Cholla at Midday

Yesterday I grabbed a sandwich for lunch and then drove over to the Gateway Trailhead, a small park on the Thompson Peak Parkway near where I work. After I gobbled down my sandwich, I got down to the real business of why I was visiting the park, and that was to take a few practice shots of the desert scenery. There were some beautiful cloud formations about that time yesterday, so I was hoping that I could find a composition that incorporated both the cacti and the clouds.

It turns out that’s a little harder than it sounds when you’re shooting toward the sky on a sunny day, while trying to keep your foreground subject properly exposed. Here’s a case in point–one of my favorite desert cacti is the cholla, sometimes known as the “jumping cactus”. When the sun is just right, the cholla seems to “glow” around the edges from the sunlight captured in the nearly-white spines. In the golden hour, it’s a beautiful thing. In the high-noon sun–not so much.

I played around with this one to try and get as much detail back in to the scene as possible, but it’s still a little blown out. I’m posting it anyway, because I think it’s a good lesson for me to remember–don’t shoot the cholla at High Noon (sounds like a Western movie title, doesn’t it?).

Cholla at Midday
Single image shot with my Nikon D700, 24-300mm zoom @ 28mm, F/16, 1/80s, ISO 100

Oh, and one more lesson–don’t go walking around in the desert in your thin-soled Mootsies Tootsies that you wore to work. The cactus spines will go right through them. Speaking from experience.

Stating the Obvious – The Light Rail Photo Crawl

We had originally planned to be spending the night in Jerome last night for a little Sunday/Monday photography outing, but we had a winter storm front move through the state over the weekend and most of the roads to the north of us, especially at the higher elevations, were not drivable yesterday.  So we decided to stay here in the Valley instead, and I went ahead and took Monday off anyway since I’d already requested it at work.

After spending several hours at South Mountain yesterday, we decided to do something different today and ride the light rail from one end to the other, stopping along the way to shoot whatever we found at each stop.  The entire line is about 20 miles long from Spectrum Mall to Mesa.  It travels through downtown Phoenix and the ASU campus in Tempe.  We had ridden most of the route before, going as far as Tempe, but we had never ridden all the way to Mesa.  We thought it would be something fun to do.

Well, it was kinda cool for the first couple of stops, but then it started to get monotonous.  There’s about a 15 minute wait between trains, so we would get off at the station, take a few shots of what little there was worth shooting, then sit around and wait for the next train.  Boring.

So we gave up the idea of stopping at EVERY station, and instead we rode all the way in to downtown Phoenix and had lunch at Five Guys.  After shooting a little bit around there, we got back on the train and went all the way to the end of the line in Mesa.  There was absolutely nothing out that way that tempted me in the least to get off the train and shoot.  So then we rode the return route back into Tempe and stopped for beers and refreshment on Mill Avenue.

And that’s where we found this:

Stating the Obvious
Nikon D700, VR 28-300mm F/3.5-5.6G lens, 300mm, F/5.6, 1/50s, ISO 200, processed in PaintShop Photo Pro X3, Topaz Adjust / DeNoise.

This was right above our table on the patio balcony of the fine establishment (which shall remain nameless) where we took a break from our walk. We thought it was pretty ironic and kind of stated the obvious. It gave us a good laugh!

After a few more shots in downtown Tempe we decided to call it a day and head back to the starting point at Spectrum Mall.

There were a few things about today that were especially challenging. Some were bad decisions on my part, some were unanticipated. First,it turned out to be a much sunnier day than originally forecast, so the harsh shadows were tough to deal with. So, I should not have carried that extra jacket because it warmed up more than expected. Second, we didn’t use the tripod at all, so we should have left that at home. Third, the plan was overly ambitious and didn’t have a clear focus.

Next time, we’re going to pick one or two major intersections and just spend a couple of hours exploring those interesting areas in depth. But at least now we know we don’t have any need or desire to go all the way to west Mesa to do it.

I did come away with some decent shots that I’ll be posting over the next few days, along with some additional HDR’s from yesterday’s outing at South Mountain.  It’s been a fairly decent weekend of shooting, and now comes the fun part – the digital darkroom!

If you like my work, please subscribe to this blog and feel free to offer comments.  You can also find me on Facebook at ZannWalker Photography, and you can follow me on Twitter @suzanne_hight.

