Back To the Beginning

Every new year calls for new resolutions, and this year mine is to seriously get back into my photography. For many reasons (I can’t really go into all of them yet), this is going to be an epic year for me and the hubby, and I want to make sure my skills and my equipment are ready to capture the moments ahead.

I recently went through my camera gear and sold a few things that I wasn’t using. I got rid of my Nikon D5000 and a couple of lenses, as well as a little point-and-shoot Canon camera that I had. I still have my Nikon D700, another point-and-shoot, a new GoPro Hero 5 Black, and my iPhone 8 Plus. Plenty of equipment and no real excuses for not getting behind a viewfinder.

It has been so long since I was really shooting a lot, and I found that I needed to go back to the basics, just to remember how the settings worked on the camera. I decided to challenge myself to do one photo or video shoot every weekend until I can feel confident enough to just grab the camera and go, without having to refer to the manual or fumble around with the buttons and menus. In addition, I’ve almost forgotten how to use my editing software (especially Lightroom), so that’s also part of my resolution for this year, to get my mojo back in the computer darkroom.

So, even though it technically was not the new year yet, I took my Nikon D700 out for a photo walk last Saturday morning, December 30, before the bitterly cold arctic front moved in. I challenged myself to shoot 100 images, and that’s what I did, walking around downtown Tupelo. There weren’t many people around, and I was there for a couple of hours, wandering through alleys and skulking around houses and businesses.

And I had so much fun! I had forgotten how satisfying it is to look for the beauty and/or interest in the everyday scenery of life. I didn’t limit myself to any one subject, I just shot things that caught my eye.

I spent some time over the past two days going through the images and doing some editing, trying to remember how to use some of my favorite tools (Curves, anyone?). Some images I processed both in color and in black-and-white (I shot everything in raw to make it more challenging and rewarding to edit). And then I picked out my favorite five (so far) and uploaded them to my Flickr site which has been sorely neglected for too long.

Here are my top five:

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I’m really looking forward to more shooting this year! My plan is to take a different camera with me each weekend, including my video gear (GoPro, iPhone, and gimbals for each). Repetition and practice, shooting and editing, learning and exploring….that’s my plan for 2018!

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Spring Cruise with the Nikon Coolpix P530

I’m finally getting around to taking a look at the pictures we took on our last cruise, more than two weeks later. I’m a little late since I started a new job the day after we got back, so I’ve been a little preoccupied, but today I finally got a chance to check out the images.

We took two cameras with us, both point-and-shoots. One was our Coolpix S3500, a small pocket camera that actually does a decent job for snapshots. The second camera was our new Coolpix P530, which I purchased two days before we left on our cruise.

I wanted a camera that was sort of a hybrid between a point-and-shoot and a DSLR, so that Andy could use it as well. I wanted good quality photos, with a minimum of fuss. This model seems to fit the bill.

Here are some of the major technical specs:

  • 16.1 MP Low-light CMOS Sensor
  • 42X Zoom NIKKOR Lens and 84x with Dynamic Fine Zoom
  • Full HD 1080p video
  • Target-finding AF
  • Full manual exposure control (also has aperture and shutter priority modes in addition to program modes)

When I’m on a cruise to someplace I’ve never been, I don’t like to spend a lot of time staring through a lens, since it’s easy to get too caught up in the photography and miss actually seeing the sights. So I only took a total of 133 images with this camera while we were on our trip. But I was very pleased with how they turned out. Here are a few examples, and you can view the entire album on Flickr by clicking here. All the photos are unedited JPG files, straight out of the camera.

Interior of the ship, the Carnival Elation, looking down into the main lobby from a couple of decks up in the atrium:

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The ship in port in Cozumel, Mexico on a beautiful sunny day:

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Took this shot from the Lido Deck looking down at one of the crew waiting to cast us off from Cozumel. The zoom lens on the camera is very steady and sharp!

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Caught this image of a large iguana at the Uxmal Mayan Ruins in Yucatan, Mexico. Once again, the zoom lens did a great job, and this was in full program mode.

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And here’s a wide-angle view of the ancient city:

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So, after my first test run, I’m very pleased with this little camera! It will never replace my DSLR’s, but when I need a lightweight point-and-shoot to capture moments on the fly, this will be my go-to Nikon.

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Snow, Ice, and Routine Chores

Nothing like some crazy weather to throw me off my schedule! The good news is, I’m spending much more time on my photography these days, even if I’m not totally up to date on my weekly photo challenge.

