Going Down to Georgia

Athens Rocks painted on a colorful fire hydrant.
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Welcome to Athens! For my first time visiting Georgia, I didn’t realize that Athens was an hour and a half away from Atlanta, but after the plane ride and a two-hour shuttle, I made it to the University of Georgia. This is where my UPAA Symposium conference was for the week. Located in downtown Athens, the university was a hilly area with many picturesque spots. I can see why this was chosen for the photography conference.

The top image was a random hydrant we found when walking around. Thought it was an excellent reflection of how downtown Athens felt.

Georgia Theatre sign
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The Georgia nightlife was rocking, and after a few days at the conference, we finally did a thorough look at the nightlife for ourselves on a Thursday night. The downtown was colorful and lit up, giving an excellent backdrop for photos. It was the perfect ambiance for young college students with an active downtown nightlife.

Girls smiling at a selfie camera.
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Gave me a great chance to practice more of my street photography in a lively downtown. The photo above was in a bar called the Church that was created after a nun left the convent and came down to Athens. Inside, these girls were taking photographs in the photo booth. With the pink lighting and some fun expressions, I lined up the photo for a great snapshot.

I had the 85 Zeiss lens on my Sony A7riii, so I could aim for some low light by not sacrificing a low shutter speed. Taking the lens down to F/1.8, I had to hold very still and aim my focus at the correct spot.

Football Player tossing ball around.
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Aside from the downtown nightlife, the conference had a lot of great photo opportunities at our workshops. One day, we were able to learn from Kevin Liles about sports photography. He had a UGA football player modeling at an empty Sanford Stadium. Focusing on him tossing the football around, I took a series of photos and landed one with the UGA logo straight on the football.

We also were able to visit the locker room, and it was gorgeously lit.

University of Georgia Bulldogs jerseys
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During the photography conference, we had our Nikon Shootout. The annual competition was to see if we could produce a photo in-camera, with no editing. My entry below was the first one. I’ve since edited it, but imagine this photo with less color and some shadows in the middle of the bikers.

Bikers coming down the road in downtown Athens.
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Most of my photos that night were a lot of action photos. I was low for this photo, at the slowest stoplight in all of Athens. I crouched down and checked my settings as they waited for the light to turn green. As they took off, I focused on the first wheel in the middle while lining the background up with the top of the stoplight.

A guy skateboarding and high-fiving his friend.
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The next photo above was a random guy who told me I had a great smile. This opened the opportunity to ask him if he’d help me with a photo. The rules didn’t say we couldn’t stage the photos, so I did just that. I asked him if he could ride his skateboard toward me, but it wasn’t enough. So I asked him to high-five his friend, who was also in the pink hat. I lined up the lights in the background and focused on her hand that was already out. Everything lined up, and the focus stayed on their hands and his face for a fun action photo.

I almost entered this photo, but it was too dark for me when I saw it. I edited the darkness out and adjusted the shadows and highlights to make the subjects pop.

Busy restaurant in downtown Athens called The Place.
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The last photo I tried taking at a restaurant called The Place with my 35mm lens. It was a spur of the moment, and the lighting was a glowing yellow in the place. Luckily the young woman looked up, which made the photo come together. The place was very homey, and there was a lot of activity.

The last picture was during the previous day I’d be in Athens. Friends had a Graphix camera with them, and we’re testing it out by focusing on me. While they were setting this up, I took out my camera and pointed at the lens to pull the focus there. The others leaning over his shoulder made for a great candid photo.

Old camera left in focus.
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These are only a few photos from my time in Athens. Every day was a new adventure, and I haven’t even mentioned the other conference classes and activities I was able to participate in. It was a nice break from the real world, but I’m back in Texas, refreshed and ready to implement all the things I learned.

Time for the Hotter’N Hell Hundred!

Bike riders in Wichita Falls for the Hotter'N Hell Hundred.
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One of the largest bicycle races in America is in my backyard of Wichita Falls. The Hotter’N Hell Hundred is a giant bicycle race that hosts riders worldwide for three days to compete in several events. The biggest event is the 100-mile ride that spans four towns, a city, and an air force base.

This year’s event included over 10,000 riders and a whole lot of bike traffic all around Wichita County. Suppose you can see where I’m going with this. Stuck in bike traffic, I parked on the side of the road and just photographed cyclists going down a Farm to Market road near Iowa Park.

Hotter'N Hell Hundred cyclist in Iowa Park ride alongside cars.
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Now I’m usually not stuck in random places in the middle of nowhere, but I was initially in this area because my job had a bike stop there for riders on the 100-km and 50-mile race.

