with an extension tube. The other was a 200mm f/2.8 that came with a 2x extender.

I mention that because I know for certain that this is all of the camera equipment that I had when all of the slides in this box were taken. Well, yes, I also had a Canon flash and an inexpensive Manfrotto tripod… And about 1987 or 1988 I replaced my camera body with a used Canon A-1 and also bought a 28mm lens. There wasn’t any Image Stabilzation back then – that’s what a tripod was for. The lenses were all manual focus back then, too. There weren’t any High ISO sensors, either. I am rather certain that the highest sensitivity slide film that I ever used was ASA (ISO) 64. (Now I also shot a lot of ASA 400 print film, but slides were slow. Very slow.)

So I sat at the kitchen table for nearly 3 hours last Sunday trying to figure out what I had. I got through 10 of the 12 boxes. I took yesterday off of work as a vacation day and used that time to go back through, from the beginning, and document what was in each box. 5 hours later, I had finished that task.

The photo above was the first slide in the box labeled “Zilker Park”, and so I can only say that this view of downtown Austin was taken from Zilker Park, or somewhere very near to there, like Barton Hills Dr. What I do know, is that this photo was taken in the spring of 1981, and I was using Ektachrome slide film, which I mailed to Kodak for development. I’d guess that it was ASA 64 film.


Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

The photo below was also taken during the spring or summer of 1981, also on Ektachrome. This was a few months after the Armadillo World Headquarters had closed its doors.

Yesterday evening was the very first time in my life that I have ever scanned a slide into my computer. I am using an Epson V500 scanner, with the Epson Scan software. I played around with the settings in the histogram area for several attempts before I got something close to what I could work with. I’m not sure exactly what Digital ICE does, but it does seem to remove most of the smaller dust spots. (I have cleaned the glass surfaces with a lens cleaner, and blown the dust away from the scanner and the slide using my Rocket Blower.) I can get a pretty decent TIFF file from the Epson software, but thank God that Lightroom 5 can take it from there. Add a little Exposure, a little Clarity, bring down the Blacks, and it’s pretty much done.

This next photo was the very next photo in Box #9 after the Armadillo sign photo. I must have gone about 1 block over to Auditorium shores and taken this photo of downtown Austin.


I hope that these photos look decent enough when you view them from my blog post. I scanned them at 4800 dpi, and honestly, when I zoomed in for my first 100% pixel-peeping view, I was very surprised, and disappointed by all of the graininess that I saw. These photos are in some serious need of sharpening, but so far my attempts to do that only bring out the graininess even more. I have played around with the Luminance Noise Reduction slider, and that helps. I have also used the Masking slider for the Sharpening amount, and that helps some too. My inspection of these 1200 pixel wide JPGs that I am putting here look surprisingly good, considering what I saw on the full resolution versions. I’ve been at this for less than 24 hours so far, so hopefully I will get a better with some more practice!

This next photo should interest a few of you. This was taken on July 4th of 1981 (I think). I was on the north shore of Auditorium Shores along Town Lake (as it was known then), and the rounded top building behind the crowd on the south shore is the no-longer-existing Palmer Auditorium. This is the facility that my high school graduation took place in. That building was demolished years ago, and this is where the Long Center is located today!


Even though I still have to use this very low-tech Pana-Vue slide viewer to see what “treasures” I have uncovered, I am very glad that I have a modern scanner, attached to a modern computer, running modern software that allows me to bring these photo to an acceptable digital state.

Contrast that to a photo that I took some time in late 1981 or very early 1982. I was still in electrical engineering school at The University of Texas here in Austin. This was my desk where I spent countless hours doing my studies. On the left was my “computer”.


Oh, it was a real computer, alright. A Radio Shack Color Computer 2. The monitor was a 19″ Motorola Quasar TV. To the right of my monitor sits a little tape deck that was used for storage. That was before the 3.5″ floppy disk was widely accepted. This was about 3 years before I spent $2000 on the very first Apple Macintosh computer (in 1984)!

Maybe now you can realize what I realized as I viewed these 12 boxes of slides. It was like opening up a time capsule that I had buried more than half of my lifetime ago. Austin had changed. Technology has changed. I have changed!