The challenge for the week of February 23 was the word “Open”. I had some ideas for what I wanted to shoot that week, but you know what they say about plans–they are made to be broken. On Wednesday of that week, we got 7.3 inches of snow, the second largest snowfall ever recorded on any date here in Tupelo. Of course, I took my camera out for some shots, so even though I wasn’t sticking to the theme for the week, the important thing was that I was shooting and processing. Here are a few images I captured that week:

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On this last one, I used the Topaz Clean plug-in to give it a little different effect in the details, especially on the tree branches. Kinda different, but I really like it! View it large to see what I mean.

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The following weekend, we delivered my four prints to the Elvis Presley Birthplace where hubby helped our club president get all the artwork hung for our spring exhibit. We have about 66 photographs from 20 different photographers on display for the entire month of March. We opened the exhibit on Monday, March 2, and I’ve already received positive comments from friends who have visited.

So, my weekly challenge for this past week was the word “Wet”. And wouldn’t you know it? On Wednesday, we had another winter storm come through, this time dumping almost an inch of sleet and ice, making travel impossible for two days (there were several fatal car accidents, one involving a mother and two of her children, so sad). So I didn’t get out to do any shooting until yesterday (Saturday), and I tried to shoot images for both the “Open” and “Wet” themes to get back on track. I think I got some decent shots which I’ll be processing this week.

Today it was time to do some general housecleaning around my photography gear and files.

First, I had hubby reconfigure my desk so I could move my monitor further away from my face, leaving more room on my desktop to accomodate my new Wacom Intuos tablet. I’m really excited about learning to use this piece of equipment!

Next, I took the plunge and cleaned the sensor on my Nikon D700, using Sensor Swab cleaning tools and Eclipse cleaning solution. I took before-and-after shots of the sky so I could see the difference it made. I actually went over it twice, using two swabs, and I think there may still be a spot or two left, but based on the photos that I took, it was quite an improvement. I may try to clean it again in another week or so.

Next, it was time to do some archiving. After a near disaster with a computer crash and an external hard drive failure last year, I’ve become somewhat OCD about backing up my photo files now. I have backups of my computer running to Mozy, and to two external hard drives attached to my system. But I also like to actually move files off my hard drive for storage now, so I’m using a combination of Google Drive, along with two additional external hard drives which I rotate out. Today I archived all my 2014 files to Google drive and to both my hard drives, and then removed them from my computer system. That’s less for Mozy to have to backup, and I can get to my archived files from any computer where I have an internet connection, via Google Drive.

And finally, I started playing with Lightroom and Photoshop. I finally took the plunge and signed up for a one-year subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud solution. For $9.99/month (I went ahead and prepaid for a year), I’m able to use the latest versions of Lightroom and Photoshop on up to two computers, as well as some mobile processing. I’m still a huge fan of Paintshop Pro, but I think it’s important to try and learn the more widely used software applications. Now that I can have access to them at a reasonable price, there’s no reason not to tackle learning something new. I also completed my collection of Topaz plug-ins by adding Illustrator and Glow.

So, I have software, hardware, workspace, updated filespace, a clean sensor, and motivation. Time to get some shooting and processing done! The challenge for this week is the word “Broken”, and hopefully with the time change, I won’t have to wait until the weekend to get my shooting done–more daylight after work hours. I still need to process shots from the “Open” and “Wet” word challenge, so time to get busy!

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Jerome – The Blacksmi

I seem to have finally resolved all my technical issues with my monitor and software so that I can consistently get good results from my processing. And I’m starting to get my mojo back, thanks to joining a photography club and also setting up a weekly challenge for myself.

So I’ve started going back through some of my old raw images, looking for new material to play around with while I teach myself some of the features and hidden (to me) tricks of PaintShop Pro X7, Topaz plug-ins, and Lightroom. I’ve been watching quite a few YouTube video tutorials, as well as sitting in on live webcasts from Topaz for their products.

Today I pulled out some brackets from our 2011 weekend trip to Jerome, Arizona, where we toured the old Gold King Mine. It’s a veritable treasure trove of photo ops, and I highly recommend that you put it on your photography bucket list.

I processed this image first in Photomatix Pro 4.2 to merge the three brackets into an HDR image. I then did some further editing in Paintshop Pro X7, using some of the tips I’d seen on some YouTube videos today. For instance, I learned that the new X7 version of PPS has the “Magic Eraser” tool, which is a content-aware tool for removing things like dust and flare spots quickly and easily. It’s much easier than the “Object Remover” tool that I had been using. It really made a difference in cleaning up this image!

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I really like this image, although I still might go back and try to remove that power line–it just seems to mock me!!

