Another year is nearly over and, with it, Austin’s second Formula 1 United States Grand Prix. From my perspective, this year’s event was every bit as much fun as the 2012 race. With a year of race weekends under their belt, the folks at Circuit of the Americas had ironed out the few kinks that marred last year’s event (and there really were very few considering that the newly built venue was only just usable by the time of the race) and put on a spectacular show – the beer selection was better, the number of food vendors and the variety of food on offer was very much improved and there was even decent cellular data coverage around the track. I was rather amazed to note that there was an AT&T WiFi hotspot up at Turn 11.
The crowds felt larger than last year but perhaps my memory was dulled by the very much smaller crowds for every other race I’ve been to at the track this year. The official gate count put Sunday’s attendance at about 4000 less than last year but, given the huge number of people involved, it certainly didn’t feel significantly less busy this year.
As before, the racing was great but the most spectacular thing about attending a Grand Prix is the amazing atmosphere. 120,000 friendly people gathering from all corners of the globe makes for quite a party.
I’ll be back again next year and will likely book another seat in the Turn 3 bleachers which gave such an excellent view of the S-curve section of the track with its great red, white and blue stripes. If you’re a racing fan and can make it down here, there’s no better place to be than Austin in mid-November!
If you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time, you will know that it’s not usual to find a restaurant review here (heck, it’s not usual to find a new post here at all these days, it seems). Let me start something new, therefore, and mention a restaurant that Nikki and I stumbled upon in Austin tonight while looking for a new Friday date night venue. Recently, we’ve been making a habit of trying new places and tonight’s choice, courtesy of Apple Maps and Yelp, was a small restaurant on South Lamar by the name of Barley Swine. The name may not be inspiring but the 380, overwhelmingly positive, reviews encouraged us to give it a try and we were most certainly not disappointed.
First off, if you are someone whose impression of a restaurant’s quality is based on the portion size, Barley Swine is probably not for you. This is not your “3 courses, soup, meat vegetable, dessert” kind of place. Individual dishes are small but guests are encouraged to order many and share. Think upscale tapas or the Japanese model.
If, however, you like new culinary experiences and expect a high quality dinner out to challenge your tastebuds and offer new flavour combinations that you’ve never imagined before, you’ll love Barley Swine. Food highlights for us included “Scrambled egg, shiitake dumplings, smoked roe, almond”, “Wagyu flank steak, piquillo pepper, potato, salsa verde” (shown in the photo below) and “Eggplant fritters, grilled okra, feta tofu, sesame, peanut salsa”. Each offered a remarkable texture and taste combination that neither of us had experienced before.
The wine and beer list also challenges convention. My first tipple, for example, seemed rather appropriate but tasted unlike any beer I’ve ever tried before. Excellent and strange:
As far as price goes, Barley Swine isn’t cheap – our bill came to about $100 for two – but it’s worth every penny for the fascinating diversity offered. If you have a fancy date planned, give this place a try.
I’m just back from a spectacular weekend attending the inaugural United States Grand Prix at the brand new Circuit of the Americas here in Austin. With about 2500 photos to edit, I’m not ready to publish a lot of images from the event but wanted to get a few pictures posted quickly to set the scene. In short, though, the US Grand Prix weekend was an amazing event!
Event organization was superb and, from my perspective at least, everything ran extremely smoothly. My main worry had been that the shuttle bus system would lead to enormous lines at the pick-up and drop-off locations but this didn’t appear to be the case. I parked at the airport and took the shuttle from there to the track, and found the whole system ran beautifully smoothly. My only wait was about 15 minutes after leaving the track this evening following the race. Friends who took the downtown and Travis County Expo Center shuttles reported smooth operation too with waits no longer than 30 minutes at any time during the weekend.
While the focus of the weekend was obviously on motor racing, the aspect that really impressed me was the overall atmosphere and the amazing camaraderie between fans from all over the globe. People were shouting for their favourite team or driver but, in the end, everyone was having a good time, happy to interact with other fans, and extremely friendly. Any rivalries were most definitely of the good-natured variety.
