Category Archives: Texas

Lockhart BBQ Tour – Part 3


This is the 3rd and last blog post that documents my experience of attending a photographic excursion lead by Wyatt McSpadden to some premier BBQ restaurants in Lockhart, Texas. This trip occurred back on February 7, 2013.

Wyatt is famous for his photography of family-owned and operated Texas barbecue establishments. He has published a beautiful book on Texas BBQ, named appropriately enough “Texas BBQ: Photographs by Wyatt McSpadden“.

In my first post of this series, we had visited Smitty’s Market, which was in a building built about 1890. Our second stop was at Kreuz Market (pronounced “Krites”), which was built 100 years later, in 1990. Our third stop, and the subject of this post is Black’s Barbecue, which was built in 1932.

When we arrived at Black’s Barbecue, it was nearly 2:00 PM in the afternoon, and the sun was about as high as it will get in the sky here in Central Texas in early February. I still had the excellent Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens on my little Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera.


Note that Black’s Barbecue is open 8 days a week… That must be a strong indicator that they are something special. Indeed they are! From their website, on the Black’s Facts web page, you will find these words at the bottom:

Black’s Barbecue was selected by United States President Lyndon Baines Johnson to represent Texas barbecue at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Black’s Barbecue has been recognized by both the Texas Senate and Texas House of Representatives for their part in Texas History. The New York Times, Southern Living, Texas Monthly, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, The Food Network, Money Magazine, The Travel Channel and many others have all written about the Texas Legend – Black’s Barbecue.”

Let’s head on in and see this special BBQ sanctuary. As you enter the front door, you find yourself in a narrow hallway that leads you directly to the counter where you place your order. BBQ is usually sold “by the pound”, and they cut it up and weigh it right behind that counter – and then you pay for your order.

I didn’t order anything, as I had just eaten two meals in the last two hours, but I did stop long enough to take this photo over the counter.


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 went past the cash register, which takes you into the main dining area. It is quite the contrast to the cavernous Kreuz Market building that we had just left, but much more modern than Smitty’s Market (even though Black’s was built 80 years ago). It has obviously been through a renovation or two over that time.

I checked out the lighting, and it was a mix of tungsten and fluorescent lights, so I just left my White Balance setting on the camera to “Auto”.


This place looked like a living museum of Texas memorabilia!


A clock in the shape of the state of Texas, mounted horns from longhorn cattle, deer antlers, photos of football teams… Yes, this is the Texas that you would expect to see in a Hollywood movie.

The area that you get your plastic silverware, napkins, and white bread put an old safe to good use as a table leg…


Now any respectable restaurant in rural or small town area of Texas is required to have the trophy bucks (male deer) mounted on the wall for all to admire. Just above the bubble gum machine is as good a place as any…


Something about that deer on the right seemed to warrant a closer look. Damn, that taxidermist was good. That deer seemed to be looking right at me!


Now I don’t know why it is, but there is a drink served at almost every BBQ joint in Texas that is known as Big Red. I think I might have had it once… about 40 years ago. A lot of people drink it, but I only see it consumed where BBQ is served. I have no idea why that is. I did like their neon sign, but my photo of it really does not capture the brilliant colors that it was creating.


Almost all of the photographers had set themselves down at a long table that had been reserved for us, but I was still wandering around snapping photos of whatever seemed to interest me. I arranged these items on the plastic table cloth. The empty pepper sauce bottles become toothpick dispensers.


Some of the other photographers had engaged in a conversation with the Caldwell County Constables, who were just finishing up their BBQ lunch. They seemed like nice guys to me!


That is Andrew Auten on the left, Jay Defoore in the red jacket, and I don’t remember the photographer’s name who is on the right, but I do remember that he was also using an Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, and that he had flown in from Denver, Colorado just to be on this BBQ tour!

I was still wandering around, and went back to the area that was using the old safe as a table leg. I turned the labels on the special bottles of pepper sauce so that the labels were facing forward, and focused that 25mm lens as close as it would go, and took this simple photo.


Turning to my left, this little splash of color seemed to catch my attention.


Besides the bubble gum machine and the old CRT television on the wall, I think this was the most colorful item in the entire place….


Now that photo above, although just a snapshot, speaks volumes to me. Mounted trophy deer, longhorns, photos of decades of the high school football team, barbecue… yes, this worthy of the Texas Legislature’s recognition!

