Zann’s One Word Photo Challenge – Up

I’m wrapping up the third week of my 2015 photo challenge, and the word for this week is “Up”.

I really didn’t get a chance to do much shooting during the week, and yesterday (Saturday) we were out of town for a family visit, so this morning I got out early in order to meet my self-imposed deadline of completing each week’s assignment by Sunday evening.

And, oh my god, it was cold outside this morning. It was 23° with a wind chill of 13° when I got to my first shoot site at about 7:40 a.m. Fortunately the skies were a beautiful blue with some fluffy clouds starting to roll in, in advance of a cold front, so it actually worked out well, even though my fingers were frozen!

Today I used my Nikon D700 with the 24-85mm lens so that I could get a good wide-angle view of the structures that I was shooting upward toward. I wanted to try and convey a sense of how tall they were by including as much of the base as possible. Of course this means I wound up with perpective distortion, but in this case I really didn’t mind, in fact I welcomed it. They’re all shot in portrait mode to enhance the “up” factor.

I’ve processed these, as usual, in Paint Shop Pro X7, using various Topaz plug-ins–Adjust, Clarity, DeNoise, B&W Effects, Lens Effects, and a new one that I just picked up this week, Restyle.

So, here are the results of this morning’s efforts:

Transmission tower, using Topaz Restyle for some color tweaking:

UP_oneword_004_2015-02-15_psptpzrestyle

The same transmission tower, from a different angle, using Topaz B&W Effects:

UP_oneword_010_2015-02-15_psptpzbw

Water tower, using Topaz Lens Effects (neutral density filter):

UP_oneword_014_2015-02-15_psptpz

Flags in front of the Lee County Justice Center in Tupelo, using Topaz Lens Effects and Adjust:

UP_oneword_024_2015-02-15_psptpz

The old Cotton Mill building, using Topaz Clarity and Adjust:

UP_oneword_032_2015-02-15_psptpzadjust

Another abandoned industrial building, using Topaz Clarity and Adjust:

UP_oneword_039_2015-02-15_psptpzadjust

The one-word theme for next week, starting on February 16, is “delicate”. Feel free to play along! Just be sure to use the hashtag #zannonewordphotochallenge when you post your photos to your favorite site. Here’s the list of upcoming challenges, each of which begins on a Monday. Photos must be shot in the week indicated, before the end of the day on the following Sunday, although they can be edited later.

2015-photo-challenge-zannonewordphotochallenge

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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.

finalfour

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. 🙂

Soft Sunset in Biloxi

Sometimes when I’m shooting I’m just playing with exposures and buttons on the camera, trying to learn more about how they work, and at the time I’m not paying any real attention to composition or the scene that I’m capturing.

And sometimes, that just seems to work out fine.

Last month when we were in Biloxi, I took the camera out to the beach at sunset (doesn’t everybody?). I wanted to play around with the ISO settings to see how far I could push them with the 24-85mm f/1.8 Nikkor lens that I bought earlier this year. The sunset wasn’t as colorful as I had hoped it would be, but there were some nice pinks and purples as we slipped into the blue hour.

So, without thinking about it too much, I snapped a picture of a pier and some pilings from the beach. This one was shot at ISO 4000, at about 1/80s at f/7.1. It didn’t look like much when I first saw the raw NEF file, but with a little tweak of the Levels in Paintshop Pro X7 and just a little touch of Topaz De-Noise, I got the shot that I wanted.

It just makes me feel peaceful and content when I look at this. And that’s why I love photography…it’s a tool to provoke emotions and preserve memories.

Soft Sunset in Biloxi
Click on the image above to view large.

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More HDR from Fort Pike

Things have been a little slow at work lately, so I’ve had some more time to work on processing the images from our recent discovery of Fort Pike in southern Louisiana.

Just like my previous post, these images are all HDR’s created from seven brackets in Photomatix V4 and edited in PaintShop Pro X7.

These first two are inside the outer walls of the fort. The only light in the interior was the natural light coming through the portholes where the cannons used to be mounted. Therefore, HDR was really the only way to capture the whole dynamic range of light that our eyes were experiencing.

BiloxiNOLA_089_20140831_HDR_300dpi_origsize

BiloxiNOLA_068_20140831_HDR_300dpi_origsize

I always hate to see historical sites defaced with graffiti, but I have to admit that sometimes it makes for an interesting photograph. For this one, I went with a little more abstract processing using Topaz filters, something more “painterly” and less sharp.