Thank you for stopping by and visiting my blog today.

Austin Shutterbug Club Picnic at Emma Long Park


Last Saturday, July 13, 2013, the Austin Shutterbug Club had a picnic at the Emma Long Park in west Austin.

You get to the Emma Long Park by going west on RM 2222, for about a 1/2 of a mile west of Loop 360, and then turning south on City Park Road. Stay on this windy, scenic road for about 7 miles to get to the park, which is on the north shores of Lake Austin. Now Lake Austin isn’t really a lake, it’s really the Colorado River immediately downstream of Mansfield Dam (which creates Lake Travis) and the Tom Miller Dam in west Austin (West Lake Hills) near the Hula Hut restaurant.

This was not an actual club “photography outing”, but rather an actual, old-fashioned picnic, as seen in the opening photo. (Only half of the members even brought a camera with them.)

I got there right at 9:00 AM, and after spending about 45 minutes socializing with the other club members who had also arrived, I grabbed my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, with my “usual” Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens, headed across the street and over to the water.


Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

The photo above is the root of a bald cypress tree. They grow right along the shores of the rivers here in central Texas, and extend their roots right into the water at the shore. Here’s a photo of the leaves and branch structure of this tree.


Here’s a photo looking across Lake Austin to the south shore.


With drought-stricken Lake Travis so low, there are no longer any public boat ramps still open (they don’t go down low enough to get to the current water level), many weekend boat owners have taken to using Lake Austin instead.


As this is a dammed-up river, there really aren’t any waves, except for the ones created by the ski boats!


While standing around talking to a few other club members who had brought their cameras and had come down to join me at the water, this tree seemed to catch my attention.


A couple of the ladies in had even waded into the water, looking for interesting and different photographic opportunities.


Linda, the lady on the left, had a Canon 5D Mark II, with the EF 70 – 200mm f/2.8 L II lens on it. She was not happy with the focusing of her camera, even after Canon had examined it.

After less than 10 minutes at the water’s edge, I decided to head back up to the rest of the group under the large oak shade tree. On the way, I passed this unused cooking grill.


It will remain unused for the time being; due to the severe drought, there is a burn ban, even in the parks.

Even at 10:00 AM, in mid-July, the cloudless Texas sky is very hard and contrasty. There isn’t much you can do about it, other than just not take any photos for about 10 hours of the day….


Or you can just try to make the best of it.


Here’s a photo taken from the position of that rusty grill, looking back toward the water, and the other club members under the tree on the left.


Looking for pretty much anything interesting to take a picture of, I spent a minute playing around with the colorful balloons that Brian had tied to the light stand that he had set up to let the arriving members that this was our spot.


Not wanting to immediately sit down, I wandered around the picnic site for a few minutes, while listening in on the various conversations taking place around me. While doing that, I noticed this unusual axe head (someone had brought it to drive the stakes into the ground for the horseshoe game).


And now to the point of being silly, here is the webbing on the back of the lawn chair that I had brought. :-)


About 10:15 AM, I headed off to the restroom, which was a clean, but steaming hot outhouse. The temperature was certainly close to 90 degrees (32 C) by now. On the way back, I noticed this tiny little flower, so even though it was in direct, mid-day Texas summer sun, I put my lens into macro mode, flipped out my rear LCD panel, held my camera about a foot (30 cm) off the ground, and snapped this photo.


Since we weren’t going to eat until about noon, I still had plenty of time to wander around and take some more photos before it really got hot.

I headed back down to the water’s edge and just waited for some “interesting” waves to roll in.


Even in the summer sun, you can still slow down the shutter to 1/80th of a second (f/7.1 and ISO 200) to get some motion blur to make these tiny waves appear to be much more active than they really are….


Even though my “kit lens” only zooms out to 100mm equivalent (on a full frame camera), it still had enough of a reach to get a few photos of the passing boats. This next photo was cropped to show about 2/3 of the original image’s length and height.


It was now close to 10:30 AM, and the temperature was certainly above 90 degrees, so I decided to head back to the picnic area (again) and put away my little camera and be more social than I had been.

