A productive and uplifting walk through Austin with a Sigma fp camera and the cute, little 45mm f2.8 lens. Oh yeah....and a polarizing filter.

It's been a fun day for me. I heard from an institutional client who wanted to know if I could bid on a television spot scheduled (tentatively; always tentatively) for August. After that I got a call from a law practice/firm I've worked with asking if I would be interested in making a couple of "tasteful" (non-ambulance chasing) TV commercials for them. The attorneys will be ready to go as soon as we work out how to proceed while under the restrictions of the pandemic. 

I spent the early afternoon finishing up the retouching of images for another law firm. And billing! I'm so thrilled to still be billing...

But once I'd gotten through the retouching I'd had enough office time and had spent enough time in the proximity of conduits to the endless news cycle so I got up, grabbed a camera and a homemade face mask and headed out for one of my legendary walks with photographs in mind. The camera of choice today was the little Sigma fp, and it did feel little after my recent amble with the Lumix S1 and the Sigma 20mm f1.4 art lens. Knowing we'd have bright sun through the afternoon I looked around the equipment drawer and found a 55mm circular polarizing filter. Funny trivia = it was a Minolta brand filter. That certainly dates it.

I had a certain route I wanted to take because I'd seen some video that showed some cool graffiti on the plywood covering the storefronts on Sixth St. And I'm a sucker for good graffiti. Please keep in mind that in all but a few areas of the country which are in complete lockdown, we in Austin are allowed; no, encouraged, to walk for exercise, as long as we're careful about distancing ourselves from others! 

As usual, I parked in the lot adjacent to the Zach Theatre (no other cars in the entire lot) and walked across the pedestrian bridge. It's this part of most walks where I spend time "dialing in" the feel and settings of the camera. I capriciously decided that today was an ISO 250 day and that we'd go fully manual for a change. Well, fully manual exposure but I still used the autofocus because it works so well on sunny days. 

There were a ton of people out on the bridge and on the hike and bike trails but everyone was doing an amazing job of skirting around other people, maintaining that six to ten foot distance, and being attentive to their surroundings. Many more face masks today.  Once off the bridge and the trail, and fully into downtown, the foot traffic dropped to nearly zero. I still kept up an eye-roving surveillance; my "head on a swivel" as they say in the action/adventure spy novels. 

The thing that impresses me most (after the small size and weight) about the Sigma fp and the 45mm lens is the amazing amount of detail in the finished files. It's quite different in its nature than the look of apparent sharpness one gets from other brands. This camera does an especially good blend of super-high resolution coupled with great acutance. It helps that my use of the camera in full sun is generally predicated on using f5.6 and f8.0; f-stops at which this particular lens excels. (Please click on the images on a big, fat 5K monitor to really see what I'm talking about. But when you do please remember that these files are only 2100 pixels on the long dimension....). 

The view to the east of the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge. 
If there is sunshine there will be kayaks and paddle boards...

The lens tends to compress space but I used a laser "measuring tape" to ensure that the 
two men on the bench were at least two meters apart. They did think me 
quite odd.... But then so do my friends.

I thought I'd remark in passing that the image just above was originally overexposed by over a stop.
I pulled the exposure down in post. There was no clipping to be seen in the highlights. 
I think I can get away with a +1 overexposure from time to time with no penalty1

Promotional posters for Red Ash Italian Restaurant on 3rd St. 

While I was looking forward to seeing the graffiti on Sixth St. my new path took my by a high rise on Third St. that has a nice Italian restaurant on the bottom floor. The graphics in the window caught me by surprise and I actually laughed out loud when I saw these three posters. 

All of them are a take off of World War Two posters but these are aimed at getting loyal customers to future-support this restaurant by selling gift cards to be used when the establishment re-opens. As I read the fine print I see that they are offering a one hundred dollar gift card for $60. A good deal...if they make it through the fallow times. See the two below.

It's a brilliant campaign, it's kind of tragic that there is so little foot traffic to see it...
I applaud their marketing team for some fun work1

It seems the local bars (see just below) are getting into the to-go business. The governor of Texas lifted restrictions on selling alcohol off the restaurant premises and now just about every restaurant and bar is rushing to sell and have delivered: food+alcohol, food, alcohol and drink mixing kits. Not sure why people can't just use a Mr. Boston's bartender's guide along with a quick trip to the local liquor stores (which the governor has included in the list of essential businesses which are allowed to stay open during the crisis. I guess you could use the Tito's vodka to sterilize stuff while pickling your brain cells). 

With all the downtown professionals and their entourages working from
home all of the food trailers are locked up tight. No customers, no business.

But this image above and the ones just below are the one's I wanted to see. They were my primary destination for today's walk. The street looked so bare the first week after the storefronts on our most popular and densely packed bar district were covered with particle board and plywood. The same people that sponsored the Graffiti Wall got permission to invite artists to decorate the "crisis covers." 

At some point, if the "Stay Home, Stay Safe" restrictions last long enough, I look forward to seeing street art on every square inch of plywood and particle board on the 200 establishments bordering our famous hospitality district. It should be interesting in its own right. 

It will be a sad and happy day when the boards are peeled off and the businesses re-open. 
That will mean Austin is back in business but it will also mean that the art will go away. 
As I'm sure you guessed, I will be back again and again to document it all. 

Since downtown is totally bereft of both working people and tourists an unintended consequence of the "stay home" ethos is a radical thinning of the crowd of homeless people who just weeks ago thrived in the area. Except for the hardiest most have looked for greener pastures or fled to the shelters; mostly driven, I suspect, by hunger. Makes the sign must above seem superfluous, yes?