BiloxiNOLA_127_20140831_HDR_300dpi_origsize

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Editing and All That Jazz

It’s Saturday night, and all the SEC football games were blow-outs, so I decided that rather than watching football, my time would be better spent getting a little editing practice.

I shot this image in New Orleans last week, down in the French Quarter. I shot this with my Nikon D700 using my 24-85mm Nikkor lens at ISO 250, 1/100 sec at f/13.0. This is the raw, unedited version (resized to 800px wide at 100dpi):

BiloxiNOLA_177_20140831_unedited_800px

I’m using Paint Shop Pro X7, along with the Topaz bundle of plug-ins to do my editing. To be honest, I don’t even remember what all I did to this image.  I started off by cropping it to get rid of the uninteresting top area. I then just experimented with levels, curves, saturation, and clarity. I used the Topaz DeNoise plug-in to clean up a few artifacts. I also played with some masking to add in some blue sky in the top left corner where it had been blown out in the original image.  It was clumsy at best, but I’m finally starting to understand the whole “paint white on black” and vice-versa thing.

It’s not gallery-quality by any means, but it was fun to play with, and I learned a little more about the tools at my disposal in the software that I’m using.

And I learned that I need a LOT more practice and patience.

Here’s my edited version, also resized to 800px wide at 100dpi.

BiloxiNOLA_177_20140831_800px

Oh, and I’ve changed the theme of this blog (obviously) from the old, dated black background with small fonts to this cleaner looking version.  I’m still too cheap to pay for a WordPress theme so I continue to use the free versions with limited customization options.  But it gets my point across.

Thanks for following along, and let me know what suggestions you might have to improve my work!

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Biloxi Beach at Sunset and the New Workflow

I’m on Day Nine of a ten-day vacation, and it has been relaxing as well as productive.  Hubby and I traveled down to the Mississippi Gulf Coast for a four-day stay at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi.  We’re not big gamblers at all, but we do enjoy the nice facilities that the casino/resorts offer.  We enjoyed some time at the pool, got plenty of reading done, and then spent one day on a side trip to New Orleans by way of scenic highway US 90.

Just before we left on our trip, I made one last-ditch attempt to recover some of my old photo images from a dead Western Digital external hard drive.  I Googled the error message I was getting from the hard drive, and found a forum where someone offered a suggestion to another user with the same problem.  His suggestion was to use “chkdsk /F /R /X H:” where H: is the drive letter. I did just that, and about eight hours later, I was rewarded with 81GB of recovered files which I then copied to my computer hard drive.

While we were relaxing by the pool, I put together a new plan for both backups and archives of my image files. I already have backups running daily on Mozy, and I was doing periodic backups to two external Western Digital hard drives connected to my computer (alternating them), using the WD backup software. But the glaring problem is this–when files are accidentally deleted from your hard drive, they also get deleted from Mozy and the hard drives after 30 days if you don’t catch it before then.

I wanted an archive solution that would allow me to move my old files off my hard drive, leaving less for Mozy and WD to backup each day, but also having my old files accessible if I need them.

So I bought two more 1TB external drives. I also bought 100GB of space on Google Drive for $1.99/month (I already had 25 free). Then I spent this morning cleaning up my pre-2014 files–I deleted JPG’s where I also had raw files, I deleted TIFF files that I had created in Photomatix for HDR’s which had already been converted to JPG, and I deleted photos of random stuff where I testing lenses, etc. Then I copied all this old data, over 18,000 files from 1999-2013, to Google Drive and to both external drives.

One of the external drives has been locked away in the safe in the workshop while the other is here in my office. Once a month I’ll archive new stuff to all three drives, and will check the two physical drives to make sure they’re still sound. In the meantime, my backup system will be taking care of the current stuff that’s still on my hard drive.

After I finished that task, I then set to calibrating my monitor. I purchased a Spyder4 Pro from DataColor after reading numerous online reviews. I found it pretty easy to use, and once the calibration process was complete it presented a screen where you could toggle back and forth between the pre/post calibration settings so you could see the difference in the images on the display. And the difference was amazing! I’m hoping that the images that I have printed now will more closely match what I’m seeing on the display, because in the past I’ve been sorely disappointed in my print results.

Oh, and did I mention that I also downloaded the latest version of Paintshop Pro X7? It’s awesome!