Student is handed off a bike from a cyclist while he takes a break and ask for directions.
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Students were helping riders by holding their bikes while they took a break from the ride. Some were also giving out homemade cookies and other food and drinks. There were over 70 student volunteers, and with the other volunteers, there equaled over 100 volunteers at just this bike stop.

The Hotter’N Hell Hundred is made up mostly of volunteers. This bike event celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2021, and it has always been a partnership between the city, its cyclists, and surrounding towns. This event brings Wichita Falls together to host the most significant event in this part of North Texas.

If you’re wondering where the name comes from, the event is always in August, when it’s typically 100-degree weather. They then ride for 100 miles. Now on Saturday, the hottest it went up to was 93 degrees. I’m sure a lot of riders were thankful it stayed in the low nineties.

Cyclist stops near the restrooms at the Bike Stop, handing off his bike to a student who is a volunteer.
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Cyclists pulling into the bike stop at the halfway mark.
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Now thousands of bikes ride through the area where I was. Many volunteers had been at this bike stop since 5:30 a.m. that morning. I didn’t arrive until 8 a.m. to take photos. I planned to leave after an hour, but with the hordes of bikes coming through, it seemed more and more like an impossible task.

Cyclists taking off after making a stop to rest for a few minutes.
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Penny-Farthing Cycle is riding alongside standard bicycles.
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I stuck around for a while longer to see if the bikes would clear up, but it seemed more and more were coming. Probably my favorite picture is the one above of the Penny-Farthing cycle. You can see the actual scale of how big the bike is to a standard bicycle. There were about five riders that were in this group that had similar Penny-Farthing bikes. They were on the 50-mile ride. I cannot imagine riding on that for 5 miles, let alone 50 miles.

I finally saw my opening and slowly drove alongside bikes as I made my way to another open road. I thought I was in the clear until I turned, and there was another path of bikes, this time the 100-mile riders.

Hotter'N Hell Hundred cyclist in Iowa Park.
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The number of bikes that passed me was terrific. You don’t understand the scale of this event until you’re outside on a country road, watching them all pass you.

Hotter'N Hell Hundred cyclist in Iowa Park.
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There were so many, and I decided to pull off to the side of the road and take pictures. I selected this area because of the hill the road made. I knew it would create some excellent drama in the photos. Plus, there were so many bikes it was just wiser to let them pass me before I’d start driving alongside them in the opposite direction.

Many smiled or waved as they passed. Bikes were concentrating hard to make it up this hill, and the next bike stop for a breather. I saw one rider pull over and take a picture of some cows in the pasture. He may not be from Texas if he’s never seen random cows in a field.

Cyclist flashes a hand sign as she rides on the county road.
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On the side of the road, I was this random person with a SONY camera taking pictures of cyclists passing me by, and you could see the excitement in their eyes that they’re taking part in this historic race.

I took a lot of great pictures, and I still have another 1500 to review. Maybe there are some more gems I have yet to discover. For most of the time, I just aimed, clicked, and let the shutter go.

Hotter'N Hell Hundred cyclist in Iowa Park.
SONY f/5.6, 1/2500 sec, ISO-400

Packed streets at the Wichita Falls Art Walk!

An artists spray-painting a car.
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Festivals are starting to return after a year in the pandemic. It includes theĀ Art Walk, which is known as Wichita Falls’ premier event. I’ve gone to a few already this year, but this was the first one I went with precisely to capture photographs of the Art Walk.

The Art Walk is always packed and on a calm and relaxed day in June. It’s the best formula for people and fun. In the above photograph, an artist paints an authentic and drivable car with spray paint. You would do a double-take because usually, you don’t see someone spray-painting a vehicle. However, there was another artist spray-painting a truck right next to the car. In the background was loud music by these guys in the following photograph.

An artist singing at Art Walk.
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They were singing modern songs, and his partner would do a rap between sets. He also was burning wood carvings with pictures of famous people. This street was part of a high trafficked area for the Art Walk, and I saw a lot of the action on 8th street. Just go down the block, and you’ll find more artists set up.

A vendor makes a sale at Art Walk.
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In the above photograph, you can see a booth with plenty of art to admire and purchase. The art quality has sure gone up at each Art Walk, and it’s nice to see more and more artists taking advantage of this unique event downtown.

A vendor smiles as people walk by her booth.
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A vendor searches for something a buyer is needing.
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Down the street in the Farmers Market where vendors set up selling both art and homemade goods. The easiest way to find it is by locating the large Kona Ice truck that’s typically parked right outside of it. Just go inside and check it out. The Farmers Market is also open up on Saturdays throughout most of the year.

