Category Archives: Trees

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.


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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.

Six Months for a Bradford Pear Tree


Something very unusual is happening in Austin lately. Yesterday, nearly 4 inches (10cm) of rain fell in downtown Austin, and the weatherman said that it would all be gone by sundown. When we awoke this morning, it was raining gently, and continued to do so for over the next 3 hours. We are so grateful for the rain, that we don’t even mind that it’s during the weekend!

Anyway, I spent the morning getting all caught up on post-processing my photos. I had some unfinished work still from several months ago. As I was going back through the last several months of photos, I noticed that I had several photos of the Bradford Pear tree in our backyard. I decided to show some of them here. I’m going to keep the words to a minimum, but I will mention the date that each of the photos was taken.

The photo above was taken on December 1, 2012. I took the photo to show the beginning of the fall colors. If you look into the shadows underneath the tree, I hope that you can see all 4 of the deer that were staring at me while I took the photo.

It wasn’t until February 3, 2013 before I find another photo of this tree.


Several varieties of trees in Austin keep their leaves all year long.

I took this next photo on the morning of February 21st, to capture the clouds as a weather front passed by our house.


Just two days later, on Feb. 23, I took these next three photos, because the Bradford Pear tree was showing signs of budding out new leaves.


Let’s get a little closer to see what’s happening here.


And let’s get even closer…


Three days later, on Feb. 26, I went out to see how things were progressing along.


Five days later, on March 03, the tree was finally starting to blossom.


Five days after that, on a drizzly March 8, it had lots of leaves, but not as many white blossoms as in a normal year. I think that is because we are about 2 and a half years into a severe draught in Texas.


Since New Year’s we have had a normal amount of rainfall for our area, but the two years of draught prior to that have left Lake Travis about 52 feet (16m) below its full level, and many of the plants have been negatively affected as well.

Two days later, on March 10, I took these next three photos.


It’s nice to see the clear blue sky again! Note that the old Cedar Elm tree that I use to frame the Bradford Pear tree hasn’t started to leaf out yet.


On a few of the lower branches, there were a few blossoms.


During most years, the entire tree is covered with these brilliant white blossoms – but not this year.

Ok, so fast forward about 4 weeks to April 7th. Spring has finally sprung!


The yard is greening-up, and even the old Cedar Elm tree has leafed-out.

I went underneath the Bradford Pear tree and took this photo looking up into its branches.


A week later, on April 13, not much has changed.


But now fast forward until just 2 days ago on May 23rd.


It’s amazing what a little yard fertilizer, a little rain, a weekly watering from the sprinkler system, and the mild temperatures that we’ve had this spring can do for a yard. That is the greenest that our yard has been in at least three years. And that photo was taken before the 4 inches (10cm) of rainfall that we’ve had in the last 24 hours!

I know that this blog post is quite a bit different than my normal posts. I didn’t really need to say anything. It would have been interesting to see what sort of comments people would have left, if I had simply shown the date underneath each photo – and not said anything else in this post…

Thank you for visiting my blog!

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.


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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!

Lockhart BBQ Tour – Part 2


This is the 2nd of what will be 3 blog posts that document 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 next stop was at Kreuz Market (pronounced “Krites”), which is located just 4 or 5 blocks away.


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There is a complex history that tangles Kreuz Market and Smitty’s Market. I am not sure that I have all of these facts absolutely correct, but here’s what I understand.

Charles Kreuz Sr. started Kreuz Market in 1900 as a meat market and grocery store in the building that we had explored in my previous blog post. In 1948, Charles’s sons sold the market to Edgar Schmidt, who had worked there since 1936. The establishment kept the name “Kreuz Market”. In 1960, Edgar closed the grocery store, and kept the BBQ operation going. In 1997, Edgar sold the place to his sons Rick and Don.

In 1999, something happened that caused Rick Schmidt to leave the old building and move to a brand-spanking new facility 4 or 5 blocks away. He kept the name Kreuz Market for the new facility.


Even though Schmidt had move Kreuz Market to a new location, the old building remained a BBQ establishment, owned by Nina Schmidt Sells, and with a new name of Smitty’s Market.

Confused? Me too…! It seems like both Kreuz Market and Smitty’s Market are owned and operated by different members of the Schmidt family. At least that’s what I think. It doesn’t really matter, though, now does it?

I guess that explains why the wooden doors entering this new building built in 1999 say “Since 1900”.


After you go through those doors, and take a short jog to your left, you get a nice view of one of the three major dining areas in this restaurant. I do not know what they refer to this area as, but it seems like it is the “fancy dining area” (as compared to the other two areas). This next photo was the only one that I took all day long with the Olympus 12mm f/2.0 lens on my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera. I also used my little Gitzo GT1542T Traveler tripod for this photo.


The windows on the right side of this photo allow you to look into the brightly lit dining area where several customers were enjoying their BBQ lunch at the time. That area had linoleum floors, and lots of fluorescent lights. I never took any photos inside of that dining area.

