Lisa and Ranger – My First Photoshoot

Last weekend I had my first “client” photo shoot with a friend of mine, Lisa, and her new dog, Ranger. We met at Steele Indian School Park last Saturday morning for about an hour. The skies were mostly overcast when we started, but by the time we finished the sun had started to peek through.

Ranger is a cute dog, very photogenic, but he alternated between being nervous (shivering), and being curious (antsy), so it was a challenge to catch shots of the two of them together when Ranger was being still. However, I think we came away with some shots that were worth our time:

Lisa & Ranger 01

Lisa & Ranger 02

Lisa & Ranger 03

Lisa & Ranger 04

Lisa & Ranger 05

These were all processed using Portrait Professional and Paintshop Photo Pro X3.

Since I’m just learning to do this, I appreciate your feedback and constructive criticism.

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.

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Big Sky from South Mountain

Tonight’s post is an HDR image from South Mountain, taken last Sunday afternoon just after the last winter storm had moved out of the area.  The clouds had started to break up and the bright blue sky provided a beautiful contrast to the white and gray of the clouds that remained.

This was my first day out with the 14-24mm F/2.8 wide-angle lens, and it certainly didn’t disappoint, especially on the full-frame sensor of the Nikon D700.  The lens was not only perfect for the interior shots at Scorpion Gulch, it also provided some beautiful wide-angle vista shots of the Phoenix metropolitan area from the mountainside vantage point.

I used the tripod and set the camera to shoot 7-bracket series, using increments of +/- 1 (from -3.0 to +3.0).  I used my new cable release to trip the shutter because I still haven’t completely figured out how to get the camera to shoot the set using the self-timer.  I set the focal length to F/14 to take full advantage of the wide angle.

Here’s an example of what I was able to capture with the new equipment:

Big Sky from South Mountain
HDR created from five bracketed photos (-2.0/-1.0/0.0/+1.0/+2.0) processed in Photomatix v4. Post-processing in Paintshop Photo Pro X3.

For this shot I actually wound up using only five of the brackets, discarding the most under-exposed and over-exposed. There’s a little bit of flare from where the sun was just starting to peek through the clouds, but I kinda liked it so I didn’t try to get rid of it. Make sure you click on the photo to view it large.

On a different note, I got my new flash in the mail today, a Nikon SB-700 Speedlight. I have an appointment on Saturday morning to do a lifestyle portrait shoot with a friend I worked with at the library. She’s just adopted a new dog, so this will be people/pet photography practice. I’m hoping to get a little practice with the new flash as well, even though the shoot will take place outdoors.

Have I mentioned that I love photography? 🙂

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.

Lemon on a Fork

Tonight’s post is another image that I created for the monthly challenge in the AZ Photographer’s Group. The challenge was to take and post up to three macro shots. Macro isn’t really my thing, but it was a great learning experience trying to balance light, depth of field, and composition, all within a few inches of your face.

This shot is one that I had in my head for several days, and while it didn’t turn out just exactly like I envisioned it, I didn’t think it was too bad. Someday when I have a little more patience, I may try it again to see if I can improve on it:

Slice of Lemon
Shot with a Nikon D700, 50mm lens with 10X filter, F/5.6, 1/80s, ISO 200

Thanks to everyone who commented on yesterday’s post, Thirsty (in Macro). It was a fun shot, and I appreciate all the kind feedback!

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.

Zanjero at Sunset

This evening I made a quick dash over to Westgate to get a little better acquainted with my 50mm prime lens on the D700. My hubby got me this lens for Christmas, but at the time I was still using the D5000, and this lens will not auto-focus on the D5000. Now that I have the D700, it’s a little more enjoyable to shoot in dimmer light without having to manually focus.

I spent about 30 minutes just walking around Westgate as the crowds were coming to the arena for tonight’s hockey game. I took about thirty shots of people and random architectural features, but just wasn’t feeling inspired. About this time the sun was going down and it looked like there might be a cool sunset, so I decided to leave Westgate and get out into the open so I could get a better view of the sky.

As I drove away from Westgate, I decided to swing by Zanjero, an office complex that was completed just as the recession hit about three years ago, so it has never been occupied. It’s a beautiful structure, but it’s surrounded by chain link fence. The driveways are usually blocked off by yellow tape, but tonight I saw that the tape at one driveway had been removed. An open invitation!

