Lean In

Lean In - Luckenbach, Texas
Lean In – Luckenbach, Texas
I drove out to Luckenbach for the first time around 2003, shortly after acquiring my first camera. The old song performed by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson among others, was enough to inspire a thirty minute drive to get there. I was quite surprised to see a hundred people sitting around picnic tables drinking beer and listening to Texas roots music. I’m not sure what I expected to find but it turned out to be pure Americana with a Texas accent. Since that day I’ve made dozens of visits to Luckenbach and enjoyed every one.

Similar old venues dot the back roads in Central Texas with Austin acting as a hub. Some of the best musicians in the world live or work in Austin. Good music just overflows out into the country as players get together more or less informally.

The great thing about Luckenbach from a photographer’s perspective is having pretty much unlimited access to roam around and take pictures. It is a target rich environment you might say. During the warm months of the year free music is performed on the outdoor stage. If you want to take a picture of the band all you have to do is walk up to the stage and click. The only requirement is that you don’t become a pest for the audience or the performers.

Photographing the crowd is just as easy. Luckenbach attracts an eclectic mix of people. Tourists, well heeled bikers and Texas characters are regulars. I’ve never seen a group of people more laidback. There is never a serious argument to be heard. You can work the crowd with a camera as long as you follow a few simple rules. Most importantly everyone is there to relax and get away from the cares of the world. Don’t be too serious.

In some ways I feel as though just talking about Luckenbach causes it to change. Eventually it will be discovered in a major way and succumb to the pressures of commerce. At least more than it has so far. In the end kitsch may be the ultimate fate for Luckenbach but we can still hope for the best.

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Tools for the Job

Lone Star Superman
Lone Star Superman – Zuiko 135mm 3.5 @ f8.0

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” – Abraham H. Maslow

An often heard cliché is that the camera is just a tool in the hands of a photographer. That is true as long as the photographer can come to terms with a particular camera to use it as a tool. I may have reached that point with the Sony A7II.

Of course the camera as tool encompasses both body and lenses. That complicates things when using legacy lenses because the two were not designed to work as a system. Finding the right match of body and lens requires some work on the part of the photographer. There is at least a little luck and intuition involved as well. This is particularly true if you have limited experience with legacy glass. I am in that category.

All of this makes me reluctant to say that I’ve found the right tool for my year long photography project. The camera body is indeed excellent but the lenses are a work in progress. With only four lenses, three of which were purchased several years ago, I can’t say that I have the right lenses. How do you know if they are the right lenses?

Being pragmatic at heart and trying not to be a gearhead my approach is to shoot with what I’ve got. Given the results so far this seems to be a reasonable if not optimal approach. As I get deeper into the project a time may come when purchasing additional lenses will make sense. Until then I’ll muddle along using my current glass.

Best to remember that my project is to shoot the A7II for a year using legacy lenses while spending the least amount of money. As long as the images look good I’ll stick with what I have in the bag.

Lone Star Superman No2
Lone Star Superman No2

Shooting the A7II in Luckenbach

Kristi Grider Onstage in Luckenbach
Kristi Grider Onstage in Luckenbach
Zuiko 135mm 3.5 @ f3.5
On Independence Day I drove up to Luckenbach with the A7II to shoot some outdoor music performances. To be honest I didn’t have high expectations of being able to use a manual lens to get decent shots. As expected the results were mixed but the manual lens was less of an issue than the camera firmware.

As has been reported numerous times elsewhere the A series cameras insist on using 1/60 second shutter speed when set to aperture priority and auto ISO with manual lenses. That behavior makes shooting any sort of moving subject problematic at best. In most ways the Sony is an outstanding camera but it falls down badly in this situation because you can’t set a minimum shutter speed in aperture mode. It is really too bad and disappointing for such a competent tool to behave this way.

All cameras have quirks and there are ways around the slow shutter speed problem with this one. You just have to change how you work with the camera. There are three variables that can be manipulated on this particular camera to get proper exposure. These are aperture, shutter speed and light sensitivity (ISO). Using some combination of the three variables provides a solution.

Two simple workarounds use either shutter priority or full manual along with auto ISO to achieve a proper result. Both are very similar when using manual lenses. Set the aperture on the lens, select the appropriate shutter speed and allow the camera to work out proper exposure by varying the ISO within a user selected range. As long as the camera can adjust sensitivity to achieve proper exposure you are good to go.

This is not a point and shoot solution. It requires the photographer be able to judge lighting conditions well enough to be able to select a shutter speed that keeps exposure within the ISO range the camera will use. The camera provides all the information you need to get proper exposure right in the viewfinder but the photographer is in control.

The point is that the photographer has to make decisions to ensure that the camera performs correctly to get the desired result. If you are unwilling to control the camera to get proper exposure then don’t shoot with manual lenses.

Kristi Grider Onstage in Luckenbach No2
Kristi Grider Onstage in Luckenbach No2