To your left is the third of the three eating areas. It is a very long, relatively narrow, dining area with dozens of wooden picnic tables. That area seemed very inviting, as all of the light was diffused sunlight. We will visit that area later.

Straight ahead, in the photo above, through the doors where you see a few people, is the massive area where all of the meat smoking pits are located. I think that’s where all of the other photographers had immediately disappeared to.

I changed my lens to the Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens.

Backing up a bit, just inside of the front door, it appears that Rich Schmidt had brought several old implements as reminders of the old location with him to this new location.


Does anybody remember accounting machines like this?


I headed back to the area where the meat smoking pits were located.

These BBQ pits have heavy metal lids covering them. To make it easier for the pit masters to raise them, they have a rope attached to them that goes up and over a pulley, where a counter-balance weight is attached.


I started just wandering around the area to get a feel for it, and looking for things to photograph.


In this next photo, behind the counter where you can order your meat “to go”, you can see several of the counter-balance weights hanging from their pulleys.


There didn’t seem to be much activity in that area right now, so I headed back out into the “fancy dining room”. This “menu” was high on the wall, just outside of the doors.


Note the smaller sign underneath the larger black one. No BBQ sauce, No eating utensils. No kidding!

As I wandered around the fancy dining area a bit, the reflection off of the back of a chair seemed to catch my eye.


The light that was being reflected off of that chair was coming into the room from that 3rd eating area – the one with the dozens of wooden picnic tables. Note the long wall of diffused window light on the right. (That will be put to good use in a little bit!)


Since nobody was out there at this time, I headed back into the area with all of the smoking pits. I’m not sure how much oak wood is needed to cook lunch at a place like this, but I think this is what they thought they would use on this day.


I noticed that Wyatt was getting set-up to do one of his lighting demonstrations. Jeff Stockton (in the red T-shirt) was moving the softbox around, and Taylor Jones, of Texas Grip, was getting his tethered shooting station all set-up.


Frank Grygier was also watching the pros in action.


Before you knew it, Wyatt had brought Frank around the end of the counter and had taken his portrait, which you can see here on the iPad (part of Taylor’s tethered shooting station).


I noticed that the pit master had pulled out a juicy brisket from a smoking pit, and was carving it up for one of the customer’s orders.


It was the next day, after I was at home, and was looking at all of the great photographs in Wyatt’s book, that I became aware of who these two people are. That is definitely Roy Perez on the left, and I *think* that is Ella Townes helping him with serving up the order.

After a few minutes, I noticed that Wyatt had moved out to the eating area with the wooden picnic tables – and he was photographing an actual customer while he and his buddies were enjoying their BBQ lunch.


He had the benefit of the remotely triggered small softbox, just out of my photo – the right. The photos that Wyatt was taking looked stunning on the tethered shooting station! So much so, that some of the
other photographers took Wyatt’s place.


Soon all 12 of us photographers were taking photos of the one person photographing this customer who was just trying to enjoy his BBQ lunch. Note in the photo above, that’s Wyatt standing on the bench directly behind the BBQ customer, and Wyatt is photographing all of us, who are photographing the guy photographing the customer…

That’s funny enough, but this good-natured fellow told all of us to stay right where we were for a minute. He then got up, walked back to where Wyatt had been on the bench, pulled out his smartphone and took a photo of all of us acting like we were photographing him!

After that episode, I wandered off again. I remembered the sign saying that they didn’t have BBQ sauce, so I was sort of curious what these little bottles were.


Hot sauce is definitely not BBQ sauce. If you are not familiar with hot sauce, then you should proceed with caution!

I talked Wyatt for a minute about the shot above, and after he walked off, I talked to Frank for a couple of minutes. I then wandered back into the pit room, and Wyatt had corralled yet another customer and was directing him, and telling Jeff where to move the softbox.


Again, Wyatt’s photo is absolutely stunning, and doesn’t look anything like mine. (Of course Wyatt was at a different angle, and didn’t have that strip of light coming in from the hinged side of the outside door, and of course, he had that very useful little softbox, too!)

Here’ the team hard at work, perfecting their craft. That’s Frank on the left, Jeff Stockton in front of the light he was in charge of, Kimberly Davis (with her back to me), and of course Wyatt McSpadden.


It was nearing 1:00 PM, and it had been a little over an hour since we had eaten some wonderful BBQ over at Smitty’s Market, but now it was time to sample some of the wonderful BBQ that Kreuz Market had to offer.


The photo above was set-up on top of one of those long wooden tables, near the wall of windows with the diffused sunlight. To further soften the light, Wyatt had Jeff open up a large (40 inch-ish) collapsible circular diffuser, and had it positioned to the right, between the window and this arrangement (which Wyatt had arranged).

I had changed my lens to the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens for one reason – it has a “macro” mode. In this mode, the focal length is fixed at 43mm (86mm equivalent), and it does not actually get to a 1:1 magnification (generally to be defined as “macro”), but it does get pretty close at 0.72 magnification.