I felt like I had “carpet bombed” the place with my little camera, so I went to the long table with the other photographers, and pulled up a chair next to Frank Grygier. While sitting there and talking to Frank, I casually arranged these items on the table, and we had a good laugh about shooting this “still life” arrangement.


(See Frank, I told you that I would use that one!)

We were sitting close to the bubble gum machines, and since I’m drawn to color light a moth is drawn to a flame, I just had to snap this photo too.


Turns out it isn’t bubble gum after all…

About this time, I noticed that Wyatt wasn’t with us anymore, and Taylor Jones’s tethered shooting station wasn’t in the dining area, either. I asked if anyone knew where Wyatt was, and someone responded that they thought he had gone to take a photo of the owner.

I went back to the counter where you ordered your BBQ, and asked if they knew anything about the owner being photographed. One of the guys pointed to the area through the windows behind him. I could then spot Wyatt setting up his tripod through those windows.

I asked the servers behind the counter if it would be OK if I could go back into the kitchen area where they were. The first guy gave me a look like “no way”, but before the second guy saw that, he said “sure come around the counter, and I’ll show you how to get there”. Score!

Besides Taylor Jones and Jeff Stockton, who were helping Wyatt, I was the first of the “signed-up photographers” to see what they were up to. They had Barrett Black (the owner’s son) in action as the pit master.

Wyatt explained what he was going to do to light this scene the way that he wanted. The room was rather dimly lit by a few “track lights” mounted so that they would shine into the pit when the lid was raised. Since these were tungsten lights, Wyatt was going to use only the modeling lights of his portable studio strobes that he had brought. The modeling lights were also tungsten lights, so they would match the color of light from the track light. The model lights would not flash, but instead they would be constant light sources.

Now this was just like what Kirk Tuck described in his wonderful book that I had read a year ago, except that Kirk was using LED lights for shooting portraits.

Now I am not going to take any credit for the next photo, other than to say that I pointed my camera in the right direction, and released the shutter. Wyatt composed this shot, like a maestro conducts a symphony. He knew and understood what each component was supposed to do to contribute to the whole effort.


Barrett Black, the pit master, being photographed by Wyatt McSpadden, the photographer who is a legend for doing exactly this. I was almost giddy with the thought of what was happening right in front of me!

Wyatt had Barrett turn the exhaust fans off, so that the light positioned behind Barrett would light up the smoke behind him.

In the photo above, Barrett is looking directly into the lens of Wyatt’s Nikon D800 camera. I had my little Olympus camera held “stinky diaper” style” directly above Wyatt’s head, and snapped that photo. Well, almost above Wyatt’s head… I should have held it just a little bit higher; that’s the back of his black ball cap in the lower left corner of my photo.

After I got my photo, I helped one of the lady photographers by dragging over an empty 5 gallon bucket, turned it over, and helped her climb onto it, so that she could also see what was transpiring and to get a photo or two as well.

Wyatt’s photo looked absolutely stunning on Taylor’s tethered shooting station!

It was getting terribly smoky in that little room so I headed outside to get some fresh air. Several of the other photographers were already outside.

Soon Wyatt was out there with us, and he was looking for an appropriate place to take a portrait of Barrett and his Dad, Kent Black. This picnic table was in the sun, but the old sign on the side of the building behind it was in the shade. This would be the spot.


Wyatt planted his camera in the same location that my camera was in for the photo above, and then he did a great job explaining how he was going to compose the lighting. First, the exposure for the background was established. The sunlight coming from behind the two “subjects” would create a bit of “rim light” to help separate them from that background. Finally, Wyatt had Jeff assemble to large octagonal softboxes, one positioned to the camera’s left, and one directly over the camera. Using a light meter, Wyatt worked with Jeff to get the strobes to flash at the desired output levels to give the effect he wanted.

The strobes were triggered wirelessly. After Wyatt got the photos that he wanted, he offered to let us take the same shot. I didn’t hesitate one instant!

My tripod was set up about 30 inches to the right of Wyatt’s camera position. I dialed in the shutter speed that Wyatt had used, but since he had been using an ISO setting of 100, and my Olympus only went down to 200, I closed up my aperture by one stop from what he had used.