Thirsty (in Macro)

This evening I was playing around with my macro filters, trying to get some decent shots to submit to the photography group that I just joined (more about that in a moment).  I set up my lightbox with my poor excuse for lighting and props, mounted the camera on the tripod and spent about an hour getting totally frustrated.  Macro photography is totally different from what I normally shoot.  Trying to manage the depth of field, adjusting the aperture and trying to balance DOF to shutter speed, was driving me nuts.  The plane of focus was so small!  Finally I just grabbed the camera and started wandering around the house looking for things to shoot hand-held.  I even resorted to using the pop-up flash.

The cat wound up in my path while he was trying to get a drink of water from the bathroom sink (his favorite place to drink).  I got right in his face with the camera and the flash, and wound up with this shot:

Thirsty
Photo taken with a Nikon D700, 50mm lens with 10X macro filter, processed in Paintshop Photo Pro X3.

Yeah, I know it’s a little (ok, a lot) blown out on the bottom right, but I still like the way the flash stopped the water droplets right on the tip of Macho’s tongue. It made me laugh, and sometimes that’s a good thing!

Now, back to the photography group. I attended my first meetup last night of the AZPhotographersGroup. The meeting was an open forum where you could ask any question you wanted about photography. I learned so much just from the discussions around each of the questions. Then Nick, the organizer of the group, presented some tips on how to photograph people, which is what I’m starting to concentrate on now, and once again I picked up some great information. The people were all friendly and willing to share information with newbies such as myself.

The group is very active, with several organized events and photowalks each month. They also do monthly photo challenges where they present a theme and members submit photos relative to that theme. This month, it’s macro photography…which explains why I was playing with the 10x filter this evening. If you’re in the Phoenix/Tempe area, I recommend that you check them out. I’ve already signed up for a workshop next month on how to use an off-camera flash. Now all I have to do is get my hands on a flash unit before then!

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

Hoop Dancers – Grand Entrance

I had a great time shooting at the Native American World Hoop Dancing Championship held yesterday (continuing today) at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ.  It was a perfect opportunity to get acquainted with the new camera (Nikon D700) and the new zoom lens (Nikon 28-300mm F/3.5-5.6G).

I was sitting about three rows back from the edge of the dance area, maybe 20 yards from the center of the ring.  The day’s festivities started with the Grand Entrance, when all the dancers lined up and paraded through the crowd and into the ring, led by three men carrying the Eagle Staff and the flags of the United States and Canada.  As they came into the ring, they formed a spiral of dancers, stirring up a small cloud of dust.  It was quite dramatic, colorful and a lot of fun to watch.

I tried to use that opportunity to practice selective focusing, selecting a specific subject in the crowd of dancers.  I set the camera to shutter-priority because I needed a fast shutter speed to capture the fast-moving dancers.  I was using a little higher ISO (320) to obtain the fast shutter speed, balanced with a little deeper depth of field.

Hoop Dancing - Grand Entrance
Single image JPG processed in Paintshop Photo Pro X3, Topaz Adjust / DeNoise

This shot is one of my favorite from the Grand Entrance. I was shooting in JPG mode only because I knew I was going to be shooting a LOT of images and I wasn’t sure how much memory the raw files would eat up…besides, this was just a practice run. The sun was behind me, shining directly in the face of the dancer, which caused a little loss of detail. I used Topaz Adjust selectively on the central figure to restore some of the detail back to his face and his clothing.  It still looks a little bit over-processed to me, but better than the original.

I’ll be posting a few more shots from the dancing over the next few days. I’ve posted a few straight-from-the-camera shots of the Tiny Tots division (ages 1-5) on my Facebook page which you can view here. Here’s a short video that I shot with my Blackberry so you can hear the drummers and singers who provided the Native American music for the dancers:

http://www.facebook.com/v/1876320986557

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

The Hat – and the new Nikon

I finally got some time (and some daylight, and some warmer weather) to go out for my first shoot with the new Nikon D700.  I wanted to try out the 28-300 zoom, so I went to the Heard Museum here in Phoenix where they are hosting the Native American Hoop Dancing World Championship this weekend.

It’s the first time I’ve ever attended this event, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  You never know where they will or will not allow cameras and tripods these days.  I shouldn’t have worried.  There were more DSLRs there than I’ve ever seen in one place, most with zoom lenses, and a lot of them mounted on tripods or monopods.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a large number of women photographers my own age out there with gear similar to mine.  Suddenly I don’t feel so alone in a sea of male photographers!  I knew those ladies must be out there somewhere!

I got there early enough to get a great spot for my lawn chair with only a couple of people in front of me.  We were instructed by the event organizer that some of the dancers objected to having their picture taken, and that announcements would be made before they performed.  We were also instructed that we could only use our photos for personal use unless we got permission from the dancers.