So….

After all that, I finally got around to looking at the photos that I took while we were on the Coast last week. I’m excited to get started processing these shots. Some will be HDR’s and some are single images. I did a lot of experimenting with different settings while I was shooting, as I’m trying to learn to control some of the exposure issues that I’ve had in the past from just relying on the camera automation and dumb luck.

So here’s the first one that I processed today. This is an image from the beach in Biloxi near the Beau Rivage, taken at sunset. You can see the lighthouse in the background. I shot this hand-held at ISO 4000, something I’ve avoided in the past. I used Paintshop Pro X7 to adjust Levels and Curves, Topaz DeNoise to clean it up, and then back to PSP for some sharpening. I really like the way it came out.

BiloxiNOLA_030_20140831_printFullSize

Be sure to click through on the image to view it large on Flickr. Stay tuned for more!

Bayou Pierre Church

I was going back through my archives this evening, looking for something to play with, and I came across a folder of shots that I took back in June 2013 near Port Gibson, Mississippi.  We had driven down there to visit the Windsor Ruins, and we just happened across this little bit of history tucked into the trees just off the country road.

This is what remains of the Bayou Pierre Presbyterian Church, founded in 1807.  It’s a tiny little structure perched on a slight hill, surrounded by trees that are dripping with Spanish moss.  I had a great time shooting brackets there for HDR processing–that is, until I found myself standing in the middle of a mound of ants.  As I remember it, I was sick for several days afterwards from all the ant bites.  That’s probably why I never got around to processing these photos, but now seems like a good time.

All these shots were taken with my Nikon D700 and the 14-24mm lens.  Each one is an HDR processed from seven bracketed shots using Photomatix.  Post-processing done in Paint Shop Photo Pro using Topaz Adjust.

BayouPierreChurch 1-7 HDR

BayouPierreChurch 8-14 HDR

BayouPierreChurch 15-21 HDR

BayouPierreChurch 22-28 HDR

Quinceañera in Hermann Park

While we were walking around the Hermann Park area near the Medical Center in Houston, we came across several different photographers who were working with clients, taking advantage of the beautiful weather, flowering shrubs and distinctive architecture in the area.  We saw one photographer doing a bridal shoot in front of Rice University, and another unloading his equipment in front of the glamorous Hotel Zaza for some sort of social event.

But my favorite was this young Hispanic girl dressed in her quinceañera finery, standing in front of the statue of General Sam Houston where a photographer was capturing the occasion for the proud family.  I was fortunate to capture this shot with my 28-300mm lens in a less formal moment.

When I started processing the image, it seemed like a pretty mundane shot.  Nothing very memorable there, but I still thought the story was worth telling.  So I used the Topaz Adjust plug-in and selected a painterly filter which I tweaked slightly, and finally came up with an image that looked much more romantic and less harsh:

Quinceañera

For comparison, here’s the original unedited image:

Original unedited version

Original unedited version

Houston Museum of Fine Arts in HDR

A few days ago I posted a shot of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas.  Today I’m offering another view of the same building from a different, closer angle.

It’s such a magnificent building, and the grounds are meticulously groomed, making it a magnet for photographers and sight-seers alike.  I really wish we had had time to visit the Picasso exhibit that was on display there…next time we’ll have to plan our trip a little better!

Houston Museum of Fine Arts - Picasso Exhibit

This is another HDR image, composed of nine bracketed photos shot with my Nikon D700 and the 28-300mm lens. I processed the brackets in Photomatix Pro V4, and then did final editing in Paintshop Photo Pro X5.

To Color or Not

I really have a love affair with black and white photography, and I’m always looking for opportunities to drain all the color out of a shot and replace it with shades of gray.

But sometimes, I just can’t resist the blue of the sky against the green of the grass.

This was one of those times, so I just decided to have my cake and eat it, too.

Here’s a 9-bracket HDR of St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, processed both in color and in black and white.  The HDR processing was done in Photomatix Pro V4, and the further editing was done in Paintshop Photo Pro X5.  For the black and white image, I used the Topaz B&W plug-in.

It was a little windy that day, so there’s some ghosting in the clouds as they were skittering across the sky, but I actually kind of like it so I didn’t attempt to process it away.

So, which do you like best?

St. Paul's Methodist Church - Houston TX (Color)

St. Paul's Methodist Church - Houston TX (B&W)