CowParade Austin Calendar – June – Cowmaro

June is a hot month in Austin. The Chevy Camaro has always been a hot car in my book. Therefore, it seemed fitting to put the cow named Cowmaro into my CowParade Austin 2012 Calendar in one of the hot summer months.

The artist who did Cowmaro is Dale Whistler, and you can visit his web site to see many examples of his art – many of which are virtually iconic to those of us who live here in Austin.  You can watch a short YouTube video of Dale, where he is interviewed about his past and some of his objects of art.

Dale was sponsored by the Central Texas Chevy Dealers to make Cowmaro.

Cowmaro was on display out on the front “lawn” at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, with 3 other cows. I say “lawn”, because when we arrived at the Bob Bullock museum on August 20th, central Texas was still very much in the clutches of the hottest summer ever on record here in Austin. The drought was severe, and water rationing was being practiced by everyone in the Austin area.

We arrived a little before 11:30 AM, and it was already blazing hot. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. This is just about the worst possible condition to photograph anything outdoors – especially an art object. The ONLY thing that I could do was to put a polarizer on my lens and pray. Even so, you can tell by the shadow at the top of this photo just how hard the direct sunlight was….

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The left side of Cowmaro had the image of the front of a Chevy Camaro painted on it, while the right side of Cowmaro had the view of the rear of the car on it. It was as if the car was somehow stuck inside of the cow!

Now I personally never owned a Chevy Camaro, but I always liked the look of one – they usually stop me in my tracks and I have no choice but to stare and wonder what fun it must be to drive one! Later on, (much later on – 1996), I owned a 1994 Chevy Corvette. It was the most trouble-free car that I have ever owned, and I’ve had lots of Toyotas and Hondas. I had that Corvette for nearly 3 years, and only put 11,000 miles on it…. although I would occassionally drive it hard, most if the time I babied it.

If you don’t remember the Chevy Camaro, here is one that I took a photo of in October 2010 at the Rolling Sculpture Car Show in Bee Cave, TX. I would guess that this is a 1968 Camaro SS.

You can see my favorite 100 cars at that show my going to my “Photo Gallery” button under the banner at the top of this page, and selecting the sub-menu for that car show.

OK, let’s get back to Cowmaro! I moved around to the opposite side, and of course, it was the shady side of the cow. To prevent my photograph from ending up as a silhouette, I put an external flash (Canon 580EX II) on top of my camera (Canon 5D Mark II), set it for TTL mode, with a flash compensation of -1 stop, and fired off these next two photos.

This is not particularly “artistic” photography, but not too shabby of a “journalistic” type of photography. But hey, that’s all we were trying to do anyway.

As an attempt to do something “artsy” while we were there, I composed this photo of Cowmaro on the burnt-up lawn, positioned over the cow named Mazy Moo that was done by Susi Alcantara.

(You  can see all 72 of the CowParade Austin cows by clicking on the  “Photo Gallery” button and choosing the CowParade sub-menu.)

As it turned out, we needed to return to the Bob Bullock Museum on Sept.17, as they had added a new cow (Once in a Blue Moo by Lewis Signs), and we needed to photograph it. This time, the lighting was much better, as it was a very hazy, overcast day. Still no rain to help the drought situation, but the overcast sky helped keep the temperature down below 100 degrees, and it was MUCH better light to be photographing painted cows with!

Even though it was almost exactly the same time of day as our previous visit (this time it was 11:13 AM), I did not need to use a Fill Flash on the “shady side” of the cow.

And finally, here is the shot that I liked the best, and so this is the one that I ended up putting on my CowParade Austin 2012 Calendar, for the month of June.

The overcast sky even made the shiny metal plaque look better!

Tour of Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletic Center

Warning: this post is very long and contains 34 photographs. It might take a while to download.

Last Tuesday, on May 8th, I was presented with a very rare opportunity to tag along with a group of retired people that my wife, Barb, spends time with most Mondays at the University of Texas campus. The group is known as the UT SAGE, where SAGE is an acronym for Seminars for Adult Growth and Enrichment. Anyway, this group was taking members who wanted to go on a “South End Zone Tour” at Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium.

That’s the football stadium for The University of Texas Longhorns! More specifically, the tour was mainly of the Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletic Center, which is where the vast majority of all UT athletes work out, but we were there to see the football player’s facilities.  Now I’ve been in Austin for 40 years this August, and I am a University of Texas graduate, and I have never had the opportunity to see anything “more inside” the football facilities other than buying tickets and attending the home games. When Barb said she was allowed to bring a guest, I immediately said “yes!” and scheduled a day of vacation at work.