Barrett seemed relaxed and comfortable, but I got the impression that Kent was wondering if he was really expected to keep sitting there while a dozen different photographers took their turn – one by one. He never complained, and he sat there patiently, but we let him off easy, as only about half of us took our turn.

The only time that I changed my lens while at Black’s Barbecue was to put on the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens. I did that just so I could get a couple of wide angle “behind the scenes” photos.


That lens is considered a “kit lens”, but even so I still use it more than all three of my prime lenses combined.

Wyatt then announced that he was going to be going back to Austin in the equipment truck with Jeff and Taylor. He needed to get back to town and then get ready for some Texas Photo Roundup event that was being put on by the ASMP (Austin and San Antonio chapter) and the Austin Center for Photography.

We watched Jeff and Taylor skillfully, and quickly, pack up equipment you see in the previous photo, and then the rest of us went back inside the building.

We were told that’s where we would be served our “sample” of Black’s Barbecue…. After all, it was 3:30 PM, and we hadn’t eaten any BBQ in nearly an hour and a half now. I was surprised to see my fellow photographers eat more BBQ here than they did at the previous two establishments!

We eventually got back onto our bus, 30 minutes behind schedule. Nobody cared about that, and everyone was happy. I know that I had a great time, and I got the impression that everyone else did too. Even though we got caught up in some of Austin’s terrible traffic during rush hour on Interstate 35, I still felt like we were on an adventure to remember!

I learned a lot from watching Wyatt’s lighting demonstrations in action. It seems so much more relevant when seeing it in person, rather than seeing it on creativeLIVE, or reading about it in a book by Joe McNally or Syl Arena. Don’t misinterpret me here – those are still great learning methods. Seeing it live, I got a feel for how much time it took, and saw the measure pace that Wyatt worked at – and you simply do not get to see that by reading a book.

I was extremely appreciative of the access that we were provided in these BBQ establishments. It was because we were with Wyatt McSpadden – and believe me, these places know exactly who Wyatt is and what he means to their industry – that we were allowed unrestricted access and allowed to photograph anything that we wanted to. Wyatt had earned that privilege through years of hard work, and we were allowed to tag along with his reputation. For him to share that with us was truly impressive to me.

Lastly, as we rolled into Austin, I felt very happy to realize that my previous concerns about getting in “over my head” were not warranted at all. I was comfortable around all of these other photographers all day long, and everyone treated me pleasantly and respectfully.

I hope that you enjoyed at least some parts of my three-part blog post about Wyatt McSpadden’s photo tour of three very famous barbecue establishments in Lockhart, TX

Thank you for visiting my blog!

Lockhart BBQ Tour – Part 1


This blog post is one that I am really excited to share with you! Way back on January 9th, Kirk Tuck put out a blog post announcing that there was an opportunity to sign up for a photography excursion to Lockhart, Texas, which would be lead by Wyatt McSpadden. Wyatt is famous for his photography of family-owned and operated Texas barbecue establishments. He has published a beautiful book on Texas BBQ, named appropriately enough “Texas BBQ: Photographs by Wyatt McSpadden“.

Now I saw that blog post right before Barb called me downstairs for dinner. While we ate, I mentioned that I had seen that opportunity, and that I thought it would be great fun to do. There wasn’t really any discussion, other than Barb told me that she thought I should do it. Right after dinner, I followed the links that Kirk had provided. Even though the event was sponsored by the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), and I am not a member, I had no problem with registering or paying.

Now all I had to do was to wait for a month to pass, which gave me plenty of time to wonder if I had gotten in over my head. I eventually came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to be judged by anyone, and that this could be a golden learning opportunity.

Now nobody judged me that day, but those of you that read this blog post, and see my pictures will judge my photography, even if you are not conscious of actively doing so, and even if you withhold your criticism. And that brings me to my “after trip” dilemma. Do I only show my “best photographs” taken that day, or do I continue my usual blog style of telling a story?

In the end, I have decided to tell the story, which necessitates showing several “filler photos”. That isn’t what Scott Kelby says that I should do. What the heck, this is my blog, and I’m not trying to sell anybody anything. I would like to be recognized as a competent photographer, though….. It’s a dilemma, I tell you!