Oh, yeah, I also spent a little money online this week to pick up some other things that I’ve been putting off purchasing for my photography habit. I finally bought the cleaning solution and swabs to clean the sensor on my Nikon D700–so tired of seeing the spots in the sky on all my landscape shots. And this week I used my last bonus from work to order a Wacom tablet to make some of the editing tasks easier–things like fine selections for masks, for instance. I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on that tablet and learning how to use it.

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Getting Ready to Show

Last year I joined a local photography club, Southern Light Photography, here in Tupelo to meet some other people who share my interest in this art form, and who might help inspire me to take more photos and improve my work. The club is preparing to do our first show of 2015, which will be held at the Elvis Presley Birthplace during the entire month of March.

We’re each supposed to choose up to four photos for the show, get them printed at least 11×14, and then have them framed in a standard gallery format (black frame with white mat). So for the past couple of weeks I’ve been going through all my old shots, trying to decide which ones I wanted to prepare for the show. Since printing and framing costs can get expensive, I want to be picky about what I select.

In the process of reviewing the photos, I kept noticing that my images always looked much more saturated in Paint Shop Pro than they did when viewed in any other application. It was driving me batty.  I used my Spyder calibration tool and recalibrated the monitor, but that did not solve the problem. Every time I processed a photo in Paint Shop Pro, it looked perfect…but then when I viewed the finished image in any other application it would look washed out and dull. So, I was afraid to get anything printed, as I didn’t know which version would be likely to come back from the lab.

Finally, I sent off some test prints to MPIX, and when they returned it was obvious that the color rendering in Paint Shop Pro was off. The prints matched the more muted versions that I saw in the other applications. I did some more research and also posted a question in the Corel user forum. I finally got a response today, and it confirmed what I had begun to suspect–the monitor calibration process was the culprit (sort of)!

When I calibrate the monitor with my Spyder, it allows me to save the calibration profile, which is then loaded up each time the computer fires up. All the other applications were using this new profile, but Paint Shop Pro was not. I had to go into the color management menu and manually change the setting for the color profile to the new one that was created when the monitor was last calibrated. After I did that, the image looked consistent with what I was seeing in other applications (i.e. Microsoft Image Viewer, Topaz, Lightroom). Yes, I said Lightroom. At one point I got so frustrated that I actually downloaded a trial version of Lightroom to see if it rendered the colors the same as Paint Shop Pro, but it rendered them in the more muted version like the other applications.

So, now that I got the settings corrected in PSP, I was able to do some quick edits on a couple more photos and then I made my final selection for the ones that I’m going to put in the gallery show. I ordered 12×18 prints of each from MPIX tonight, using a 50% off promo code. Once I get the prints in, I’ll decide if I’m going to have all four framed.

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I’m still struggling with getting motivated to shoot anything new. I’m stuck in the house all day for work, and it’s dark and cold by the time the workday ends. But I’ve got to get my shots done for my first weekly challenge, so today I at least put my camera battery on the charger to get ready. One step at a time. 🙂

First Shoot With the 24-85mm Nikkor

I just finished going through all the photos that I shot yesterday at my nephew’s wedding in Flowood, Mississippi. And I have to say, I am in love with this new Nikkor 24-85mm lens!

Even though I still don’t have a real clue what I’m doing with the flash, the lens performed beautifully. I was able to get the group shots that I wanted, as well as close-up details of things like the flowers on the wedding cake.  The depth-of-field on the macro shots is amazing, and so is the bokeh that I was able to achieve on some of the shots.  I love that the lens did not add a lot of extra weight to my Nikon D700, which already feels like a tank, especially when it has the flash (Nikon SB-700) mounted on it.

Here are three examples of the shots I got yesterday that I uploaded to Flickr. I’m definitely looking forward to getting better acquainted with this little equipment set-up!

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Testing the New Glass

Testing the New Glass

It’s been awhile since I’ve been excited about shooting anything.  But my nephew is getting married this weekend, and I was asked to shoot some pictures at the reception.  I was happy to do it, but wasn’t happy with the equipment that I have for an occasion like this.  I’ve been wanting a 24-85mm, 2.8 lens for awhile now, and thought about renting one for the weekend.  But I recently got a little bonus at work, so I decided to splurge and get the lens that I’ve really had my heart set on.

And then there was the issue of the flash.  I have a Speedlight SB-700, but I’ve never taken the time to really learn how to use it.  This seems like the perfect time to get better acquainted with that piece of equipment.

