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!

20110313_801_JeromeHDR_Blacksmi

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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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:

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

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

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

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

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Another abandoned industrial building, using Topaz Clarity and Adjust:

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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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Zann’s One Word Photo Challenge – Fresh

Week Two of my year-long photo challenge was more “challenging” than I imagined it would be. The theme for last week was the word “fresh”, and it can be a pretty daunting task in the dead of winter.

I did a Google search of the word “fresh” and looked at the images returned, and they were far-and-away the usual cliches–mostly fruits and vegetables with the obligatory droplets of water shimmering in the studio lights. I really wanted to avoid doing anything like that.

I was pretty much stymied all week. Finally on Sunday I got in the car with the hubby and we took off driving in the country, just looking for something “fresh” to shoot. Nothing. Nada. It was totally depressing.

So I wound up with just some throw-away stuff. I used the week to play around with some of the Topaz plug-ins that I haven’t used before, and did some creative tweaking of a few of these images.

Overall it was pretty disappointing, but here are the results:

A few “fresh” flowers that are actually blooming in pots on my front porch, arranged in a small liqueur stem, shot in natural light:

Fresh_1word_002_2015-02-03_psp

The same “fresh” flowers, but edited with Topaz filters in Paint Shop Pro. I desaturated, and then increased the hue to the magenta side:

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We still have a few winter greens growing in our raised bed garden, and they’re putting on some new “fresh” growth. I was playing with some depth of field experimentation here:

Fresh_1word_018_2015-02-06_psp

And here I just decided to get a little crazy. Most days we have a “fresh” salad for lunch, so I took the photo to a little extreme using the Simplify plug-in from Topaz. I do actually like this one:

Fresh_1word_027_2015-02-06_psp

So, that’s enough for the “fresh” topic.

This week, the word is “UP”. I think I should be able to find a little more inspiration for my photos this week. Things are looking up (haha, see what I did here?).

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Zann’s One Word Photo Challenge – Boxes

Last week I created a list of weekly challenges for myself to get me back in the mood to do some shooting. The challenge for the week of January 26 was the word “boxes”.

I decided to use my smaller camera, the Nikon D5000, so I could carry it with me every time I go out. Since I work from home I don’t get out of the neighborhood much, but at least this week I had something besides my iPhone with me when I went anywhere.

I found this challenge to be harder than I had anticipated. There are lots of boxes out there, but trying to tell a story with them or make them interesting is another thing altogether. I thought of some ideas for posed shots that I would have liked to have done, but just didn’t have the time to put that kind of shoot together. But I’ll make note of the ideas and maybe revisit them later.

Here are some of the shots that I took this week. All were processed in Paint Shop Pro X7, some with Topaz plug-ins.

A collection of wooden boxes that I own:

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Compressed boxes lying behind the local Sears store at the mall:

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The box office at the Lyric theatre in Tupelo:

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Mailbox 308 on an abandoned building in downtown Tupelo:

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Box on the railroad tracks in Tupelo:

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New storm shelter box installed after the tornado of April 2014 came through our neighborhood:

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The challenge for the week of February 2 is the word “fresh”. This should be interesting! Join me and play along! Just post links to your “fresh” photos in the comments below. All photos for the challenge must have been shot between 2/8/14 and 2/8/15, although they could have been processed later.

Weekly photo challenge

Weekly photo challenge

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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. 🙂

Zann’s 2015 One Word Photo Challenge

I hate winter. If I lived somewhere where there were pretty snow-covered trees or sparkling icicles, I might be a little more inclined to get my camera out of its storage box. But where I live, it’s nothing but bare trees, dead grass, cloudy skies and damp/cold weather.

So, taking the advice of some great photography websites, I decided to develop a little challenge for myself. I created a weekly photo challenge, based on a one-word theme for each week. The idea is to find ways to interpret the theme visually and creatively, but to do it within a specified time frame to avoid procrastination and excuse-making. I know a lot of people do the “365” or “photo-a-day” challenge, but realistically I know that I would never stick to that kind of schedule. But a weekly project seems doable.

So here’s my list of weekly challenges for the remainder of this year, beginning with “Boxes” for this week. There’s no upper or lower limit to the number of photos that I need to produce for each week’s challenge, but the photos must be taken within the scheduled week (even if processed later).

I’ll be posting my weekly shots to this blog, and I invite you to participate as well if you would like to. If you decide to play along, feel free to post a link to your photos in the comments. You can upload your photos to any application–Flickr, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, Google+–but just be sure to tag them #zannonewordphotochallenge to make them easy to find. I might even feature your work in a future blog post!

Weekly photo challenge

Weekly photo challenge

If you would like to see some other ways to jumpstart your creativity, check out these links:

25 Ways to Jumpstart Photography Inspiration – DIYPhotography.net
13 Tips for Staying Motivated in Photography – PetaPixel.com
Stuck in a photographic rut? Eight ways to get motivated! – SteveHuffPhoto.com

Oh, yeah, one other thing! I’ve secured the domain name “ZenOfZann”, so you can now reach this blog at http://zenofzann.com, rather than having to use the not-so-spiffy zenofzann.wordpress.com address. Please subscribe if you haven’t already, and help keep me inspired!

Downtown Tupelo From a Huey

A couple of weeks ago we had the opportunity to take a flight in a Vietnam-era Huey helicopter as part of a fund-raising event held at the nearby Veterans Memorial Park. They are trying to raise money to install a replica of the Vietnam Memorial wall in the park. There was an outfit there called Sky Soldiers who are made up of veterans who used to fly these helicopters in combat in Vietnam. The Huey that we flew on had been used for medical evacuations, and the guys flying them that day were veterans who had flown these machines in the 60’s and 70’s. They’ve still got it!

We had a blast! We got to sit in the gunner’s well, which meant we were seated on the side of the helicopter facing outward, with nothing but the wind in our faces. It was a sobering reminder of the dangers that soldiers face, being so exposed to gunfire.

Instead of a gun, I had my Nikon, and I was able to just fire off shot after shot as we buzzed around above the city. While they aren’t the most technically perfect photos and they’re not artsy-fartsy, they are a wonderful reminder of an awesome experience.

Here’s one of my favorite shots of downtown Tupelo, looking toward the southwest. Click to view it large for detail!

Downtown Tupelo from a Huey

Shot with the Nikon D700 and the Nikkor 24-85mm. Processed in Paintshop Pro X7.

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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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Hymns at Cafe Du Monde

I don’t care what diet you’re on, no visit to New Orleans is complete without a stop at Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter for some fresh, hot beignets and coffee.  And while they do have indoor seating, it’s almost sacrilegious to succumb to the lure of air conditioning when you could be sitting out on the patio, dripping sweat, while people-watching and listening to the ad-lib free entertainment that’s offered 24/7.

On our most recent trip, we were treated to some a capella hymn-singing by this enthusiastic gentleman.  He had a decent baritone and an infectious spirit, so we enjoyed his renditions of some old familiar church songs.

From a photography standpoint, this was a tricky shot given the wide range of lighting conditions from the shade of the patio to the bright sunlight on the street.  The Nikon D700 handled it nicely, shooting in RAW format gave me the data that I needed to recover the details in the shadows, and Topaz plug-ins provided some nice detail recovery.

I love this shot because there are so many stories going on at once….the couple buying tickets on the left, the singer, the older couple walking up the ramp, the younger couple lounging on the bench, and the crowd on the patio enjoying the show.  One of my favorite images from the day.

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Click the image 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.

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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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