I did use my tripod for that photo. I stopped down the aperture to f/14, which meant that the shutter would be open quite a while. I kept the ISO at 200 and fired off 2 shots – with a 0.8 second shutter opening, you’ve got to take more than one shot!

Starting in the lower-right corner, and going around in a clockwise direction, what you see here are onions, pickles, brisket (beef), a sausage link, and in the back is a pork chop. That’s right, a pork chop!

Also, lots of photographers wanted to get a shot, so I stepped aside, and put my tripod away – something that I would not normally do whenever I think about macro photography. When another opportunity to wiggle into position, I got this photo, which shows just how “macro” this kit lens will get.


I kept the ISO at 200, but I did stop down the aperture to f/9.0. That resulted in a shutter speed of 1/13 second – something that I thought I might be able to handhold without motion blur. I took 6 photos. Good thing, too, as that photo was the last of the six, and it is only one worth keeping!

Now that huge pork chop had started quite a conversation among us. I personally had never heard of Texas BBQ’ing a pork chop before. It turns out that this is one of the things that Kreuz Market is famous for. We pulled out a small knife and cut into it. Tender, juicy, and delicious. It was gone in just a couple of minutes!


Even though we were not actually hungry, we couldn’t help but taste all of the BBQ that Kreuz Market had brought out to us. So we tasted it. And we “tasted it” some more. Soon we were completely stuffed, and started moving very slowly. We were about to go into a coma, but someone realized that we still had to make another stop on this Lockhart BBQ Trip!

It took us nearly 30 minutes to get up enough gumption to pack our stuff and head on out to the bus.


I hope that you will return a few days from now for Part 3 of my Lockhart BBQ Trip story. In that next post, we will visit Black’s Barbecue. Hopefully I can show you a little bit of why Blacks’ Barbecue has been recognized by both the Texas Senate and Texas House of Representatives for their part in Texas History.

Thank you for visiting my blog!

Bare Trees


It’s been a long winter here in Austin. We haven’t had any snow or ice, but we have had several mornings where the temperature has dipped well below the freezing mark. I guess what makes it seem so long to me is that I rarely get outside between mid-December and early February.

It’s not because we have cold winter temperatures here, but it is because of what the local Austinites know as “cedar fever“. It is during this time of year that some of our trees pollinate, and it causes many Austinites to suffer.

This is actually a misnamed phenomenon. It is not really a fever, and the trees that pollinate are not actually cedar trees, but rather a type of juniper tree. They are the trees that appear green year-round, and you can see they come right up to our backyard.

20130203_Bare_Trees_001When I first moved to Austin in 1972, I was 17 years old. When I first heard about “cedar fever” I simply thought that these Texans were just a bunch of genetically deficient bunch of wimps. I arrogantly probably continued to think that for the next 14 or 15 years – until I also began to suffer from this allergy.

This year hasn’t been a particularly bad year for cedar fever, but I’m not one to go out and taunt Mother Nature.

Even though my blog post activities have dropped considerably, I have managed to stay pretty active with my photography. Last Thursday I took the day off of work to attend a Lightroom 4 seminar, where the presenter was Matt Kloskowski (one of Scott Kelby’s Photoshop Guys). Except for the January 9th rain, all of my photography has been indoors…

20130201_Evening_at_Home_002Now that the juniper trees are at the tail end of their pollinating season, it’s time to crawl out from the winter cave and enjoy the warm temperatures that have been prevailing here in Austin for the past month or so. It seems like every weekend in January, while the temperatures might have been very favorable, the constant gray clouds have pretty much killed any desires that I might have had to take a walk with my camera. It seems like all of the “pretty days” have been for me to observe from my office window, while I’ve been at work.

This is another view off of our patio. The bare tree on the right is a Bradford Pear tree. That is a fruitless variety, with magnificent white blossoms in the spring, and vibrant red leaves in the fall. As you can see, right now it is in “winter mode”, just like our yard grass.

20130203_Bare_Trees_003-2From a photography compositional perspective, I like this next view looking to the northeast the best.

20130203_Bare_Trees_005Here’s a view looking due north.

20130203_Bare_Trees_004That giant willow tree in my neighbor’s back yard doesn’t seem to ever shed its dead leaves until the week right before it puts out the new ones in the spring. The photo above made the giant willow tree the center of attention, but I thought it had too much of the pretty blue sky, so I took this next one aimed a bit lower.

20130203_Bare_Trees_006That photo seems to summarize the state of the trees in Austin right now. The trees are all bare, except for the green cedar (juniper) trees. At least those cedar trees are no longer heavily laden with their rust colored pollen!

The Super Bowl is going to start in about 3 hours. We haven’t turned our TV on yet, and we don’t want to until 30 minutes before the kick-off. There is only so much pre-game hype that I can tolerate. No, instead, I’m going to head outside and take my 3 mile fitness walk and enjoy the beautiful day that we have today in Austin. To hell with the cedar fever!

Thank you for visiting my blog.