I was there from about 9:00AM until about 2:00PM, so I got to see the Grand Entrance, along with performances by the Tiny Tot, Youth, and Teen divisions.  I took a total of 575 photos, and by that time my left arm was getting really tired.  The D700 is about twice as heavy as my D5000, and I was using a heavier lens than I’ve been using.  Guess I need to start lifting weights or shooting more photos!

All through the performance there was a lady sitting down front to the left of us who was wearing a huge hat to shade herself from the sun.  Fortunately she wasn’t in my direct line of sight for my photos, but I could still see that hat out the corner of my eye.  As I was getting ready to leave, I decided to get a shot of it.  The sun was creating some beautiful patterns on the straw, and I think it wound up being my best shot of the day:

The Hat

This shot is straight out of the camera with no processing. After looking at this and the other 574 shots, I think I’m truly going to enjoy this camera and lens!

Life Among the Ancients

Several weeks ago I purchased a Groupon for admission to the Deer Valley Rock Art Center in Phoenix, AZ.  I’ve lived here in the Valley for over ten years and had no idea that this place existed.

The Deer Valley Rock Art Center was established to preserve the 1,500 ancient petroglyphs at the Hedgpeth Hills petroglyph site.  The center is operated by the Arizona State University’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

The petroglyphs at the site were made by people hundreds, even thousands, of years ago, and have continuing significance for Native American people of this region.  The Hedgpeth Hills petroglyph site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It is the second archaeological site to be listed on the Phoenix Historic Property Register.

So, that’s a little of the history of the site, and now to the photography–

The very first thing I can tell you is this: If you’re planning to shoot pictures of the ‘glyphs, go there in the morning.  All the petroglyphs face east, and when you’re trying to photograph them or even see them in the mid-afternoon sun as we were, it’s tough.  We found ourselves staring into the sun a lot.

I started out using my normal kit lens (18-55mm) with a polarizer, but since Nikon did not see fit to include a lens hood with this lens, I was getting tons of flare.  My able-bodied assistant (my hubby!) tried holding the Center’s brochure above the end of my lens and that helped some.

It finally dawned on me that I had my telephoto lens (55-200mm) in my camera bag–ON MY BACK–and it does have a lens hood.  So I quickly switched lenses and things improved from there.  It was a good thing that I did, because just around the bend in the path we reached the main site of the ‘glyphs, and they’re mostly higher up on the hillside facing east.  The zoom lens is essential for capturing the details of the rock art from a vantage point on the ground.

Here’s my favorite shot of the day, for two reasons.  First, it’s a great petroglyph, very clear and defined.  And secondly, there’s a lizard right at the feet of the ‘glyph that I didn’t even notice until I started processing.  Bonus!!

Life Among the Ancients

I’ll definitely go back to the Center, but in the morning hours, to try my shots again with some different lighting. If you’re interested in this kind of thing, be sure to check it out. The pathway to the rock art is only about a quarter-mile long, and it’s handicapped-accessible. You can learn more at dvrac.asu.edu.

Prime Real Estate

I’m still going through some of the shots from our photowalk in Tempe a few weekends ago.  There was such a variety of shots stored on my SD card that it’s been hard to pick an choose which ones to work on.

Tonight’s post is from Mill Avenue in downtown Tempe.  This area of Tempe is the main hangout for students from Arizona State University which is just a few blocks away, so nighttime is when all the action takes place.

However, we were there in the early morning hours, so it was fairly quiet and family-friendly, and we got some mostly unobstructed shots of the real estate along the avenue.

I found this property available for rent–right between an Irish pub and and Irish restaurant…now, that’s what I call prime real estate!

Prime Real Estate

This is an HDR from three bracketed photos, processed in Photomatix v4. I then used Topaz Adjust’s “Spicify” preset (which I normally avoid like the plague but it seemed to work here), and then Topaz DeNoise (just a little bit, really). I used Paintshop Photo Pro X3’s Curves tool to set the white and black points, and to sharpen it slightly. That’s it.

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

Bikini Cocktail Lounge in HDR

I’m posting a little early today since I was up until about 3AM this morning working on this shot.  We went to dinner last night at a great new (to us) restaurant, and I ordered decaf coffee with my dessert.  My hubby ordered regular coffee.  I’m pretty sure that they switched them up because I was wired all night long and he slept like a baby.  I even commented to the waiter about how rich and flavorful the coffee was, while Andy said his tasted a little weak.  Yep, they switched them all right.