I quickly drove into the parking lot and shot a couple of 7-bracket series, hand-held (first brackets I’ve shot with this camera). I processed them in Photomatix, and was immediately impressed by the difference a few extra brackets make. I’d been shooting only three brackets with my D5000 (that’s the limit with that camera). I think I’m going to have some fun with this one!!

Zanjero at Sunset

After tone-mapping in Photomatix, I used PaintShop Photo Pro X3 and Topaz to bring out some of the details, add a little bit of saturation (didn’t need much), and I also cropped a little off the bottom.

Not too bad for a hand-held, 7-bracket HDR!

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.

My Hubby, the Model

I’m pretty sure that if I ever hope to make any income as a photographer, it’s going to involve taking lots of pictures of people instead of deserted buildings and Arizona landscapes.  I’ve started putting together a plan for getting some volunteers to let me practice on them, and my first victim…er, subject, was my hubby, Andy.

Fortunately, Andy actually enjoys having his picture made, and he’s enough of a ham that he doesn’t mind posing in public while absolute strangers walk by.  This evening he agreed to let me take some shots of him as we were on our way to dinner.

I was using my Nikon D700 and the 28-300mm zoom lens.  By the time we got to the location, the sun was just slipping below the horizon so there wasn’t much light left.  I had to bump the ISO up to about 500 to get a shutter speed of about 1/50s with a wide-open aperture.  I didn’t bring my tripod, so this was all hand-held, and I was really afraid that the shots weren’t going to be as sharp as I would have liked.

I also took a few shots with my old Quantaray 35-82mm F4-5.6 that I re-discovered today still attached to my old Nikon 6006 35mm camera.  Whether it was the rapidly fading light or the poorer quality of the lens, the pictures I took with that lens were noticeably softer than the ones with the 28-300mm.

Here are a couple of shots that I’ve processed.  To see the entire set, visit my Flickr site here.

Taken with the 28-300mm:

20110212_023_AndyAtCitadel

Taken with the 35-82mm:

20110212_062_AndyAtCitadel

All the shots were processed in 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.

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.

Roadside Snow On the Rocks – Working with Layers

I’m finally starting to slow down a little bit and try to concentrate on learning more about the software that I use to process my photos.  Rather than cranking out a lot of so-so shots, I’m trying to pick one shot (or one set of brackets) and play around with the various options in Paintshop Pro to compare the results of various techniques.  Tonight I started trying to figure out how to use adjustment levels in my processing.

I ran across a great blog called HDR Cookbook that is authored by Klaus Herrmann, who turns out some of the most beautiful HDR images I’ve seen. The HDR Cookbook is filled with some very useful information that is very helpful to beginners like myself. One of the first chapters discusses workflow, and I found some extremely helpful information in there about using levels to separate each tweak to the image so that the original image is untouched. The tutorial is written for the Photoshop products (including Adobe Camera Raw), which I don’t own, but I was able to translate a lot of the information to Paintshop Photo Pro with no difficulty.

One thing that the Cookbook talks about at the very beginning is a phenomenon called “chromatic aberration” (CA). This is the purple fringe that sometimes shows up when there are areas of high contrast in a photo. I hadn’t had to deal with that problem until I started processing HDR’s from the snow shots from this past weekend. The Cookbook recommends using Adobe Camera Raw to remove the CA. Since that software isn’t in my arsenal, I tried using the Photomatix option “Reduce Chromatic Aberration” during the HDR process, but it didn’t appear to have much of an effect…the purple was still there. Of course, you have to zoom in close to see it, but now that I know it’s there, it will haunt me.

Anyway, I did the best I could with this shot, playing with separate layers for Topaz Adjust, DeNoise, Curves, and Saturation. I couldn’t figure out how to create a separate layer for sharpening, so I applied that step after I merged the layers. The great thing is, I still have all the original image files and I can go back and try this over and over until I get it right as I learn more about the process.

So, here’s my shot for today…snow on the roadside rocks. Enjoy!