Heading west and back to the rest of the Art Walk, I spotted people who lived in the apartments above Maniac’s Mansion near where the artist was spray-painting the car, just enjoying the sights. You can learn more about the video game mansion in one of my past blog posts.

People peer out a window to see what's going on at Art Walk.
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It was nice to see the community out. I’ve seen downtown empty, so it was a pleasure to see so much activity, and as a street photographer, it made it a joy to capture so much fun in the crowd.

People cross the street during Art Walk.
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People sit outside the Gypsy Kit restaurant.
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Some of the places didn’t even feel like Wichita Falls when I started to edit the photos. One of my favorites is of all these people hanging out outside of Gypsy Kit. This restaurant is at the center of 8th street. People were going in and out of the local food and bar-restaurant the whole time. As far as recommendations, if you’re in the area. Make sure you stop by and try their Kimche Burgers. They have a great menu, but that’s my go-to meal for lunch! It made for a huge town, downtown feel. I wonder how it would look if the street were closed to cars. I had to time everything since there were always cars passing through this street. 

A painting of dancers near some Central American flags.
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A few blocks over, Zavala had a whole block closed for their mini-festival in the Art Walk. Each Art Walk features a different country from Latin or Central America. This time it was a fusion of Cuba and Puerto Rico. Colors everywhere and a photographer’s dream environment. Old buildings with dancers and art and vendors surrounding the block. 

A dancer moves to some music.
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Zavala dance groups were taking over the middle, and classic cars were on the side. If you didn’t have a chance to catch the dancers, Cabezudos were mingling around like in the photo below. They are known as giant-headed costumes and were probably one of my favorite parts of the evening. They play a considerable part in Latin American countries, mostly seen at festivals like the Art Walk. So seeing them in the Wichita Falls area gave a splash of culture for the town. Everyone was lining up to take a picture with them. I’m anxious to see what will be at the next Art Walk in July.

A big-headed costume is seen at the center of the celebration.
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Discovering Dallas!

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Over the weekend, we traveled to Dallas, Texas, for a birthday weekend with my better half, Teresa. We tried to squeeze in as much sightseeing as possible, but we’ll need to make another trip sometime to see the rest of this city. I’ve been here many times, but I always find more to do.

The above photo is from the Sweet Tooth Hotel, with a new art exhibit that had just opened up dedicated to yarn. Partnering up with the Craft Yarn Council, they’ve created this masterpiece that you can walk through and photograph.

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For any photographer, these pop-up art installations are excellent. At the end was a place to eat, which you could see in the bartender through the underwater room’s portholes. The colors and light are for anyone with a camera. Your only limited by your imagination. Plenty of photographers were there taking photos of their muses to make their photo art. The place had multiple objects made of yarn, including a giant pink cat. You were even able to check out drawers to see food made out of yarn. The talent here is unmatched, and I look forward to their next exhibit we can see and photograph. Some added elements to the experience, like scavenger hunts, ended with us taking home a yarn souvenir.

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We stayed mostly in the downtown area of Dallas. It was easy to navigate, and we took an Uber or Lyft now and then after our feet were tired. While I didn’t have any photos of the food, we found some great places to try nearby the Sweet Tooth Hotel. I’d suggest Mio Nonno Trattoria, a lovely dress place across from the Italian basketball arena. Nearby is the Imoto if you need some fabulous sushi.

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The Magnolia Hotel is one of the oldest in the city. I had stayed here about eight years ago on business, but it was nice to stay here for fun. The hotel is known for the famous red Pegasus that adorns the top of the hotel. I only used my wide-angle lens when I was there, or I would have tried to photograph the top of the hotel where the Pegasus glows red at night. As far as hotels, it’s nice but still has that classic architecture with it. If you’re planning to visit, I’d recommend staying here for a few nights.

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Since eight years have passed, a new park has is now in the area. In front of the Magnolia hotel is now the AT&T Discovery District. The park is unique, and it looks fabulous. It lights up at night, and with the giant LED TV shining on the park, it felt like having my own giant strobe to use for my photography subjects. The TV lit up the area so well, and I was able to photograph at a lower ISO than I usually have to. It had plenty of art around and even had an HBO Max area filled with an AT&T Experience Store, where you could see all this Wonder Woman memorabilia from the newest movie and shop for AT&T gear.

The good thing about being spread out and having a lot of space in the park is that it helped people give each other space since we’re in a pandemic. Around the area were lots of restaurants and places to grab a beer or play some cornhole.