After my jaunt through downtown I headed West on the Lady Bird Johnson Hike and Bike Trail happier than ever with my little Sigma fp. It just oozes personality and a solid, ingratiating grace. Here's the refrain you've probably read many times before: I might just have to find another one....

To update: I went to Trader Joe's grocery store today, wearing my homemade face mask and clutching my small bottle of hand sanitizer. I shared the store with fewer than 30 people (they are rationing access). I followed all the rules and, upon returning home, sat out front of the house wiping down the bottles, cans and containers with alcohol and wipes. I disposed of the bag and then re-sanitized my hands before bringing my stuff into the house. 

With great joy I must announce that there will be fresh baked Almond Croissants on Saturday morning. 

My sanitizing protocol was approved by my keen and strict supervisor and house mate. We have gone 17 days with perfect social distancing and have spent 90% of that time isolated from everyone outside our tiny familial sphere (two). I think we're doing okay but I'm equally sure that, at some point, it's all the luck of the draw. We're just trying to play the long odds. If we do get sick we want to put if off as long as possible in the hopes that the protocols will be in place to generate decidedly better outcomes across the board when it comes to treatment.

On an off topic note: 
Michael Johnston gave us a movie review on TheOnlinePhotographer today. I feel compelled to "keep up with the Joneses" so here is my (much shorter) review of my movie viewing from last night: 

We saw the most recent Star Wars movie on Amazon Prime last night. It was action packed and entertaining. But overall George Lucas's reputation for directing has nothing to worry about. JJ Abrams threw everything in his directorial playbook at the latest movie in the franchise. Barely crested the Jar Jar Binks bar for good story telling. But again....entertaining. The popcorn was great.

Hope everyone is well. Maybe tomorrow I'll write about coming to grips with my fascination concerning the old, used Leica SLs. But maybe not. Maybe I'll just shrug my shoulders and get another fp. I know those are great. 


Anonymous said...

I have to thank you again Kirk for the steady feed of your posts. I look forward to them now even more than my DPR m4/3 forum. May God continue to bless you and your family during these difficult times... which are going to be so desperately difficult for billions of people in the world!

Anonymous said...


Ill give you the same comment I gave Mike. This is an old ( sixties if that qualifies as old) movie directed by Robert Downey SR! It's called Putney Swope. It may not play well to normal people but to those of us who have had the misfortune of working with advertising agency people, it perfectly carves the business into little pieces and feeds them to cannibals.

It can be occasionally found on streaming.

Bill Pearce

HR said...

I walk everyday too. Today on this gorgeous spring day I was walking along the Seto-nai-kai (Seto inland sea) that separates Shikoku from Honshu here in Japan. Then later after lunch I walked along the Shikoku no michi trail. Since January we have been careful and progressively being even more careful about more things based on the advice from Dr. Fauci and other experts around the world. I almost never go in stores anymore and if I do it is a quick in and out and I put on my mask before entering. Lots of hand washing and all the other stuff too. Best of luck to you and yours and to everyone all around the world.

Michael Matthews said...

My wife tried the Instacart pickup service offered by a Kroger supermarket for the first time yesterday. Brilliant! Picked, packed, delivered to the car — all without sharing the same breathed air and at nominal cost. A cash tip to the Instacart person above any automatically included assures at least something gets to the people doing the work. We gave all packaging the same wipe down with dilute bleach saturated paper towels after spraying with same. As you point out, in the long run it is really a matter of trying to rebalance the odds. But we like to think it’s working. Toss in a daily playing of that country-flavored “Just A Matter Of Time” by Kevin Russell that I sent you and we’re ready to press on.
Austin certainly has some terrific graphic artists. To me, graffiti is vandalism but what you’ve photographed is art. Encourage the latter.

David said...

I’m glad you’re documenting the scene in Austin in these times. I think these photos will have a lot of value (not monetary) ten years from now.

pixtorial said...

Love the images in this post Kirk. It has now been over 4 1/2 years since I've been in Austin, I really don't think I would recognize downtown anymore, even without the oddity of no people. Appreciate the opportunity to see the city through your lens.

Eric Rose said...

Walking is my therapy. That and playing in the darkroom. It's -15C here with windchill so the walks are brisk to say the least. I love your store front images! Thanks for keeping my spirits up Kirk. Between all this covid crap and lousy weather my mood is rather dim. I know we will get through all of this but .....


crsantin said...

Glad you and the wife are safe and healthy. My wife and I are fine here in our home as well. Spring has arrived here in Ontario, Canada and it's wonderful. Nothing is open but we can walk. Right now the sky is very blue and there is a sweet smell in the air. Trees are starting to bud.

I noticed the Sigma does not have an EVF. How are you now with the stinky diaper hold? I know that was a real issue for you with mirrorless cameras. I don't mind it all now. My iPhone has trained me well. I'd prefer a nice EVF but I won't let the lack of one hold me back from using a camera. I'm happy that I am able to adapt. Adapting and accepting change is an important life skill.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Hi CRSantin, Congrats on your online social/community live casts! Great idea.

We're doing fine here but some of my younger photographer friends are freaking out. Not that I blame them...

But the real question is: how am I getting along without an EVF on that fp?

I've given up on being a total curmudgeon and just accept that I have to play along with their vision if I want to play with the fp camera. I will say that I haul around a big, cheap loupe so I can use the camera at eye level when the light drops. Seems to work okay but totally messes up the ergonomic... Maybe the shortage of fp loupes is a blessing in disguise since I'm not at all sure it would be much better, operationally, than my kludgy one... (Yikes. I gotta work on all these ellipses...) KT

MikeR said...

Kirk, thanks for the ongoing commentary. Amazing art on those storefronts.

And, yes, our phones are "training" us to not miss the EVF. Except in bright sunlight.