And I’ll let this photo be my closing photo (as the boat goes away into the distance).


We had a very, very nice picnic lunch, and I enjoyed the conversations that flowed around the group. There was a gentle breeze blowing under our large shade tree, which made it surprisingly pleasant – as long as you didn’t move around too much. When we packed up the cars to leave at 1:00 PM, the temperature had already risen to 104 degrees (40 C).

Thank you for stopping by and visiting my blog today.

Austin Shutterbug Club at Zilker Botanical Garden


A couple of weeks ago, on Saturday, June 15, 2013, the Austin Shutterbug Club had an outing where we met at 8:30 AM at the entrance to the Zilker Botanical Garden here in Austin. This outing was organized by myself.

I brought my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens, and the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 Macro lens. Even though I had three other great prime lenses in my camera bag I never used them. I also brought my Olympus FL-600R flash and my little Gitzo GT1542T tripod.

After my last post where I seemed to have more “screen area” occupied by text, rather than photos, I thought I would try something new in how to present my photos – and keep the words to a minimum.


Helpful Hint: If you click on any of the photos in one of these “mini galleries”, you can then see all of the photos in that mini gallery at a much larger size. When you are finished looking at the larger photos, and wish to return to my blog post, click on the little “X” in the upper left corner of the mini gallery.


All of the photos above were taken in the parking lot or in the Rose Garden area.


About 9:45 AM, I decided to head on over towards the Oriental Garden section.




After spending quite some time in the Oriental Garden area, I got off of the main trail and walked westward, parallel to Barton Springs Road, back toward the main entrance. Since it was still only 10:35 AM, and we were not supposed to leave for lunch until about 11:15, I had some time to kill. While enjoying the shade, and since it was one of the rare times that I had my tripod with the little Olympus camera, I played around and took a few “self photos”.


Near the entrance, but still off of the main path, I discovered a very nice little cactus garden.



It was now 11:00 AM, so I headed back toward the entrance, where I found several of the Austin Shutterbug Club resting in the shade of some grand old trees. After 10 minutes or so of socializing, 15 of us went over to Schlotzsky’s near Zach Theater for lunch – where it was air conditioned!


Although I had a fun time walking around with my camera and mingling with fellow photographers, this set of photos didn’t cry out to me that I really wanted to share them. They are pleasing enough, I suppose, but something is lacking. I’m not sure….

Thank you for stopping by and visiting my blog today.

Group Photos at the Family Reunion


Every year, on the 2nd Sunday in June, my wife and I go up to Crawford, Texas to attend her family’s reunion. This is the Wiethorn family reunion, which is Barb’s father’s family. At last year’s reunion (2012), during the “business meeting” that occurs after everyone has been through the desert line, it came up that it had been more than 25 years since anyone had taken group photos at the reunion, and thought that it was long overdue to do that again.

After the business meeting, Barb and her sister thought that I should volunteer to do the group photos. I have done several group photos, but not with lots of people in the groups, so I told them that only if they couldn’t find someone else to do it, and if they came and asked me to, that I would consider it. Of course within 5 minutes of that short conversation with Barb and her sister, one of the senior family members was paying me a visit and said that he “had heard” that I had a strong interest in photography, and asked me if I would please be so kind as to take some group photos at the next year’s (2013) reunion. So, how could I say “No”?

(If you are a Wiethorn family member, this blog post will probably not interest you. I’m not going to discuss who is in these photos. Instead, I am going to discuss how I took these photos. If you want to see the little web gallery that I put together for you, just go to the very end of this blog post, where I give the simple instructions to view it.)

I had this assignment hanging over me for an entire year…. This wasn’t going to be simple. This reunion is held indoors at the Crawford Community Center, which is nice for everyone mainly because it is air conditioned, and there are plenty of tables and chairs. But I have brought my camera to this event in the past, and I knew that the only lights were fluorescent lights. These fluorescent lights create photos with a weird, sickly, green color cast that I later had to correct in my photos. Crawford is nearly 100 miles from our home in Austin, and I wasn’t going to able to go on a scouting trip up there just to determine the color of the current fluorescent bulbs that they were using. (The photographer who took the photo on their web page had wisely chosen to turn off all of the fluorescent lights.)

