Weekly One Word Challenge – OPEN

I’m starting to get a little more caught up on my weekly photo challenge work. I’ve just now completed processing the images that I shot for the February 23 challenge around the theme “Open”. As I mentioned, I was a week late shooting these images because of the bad weather that we had, but better late than never!

I decided to process all of these in black & white this week. I’m also using Lightroom and Photoshop for the very first time (after years of using Paintshop Pro in every version up through the current X7). I have to say that I really like Lightroom for its simple slider adjustments, although I’m not yet a fan of all the Collections, Catalogs and other nonsense. I like a simpler method of organizing.

Photoshop is another beast that I’ll need to get better acquainted with, although Paintshop Pro has many of the same features and has already given me a headstart on learning to use levels and masking.

My images for this week were all shot around downtown Tupelo on a sunny Saturday morning just after our most recent ice storm. Each of these has some interpretation of the word or concept “open”, at least in my own mind.

Enjoy!

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1word_open_001_2015-02-23_TpzBW

1word_open_005_2015-02-23_tpzBW

1word_open_005_2015-02-23_tpzDetail

1word_open_025_2015-02-23_LR_desat

1word_open_031_2015-02-23_LR_desat

The next challenge I’ll be presenting is the word “Wet”. Stay tuned!

2015-photo-challenge-zannonewordphotochallenge

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Snow, Ice, and Routine Chores

Nothing like some crazy weather to throw me off my schedule! The good news is, I’m spending much more time on my photography these days, even if I’m not totally up to date on my weekly photo challenge.

The challenge for the week of February 23 was the word “Open”. I had some ideas for what I wanted to shoot that week, but you know what they say about plans–they are made to be broken. On Wednesday of that week, we got 7.3 inches of snow, the second largest snowfall ever recorded on any date here in Tupelo. Of course, I took my camera out for some shots, so even though I wasn’t sticking to the theme for the week, the important thing was that I was shooting and processing. Here are a few images I captured that week:

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On this last one, I used the Topaz Clean plug-in to give it a little different effect in the details, especially on the tree branches. Kinda different, but I really like it! View it large to see what I mean.

snowstorm_051_2015-02-22_tpzClean

The following weekend, we delivered my four prints to the Elvis Presley Birthplace where hubby helped our club president get all the artwork hung for our spring exhibit. We have about 66 photographs from 20 different photographers on display for the entire month of March. We opened the exhibit on Monday, March 2, and I’ve already received positive comments from friends who have visited.

So, my weekly challenge for this past week was the word “Wet”. And wouldn’t you know it? On Wednesday, we had another winter storm come through, this time dumping almost an inch of sleet and ice, making travel impossible for two days (there were several fatal car accidents, one involving a mother and two of her children, so sad). So I didn’t get out to do any shooting until yesterday (Saturday), and I tried to shoot images for both the “Open” and “Wet” themes to get back on track. I think I got some decent shots which I’ll be processing this week.

Today it was time to do some general housecleaning around my photography gear and files.

First, I had hubby reconfigure my desk so I could move my monitor further away from my face, leaving more room on my desktop to accomodate my new Wacom Intuos tablet. I’m really excited about learning to use this piece of equipment!

Next, I took the plunge and cleaned the sensor on my Nikon D700, using Sensor Swab cleaning tools and Eclipse cleaning solution. I took before-and-after shots of the sky so I could see the difference it made. I actually went over it twice, using two swabs, and I think there may still be a spot or two left, but based on the photos that I took, it was quite an improvement. I may try to clean it again in another week or so.

Next, it was time to do some archiving. After a near disaster with a computer crash and an external hard drive failure last year, I’ve become somewhat OCD about backing up my photo files now. I have backups of my computer running to Mozy, and to two external hard drives attached to my system. But I also like to actually move files off my hard drive for storage now, so I’m using a combination of Google Drive, along with two additional external hard drives which I rotate out. Today I archived all my 2014 files to Google drive and to both my hard drives, and then removed them from my computer system. That’s less for Mozy to have to backup, and I can get to my archived files from any computer where I have an internet connection, via Google Drive.

And finally, I started playing with Lightroom and Photoshop. I finally took the plunge and signed up for a one-year subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud solution. For $9.99/month (I went ahead and prepaid for a year), I’m able to use the latest versions of Lightroom and Photoshop on up to two computers, as well as some mobile processing. I’m still a huge fan of Paintshop Pro, but I think it’s important to try and learn the more widely used software applications. Now that I can have access to them at a reasonable price, there’s no reason not to tackle learning something new. I also completed my collection of Topaz plug-ins by adding Illustrator and Glow.

So, I have software, hardware, workspace, updated filespace, a clean sensor, and motivation. Time to get some shooting and processing done! The challenge for this week is the word “Broken”, and hopefully with the time change, I won’t have to wait until the weekend to get my shooting done–more daylight after work hours. I still need to process shots from the “Open” and “Wet” word challenge, so time to get busy!

2015-photo-challenge-zannonewordphotochallenge

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Zann’s One Word Photo Challenge – Delicate

This has been an absolutely miserable week, weather-wise. It started off bitterly cold, with nothing but rain at our house but ice and snow to the north of us. On Wednesday it warmed up to the 60’s and rained, and then the temperatures took another dive and we got a tiny bit of icy sleet.

Since the theme for this week’s challenge was “delicate”, I kept hoping for some snowflakes or at least some ice crystals, but all I got were raindrops. So I did the best I could with the hand I was dealt.

When I think of “delicate”, I think “small”, so I decided to use my 24-85mm lens which has a macro setting. I took some handheld shots of some of the flowers and plants in the yard this morning when they were covered with a combination of dew and raindrops. I tried to concentrate on getting a good depth-of-field, so that the main subject in the frame would be sharp; but with my shaky hands, it wasn’t an easy thing to do.

I processed these as usual in Paintshop Pro X7, using various Topaz plug-ins (Clarity, DeNoise, StarEffects, Simplify). After working on a few of the images, I found a look that I liked, where the main subject was highlighted and the rest of the out-of-focus area was kept very dark. I accomplished this by using the Levels adjustment in PSP, sliding the mid-tones slider far to the right. I’ve never used that technique before, but I really like how it turned out here.

All of these images are cropped from the original size to improve the composition.

This first one is my personal favorite.

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This one is my hubby’s favorite.

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I like the color in this one.

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Even though kale can be a tough leaf, the water drops and the cell structure are still delicate.

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My Boston ferns are surviving the winter, so I’m not sure how “delicate” they are, but I think the rain-covered fronds fit the definition.

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The challenge for this next week is the word “open”, so stay tuned to see how I go about interpreting that concept.

If you would like to play along, you can find the weekly list here.

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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:

UP_oneword_004_2015-02-15_psptpzrestyle

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:

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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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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