A week ago today, on Thursday, February 7, 2013, we were to meet a block east of the Texas state capitol building to get on the bus by 8:15 AM. I got there about 7:50 AM, and saw another person walking around with what appeared to be a camera bag and a tripod. It turns out it was Frank Grygier, who I’ve met a couple of other times (both when Kirk Tuck was doing a book signing, or speaking to a group). I was very glad that I had already met at least one other person that was going on this tour. I asked Frank if I could get a photo of him with the Texas capitol building in the background.


We spotted the bus, and we had to tell the bus driver that she wasn’t where our map said she was supposed to be. We walked across the intersection, and while we were waiting for the bus, I noticed the early morning light was peeking through the clouds just enough to give the capitol building a nice glow.


And just to document this trip, I walked across San Jacinto Blvd. and snapped this photo of our bus in front of the capitol, with Frank and the driver.


On the bus, there were the 12 photographers that had signed up for this excursion, Wyatt McSpadden, a couple of people from ASMP that were helping to organize the event, and the bus driver. Fortunately we were going against the traffic as we headed out of town during rush hour. It didn’t seem to take us very long to drive the 35 miles (56 km) to get to Lockhart, Texas.

Lockhart is one of the “Meccas” of Texas BBQ. Our first stop, and the only one that I will cover in today’s blog post, was Smitty’s Market.


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’s the Caldwell County courthouse with the spire to the left of Smitty’s sign above. That courthouse was only one block away. We had parked in the gravel parking lot by the back door, which you can see in the next photo.


We all walked around the side of the building to get to the front door.


Wyatt had told us that we were free to go anywhere that we desired, but to remember that this was a place of business, and this was a regular workday for them. Of course, where there’s BBQ, there’s fire.


And smoke!


Now this building was built sometime around 1890, and I believe that they have been smoking meats, as BBQ, for over 75 years. During that time, it appears that they have accumulated some very “interesting” items, such as this deer skull – and what appears to be an alligator skull on top…


Since I didn’t know what to expect before we went into the place, I had put my Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens on my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera. That’s a versatile lens, but with those small aperture openings, it is considered a pretty “dark” lens. As a result, to get a proper exposure, I had to leave the shutter open for relatively long lengths of time – which required me to also use my little Gitzo GT1542T Traveler tripod.


I drifted back to what appeared to be the “real kitchen” where they will pull the BBQ out of the pits, and carve it up right there for your take-out orders.


Evidently, a lot of the other photographers also had the same idea….


That is Wyatt in the white shirt in the center of the photo above. He was mulling over where to get set-up to show us how he would light and photograph such a scene.

I decided to drift around the place on my own for a while and to check back in with Wyatt in a little bit.

One of the cooks had raised the lid on a pit with beef ribs and sausages inside. It was only 9:30 AM, and I was suddenly starting to think about lunch!


I wandered back out towards the hallway that lead to the front door.


From literally the very same spot that I took the photo above, I turned around, and here is what was directly behind me.


Back out in that front hallway, something about that stairway on the left was attracting my attention.


One of the workers said that we were welcome to go upstairs, if we wanted to. Of course! There was a large dining area with long wooden tables. I put myself next to the large windows (behind me), and shot into the room, which was lit by numerous lovely fluorescent lights. I left my camera’s white balance setting on Auto, and prayed…


Over by the door that was at the top of the stairs that we had come up, was this old scale. BBQ in Texas is usually sold “by the pound”, and not “by the sandwich”.


I headed back down to see what Wyatt was up to, and he had a pit master posing in front of his camera. I listened intently as Wyatt explained how he was going to use a remotely triggered flash in a small softbox to the left, and slightly behind his subject. I took this photo with only the ambient light – which was a large window behind me, and lots of fluorescent lights above us.


Now for the “gear heads” out there, here is something to study for a minute!


This is the tethered shooting set-up belonging to Taylor Jones of Texas Grip. (Be sure to click on that link after you finish with my story.) Note the image on the screen of that laptop. Obviously, Wyatt’s photo looks waaayyy better than mine! He must have been using a pretty wide angle lens, as he wasn’t very far away from the pit master, and you can see a lot below and above him…. including the fire at his feet.

I noticed that they had pulled up a brisket out of one of the pits, and were slicing it up for a customer’s order. Without any hesitation, I just walked up to the carving table and quickly snapped this photo.


Back to my spot near the window to watch Wyatt perform some more of his magic.


And here’s Frank going in for the kill.


