Category Archives: Texas

Tour of Circuit of The Americas – Part 1


About a month ago, Barb came home from one of her Monday outings with the UT SAGE group that meets on The University of Texas campus, and said that there was going to be a tour of the new Circuit of The Americas race track. She also said that spouses were welcome, and wanted to know if I was interested. I probably thought about it for, oh maybe 2 seconds, and said “Wow! Hell yes, I’m interested!”. So Barb got us both signed-up, and the tour was this past Thursday, April 25, 2013.

For those who don’t already know, Circuit of The Americas was recently constructed just southeast of Austin specifically to be the only Formula One (F1) racetrack in the United States. They have also had other car and motorcycle races on this track since it held its first F1 race in November 2012. To further use the facility, they also build an outdoor amphitheater for live music performances (named Austin360 Amphitheater).

Now I am like most typical Americans – I don’t know anything about F1 racing, other than there seems to be this huge, wealthy fan base that travels from country to country to watch the qualifying time trials and the actual race on the 3rd day. More than 117,400 people were in attendance to watch the first F1 race on November 18, 2012. The week before the first F1 race at Circuit of The Americas, all 24 racing teams were located in Abu Dhabi – which is 10 time zones away from Austin.

Before you can go on a tour of Circuit of The Americas, you have to know how to get there – and most people in Austin do not know exactly where this facility is. I didn’t really know until the evening before we went.

Map to Circuit of The Americas

The race track is located east of Texas Toll Road 130, about 3 or 4 miles south of Hwy 71. Turn east on FM 812, and go about 1 mile. This is what you will see from the front (south) entrance.


That red and white structure on the left is an observation tower, and it is a key feature of this facility.

I was travelling light. I brought only my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, with the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens, and my Whi-Bal card. No camera bag, no tripod, no spare battery, and not even a hat.  The description of the tour that Barb had indicated that we would be driven around on busses. Also, everything would be outside. I didn’t think that I would need any fast prime lenses for that, and I was really hoping that we would at least be able to get off the bus occasionally to get some decent photos.

After eating lunch with several of the SAGE members at the round Hilton Hotel at the Austin Bergstrom airport, we arrived at the Circuit of The Americas (COTA) facility at 12:30 PM. It was overcast, and was supposed to remain that way. I did a custom white balance on my Olympus camera and then put my WhiBal card away.

We had about 15 minutes to kill before we were to get on the little busses, so we mingled with the other SAGE members and I took a few photos from the parking lot, and that is when I took the photo at the beginning of this post.


One of the other SAGE members, Dave, took this photo of Barb and I.


This is the only portion of the race track that can be seen from the main parking lot at the south entrance. This is the hill that leads up to Turn 1, and the seats for the spectators that want watch this exciting portion of the track.

Here’s a map of the race track itself

Map of Circuit of The Americas

The start/finish line is where the “A” pin is located.

Here is what the start/finish area looks like from near Turn 1.


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’d like to point out a few things in that photo. You can see downtown Austin in the upper right corner. The bridge in the center, near the horizon, is on Texas Toll Road 130. The spectators sit in the grandstands on the left.

The building on the right is owned by the Formula One organization, and can only be used by the Formula One organization. It therefore sits idle for 51 weeks out of the year. This building is called the paddock.

(Edited on May 1, 2013. A couple of readers pointed out that those statements simply were not true. I sent an email to COTA asking for their help in correcting this information. Here is what they told me: “The paddock building is only used by F1 during that race. It is rented out for events or used as a spectator area during other events. It is not vacant 51 weeks out of the year.”)

The F1 racers start from a stationary start, and you can see the white markings on the pavement for where each car is to be positioned. They immediately race up a rather steep hill towards where we were standing, and when they get to the top of the hill they have to make a hard left hairpin turn. This is what our view of Turn 1 looked like.


There seemed to be about 50 or more people on this UT SAGE tour, and this photo shows about a third of them listening to one of our tour guides as we stood there overlooking Turn 1.


The tour guides told us that it cost $500,000,000 (half a Billion dollars) to build this race track, and that it was entirely paid for by individual investors. One of the SAGE members brought up that the government (city, county, or state ?) was paying $25 Million a year for the F1 membership, though. People get all worked up over that, and I don’t really understand why. Supposedly Austin gets that $25 Million back by having this track here (tourists, lodging, meals, worldwide exposure, etc.). I don’t know if that’s true or not, and I don’t really care, and this is not a political blog… so back to seeing my photos of this spectacular race track.

