Daily Zen 2018-01-06

Advertisements

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:

DowntownTupelo_20171230_050//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

DowntownTupelo_20171230_055//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

DowntownTupelo_20171230_007_bw//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

DowntownTupelo_20171230_075//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

DowntownTupelo_20171230_039//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

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!

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:

SpringCruise_002_2015-05-11

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

SpringCruise_039_2015-05-11

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!

SpringCruise_063_2015-05-11

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.

SpringCruise_089_2015-05-11

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

SpringCruise_130_2015-05-11

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.

Look for me here!

WordPress Blog: http://zenofzann.com
iPhoneography: http://zanntastic.com

Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon

If I won the Powerball Lottery and could live anywhere in the United States that I desired, I would happily settle down near Sedona, Arizona, where I could have a view of the magnificent red rocks and hear the peaceful sounds of Oak Creek.

But you can’t win if you don’t play, and the lottery isn’t legal where I live, so I’ll have to be content with an occasional vacation trip and a collection of photographs to look at from time to time.

Hubby and I got to spend a few days in Sedona early this month on a combination work/vacation trip. Even though we were both sick with sinus and upper respiratory infections while we were there (I even wound up in Urgent Care), I still managed to spend some time outdoors getting some landscape shots with my Nikon D700 and my 14-24mm glass. It’s always a bit of a pain in the ass to haul all my camera equipment, including tripod, on a business trip, but since Andy was with me this time to help share the load, it wasn’t too bad.

My first round of shooting was done just north of Sedona at Midgely Bridge on Highway 89A. There’s a trailhead at the bridge, so a lot of people park here to hike off in several different directions, but it’s also a wonderful place just to sit and soak in the view. Because we were at the bridge in the middle of the day, there was a lot of contrast between dark and light areas. I chose to shoot brackets so I could use HDR processing to draw out the details in the shadows and highlights.

Click on the photos to view large!

Sedona2015_037_2015-04-05And4more_tonemapped

This next shot was taken from about the same spot, but with the camera turned about 45° to the left:

Sedona2015_047_2015-04-05And4more_tonemapped

A little further up Highway 89A, we found a place to get down to the creek. Unfortunately there was a good bit of natural debris along the edges of the water, and the trees had not completely leafed out yet, but it was still a beautiful day. This image is not HDR, but a single image.

Sedona2015_071_2015-04-05

Stay tuned for my next blog post where I’ll show you some images taken at Lizard Rock, one of my favorite formations in the Sedona area.

Look for me here!
Facebook: http://Facebook.com/zannwalker
Smugmug: http://zannwalker.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/suzanne_hight
Wordpress Blog: http://zenofzann.com
iPhoneography: http://zanntastic.com
Instagram: http://Instagram.com/zannwalker
Flickr: http://flickr.com/photos/suzannehight

Arizona Faces with Topaz B&W Effects

I seem to have drifted away from my weekly challenge topics lately. Oh, well, at least I’m still working on my photography, and that’s the real point here.

I’ve been watching the webinars from Topaz Labs this month, and they’ve been concentrating on their B&W Effects product for the last couple of weeks. I love working in black and white, so this week I pulled out some old shots from when we lived in the Phoenix area, and tried using some of the techniques I’ve learned to these images.

Unfortunately, the photos themselves weren’t as sharp as I would have liked for them to be. When I took these, I was still pretty bad about checking my ISO, shutter speed and exposure before I pulled the trigger. But I still like the way these came out.

Note: Click the photos to view larger in Flickr.

This first one was taken on Grand Avenue. The older gentlemen was being pushed along the street in his wheelchair by his son. I used the B&W Effects filter to add highlights to the older man’s face and hands, while keeping the son’s face hidden under his cap. I wanted the focus of the observer to be drawn to the bottom of the image.

20110108_194_GrandAve

This next image was taken while we were riding the light rail. I used to love getting on the train at one end of the route with my camera, and riding it all the way to the other end and back, getting off at different stops along the way to shoot. Many times the most interesting faces were actually in the train car with us, right across the aisle. This lady was in her own little world, and I just loved the character lines in her face.

20110221_023_LightRailRide

This last image was also taken on the same light rail ride, as we were about to board. This guy reminded me of a NASCAR driver, at least from the waist up. Just check out those shades, and the rings on his left hand. A close look at his feet, though, make it clear that he’s not a well-to-do race car driver.

20110221_004_LightRailRide

We’re going back to Arizona next week on a work/vacation trip, and I’m looking forward to doing a lot of landscape shooting around Sedona. I’ll eventually get back to my weekly challenge, but as I said, the point is to be shooting and processing as much as possible, no matter what the subject matter!