Of course, my favorite part of the park was the dome that lit up different colors that people took pictures of the whole time. It was always busy, but it pulled the park together and is the signature art piece inside it. Probably one of my new favorite pictures is the one below. You’ll see why with all the colors that it creates in the park.

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After spending the night at Discovery Park, we had to visit Deep Ellum. The last time we saw the area, we spent most of our night time here. It glows at night, but with the pandemic, a few things are closed up. So we spent the day exploring some of our favorite places, such as Rocket Fizz.

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This place has so much soda and candy; they have it stacked everywhere. We always go in to find some hard-to-find candy that is rarely available in stores. We also got some chocolate soda and mucus punch for the boys to try when we got back home. Always make a stop at this place. You’ll find something you didn’t know you were looking for when you visit.

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Yes, there is a pandemic going on, and yes, you should take precautions. We were always masked up and socially distanced as much as we could. These stickers were all over Deep Ellum, and like the place, they made them look artsy. If you ever have the chance to visit, please go. This place is always fun and always has a lot of stuff going on, even during a pandemic.

We enjoyed our time in Dallas. The city has become a place that glows with photo opportunities around each corner. Just look at this place I found that was near the American Airlines Center. The colors, clouds, and reflections make this photo, but hundreds of sites made this kind of imagery.

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One of the last places we visited was a place I learned about a long time ago in a photo book. Until seeing a random TikTok video a few months ago, I realized this place was in Dallas. For some reason, I just assumed this was a European chapel, but it wasn’t, and only a couple of hours from where I lived.

The Thanks-Giving Square sits downtown between skyscrapers, all alone amongst a large garden and water sculpture. The place was beautiful and serene. Even on a day when it was not sunny, this place still shined with its many stained-glass windows that spiraled down. I took hundreds of pictures of this place, and even with the wide-angle, it was hard to have the whole thing in one frame. I laid down to fit as much as I could of the windows in my camera.

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I have hundreds of photos from different angles and even straight-on, but I chose this to include in my blog because it showed how big this chapel felt. It looks small, but it creates silent beauty in the glass. I would have stayed there forever taking photos, but there were plenty of people going in and out, and for a few minutes, Teresa and I were alone to enjoy some peace in the chapel to ourselves.

These are just a few things in Dallas that you can do, but we fit this along with many great restaurants into two-days worth of fun and exploration. I’d suggest a wide-angle when visiting Dallas. With little room to back-up for photos in the city, it did shine.

Spending the holidays at the Port Aransas Beach

Manu and Jay running in the ocean.
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Over the holidays the family decided to take some time to explore Port Aransas. The boys really wanted to see the beach and since we were staying about 20 minutes away in my hometown, it was an easy trip after crossing the ferry.

The boys are no stranger to water, but since it was an overcast day, I was able to snap a lot of pictures with some clouds in the background and some great reflections in the sand.

The Port Aransas Pier extending out into the ocean.
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Played around with different angles and since I only brought the wide-angle lens with me, it meant a lot of wide shots. When there is nothing, but ocean and sky. This can be a little bit of a challenge. One of the biggest things to remember when doing wide-angle landscape is to make sure your sky is leveled and lined up. If you ever print your images and frame them, you’ll want a straight line, or it’ll really be noticeable when you hang your piece up.

Manu running fast on the sand.
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The boys enjoyed the ocean and loved that they could see the water for miles. A little bit of fog rolled in, so I had to pay attention to the edge of the pier to make sure it didn’t soften too much being in the background. With the wide-angle, I waited until the boys ran as close to me as possible and snapped away. I had already focused on the boys from the first couple of times they ran by, so I just was ready for a nice composed shot when they came around again.

We visited the different areas around Port Aransas and ate at the local MacDaddy’s Family Kitchen for lunch. I wish I brought my camera around for more of the day, but sometimes you just have to put it away and enjoy the little moments.

And don’t forget that if you’re driving on the beach you’ll need a beach permit that you can find at the local gas stations for a small fee. There are areas you can park that have designated parking spots. We parked in these black-top paved areas since we didn’t have a permit and only visit a couple of times a year.

Of course, I had to crouch down and wait for the waves to come in for this photograph below. The pier was in my foreground so I just waited for the nicest waves I saw. Wide-angle is all about the waiting game. It was a nice outing and great 78-degree weather out in the quiet town of Port Aransas. Check them out next time you’re out along the gulf coast.

The pier extending out into the ocean as the waves come in.
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