So, the new lens arrived yesterday, and for the past two evenings I’ve been prowling around the house, shooting anything that doesn’t hide from me.  And I’m LOVING this lens.  Not only does it give me beautiful DOF, it also has a macro setting that lets me get up really close to things–I’m thinking the wedding cake–for some nice detailed shots.  And I’m finally getting comfortable with the flash, although I still have a long way to go to learn all about lighting.  I’m not trying any fancy off-camera flash–just the hot-shoe mount with the head tilted up to the ceiling.

So, here are some of the test shots that I’ve taken.  These are all straight out of the camera, shot in “fine” JPG mode.  I used aperture-priority with shutter speed of 1/60, and let the camera figure out the ISO.  The D700 is a great low-light camera, so I’m not worried about ISO with this setup.

Now, I’m really excited about shooting again!!  Hopefully this will be the start of a renaissance!!

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Observing the Observer

Continuing my series of images from the Tupelo Christmas Parade:

I love my 28-300mm zoom lens.  It gives me such flexibility when I’m in a situation where I can’t control the distance between myself and that interesting subject matter that presents itself.  Sometimes you just need that telephoto capability to capture that candid moment when your subject has no idea they’re being observed, much less photographed.

While we were watching the parade, I noticed several people across the street watching the scene from the upstairs windows.  Most of them had the windows open, leaning out to get a great view and hear the marching bands.  But this guy either could not open the window, or chose not to.  In fact, he looked a little bit put out that the parade was disturbing the routine of his Saturday morning.

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Nah, I’m sure the sun was just in his eyes and that’s why he was squinting like that.

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Sunset Over English Bay, Vancouver

My hubby and I just got back from a week in beautiful Vancouver, BC, Canada, where we celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary.

I had a devil of a time trying to make up my mind which camera to take with me on this trip.  I was *this* close to taking the Nikon D5000 because of its smaller size and lighter weight.  But everyone I asked advised me to take the D700–full frame, big glass, and built like a tank.

So in the end I gave in and took the Big Guy, the D700, along with my best glass and my tripod.  But to be on the safe side, I also took our little Coolpix point-and-shoot for those times when it was just not possible to get the shot with the Big Guy.

We didn’t rent a car while we were there, so we spent a lot of time walking, riding bikes, or riding the bus.  I managed to take the Big Guy along with me for several of our excursions, but there were some days when I just couldn’t bring myself to carry all that weight around with me.  I didn’t want this trip to be all about trying to get the perfect photograph.  I wanted to enjoy myself, relax, see the sights in a place I had never been, instead of constantly worrying about exposures, shutter speed, or someone ripping off my equipment.

So I did get some interesting shots with the Big Guy, but I also took quite a few with the Coolpix, and those are just as precious to me as the full-frame beauties from the D700.  Because in the end, these shots are all about preserving the memories of a fabulous week in a beautiful city, with someone that I love dearly.

I posted a lot of the Coolpix shots straight to Facebook each evening when we got back to the hotel.  But I’m just now starting to process the ones from the D700.

This first one is an HDR (yes, I even used the tripod one evening) from five exposures taken at sunset in Stanley Park.  This is English Bay, and the sun was setting about 9:35 PM.  It was kind of weird getting used to the days being so long up there, but it gave us plenty of time to enjoy the sights before it got dark.

Sunset on English Bay, Vancouver BC
Nikon D700, 14-24mm 2.8, 5 exposures processed in Photomatix, Paintshop Photo Pro, Topaz Adjust/DeNoise

I’m going to take my time about processing the rest of the shots. I’ve got some street shots that are really cool, as well as some shots from the Granville Island public market that I really like. Since it will probably be a long time, if ever, before I get to visit Vancouver again, I might as well make the memories last as long as possible!

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Sour Diesel TrainWreck

When we were at Westgate a couple of weeks ago, I was concentrating more on shooting dials and gauges for the 60 Minute Photo Challenge. But while we were there, I stopped to get a few shots of the band that was playing outdoors in the plaza. The band is called Sour Diesel TrainWreck, and it was the first time I had heard of them. Since then I’ve seen them mentioned on a couple of other local websites. They put on a good show, so if you get a chance to hear them, check ’em out.

Here are a few shots I took while they were playing. It was right about sundown, and I didn’t have my flash with me, or a tripod either for that matter. So I bumped up the ISO on my Nikon D700 and grabbed a few hand-held shots with the 28-300mm zoom. These were processed in Paintshop Photo Pro X3, using Topaz Adjust.

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If you like my work, please subscribe to this blog and feel free to offer comments. You can also find me on:
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