Showing this in pictures is rather tricky but here are a selection that show some of the folks I met. Most of these people, I talked to for several minutes after taking their picture though some were seen and photographed at “long range” during the weekend. Click on any picture for a larger, uncropped version.
Overall, given the predictions of doom and gloom in the local press and remembering that COTA was an undeveloped field a couple of years ago, I’m delighted to report that the first Formula 1 weekend in Austin was a huge success!
This week saw an object lesson in the merits taking your own advice. On Thursday morning, we had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here in Austin as the Space Shuttle Endeavour made a low level flypast of the city on the back of the Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. I found out about it at 10pm the night before as I was waiting for a flight home in Chicago but realised that I had to get downtown and see the shuttle at 7:30 the next morning (after 4 hours of sleep). To cut a very long story short, I ended up completely messing up the photographs – I got 12 well-framed, perfectly focused shots of the aircraft during the 5 or 6 seconds that it was visible from my vantage point and every one of them was 2 stops overexposed.
The main reason for this mess was the fact that I completely failed to take the advice that I so freely give to others for situations exactly like this.
I shoot in manual mode about 90% of the time. I like the control I get in manual and, when lighting conditions are constant and I have time to shoot, chimp, tweak and reshoot, it works well. Even shooting sports, if the stadium light conditions are stable, I will generally stick in manual after taking a few test shots to judge the correct exposure. In situations where the light is changing or, more importantly, where there is a lot of uncertainty or a lack of time to get the shot, I will add more of the camera automation. Shooting people at parties, for example, I’ll normally start in Aperture Priority and use TTL flash (I would use manual flash for any setup or studio portraits). I dare say that if I ever ended up in a war zone, I would likely leave the camera in Program mode since I would have a lot of other thing to worry about than the exposure.
On Thursday morning, I was firmly in Aperture Priority territory at least as far as my advice went. The Shuttle would be coming in at an unknown height and speed, from an unknown position (yes, it was entering Austin from the east but we had no idea how far north of the river it would fly over) at an unknown time (we had a 30 minute window). I should have stuck the camera in Aperture Priority, selected f/5.6 or so for a nice fast shutter speed, and left the computer to get the exposure right for me. For some reason, though (lack of sleep?), I decide manual would be better so I took some test shots of the Capitol Dome, set the exposure and waited.
At this point, I was standing on the south lawn of the Capitol complex. I was aiming for a “Hail Mary” shot containing the top of the Capitol dome and the SCA/Shuttle combination large in the frame. This involved betting that the pair would fly slightly north of the Capitol. I had the D700 with the 28-300 pre-zoomed to give me the kind of framing I wanted assuming I could get the dome in the shot and the D90 with the 70-200 and a doubler waiting to grab some close-ups as the aircraft flew in. I assumed that they would be visible for a reasonable time and that I could change cameras and possibly even do a bit of exposure tweaking during the flyby.
All of these assumptions turned out to be wrong – the flypast was visible for about 6 seconds or so, it was lower and faster than I had expected and it was further south. On top of this and, as it turns out, the crucial difference, the light got significantly brighter between 7:20 when I set my exposure and 7:45 when the flypast took place. As a result, I had no chance to get the dome in the picture (the shuttle was behind me, the dome in front) and only got to shoot with the D90 and long lens which, given my mistake of staying in manual and not resetting the exposure, resulted in wildly overexposed images.
This seemed like a total disaster but, thankfully, Adobe Lightroom can do amazing things so here’s the image once I spent some time fixing it up. The quality is acceptable but it still leaves me embarrassed to think of what a mess I made of the encounter!
Here’s another sport to add to the collection. Via our local “Photographers Adventure Group“, I was fortunate enough to get hold of a media pass to a recent Texas Roller Derby match at the Palmer Event Center and had a blast shooting during the Rhinestone Cowgirls/Cherry Bombs match. Roller Derby is an interesting sport involving two teams racing around an oval track with points scored based on the number of opposing team players that a team’s “Jammer” passes during each “jam” (or individual race). It’s all action and rather good entertainment.