Look for me here!
Facebook: http://Facebook.com/zannwalker
Smugmug: http://zannwalker.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/suzanne_hight
Wordpress Blog: http://zenofzann.com
iPhoneography: http://zanntastic.com
Instagram: http://Instagram.com/zannwalker
Flickr: http://flickr.com/photos/suzannehight

Dramatic Skies in Black & White

I’m a big fan of the Topaz Labs family of filters and plug-ins. I’ve been using them for several years now, and Topaz continues to improve both the functionality of the product as well as the user-friendliness of the interface.

Another thing that I like about Topaz is that they offer free, live webinars where they demonstrate how to use their products to achieve specific results. The webinars are offered about twice a week–usually there’s a one-hour version on Tuesdays, and then there’s a “Quick Tip Thursday” edition that addresses a more specific task. The webinars are recorded and made available for free on YouTube afterwards.

Today’s Quick Tip Thursday edition dealt with using the Topaz Black & White Effects plug-in to add drama to skies and clouds, without darkening up the rest of the photo. The process uses the selective color sliders in the plug-in to darken up the blues and cyans, while leaving the other colors alone. This technique works great on images where there isn’t any other blue in the shot.

After watching the demonstration, I pulled out an old photo from February 2011 that I shot at South Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona. This image was shot with the Nikon D700, using my 14-28mm Nikkor glass (love that lens!!). I had never processed this particular image, but thought it would be fun to use for this technique.

The first thing I did was open the image in Lightroom and adjusted the exposure just slightly, and added a touch of clarity.

Here’s what I had at that point:

20110220_295_SouthMtn copy_LROnly_800w

I then exported to Photoshop and opened the Topaz B&W Effects filter. Using the techniques that Nichole demonstrated during the webinar, here’s where I wound up (click to view larger in Flickr):

20110220_295_SouthMtn_LR_TopazBW

I think I probably overdid the sky just a little bit, but I was trying to push it to see how the technique worked. Overall, I like the results, though, especially since the foreground did not get darkened when the sky did. I do like the drama of the image, and how it highlights the feathering in the clouds!  This is something I look forward to practicing more in the future!

Look for me here!
Facebook: http://Facebook.com/zannwalker
Smugmug: http://zannwalker.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/suzanne_hight
Wordpress Blog: http://zenofzann.com
iPhoneography: http://zanntastic.com
Instagram: http://Instagram.com/zannwalker
Flickr: http://flickr.com/photos/suzannehight

Topaz ReMask and Layers

What a gorgeous day outside!! I would really love to be out there with my camera, but since I’m technically still employed for the next two weeks, and therefore have to stay close to my workspace, I decided to spend some time practicing on some photo editing and processing skills. I’m still getting acquainted with my new Wacom Intuos tablet,and I also wanted to get more practice with masking and layers.

I decided to work on this image that I took this past weekend in downtown Tupelo. It’s some sort of sculpture that’s supposed to celebrate water. (I really should pay more attention to what I’m shooting!). Anyway, when I was taking the photo, there were several things going through my mind:

  • I wanted to catch the rising sun coming through the opening at the top of the sculpture.
  • I wanted that sunburst effect, so I used a narrower aperture (f/13) than I would have normally used.
  • I was more concerned about the exposure on the sculpture than on the sky, even though I knew that the sky would be blown out.
  • I forgot to check the ISO setting when I was setting up this shot, but it was at ISO 500, and the exposure time was 1/200 sec.

So here is the raw file (saved as a JPEG):

Tupelo_misc_017_2015-03-15-3_unaltered

I got the starburst that I wanted, along with some cool green lens flare. And as expected, the sky was blown out and the sculpture itself is underexposed.

So I thought this would be a good candidate to use for practicing with masking and layers.

The first thing I did in Lightroom was to straighten the image slightly so that the base of the sculpture was more horizontal. (Evidently I can’t hold my camera straight to save my life!). I then exported the image to Photoshop.

Once in Photoshop I took the following steps (as best I can remember):

  • Duplicated the Background layer.
  • On the duplicated layer, I opened Topaz ReMask, and created a mask using only the sculpture portion of the photo. I actually did this step about four or five times, trying to get it right.
  • Next, I duplicated the Background layer again, and on this new layer, I again went to Topaz ReMask and created a mask of everything EXCEPT the sculpture (the sky and the foliage).
  • Back in Photoshop, for the SKY mask layer, I applied Gaussian blur, a brightness/contrast adjustment layer, and a curves layer. This helped bring back some details in the sky and the trees.
  • For the SCULPTURE mask layer, I used the Topaz Clarity filter to brighten the color, exposure and details.

And here is the final result (saved for the web, so it’s only 800 pixels tall, but you get the point):

Tupelo_misc_017_2015-03-15_Lr_remask

I’m pretty pleased with it, considering it’s my first real attempt at something this complicated. I’ll have to say that using the Wacom tablet made it a lot easier to make the mask selection, but I’m still trying to figure out all the hand gestures that the tablet recognizes when used like a touchpad. It gets pretty confusing when suddenly the image zooms in or out and I have no clue what I just did.

Pretty fun!! Can’t wait to try more!