Also, it seemed to be in everyone’s expectations to group the people according to which of the “original” family members they were a descendant of. I had no idea how large or small these groups would be. The largest group of people that I have ever photographed before, using lighting equipment that I brought, was only 12 people. I was told that there might be up to 25 people at a time in one of these groups.

While I have read several books, and watched many on-line videos about lighting, I don’t ever remember seeing any advice on how to properly light a large group of people when photographing them. The only advice that I ever remember seeing (and I do not remember where I saw or read this) was to put the people into a “large uniform field of light”. That’s all I had for instructions, so I started thinking about how to go about doing just that.

I gave serious consideration to bringing my 4 Einstein studio strobes, with two large 86-inch Parabolic Umbrellas in front of the group, and possibly one or two Einsteins to light the background and/or the group from behind. In the end decided against this approach mainly for only one reason: these flash strobes run off of AC electricity, and I didn’t want to have electrical cords running everywhere across the floor. Children, and I mean a dozen or more pre-school kids, would be running free while the parents visited before, during, and after lunch. (And really, they should be able to do that at a family reunion!) So, even though I have two of the Vagabond Mini Battery Packs that could power all 4 lights simultaneously, (each battery pack can power two lights), there would still be long extension cords for people to trip over. I suppose I could have used 50 feet of gaffer tape to tape the cords to the floor, but people can still trip over that hump in the floor.

As an alternative, I had 5 Canon 580EX II speedlites, and a ST-E2 wireless transmitter to trigger them, and thought that I might be able to light a large group using them. After a lot of thinking about how I could do that, I decided that if I used 3 of them, bounced back from umbrellas, in front of the group could give me a large, uniform “wall of light” on the front of the subjects, while 2 of them placed behind the group and shot through white translucent umbrellas might help separate the people from the background (and what was that background?). In case the 5 speedlites were not powerful enough to completely overcome the fluorescent lights, I would have to “color balance” my speedlites to produce the same color spectrum of light as the fluorescent lights. I ordered both the “plus green” and “half plus green” sheets of Rosco gels and cut them to the same size as my ExpoImaging Rogue Gels.

I drew out my lighting diagram, and that is what you saw up at the beginning of this post.

For the three “bounce umbrellas” in front of the group, I would use my somewhat unusual 46″ Bowens Silver and White umbrellas. The two “shoot-through umbrellas” that I would use behind the group came with an inexpensive lighting kit that I bought from B&H back in May 2008.

I wanted to set the power level of the middle umbrella in front of the group independently from the others, so I put that speedlite into its own group, Group C. I thought that I would have that center front umbrella close to my tripod, but as high as I could get it (all three umbrellas in front were on 13 foot light stands).

What I couldn’t figure out was how to get the little ST-E2 wireless transmitter mounted on top of the camera to be “seen” by all 5 of the 580EX II speedlites simultaneously. These units communicate with each other using infrared beams of light, and therefore require all 5 of the slave units to in a “line of sight” with the ST-E2 transmitter unit. The ST-E2 shoots its signals straight ahead, and there was a very real possibility that with that lighting arrangement, that not a single one of the other speedlites would have a direct line of sight to the transmitter.

Maybe I should just scrap this whole speedlite approach and go back to using the Einstein studio strobes and use a roll of gaffer tape to prevent the people (pre-schoolers) from tripping on the extension cords….  Maybe my whole “wall of light” idea would result in horribly flat light…

After weeks of decision and indecision, I decided to bite the financial bullet and to upgrade my Speedlites to the new Canon 600EX-RT Speedlites and the ST-E3-RT transmitter. These new devices use radio signals to communicate with each other (and they still retain the infrared method, too). I was able to get right at 50% of my initial cost of the old units back when I sold them, and the price on the newer units had fallen substantially, but it was still one heck of a price to pay for a lighting system that I wasn’t completely sure would produce enough light that I would need to completely light-up a large group of people. (I sold my old units, and purchased the new units from Adorama.)