Photographically, it was also quite a challenge since the lighting inside the hall is pretty awful – a mix of fluorescent and tungsten with an overall light level that was rather too low to get the shutter speed where you would want it to really freeze the action. I was shooting with f/2.8 lenses pretty much wide open all evening and was dealing with shutter speeds in the 1/180 to 1/250 range even with the ISO bumped up to 3200. Nevertheless, I’m happy with quite a few of the images I captured so here are a few of my favourites. You can find all the picks I sent to the TXRD folks in this gallery on SmugMug.
A fisheye shot of the arena taken with the camera on top of a fully extended monopod and held overhead. A 5 second self timer setting game me enough time to get the camera as high as possible before the shutter released.
Each team member has a roller derby name. This is Sacrilicious of the Cherry Bombs bombing around the track.
Rocky Casbah of the Cherry Bombs.
Eric seems to be a mascot or somesuch. Think if him as a guy dressed as Elvis dressed as an angel.
A couple of players await news of their fate after a penalty was granted. They ended up having to pillow fight in the middle of the track.
The matches can get pretty heated at times.
One of my Hamilton Pool shots is on the cover of a new report on the state of Texas’ aquifers from the Texas Water Development Board. You can get hold of a PDF version of the report (which is also being printed) here if you are interested.
If you like to get together with other photographers, geek out, get a bit of exercise and take part in a world-wide photographic phenomenon, head on over to Scott Kelby’s World Wide Photo Walk site and sign up to take part in one of the 570+ photo walks arranged for the weekend of October 1st and 2nd this year.
I’m signed up for the Austin walk, led by the wonderful Simi Shonowo. Simi has led walks in Austin for the last 3 years and does a lovely job of arranging a route and helping folks out on the walk. There are still 20 places open on the walk but these are very likely to fill so get your name on the list quickly.
I hope to see you on Saturday, October 1st. In the meantime, here are a few shots I’ve taken on the last 2 WWPW events in Austin.
One of the wonderful things about living in a rural area, and one thing that I missed when living in the city, is great community spirit. Our local town, Dripping Springs, celebrated its annual Founders’ Day this weekend and you won’t find a better example of community spirit than this event. The fun starts on Friday evening with a parade in which half the town kids ride on floats sponsored by local businesses and organisation, and the other half catch the mountain of candy that is thrown from those floats. The carnival is in town and the parade route goes right through the middle of it, adding to the fun. On Saturday and Sunday, the center of the town is filled with booths set up by local artists, craftspeople and businesses and 100s (literally) of barbecue aficionados – teams from all over the state – determined to win an award for best fajitas, brisket, chicken or a host of other smoked staples. All of this is, obviously, a lot of fun and I’m sure the booth vendors do well at the event but the thing that really sets this apart from the many, many city art shows I’ve attended is the fact that everyone is so incredibly sociable and talkative.
Being a “home town” event, I recognise a fair number of friends and neighbours there but, regardless of whether I’ve met anyone before, everyone is sociable and most are keen on conversation as much as selling their wares or winning the barbecue competition. The atmosphere is wonderful.
As I headed to the car after my first experience of a Founders’ Day 5 years ago, I remember hearing something over the public address that said a great deal about the event. It’s odd but those three words said more about the event than I could manage in this whole post. They were “9th Place Brisket.”
You can see more of my favourite images from the event over on SmugMug.
Justin Balog recently asked me if I would contribute a guest post to his “Light as Magic” blog to be part of the “Outside Their Front Door” series. The idea here is that photographers provide a set of images taken within easy striking distance of their home so I did my bit for Austin tourism and joined in. You can see the results here.
A couple of months ago, I mentioned that David Nightingale of Chromasia fame was looking into coming to Austin to give a couple of workshops early next year. I’m delighted to report that the planning is now complete and the workshops are definitely on.
David will be teaching a 1 day “HDR Crash Course” on Friday, February 4th followed by a 2 day “Creating Dramatic Images” on Saturday & Sunday, February 5th and 6th. Both classes are at Dragonfly Gallery at Rosedale.
For more details, check out my workshops page. The classes are both filling very fast so please let me know as soon as possible if you want to take part.