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It was raining most of the day, and when we got there at 3:30 PM for the tour, we still had to use our umbrellas. We met at the entrance to the Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletic Complex, which is at the southeast corner of the stadium. That corner is somewhat open, and as we approached the front door to the facility, we could see inside the stadium somewhat.

Now the photos that I am going to show you are not skilled photography. They are “get the shot and move along with the tour” kind of shots. I was simply trying to document what we were being shown, so I could share it here with you. This was just like being a tourist in my own town.

By the way, I had ordered a new Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera from Precision Camera on May 1st, hoping that I would have it with me for this tour, but it just wasn’t meant to be. Instead, I was going to have to use my Canon PowerShot G12, which is a Point-and-Shoot type of a camera. I knew that if I showed up with my Canon 5D Mark II that there was a very good chance that I would not be allowed to bring it inside the facility (and heaven forbid I even think about a tripod).

I did bring a Canon 580EX II flash with me, but I had Barb put it in her large purse, and I never used it. Instead, I handheld the G12, and shot under all sorts of different lighting conditions. This is the sign on the wall over the front desk, where we gathered to wait for the tour to start. There were tungsten lights aimed down the wall, while there was a mixture of tungsten and fluorescent overhead lights in the ceiling.

This is just beyond the front desk. Here are the 20 or so exhibits, one for each of the most famous players ever to play for the Longhorns.

After spending 5 minutes in that front hallway, we were taken into the Player’s Lounge.

Silhouetted beyond the pool table is our tour guide, Curt. Curt encouraged us to take pictures, and I immediately “got mobile” and started shooting everything that I could!  He watched me at times, but never said anything to me. I thought that he eventually would, as I was taking 5 to 10 times more photos than anyone else in the group.

There were 3 or 4 of these saddles in the Player’s Lounge. I wondered if they were just for decoration, or if the players actually climbed onboard when they got rowdy.

On the other side of the pool table, there is this giant wall that contains helmets of all 28 NFL teams (plus the former Houston Oilers). Under each helmet is a small plaque for each Texas Longhorn player actively playing on that NFL team.  Wow!

We then moved from the Player’s Lounge a few doors down to The Trophy Room. This is my wife, Barb, standing next to the 2005 National Championship trophy. This was very special to me, as my good friend Greg Ringer and I went to that National Championship game at the Rose Bowl on January 4, 2006.

Here is a photo that I took with my 4 megapixel Olympus C-770 Ultra Zoom camera that I took to the game. This was taken from our seat, about 5 rows above the tuba players in the Longhorn Band. Yes, the Texas quarterback, #10, is Vince Young.

Anyway, I just had to have my photo taken next to this trophy. I probably should have traded places with Barb, but I wasn’t looking at the back of the camera, so I didn’t see the huge perspective distortion of having the larger person closer to the wide-angle view camera.

Simply turning around 180 degrees from the previous camera position shows this view.

This is Ricky William’s Heisman Trophy that signified he was voted “the best college football player of the year” in 1998.

And here is Earl Campbell’s Heisman Trophy from 1977.

After leaving the Trophy Room, we were taken down further into the facility. Along the way, we passed by “The Longhorns” that each player touches as they leave the facility right before heading out onto the field before each game. There is a camera on them as they do this, and it is displayed on the HUGE video scoreboard outside for all 100,000 fans to see. They always cheer wildly when they see this!

Here are some of the trophies from the Longhorn’s major bowl victories. The first 4 pedestals closest to you are from the Cotton Bowl (in Dallas, TX). The next one is the Holiday Bowl (in San Diego, CA). The next one is from the Rose Bowl (Pasadena, CA – and the game that Greg and I went to).The next one is for the Fiesta Bowl, and the last one is too blurry for me to read now. 🙂

Those Bowl Trophies are at one end of a very long hallway outside the weight training room, and that hallway is just loaded with hundred of plaques and memorabilia of famous players and historically significant victories. Here’s a photo that I put the camera into macro mode, and held it right up to the glass, just 8 to 10 inches from this football.

We then went into the weight training room. Holy Cow!

There were maybe 20 or so athletes and coaches working out while we were in there, but I was very careful to not make them the main subject of these photos.

After the weight room, we were told that we were going to be taken trough the same rooms and route that the players go through immediately before a game.

This is the large auditorium that the players meet in, while the coaches and inspirational speakers get them all pumped up. Our tour guide, Curt, is standing where Mack Brown would be standing. I was sitting in the 4th row, trying my best to keep my camera steady. I had to bump up the ISO to 500, and even then the shutter was 1/5 of a second (f/5.0). My elbows were firmly planted on the arm rests!