There is a large “overrun area” on the outside of this hairpin turn. I don’t know how many multi-million dollar race cars ended up running out into that area….


This is the view when looking beyond Turn 1 over towards Turn 2, with a better view of the observation tower.


The red “pipes” sweep up the back and over the top of the observation tower, where they form a ceiling over the white platform that people get to stand on.

We then got back onto our 4 little busses and drove to the far northeastern edge of the race track, where Turn 11 is located. Here is the track as it approaches Turn 11.


And here is Turn 11. It’s one heck of a hairpin curve!


Here we are blocking your view of this incredible turn. When the tour guide asked how fast we thought that the cars were going as they made their way around this turn, I was thinking “40 mph, 50 tops” (64 kph, 80 tops).


I wasn’t even close! The average speed that they slow to is “just” 69 mph (111 kph). That must really be something to see!

Between Turn 11 and Turn 12, the cars supposedly get up to over 200 mph (322 kph). Turn 12 is just before the stands that you see off in the distance. The rate of acceleration and then braking must really be incredible.


OK so after 10 minutes or so at Turn 11, it’s back to the busses.


We drive over to the middle of Turn 17, and park the busses right at the base of the observation tower.


This observation tower is 251 feet (76.5 m) tall. The elevator has only two stops: ground floor and floor 25!

I have too many photos to show you to cram them all into one huge, slow loading blog post, so I’m going to stop this one right here. I have 15 more photos set aside for Part 2 of this tour (9 from up on the tower).

I will end Part 1 of this story by showing you just one photo from up top. This is the very first photo that I took when I got to look out from that observation tower.


That is Turn 17 in the foreground, and Turn 11 is way off in the distance, near the upper left corner of the photo.

In Part 2, I will not be showing the race track in the order that I took the photos. Instead, I will try to show the turns in the order that the racers encounter them. I hope that you will return in a couple of days to see them, as I am pretty excited about what I have to show you.

Edited June 7, 2013: You can find Part 2 by clicking here.

Thank you for visiting my blog!

A Short Walk on East 6th Street

This post is really the tail end of my previous post. Sunday, April 7, 2013, was an overcast day, but I was tired of being in the house. I decided to go somewhere that I seldom go – downtown Austin. I ended up walking south on Congress Avenue from the Texas State Capitol down to 2nd Street, where I turned around and headed back north – until I got to 6th Street.

I was travelling light. I brought only my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, with the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens, and my X-Rite ColorChecker Passport. No camera bag, no tripod, not even a spare battery or a hat.

The truth is, I was just trying to get back to where I parked my car, which was three blocks east of Congress Avenue, on Trinity Street between and East 8th and East 9th Streets. I thought that 6th Street might be a “more scenic” route than 7th or 8th Street.

Within the first block after turning east on 6th Street, on the north side of the street sits the very historic Driskill Hotel, which has very recently been purchased by the Hyatt


I had my lens zoomed to as wide as it would go, which was 12mm (24mm equivalent), and even then I couldn’t get the entire front of the hotel into the frame. This is the only photo that I took that day where I wish I had some different equipment with me. My Canon 5D Mark II with the 24mm Tilt-Shift lens would have allowed me to capture the same photo – and not have the hotel seeming to be falling backwards (due to the perspective distortion). On the other hand, this would have been the ONLY photo that I would have wanted to be lugging that Canon camera (and a bag with at least one extra lens). Instead, this is “as good as I could do, with what I had with me”…

At the very first corner, which is Brazos Street, this is the view looking northeast along East 6th Street. Most Austinites do not see this scene at 4:00 PM on a Sunday afternoon. Actually most Austinites never see this scene, as East 6th Street is a one-way street, with traffic coming straight towards you in this next photo.


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 really don’t have much more of a story to tell. I only walked 2 more blocks along the south side of East 6th Street before I turned north on Trinity Street to get back to my car. Even though I don’t have much of a verbal story to tell, I did capture several photos within those 2 blocks that I would like to share with you!

People from all over the country (the world?) that come to visit Austin and ask “What’s there to do in this town?” are told about East 6th Street as one of the first suggestions. Obviously then, there are several businesses that cater to those who are visiting Austin.


Everyone who lives in Austin has heard or seen the slogan “Keep Austin Weird”. Most find it amusing, but nobody finds it offensive. This web site claims to be the origin of this slogan. I don’t really care, I just liked the tie-dyed T-shirt one vendor had hanging outside their front door.