Roadside Snow and Stone

Change of Focus – Shooting What You Live In

I’ve had my Nikon D5000 for almost a year now–the time has flown by!  And during the past year I concentrated on HDR photography and processing.  That required me to haul my tripod and remote release along with me whenever I went out to shoot, since I was shooting bracketed series for the HDR images. With the stability of the tripod, I never paid a lot of attention to the ISO settings, or much of anything else for that matter.  I just figured I could make adjustments to the images during the processing stage. With the bracketed raw images, I would have all the highlights, shadows and details to work with, without having to think about it that much.

But lately I’ve become bored with all that.  I’ve begun to realize that I don’t really know that much about how my camera really works, and what all it’s capable of doing.  I’ve also begun to get a little bored with the HDR “look” in my own work, although there are photographers out there who never cease to amaze me with what they can do.

So a couple of days ago, on a whim, I just picked up the camera and started shooting things around the house.  It was late in the afternoon, and the setting sun coming in through the patio door was creating some nice light patterns (and revealing how badly I needed to dust the furniture) in the living room–that light is what caught my eye and got me started.

20101108_011_B&WInTheHouse_psp_topaz

I set the camera on aperture-priority mode, but opened the aperture wide to get a fairly shallow DOF. I also bumped up the ISO setting to get a faster shutter speed, and didn’t worry so much about noise for once.

20101108_035_B&WInTheHouse

I set the camera to monochrome mode because I wanted to experiment with some B&W shots. I also had it set to shoot RAW+Fine. I didn’t think about it at the time, but those settings combined to yield me both a black-and-white JPG along with a raw file that had all the color information in it.  Black-and-white AND color in the same shot.  Score!!

20101108_026_B&WInTheHouse_spicify

I just wandered around the house and the patio for a few minutes, shooting things that I ordinarily overlook in our day-to-day lives. Then I processed each of the shots differently, trying out various presets, settings and sliders in Topaz Adjust and Paintshop Pro X3. For once, I wasn’t worried about over-processing something…it wasn’t about making it look natural, it was about making something that I enjoyed looking at.

Coffee Press

And these are a few of the images that I came away with. There was something freeing about having the camera in my hands instead of on the tripod. There was a sense of control in adjusting the settings between shots just to see what effect it would have on the image.

I’m going to spend a lot more time working on images like these for awhile.  I think it’s a lot more Zen-like than the HDR “process”.  And maybe I’ll remember to dust before I do this again! 🙂

Oak Creek at West Fork

Whew, things seem to be going a little better this evening in the digital darkroom (or maybe I’m just not being so picky tonight).  I decided to concentrate on pictures from West Fork (trailhead in Oak Creek Canyon between Sedona and Flagstaff, Arizona) this evening, and give the aspens a rest for the time being.

I’m still practicing creating HDR’s using the new Photomatix V4, which has some more robust anti-ghosting functionality.  It’s actually coming in very handy on the shots from last weekend, giving me some extra tools to try and clean up the blur caused from the waving grasses and branches.  I know that if I spent a lot more time on each of these images (and if I actually knew what I was doing), they could be even better, but since I’m just learning from trial-and-error, I’m not too awfully disappointed in the way these have turned out.

This first shot was taken with the tripod sitting on a rock in the middle of the creek, and the camera about three feet above the surface of the water.  I wanted to get this lower perspective so that I would have more of a “flow” of the water. Photomatix did a good job with the de-ghosting of the leaves, but the Curves tool in Paintshop Pro is what really made this one pop, bringing out the detail in the darker part of the stream as well as the bright sunlit mountainside in the background:

West Fork - Running Water

This next shot was taken at a point where two streams meet. This past spring there was a lot of rainfall, so there is still quite a bit of debris in and alongside the creek. I liked the way these two white logs formed an “X” in the middle of the stream. In the background you can see a tree that has fallen across the creek as well. Once again, the Curves tool in Paintshop Pro allowed me to control the exposure in various parts of the image to where I was pretty well satisfied with it:

West Fork - X Marks the Spot

This last shot was taken in an area where a lot of downed trees had piled up during one of the spring floods. I really liked the way the fungus had grown on the trees (you can tell it obviously grew on this log AFTER it was down, because of the horizontal orientation). There was no problem with ghosting on this one, but there is a lot of detail in both the tree bark and the fungi that I wanted to capture. I think I got most of what I was after:

West Fork Fungi

So, a good night in the digital darkroom. Tomorrow, I’ll head back to the aspens again.