While remaining in my seat, and turning to my right, this is what I saw.

Turning to my left, this is what is on the wall.

After leaving the auditorium, we deviated from the plan to follow the route that the players take, and we went down a few doors to spend a few minutes in the medical facilities. This is where they bring the injured players during a game. This is also where all the injured athletes from The University come for physical rehabilitation.

OK, now we are back on the plan to follow the route between the auditorium and the field. This is very much a “grab on the go” type of shot, with Barb blinking while I snapped the shutter of her touching “The Longhorns”. We were moving fast, in a large group, and with a one shot opportunity, sometimes a shot like this is what you end up with….

OK, so they didn’t fill the tunnel with smoke for us, like they do for the players when they run out onto the field. It was lightly raining, but there was no way I was going to miss this once in a lifetime opportunity!

In the next photo, you can almost see our season ticket seats in the upper deck high on the left side of the photo. We are about 6 rows above the white colored seats, in the upper deck, right at the edge of the photo.

After walking out past the 20 yard line, I turned around and took a picture of the large video scoreboard above the tunnel that we had just came out of. You can see the raindrops streaking down in front of the black scoreboard.

After spending 3 or 4 short minutes at mid-field listening to Curt’s stories, the group headed back for the dryness of the tunnel. I called out to Barb to come back so that I could get this photo of her.

The group stood in the tunnel for a long time, and I took several photos looking out of it.

We then walked under the coverings to the southwest corner of the stadium to see the two 8 foot tall statues of the school’s only 2 Heisman Trophy winners. This one of Ricky Williams has only been in place a few months.

And this one of Earl Campbell has been here for a while now (5 years?).

I know that this post was very, very long. I seriously considered chopping it up into multiple posts, but in the end I thought that would not have the storytelling effect that I wanted it to have.

The Canon PowerShot G12 did a pretty good job, as I had about 50% of the photos that I actually took ended up in this post. Viewed up close, there is a fair amount of grain when I pushed the ISO to 400 and even 500. The camera did a pretty good job with Auto White Balance, but I did shoot these in RAW format, and did adjust the color temperature of several of them in Lightroom. The Image Stabilization of this little camera surprised me with how well it performed!

I hope that you enjoyed seeing this as much as I enjoyed being able to tag along with this tour.

A Sports Shot – JT Dettman

This is JT Dettman, a Sr. on the local high school basketball team. I needed a “Sports Shot” for this week’s Project 52 assignment. JT is the only athlete that I personally know, so I called him last weekend, and he agreed to meet me at 9:00 AM on Saturday morning.

I was going to use a stripbox, with velcro grid on each side of him as a rim light on his arms, shoulders, and side of his head. I was going to use a beauty dish in front of him for a “hard, edgy” look.

I say “was”, because after I got it all set up, one of my Einstein lights refused to flash. I would respond to the Cyber Commander remote control for setting the power level and for turning the modeling light on and off, but the dang light simply would not fire!

Sooo.. for Plan B, I positioned him in front of his family’s wooden garage door. The main light was the sun, which was coming from behind is right shoulder. For fill, I used the beauty dish above and to the right of the camera, about 5 feet from JT. Finally, a white reflector was held right in front of JT’s legs to help illuminate the lower portions of his uniform, and to make the “Wildcats” stand out more (needed for the first shot, not so much the second shot).

Although JT is a really nice guy, I asked him to give me his best “tough guy” look. I’m not sure if that’s the reason for the wrinkles in his forehead, or if the white reflector in front of him was blinding him…..

JT suggested the following shot, and I’m glad that he did!  Yes, he can palm the ball and hold his arm out straight while he’s doing it.


CowParade Austin Calendar – May – Cowcycle

The “May Cow” in my 2012 calendar is the very interesting Cowcycle. The artist who painted Cowcycle is Rebecca Wolfe Spratlin, and she was sponsored by U.S. Money Reserve. Rebecca Wolfe Spratlin also was the artist who created the cow named Cowch – which was sold for a record high $150,000 in the October 2011 auction!

The first time that I saw Cowcycle, it was near dusk, outside the Long Center on July 27th at the CowParade Preview Party.

Cowcycle was certainly different than all of the other cows – if nothing else, it was certainly the tallest of the ~50 cows on display that evening.  Cowcycle really grabbed your attention, and everyone had to stop and study it!

Cowcycle was on display inside the Frost Bank Tower lobby at 401 Congress Avenue here in Austin. That proved to be a problem for Dad and myself who wanted to photograph this excellent work of art.