And while you’re out partying on 6th Street, maybe you’ll have your thought processed altered enough that you might think that this is a good idea. 🙂


But really, the reason people come to East 6th Street is to drink and to listen to live music. I’ve never been to the Chuggin’ Monkey, but I like their sign….


After crossing San Jacinto Blvd, here’s another view looking northeast toward Trinity Street. Note that there really are not any modern buildings on East 6th Street, like there were back on Congress Avenue.


On the southeast corner of East 6th Street and Trinity Street sits Maggie Mae’s. I always thought that it was named after an old (but great) Rod Stewart song called Maggie May, but evidently the real story behind the name of this bar can be found here.


This little blackboard sign was in front of Maggie Mae’s, and I thought it was funny enough to photograph it.


OK, now that I was at Trinity Street, I needed to head north for two blocks to get back to my car. While still standing right outside of Maggie Mae’s, I looked back to the west, towards Congress Avenue, where you can see the modern buildings along Congress Avenue towering over the older buildings along East 6th Street.


Look closer at the photo above, and see if you can see the pair of cowboy boots dangling above the street…

It was just a quick, rather uneventful 2 block walk back to my trusty Honda CR-V.


Even though I had only been walking for 1 hour and 20 minutes, the time had just flown by, and I was certainly glad that I had left the house, despite the overcast and dreary sky that had been so prevalent earlier in the day.

It just goes to show you that sometimes you just need to get out there, and make the best of what you can of it.

Thank you for visiting my blog!

Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas


OK, it’s been over two weeks since my last blog post. I have been out shooting photos instead of sitting at my computer and writing about shooting photos…. I kinda like it that way, too!  I’m going to try to keep the words to a minimum in this post, but I do need to describe what you are about to see.

For the past 9 (or is it 10?) years, Barb and I have gone to visit her sister’s family in Coppell, TX for the Easter weekend. Coppell is a very nice town just northwest of Dallas, Texas. We drive up on Good Friday, and come home on Easter (Sunday) afternoon. This year, on Saturday, we went to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in downtown Dallas. Yes, the “Perot” is H. Ross Perot, who ran for US President in 1992 and again in 1996.

That’s about all I am going to say for a set-up, except that I do want to mention that cameras are welcome in the museum, but tripods are not. I therefore took 2 fast prime lenses inside the museum with me: Olympus 12mm f/2.0 and Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4. I tried to keep the ISO setting at or below 800 on my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera. Even so, there were lots of times that the shutter would be open for 1/4 or 1/8 of a second. When that was the situation, I simply took 3 or 4 photos and hoped that one of them wouldn’t suffer from motion blur.

OK, that’s all the words I want to write – except for the photo captions below, and to say that if you are ever in Dallas, the Perot Museum is definitely on the list of fun and educational things to see!

The photo captions will appear below each photo.


Dancing Water Molecules

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.


Loving Wife



Friendly Stranger





Colors of Light



Shoot the Moon



Phases of the Moon



Fossilized Skeletons



Mammoth Tusks






Huge Bones



Texas Geology



Tornado Maker



Cubes of Gold



Corner Pipes



Molecule Model



Oil Well Drill Bit



King of the Cats



Colorful Life



Image of Me



Stuff you Wish You Didn’t Know

 I hope that you enjoyed my images from the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, Texas.

Thank you for visiting my blog!

Austin Shutterbug Club at The University of Texas


A week ago, on Saturday, March 16, 2013, the Austin Shutterbug Club had an outing where we met at 8:30 AM at the base of the Main Tower on The University of Texas at Austin campus. The outing was being lead by John Patterson.

As John was handing out maps of the campus, and filling us in on what we were to be looking for, I snapped a couple of photos of the club members. I was the only person without a DSLR camera. I brought my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, with the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens mounted on it. Even though I had three great prime lenses in my camera bag, since I had also brought my little Gitzo GT1542T tripod, I never bothered changing lenses that morning.


I had an Olympus camera, two people had Canon DSLRs, and everyone else was shooting Nikon. Many of these people are very accomplished photographers, and really know what they are doing…. Some of them asked about my camera, but I don’t think that any of them actually viewed it as a “real” camera. I realize that my photography skills are going to sway any of them to think otherwise. 🙂 One of the ladies had a Canon 5D Mark II, and when I told her that I also had that same camera, she looked at me in disbelief as if to wonder why I would leave that at home.


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.

We met at the base of the steps to the main administration building, generally referred to as “The UT Tower”. Here is a photo looking up towards the tower. Note the inscription “Ye Shall Know the Truth, and the Truth Shall Set You Free”. Well, at least you can see the beginning of it.