I completely read the manuals for my new speedlites and transmitter. I was very glad that a couple of years ago I had read Syl Arena’s excellent book twice – even though the new radio controlled units came out after Syl’s book, it made it very easy to understand the new Canon flash system, too.

I set up everything in my living room just like I had planned to set up in the Crawford Community Center (only on a much smaller scale). I practiced. I set everything up and took it back down twice. I made sure that I knew how to control all 5 of the speedlites remotely from the ST-E3-RT transmitter. I also made a very nice discovery!

With the new 600EX-RT speedlites set to “manual mode” (not E-TTL mode), and using the radio signals to communicate (instead of the infrared beams of light), I could use my Sekonic L-358 light meter to measure the amount of light falling onto my subject. It would even tell me the percentage of flash-to-ambient light that was used for the exposure!  Now, this was simply not possible using my older 580EX II speedlites, as when the master would send out the signals to the slaves (before the actual flash occurred), the Sekonic meter would mistakenly measure that “pre-flash” of light.

This was a HUGE advantage, and one that I had not seen mentioned by anyone, anywhere. Not even Syl Arena has mentioned this in his on-line instructions covering these new radio controlled units! (Part 1 and Part 2) This allowed me to meter the flash power outputs just like you normally would with studio strobes, such as my Einstein lights. (Again, to do this, the flash system must be operating using radio signals, and the flash units must all be in manual mode, not E-TTL mode.)

On the morning of Sunday June 9th, we arrived at the Crawford Community Center about 9:40 AM, and made 4 or 5 trips each to carry all of my equipment in. The ambient fluorescent lighting looked bright and even pretty much everywhere… Maybe I would not need any lighting equipment after all!

I pulled out my Sekonic light meter and walked around taking some simple ambient light meter readings. At ISO 100, f/8, I would have to leave the shutter open for 1/4 to 1/3 of a second. That was way too long. People move around a lot in that much time – even when they think they are being still. No, I was going to have to use my lights.

I had a couple of options in my head as to where we could set up, and expect the groups to just walk into. (See this photo of the Crawford Community Center.) If I set up in a corner, I could block the area off from the kids. But I didn’t know how big the groups would be. The chairs and tables are along two sides of the facility, with a rather large, open “dance floor” area between them. At the end of this dance floor is a slightly raised “stage” area. It is raised only about one foot (0.3m) above the dance floor, and it is a favorite play area for the young kids. At the back of this raised area is a white trellis.

After thinking about the situation, and discussing with the other family members who had arrive early to get things set up, it seemed like that raised stage, with the white trellis background would be the most “picturesque” of my three options. If we could just come up with a way to keep the kids away from everything…

It then occurred to me that we could get everything set up, get my lights adjusted, and put gaffer tape markers on the floor where everything belonged. We could then turn everything off and drag it into a corner of the building so that the kids could play on the stage. Then, after lunch and the business meeting we could drag everything back into place, turn it all on, and quickly be ready to take the group photos. It was a great solution, as long as everything came back up without any problems. I knew that there was some risk to this plan.

I started by designating a specific area that I thought I could get 24 people into rather comfortably. It was an area wide enough for 6 chairs. 6 kids could sit in front of the chairs. 6 adults could stand right behind the chairs, and 6 more adults could stand right behind them on the slightly elevated stage.

I quickly determined that if I was going to get the shutter speed to 1/100th of a second, I was going to have my lights putting out about 5 stops of light above the level of the ambient fluorescent lights. That means that my speedlites (if they were capable) would be providing virtually all of the light for the exposure, and I could ignore trying to balance their color temperature with the fluorescent lights. I did not need to use the “plus green” or the “half plus green” gels that I had made.

It took Barb and I right about one hour to get everything set up. I do have equipment and liability insurance, but have not, and do not plan to use it. For safety, I had two 13 pound (5.9 kg) sandbags on the base of the two light stands behind the group. For the three heavy duty light stands in front of the group, I had them weighted down with 18 (8.2 kg) pound bright orange colored sandbags. Lastly, somewhat for safety, but mainly for stability, I had another 13 pound sandbag hanging from the hook on the center column of my Gitzo G1327 tripod.