On Saturday, Sept. 03, 2011 we arrived at the Frost Bank Tower, and photographed the two cows that we outside: Cow Quarium and Remember the Alamoo. (You can see all 72 cows by going up to the black bar under my banner photos, click on Photo Gallery, and then selecting “CowParade Austin – 2011 from the menu.) After we made all of the photos that we wanted of those two cows, we headed inside.

We didn’t get very far.  Just as I got in through the door, the security guard for the front lobby told me that I was not allowed to bring my camera and tripod into the lobby to take any pictures. I calmly explained that we had already spent 3 Saturday mornings hunting down and photographing all of the CowParade Cows that we could find. We really wanted to collect the whole set. He didn’t care, he said that we were not allowed to photograph the bank, and he insisted that we leave. I told him that we didn’t want to photograph the bank, just the two cows that were in the lobby. He didn’t give a hoot – we were simply going to have to leave, and leave now. So, that’s what we did.

I realized that the only photograph that I was going to get of Cowcycle (and Hairy Dear, Play Me a Tune), was going to be through the front window of the bank lobby. I did have my polarizer with me, and put it on, and hoped that it would eliminate enough glare and reflections to make a decent photo. I took 5 or 6 photos, and this was the best that I could get through the lobby window.

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We photographed nearly 2 dozen CowParade cows along Congress Avenue that morning, including 3 inside the Driskill Hotel. No one had refused to let us photograph any of the other cows, and I wasn’t happy about it.

The very next day, Sunday, I went to the CowParade Austin website, and researched who was in charge of what, and I sent an email letter to two people who were on the organization committees. One of the persons was Olga Campos, who used to be a local TV news reporter, but now worked at U.S. Money Reserve – the financial sponsor of many of the cows, including Cowcycle. In that email, I simply told the same story that you just read.

On Monday morning, I received an email from Olga saying “I will try to find out what the security policies are and if there is a way to grant you permission –  for just a brief time – to take the photos you would like. Of course, I make no promises but I will try!”.

It was almost exactly an hour later that I received a second message from Olga saying “I just talked to Ms. Baker, of Txxx Property, which oversees the Lobby of the Frost Bank Tower. She apologizes for what she says was a mis-handling of their security/access policy. Ms. Baker assures me you and your father are more than welcome to come into the Lobby to photograph the Cows during regular Lobby Hours (8 am – noon on Saturday and 7-7 Monday-Friday).”

Bingo!  I immediately sent back a very appreciative response to her. Just as important, I printed out that email and put it in my camera bag – I had a feeling that I might need it the following Saturday.  🙂

Well, the next Saturday rolls around, which was September 10th. Our 2nd stop that morning was the Frost Bank Tower, and we got there at 8:35 AM. Dad followed me through the front door, and there in front of me was that very same security guard. I looked straight at him and said “Good morning sir. Will it be OK to photograph the two cows THIS morning?”. He nodded and said “Sure, come on in.”

We must have been in there for 30 minutes, and he watched everything that we did, but he never said another word to us until he replied to our “good-bye”.  Amazing!

There were only two cows in this bank lobby: Cowcycle, and a hairy beast of a buffalo-cow named “Hairy Dear, Play Me a Tune”. They were both illuminated by fluorescent lighting on one side, and large west-facing windows on the other side. Using the light from the fluorescent lights and my gray card, I set a custom white balance in my camera.

That’s a pretty bad exposure on many different levels!  The amount of light coming in through the windows was pretty well controlled, but the color of the light was nowhere near the same as the fluorescent lights. With the camera’s white balance set to fluorescent, daylight appears to be blue in color. In a mixed lighting situation like this, there’s really not much one can do, short of covering the windows with a colored gel that would turn the color of the daylight to become closer to the color of the indoor lights.

To get the photo that I used on the calendar, I had to get between the window and the cow, and set a custom white balance using the light from the window falling on my gray card. After that, I had to put my back right up against the window, which still had me less than 8 feet away from this 7 foot tall cow. To get the entire cow into the picture, I set my zoom lens to 24mm, and thanked the Photo Gods that I had my full-frame sensor camera.

After getting a good photo of Cowcycle, I moved about 12 feet to me right and got a fairly decent photo of “Hairy Dear, Play Me a Tune”.

That’s one hairy beast of a buffalo-cow!

Well, that’s all that I can tell you about how I got the photo of Cowcycle that ended up as “Miss May” in my CowParade Austin 2012 calendar. I know it was long-winded, and I thank you for reading it!