Although this event was not a scavenger hunt, we were asked to take photos of patterns, windows, doors, perspective, architectural detail, textures, and extreme/unusual views. In a few weeks we will be asked to submit what we felt were our best photos in each of those categories, and some committee will select the best 3 or 4 from each, and then the entire club will vote for their favorites. As a result, I will not be showing what I consider the best photo that I took in toward each category – not at this time, anyway. Never fear, when I have participated in such events in the past, none of my photos have ever been chosen as one of the best 3 or 4 from any category.


I decided just to have fun, and mingle as best an engineer is capable of mingling. 🙂

Since it wasn’t even 9:00 AM yet, I decided to head over to the east side of the tower to see how well it was being lit by the morning sun, even though it was very overcast. (The clouds were predicted to go away by mid-morning, and they did.)


These were my very first sighting this year of any Bluebonnets, the state flower of Texas.


Just to the left of the Bluebonnets, I liked the textures of the rounded rocks, and the lone weed looked kind of like it was struggling for its space among them.


At 9:15 AM, we were to meet outside of Calhoun Hall. On the south side of this building is a rather interesting walkway.


We hung around here for several minutes. Brian Loflin, the founder and president of the Austin Shutterbug Club gave a little talk and demonstration of different perspectives of the same scene. This is Brian on the left.


We walked to the end of that “tunnel” you see in the photo above, which brought us out into a large courtyard behind the building, and next to the Harry Ransom Center and Sutton Hall.

Sutton Hall is a rather colorful building, quite unlike any other building on campus.


Going under the archway above the main door, and looking straight up, you can see some of the elaborate artwork that decorated the ceiling.


It can be a bit surprising when you realize that in the center of the photo above, that there are three “curly-Q” fluorescent light bulbs installed in the hanging light fixture.

Just outside of that same doorway I thought this huge tree limb looked rather unusual. My camera was pointed almost directly into the direction of the sun, so that’s why the photo appears to be somewhat hazy.


I walked over toward the Harry Ransom Center to get a few photos of Dobie Mall, and when I turned around I saw this photo of the UT Tower, framed by the tree limbs. The clock says that it is now 10:25 AM.


We started heading north, and outside of the West Mall Office Building, the patterns of this modern bicycle rack in front of the elaborate ironwork covering the window seemed like it might be good for one of the things that we were supposed to be looking for.


Directly east of there is Goldsmith Hall, which is built to surround an inner courtyard that contains 4 very large palm trees.


That’s Kathy McCall at the base of one of the trees. She’s a damn good photographer, and so I thought I’d wander in there and see if I could learn something by watching her!

I got close to one of the palm trees. looked up, and took this photo. Maybe I’ll use that one for the “textures” category.


We then headed over to the east side of the Student Union Building. I played around with various shutter speeds and depth of field while resting my camera on the limestone shelf. I must have taken 6 or 7 photos, but in the end, this is the only one that I kept.


I then wandered into the building, and went up a stairwell that had lots of daylight coming in through the windows. I setup my camera on my tripod and played around in this stairwell for 5 or 6 minutes.


I started wondering if I had become separated from the group, so I went more into the interior of the building to see if anyone else was inside.


I ran into one of the ladies in the club, and she was looking into this meeting room, acting like she’d like to check it out. I suggested that we go for it! She was getting down low for an “artsy” shot of a row of the backs of the chairs, but I was first interested in a “whole room” kind of photo. Even though there was a lot of light coming in through the windows, I had to keep my shutter open for 8 seconds to take this photo (but I had closed my aperture to a tiny f/22 to get maximum depth of field).


Right after I took that photo, an employee of The University came into the room and told us that we were not allowed to take photographs inside the building without first acquiring prior approval. We apologized and folded up our tripods and left. (At least she didn’t insist that we delete the photos from our memory cards!)

Back outside, we met up with John Patterson and John Sutton. Our group had dwindled to only 5 people. (We knew that we would meet up with many of the “drop-outs” at the designate lunch spot at 12:30 PM.) John suggested that we head up to 24th Street and take a few photos of the Littlefield House.


The home was built in 1893, and later bequeathed to The University in 1935. This home has many ornamental architectural features. I liked the lines of the multi colored shingles on the roof. This architectural style is not often seen here in Austin.


It was now noon, we were on the far north edge of the campus, and our designated lunch spot was at 12:30 on the southwest corner of the campus. On our walk to Schlotzsky’s, we passed by the south side of the UT Tower.