Look for me here!

WordPress Blog: http://zenofzann.com
iPhoneography: http://zanntastic.com

Weekly One-Word Challenge – Broken

Hooray, I am officially caught up with my weekly one-word challenges! The word for the week of March 9, 2015 was “broken”. And after several days of rain, the sun finally came out today, just in time for me to meet the deadline to get some shooting done for this challenge.

I did all my shooting between 7:30 and 9:30 a.m., hoping to catch some good light. My morning started off with a slight hiccup. I drove about five minutes from my house, parked my car, got out and fired up my camera, just to find that my battery was depleted. I could have kicked myself for not checking it before I left home. Fortunately, I had a second battery completely charged and ready to go, so I drove home, swapped them out, and then headed back downtown. Not that far to drive, but it did waste a little bit of that early morning golden hour.

Today I used my Nikon D700 with the 24-84mm Nikkor lens. I’m learning to be more cognizant of my f-stops, ISO, shutter speeds and depth-of-field, rather than just concentrating on composition.

I took quite a few images, processed them in Lightroom and Photoshop, using Topaz filters. I’ve uploaded the ones I liked best to my Flickr account. Here are my favorites from this morning, with a little commentary:

These first three are a little urbex from a partially abandoned warehouse near the railroad tracks. The broken windows fit the theme perfectly. I had to do some perspective adjustments to account for the camera tilt, but all in all, I’m happy with these:

1word_broken_032_2015-03-15_LR

1word_broken_015_2015-03-15_LR_TpzClarity

1word_broken_033_2015-03-15_LR_TopazClarity

These next two are from an alley in downtown. If you’ve been following along, you’ll recognize the vase from an earlier challenge when I shot it for the word “Open”. In keeping with the rules of the challenge (photos must be shot in the appropriate week timeframe), I re-shot it and processed it differently today to represent “broken”. The photo of the toilet is self-explanatory.

1word_broken_042_2015-03-15_LR_TopazRestyle_PS

1word_broken_048_2015-03-15_LR

This next image is a whiskey and wine bar in downtown Tupelo. No, the bar is not broken, but the old original lettering at the top of the building seems to be missing something.

1word_broken_039_2015-03-15_LR_TopazClarity

The next image is a statue on the lawn of the Lee County Courthouse, erected in 1908 by the Tupelo Woman’s Christian Temperance Union to commemorate the statewide prohibition of alcohol. Not sure when the angel lost her hand, but Prohibition was definitely broken.

1word_broken_046_2015-03-15_LR

Next is a bicycle frame lying in a neighbor’s yard. Those boys are tough on their toys.

1word_broken_073_2015-03-15

Finally, a little something different. Almost a year ago, on April 28, 2014, Tupelo was hit by an E3 tornado, which left a wide path of damage and destruction (but fortunately only slight injuries to people). While the recovery still continues, these bare trees are stark reminders of what happened that day. The trunks are starting to push out new twigs and branches, so even though they were “broken” last year, their recovery mirrors the spirit of Tupelo as businesses, churches and homeowners rebuild for the future.

1word_broken_061_2015-03-15_TpzBW-QuadtoneRedII

While I was out shooting this morning, I did take some other shots that were not related to the weekly challenge. I’ll be sharing those separately.

So now, I’m ready for next week’s challenge, which is the word “Ice”. So ironic that we had the ice storm week before last, and now the weather is starting to warm up. Not sure what I’ll shoot for “ice”, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something!

Zann’s Weekly One Word Challenge – Wet

I’m finally getting caught up with my weekly challenges after a couple weeks of nasty weather. While the challenge for this week is shooting images for the word “Broken”, I’ve just finished processing images from last week’s challenge for the word “Wet”.

I shot these images around downtown Tupelo this past Sunday. We were still thawing out after an ice storm came through on Thursday, and there was still ice scattered around in shady places on the north side of buildings, in dirty piles where the plows had cleared the streets, and most impressively, in the fountain on the old Courthouse lawn. Because the ice was melting, it fit the description of “wet”!

All of these images were taken with my Nikon D700 and the 28-300mm Nikkor lens. They were all processed in Lightroom, and some have some slight nudges Photoshop and Topaz plug-ins like Clean or DeNoise. I’m still getting acquainted with the Adobe products, but so far I’m loving Lightroom!

1word_wet_004_2015-03-02_LR_tpz

1word_wet_009_2015-03-02_LR_TpzRestyle

1word_wet_030_2015-03-02_LR_TpzClean

1word_wet_029_2015-03-02_LR

Look for me here!
Facebook: http://Facebook.com/zannwalker
Smugmug: http://zannwalker.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/suzanne_hight
Wordpress Blog: http://zenofzann.com
iPhoneography: http://zanntastic.com
Instagram: http://Instagram.com/zannwalker
Flickr: http://flickr.com/photos/suzannehight

2015-photo-challenge-zannonewordphotochallenge