I wanted, and needed, a depth of field of 8 feet or more. With my lens zoomed to 75mm, an aperture of f/8 would provide that depth of field, as long as I had at least 17 feet (5.2 m) between my camera and the nearest person. With a shutter at 1/100th of a second and an aperture of f/8, I grudgingly had to raise the ISO to 200 on my Canon 5D Mark II camera. Why? This was all that the 5 speedlites were capable of. I had Group A at full power, Group B and Group C at 1/2 power.

I had Barb walk back and forth within my designated area while I triggered the flashes and she took flash meter readings with my Sekonic meter. I found that I could get a consistent, uniform field of light that allowed me to change the aperture to f/9, which gave me an additional foot or so of depth of field.

The camera and the flash were both in manual mode. I didn’t want any exposure changes that E-TTL can produce as people with different brightness of clothing moved in and out of the picture. And I sure didn’t want that white trellis behind everyone to have anything to do with determining what the camera and flash combination thought a proper exposure should be!

As a final set of tasks with my lighting set up, I made sure that the exposure was correct by photographing the “gray card” side of my Lastolite LR1250 12-Inch Ezybalance Card.


I also took a photo of Barb holding up the opposite side of that Lastolite Ezybalance card, to make sure that I could achieve the proper white balance setting later in Lightroom.


I also took the camera off of the tripod and walked right up in front of Barb, got down on one knee and took another photo of the white balance target and then set the custom white balance in the camera itself.

Lastly, I handed my ColorChecker Passport to Barb and took a photo of it. (Using that photo and the software that came with the ColorChecker Passport I could create a profile of my Canon 5D Mark II camera under this exact lighting situation.)


It was approaching 11:00 AM, and I felt pretty good about the situation. I got out my roll of gray gaffer tape and marked where each leg of all 5 light stands and my tripod were. We then turned everything off and I drug it all over to a corner of the building, where I built a wall of chairs around everything.

About 12:15 we had another excellent Texas BBQ feast, catered by Curtis Wiethorn. There were just over 100 people there, and the organizers thought that there would be 5 groups to photograph. Hey, I was all set for 5 groups of 20 people!

Then came the business meeting, where at the end it was announced that the photographer would be ready for the first group after about 10 minutes or so of getting set up. I immediately went to work on getting set up. One of Barb’s nephews helped drag the stands back out for me. It didn’t take very long to get everything turned on and into position.

As a final check, I once again had Barb walk back and forth in my designated area that I thought could hold 24 people. As she took each reading, I actually took a picture, just to trigger the lights. Although Barb hates this next photo, I think it is pretty funny, and I want to show it here to demonstrate just how even my “wall of light” was across that area.


Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

That photo above is a simple Photoshop composite of three individual photos. Yes, Barb can stand the same way more than once – especially when 100+ of her relatives are all sitting around watching her help me out!

As a side note: If you zoom into that photo, you will see that Barb is slightly out of focus in the two photos where she is not in the center. That’s because in those two photos, the camera was auto focusing on the white trellis in the center of the frame. Likewise, in the center of the photo the white trellis is out of focus.

OK, so the call goes out that Gregg is now ready for the first group to come up to the stage to get their photo taken.

People started walking through my forest of light stands and tripod, and I was glad that everything was heavily sandbagged. Everyone was careful, and nobody bumped anything. When they stopped coming, there was an army of people standing around everywhere! 24 people? No way!  And they were all talking to each other. And no one was paying much, if any, attention to me.

I knew that I had to quickly get ahead of this and take charge. I had to raise my voice a couple of times to get anyone’s attention, and I just started pointing and telling people where I wanted them to sit or stand. Everyone cooperated just fine! I put the most senior people in the chairs, and built the rest of the group around them.

OK, so after a couple of minutes I had everyone where I told them to be, making sure that no one was blocking anyone else out. I then walked back to my camera and looked through the viewfinder.