Since I was wide awake, I decided to go ahead and post my shot for Sliders Sunday at 3AM.  So, what is “Sliders Sunday”?  I belong to a Flickr group called “Sliders Sunday” in which you are encouraged to post one photo per week, on Sunday, in which you used whatever processing tools you want, to whatever extreme suits your fancy.  All those sliders in Photomatix and Topaz get put to use in this group.

This is an HDR image from three bracketed photos that I took on our photowalk on Grand Avenue in Phoenix, AZ.  The challenge with this image was trying to deal with the flags in the upper left corner.  It was a windy day, and the flags were in a different position in each of the three bracketed photos.  I used the de-ghosting tool in Photomatix to clean up most of it, but it still didn’t work like I wanted it to.  It left some of the flag lines in disconnected pieces, and there was a lot of haloing that was unattractive.

So I finally bit the bullet and decided to try some masking and layering.

  • In Paintshop Pro, I opened the raw file of the single image that was shot at normal exposure and saved it as a JPG file (probably should have saved it as a TIFF file, but…)
  • I opened the HDR image in Paintshop Pro and duplicated the background layer.
  • I copied the JPG file and pasted it as a new layer in the HDR image.
  • I moved the JPG layer under the duplicated HDR layer (so it was sandwiched between the background and the duplicated layer).
  • On the duplicated HDR layer (the top layer), I used the Eraser tool to erase the top left area where the sky and flags were located, being careful to stop at the edge of the buildings.  This allowed the sky and flags from the JPG image to show through.
  • I then merged all the layers and proceeded with my normal processing.

I’m sure others could do a much better job with this HDR and masking/layering exercise, but I don’t think it turned out too badly for a newbie.

So, here is the Bikini Cocktail Lounge, a landmark on Grand Avenue:

Bikini Cocktail Lounge

And, oh yeah, Happy Sliders Sunday!!  Now I think I’ll take a nap.

The Photographer In The Window

I seem to have a thing for windows and doors.  There’s something about the geometry, the right angles, the textures….not exactly sure, but windows and doors are one of my favorite subjects for photography.

Today’s image is a case in point.  These are the windows in the front of Monti’s La Casa Vieja restaurant in Tempe, Arizona.  Monti’s has the distinction of being the “oldest continuously occupied structure in the Phoenix metropolitan area“.  The architecture and character of these old buildings just lend themselves to making great photographs, and especially to HDR work.

Monti’s is located right across from the old Hayden Flour Mill (check out this shot), another historic structure in Tempe. On our recent photowalk, the three of us stopped in front of Monti’s to shoot the flour mill which was lit up by the reflections of the morning sun bouncing off a large office building across the street. It was only by chance that I turned around and saw the wall behind me with these two beautiful windows. The window on the left shows the reflection of the flour mill, and the one on the right has a reflection of one of my fellow photographers.

The Photographer In the Window
HDR created from three bracketed photos (-2.0/0.0/+2.0) processed in Photomatix v4. Post-processing in Topaz Adjust / DeNoise with Paintshop Photo Pro X3.

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

The Payoff for Getting Up Early

Several of my photographer buddies from work decided to do an early morning photowalk in Tempe, Arizona this past Saturday morning.  The plan was to meet at the Starbucks on Mill Avenue between 6:00 and 6:15 AM.  Since it’s a 35 minute drive for me to get there, I had to get up at an ungodly hour (for a Saturday).  It was so tempting to just bail on the guys, but I thought it would be a great chance to compare notes with other non-professionals, plus get some good sunrise shots on Tempe Town Lake.

There were four of us (not too many, not too few), and we had a great time exploring the area on the south side of the Lake from before dawn until after the sun rose.  I’ll be posting more shots from our photowalk, but I’ll start with this one:

Tempe Town Lake Just Before Dawn

To the right is the Mill Avenue bridge which carries vehicle traffic. To the left you can see the light trails created from the passing of the light rail train as it traveled over the Lake. The boats are just waiting for the sun to come up to start taking passengers.

You can see more shots from our photowalk in the set that I’ve posted on Flickr, called Tempe Photowalk 2011.01.15. I’ve just started processing, so more images will be added to the set soon. I’ll be posting a few more on this blog as well.

This was my first photowalk, and I’d like to thank Ed Brice for organizing things for us, and Adam Schmid and Kurt Neurauter for lots of great tips and good humor. I had a blast and look forward to more of these excursions!