Wyatt had noticed a wall just 7 or 8 feet (2.3 m) to my right that had a lot of light streaming onto it through the back door. Taylor Jones provided a “stand-in” while Wyatt got his lighting set-up the way that he wanted.


He had Jeff Stockton put a CTO gel inside a remotely triggered softbox in a hallway just to Taylor’s left. It made a very dramatic environmental portrait! (Since I had no way of triggering that remote flash, I simply cropped that hallway off of the left side of the photo above – it just appeared black in my photo.) Here is a “behind the scenes” (BTS) photo with Taylor, Wyatt, and Jeff evaluating the results of their efforts on Taylor’s tethering station.


I headed back toward the front cooking area, and this pit master was checking on the progress of his ribs. All of the light was pouring in through a door behind him, to my left.


I went back to the front hallway, and Wyatt had positioned this BBQ customer on a bench, and was about to conduct “class” on how to light this guy in a dramatic fashion.


Here Jeff is adjusting the position and power output of the flash in the small softbox, while Taylor and Wyatt monitor their progress.


Now, just to the right of the customer in the previous two photos, James was watching everything through the screen door to the small office.


James and the owner, Nina Schmidt, offered to take anyone who was interested on a private tour of the areas that most customers never see. Of course I was up for that!

We first went upstairs to the dining area that I previously showed with the long wooden tables. Wyatt noted the “beautifully weathered wall” that might make a great backdrop for some portraits. Here is a photo of Wyatt. Again, there was a large bank of windows to my right, with numerous fluorescent lights directly above. I was wishing that I had brought my collapsible round reflector to bounce some light back onto Wyatt from my left.


I know that shadows are good, but that is just a bit more than I normally like.

After that, the tour went up to the third floor, where a modern central heating and air conditioning unit had been installed. It was rather odd to see the duct work just running through the middle of walls in a room that still had an old claw foot bathtub in it! (There was much more duct work directly behind me.)


After that, the tour took us down 3 flights of stairs, down to the “basement”. I don’t know what this old piece of equipment is, but it looked much darker in that dimly lit basement. This was a 15 second exposure, lit by bare tungsten bulbs hanging from electrical cords!


I was tired of the long shutter opening times, and so I finally changed my lens to one with a much more appealing maximum aperture of f/1.4. Here, as I was changing my lens, I was talking to Frank, who seemed content to watch what I was doing. I asked if I could take his picture, and he seemed OK with that. Unfortunately, I had left my aperture setting on the camera to a rather “dark” f/5.6, so my handheld photo of Frank was very blurry. I instantly recognized my mistake, and pleaded with Frank for a “do over” (very unprofessional). I opened up the aperture on this Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens to f/1.6, which let me take this handheld photo at 1/15th of a second (ISO was 200).


The light in the above photo was entirely from fluorescents, and it appears that Frank was pretty much centered between two of them.

OK, it was about 11:15 AM. Time to actually eat some of this great BBQ for lunch!  Smitty’s brought us all of the brisket, ribs, and sausage that the 15 of us could eat. It was served on plain butcher paper, and the only eating utensils that we were given was a small plastic knife. You eat this kind of barbecue with your hands.


We enjoyed a half hour of pure BBQ heavenly bliss! We still had two more establishments to visit on this Lockhart BBQ Tour.

I hope that you will return a few days from now for Part 2 of my Lockhart BBQ Trip story. (It should be posted by Monday, Feb. 18th.) In that next post, we will visit Kreuz Market (pronounced “Krites”), and Black’s Barbecue.

Thank you for visiting my blog!

James McMurtry – Levelland

OK, this post is really just an experiment, to see if I can get a YouTube video to show on my blog site.

Don’t worry, I’ve got a ton of photos that I took last week on a photo excursion to some premier Texas BBQ joints in Lockhart – and I’m having trouble getting it down to a small enough number of photos to put into a single post or two. Maybe I will have to chop it up and make three posts….

Anyway, here’s the video of a song called Levelland, by Austin musician James McMurtry, who I believe is the son of the novelist Larry McMurtry. I think that the images are just as powerful as the music.

If the YouTube video does not appear above, then my experiment has failed, but you can still watch this powerful music video here. If anyone can enlighten me on how to embed a YouTube video, I would appreciate it!

Thanks for stopping by my blog!