Uhh oh… I had arranged them to the left of the centerline, and this group of 32 people was much larger than I had planned and prepared for. I had to move my camera closer, just so I wouldn’t have two of my light stands blocking some of the people’s feet in the front row. That also made me zoom the lens out to only 55mm, which was OK, but not near the 75mm I had set things up at.

What a mess! I had light stands, umbrellas, and unused chairs all in the frame. I found myself saying something I never thought I would say in such a situation: “I’ll just have to fix it later in Photoshop”.


OK, so it took me over an hour to remove all of that unwanted stuff in Photoshop, but it still wasn’t what I wanted the family to see. I just needed to crop off some of the extra space on the left side to balance it out a bit.

OK, so I tell that group that they are free to go. At that point I am told that that should be the largest of the 5 groups. I’m thinking “thank God for that”!

The call goes out for the next group. There were only 9 people who came forward this time. Again, I had the senior members have a seat in the chairs, and the others fell into the positions that they wanted to be in. I probably should have had a shorter adult stand behind the child in the chair on the right, but the way that the heights of the tops of everybody’s heads created a strange “upward zig-zag” was kind of interesting.


With this smaller group, I now had something new to deal with. Stuff became visible in the background that was hidden by the previous, larger group. There was a wall socket to the left of the guy in the blue shirt, and the wireless PA (public adress) system that had been brought onto the stage after I had set up and adjusted my lighting set up. This required another trip from Lightroom into Photoshop.


It’s very noticeable that I didn’t get the “shadow” of the PA system completely removed, but that was OK, as I knew that I was going to crop off both sides of this photo. (How much white trellis is too much white trellis?)


OK, let’s get the 3rd group up here for their photo! What? 30 people? OK…


I must have been rattled by another large group. The way that I arranged them is OK, until you look at how scrunched together everyone in the back on the left side is. It doesn’t seem balanced with what is going on in the back on the right side. I apologize for that!  Let me get those unsightly light stands out of the picture.


Let’s crop that off some of that empty space on both sides, too.


OK, with just over 100 people total in the room, and with 70 of them in the first three groups, I’m hoping that the next two are close to 15 people each.

What’s that? I’m in this 4th group? OK, 18 people, including myself. Let me get everyone arranged, and then I’ll have someone else push the button on the remote shutter release.


Note to self: when you look through the viewfinder, and everyone is arranged just how you like them, don’t push your niece behind someone else as you push yourself into a good position….

This photo didn’t require any Photoshop work, just a simple crop in Lightroom.


Let’s get the 5th group up here. What? Only 5 people? (That didn’t add up to 100…)

Five people leaves a lot of room, but that’s easy to crop. Cropping this one to a perfect square seemed to look the best.


OK, so that’s all 5 of the groups that were planned, but I have saved the best for last!

Someone suggested that we get a group photo of all of the family members who are 90 years old, or at least close to 90 years old.


All 8 of these people made it to their chair under their own power, although the two women sitting at the right had to be helped from their walkers into their chairs.

That power cord for the PA system was really distracting, so I took the time to Photoshop it out. I didn’t attempt to remove the entire PA system, though.


I think that it is something very special to have a group photo of such senior family members together. I also think that those of us that would like to make it to 90 years old should look closely at the people in this photo. People who are overweight do not make it to their 90th birthday… Think about that – often!

OK, so that is my way-too-long rambling story about how I “got volunteered” to photograph groups of people at this year’s family reunion, how I did it, and the mistakes that I made when I did it. I always learn a lot by doing stuff like this. At least the mistakes I made were correctable. Lastly, I realize that my efforts are very “amateurish” as compared to any experienced and talented professional.

If you would like to see the on-line web gallery that I put together for the family members to view, you can. Just be aware that it was created in Lightroom and it uses Flash, so you will not be able to view it on your iPhone or your iPad. If you are using Internet Explorer for your web browser, you will get a pop-up warning about “Active X controls” – just click on the button for “OK” or “Allow”.

Also, be sure to have your web browser window maximized, so as to fill your monitor (and see the photos as large as possible).

Click on this link:

Thank you for reading my blog post this week, and I promise that the next one will be almost entirely photographs, with very little reading!

Austin, Texas USA

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