After we got to the Schlotzsky’s sandwich shop, there were about 10 of us sitting at a long table. We enjoyed lively conversations about photography, the drought, where one can find wildflowers already, and one of Brian’s upcoming Wildlife Photography Seminars. After about an hour, I decided to head back to the house and get ready for the Saturday evening that I had planned with Barb.

I almost didn’t make this blog post. 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 don’t really inspire me. They are pleasing enough, I suppose, but something is lacking. Maybe it is the absence of color? I’m not sure….

Thank you for stopping by and visiting my blog today.

Searching for Signs of Springtime


A week ago today, on Saturday February 23, 2013, after what seemed to be several gray and dreary weekends here in Austin, TX, we finally had a nice day on a weekend. I noticed out our back window that our Bradford pear tree was looking kind of fuzzy out on the ends of it limb, so I grabbed my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera and headed outside to have a better look.


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 had the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens on, and since it was a cloudless sky, I put on a circular polarizer, just to cut down the glare of the mid-day sun. That lens is considered a “kit lens”, but even so I still use it more than all three of my prime lenses combined. And since it also has a macro mode, and I went in for a closer look.


Yes, even though it was still in late February, our Bradford pear tree was starting to produce buds that will soon turn into leaves and brilliant white blossoms!  That might be a little early, but since our average last frost in Austin is before mid-March, it’s not that unusual.

This was exciting to me, and even though it was just after 1:00 PM on a basically cloudless day (supposedly the worst possible time to be outdoors to make pleasing photographs), I decided right then and there that I was going to walk around my neighborhood with my camera, on a mission to be “Searching for Signs of Springtime”.


I saw these cat tails, and thought it might be fun to capture them with the sun coming from behind them.


I was looking to see if ANY flowers were out yet, and yes there were a few small ones that people had planted in various locations of their yard.


The flowers that I did find were all pretty small in size. This reminded me that the last flowers that I saw in the late fall were also all small in size. Maybe the small flowers are the ones that can tolerate the dozen or so freezes that we get here during the winter.


I stumbled across this pink dogwood tree, which was just starting to blossom.


I was glad that I could tilt the rear LCD on the camera down, as I was holding the camera well above my head as I took this next photo of the dogwood tree.


By now it was 1:30 PM, and the sun was directly above, and I was wondering if any of the photos that I was taking would be “good enough” to put on my blog.


Well, they will not win any awards in a competition, as the sunlight was very harsh and direct. But hey, I was having a great time just being outside and playing with my camera! Robin Wong calls this sort of activity “Shutter Therapy”. I decided to keep going…

Pretty soon, I stumbled upon this strange little flying insect. I assume it is a bee, but I have never seen a bee that looks like this before.


And just a couple of blocks later, I spotted this spotted butterfly!


There were flowers out, but they were few and far between. They were rarely in the shade, and I didn’t have my portable diffuser, so I just photographed them in the direct sunlight.


The variety of flowers was good, and I wasn’t just finding the same type of flower everywhere.


This was the ONLY garden that I came across that looked like it had been freshly planted with new plants. That’s the same bunny that was in the overgrown garden last summer that I photographed just for Libby of ohnostudio. (Libby often photographs the little yard and garden ornaments at her house in New York.)


I walked another half mile and didn’t see any flowers or other signs of springtime worth photographing, so I turned to doing some “Street Photography”. 🙂


I spotted another butterfly, but it would not stay still. It took me six tries before I caught it with its wings spread open.


This photo shows the relative scale of the size of the flowers that I was seeing.


In the same place as the photo above, I used my own shadow to block the sun, and got in close to snap this photo.


I was getting close to home now. I spotted this unusual little flower wagging wildly in the breeze. I took 9 photos of this little red-violet flower, and ended up deleting all but this one – it was just moving too quickly to not be blurry.


OK, so I live just around the corner to the left in this next photo. You can see that even though I was able to find some early signs of springtime, the general vegetation in northwest Austin is still very much in its dormant winter state. The greenery that you do see is green year round.


This is the same street sign that was in the center of the previous photo. Even though the circular polarizer has darkened the sky pretty dramatically, I like the way that it contrasts with the yellow portion of this sign.


In the week since I took these photos and today, the Arizona ash trees have fully put out their vibrant light green leaves. Our Bradford pear tree is just about to “pop”, but the buds are still brown in color. That should change dramatically in the next few days, and I’ll try to capture a “nice” photo of it when it is full of its brilliant white blossoms.

Thank you for visiting my blog!