Desert Botanical Garden – Part Deux

I spent some more time tonight going through the remainder of my photos from last weekend’s trip to Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.  As I suspected, most of the better shots were in the earlier part of the day before the sunlight because so harsh, but I did find a few that weren’t too bad.

The ten new photos that I’ve posted to Flickr tonight (only one of which is shown on this blog posting) were all made after lunch, from about 1:30 PM until about 3:00 PM, and the light had definitely shifted since before we stopped for lunch.  We had also moved into the part of the Garden that had more true desert displays, including a large area that contained displays of typical Apache and O’odham dwellings, animal corrals and vegetable patches.  This area was interesting, but not what what you would call “pretty” or “scenic”.  I got some decent shots of some of the displays and may post them later if I run out of anything better to concentrate on.  Toward the end of our visit, we wound up in another area that had some beautiful cactus blooms, and I’ve included some of those in tonight’s upload to Flickr, so check them out.

One of the displays that we visited after lunch was the Butterfly Habitat where, for a limited time, they have numerous species of butterflies and moths on display in a special humidity-controlled structure where you can walk in and actually have the butterflies fly all around you, often landing on you.  There are docents walking around with feather dusters to help remove them from your clothing as you get ready to leave the enclosure.

Inside the enclosure they had the misters running to keep things humid, so I had to make sure I kept my camera covered whenever walking under the spray.  The plants in the enclosure were much more tropical in nature than the desert plants in the rest of the Garden.  There were also several feeding areas setup among the plants, and there were usually several moths or butterflies hanging around each of the feeders.

Butterfly feeder

I took a lot of shots in here, but didn’t get a lot that I was really happy with.  The butterflies didn’t particularly want to pose for photos, and it wasn’t always easy to get the best angle for a shot with all the people around, the sun shining through the fabric roof, and the thick foilage of the plants.  I did get a few decent ones, however, and I posted some of the best ones to the Flickr set “Desert Botanical Garden – Phoenix“.

Some of the plants inside the butterfly exhibit were beautiful as well:

I used a fairly shallow depth of field on this shot, and I really like the softness of it and really don’t mind that it isn’t totally in focus.

Once again, all of the shots I posted tonight were processed in Paintshop Pro X3.  Hope you’ll stop by Flickr and see the ten new photos that I posted tonight.  And if you’re looking for something to do this weekend, I highly recommend Desert Botanical Garden (especially before it gets much hotter!).

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Easter, Springtime, Butterflies and Renewal

Springtime reminds us that, in the cycle of life and death, there’s renewal and regeneration after the long, dark winter.  One of my favorite symbols and reminders of springtime is the butterfly.  On this Easter weekend, as we celebrate resurrection and renewal, I offer you this image of a butterfly that I captured at Arcosanti a couple of weeks ago.  I believe he was on the payroll at Arcosanti, because he was an excellent model, pausing on each flower and spreading his wings wide for those of us who were lucky enough to be standing close by with a camera.  Not much processing here, I just added a rough frame to the JPG in Paintshop Pro X3 to soften the edges a little.

Today, Andy and I spent several hours at Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.  Of course, I have a ton of pictures to sort through and process (156 to be exact), and I’ll be sharing some of those later.  Part of our tour was through the Butterfly Pavilion, where we were able to see around twelve species of butterflies and moths up close, including the luna moth.  However, none of the butterfly shots that I got in the pavilion were even close to the one from Arcosanti, which was a little disappointing, but I did capture some great images of some of the desert flora that’s blooming right now.  If you have never visited Desert Botanical Garden, I highly recommend it.  This was our first time there, and I will definitely go back–I especially want to visit there at night with my tripod.

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Bees on the Brittlebush

Tonight I went back through some photos that I took a few weeks ago but never processed.  When we visited the Estrella Star Tower, the wildflowers were just starting to bloom, and as usual, the brittlebush was one of the first species to show its spring colors.  I took some close-ups of some of the blooms and then noticed that there were lots of bees buzzing around them:

Now, normally I don’t particularly like bees, but it was pretty obvious that these guys were much more interested in the flowers than they were in me, even though I was within just a few inches of them with the camera lens.  You can see from the photo above that their pollen sacs were full, so they were pretty preoccupied with what they were doing.

I just used my normal 18-55mm zoom lens for these shots without any filters, and at the 55mm focal length I was able to get some pretty decent bokeh effects.  The flowers weren’t the prettiest ones on the bush, but I was after the bees anyway.

So, enough of the bees.  I have a couple of projects in mind for this weekend.  First of all, a small carnival has set up in the parking lot over at Glendale Community College, which is within walking distance of here.  My plan is to go there tomorrow night to see if I can get some experience shooting night shots with motion–you know, the typical turning ferris wheel shot.  Then, on Saturday morning, we’ll leave for an overnight visit to Arcosanti, where I hope to get a ton of great shots of the area, including some of the red rocks around Sedona.  Should be a busy, productive weekend!

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Toilets still have to be scrubbed

Since I bought this new camera back in December, I’ve spent a lot–a whole lot–of time taking photos and editing them on the computer.  It’s a blast to be outside in the fresh morning air, watching a beautiful sunrise, or chasing the setting sun before it slips below the horizon.  And it’s so rewarding to sit at the computer, click the mouse a few times and see those photos change before your eyes into works of art (at least in my own opinion!).

Unfortunately, I’m not independently wealthy so I don’t get to spend nearly as much time with my Nikon as I would like.  And sometimes, real life comes knocking and you remember that other things need to be done.  So tonight, I had to leave my camera in the bag, and spend my evening vacuuming, dusting, mopping and cleaning toilets.  Not nearly as much fun, but I’m pretty sure it was the right decision.

But I did manage to spend a few minutes revisiting some of the photos that I took at Out of Africa a couple of weeks ago.  I promised Adam that I would post a photo of the python without somebody’s foot in the picture, so this is for “High Dynamic Reality Photography”:

I took tons of pictures at Out of Africa, but most of them have a lot of wire fence in them.  In some cases, the wire was in the foreground and the telephoto’s depth of field disguised it pretty well.  Here’s a shot of some of the tropical birds from the aviary that illustrates this:

The wire is most visible on the middle bird, but overall I still like the picture.

So now it’s time to start thinking about a shooting project for the weekend.  I have a couple of ideas, but I also have to get the oil changed in the car, and I need to get a new set of tires put on it as well.  There’s also rain in the forecast for Saturday, but that could lead to some really interesting shots if I plan it right.

We’re also planning an overnight trip to Arcosanti in Cordes Junction.  I contacted the guest relations person there and they do allow photography with tripods, especially if you stay overnight.  I’ve emailed them to see if they have a room available in March, and I’m just waiting to hear back.  If you’ve never heard of Arcosanti (and most people haven’t), stay tuned and I’ll fill you in on our visit.

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Rule No. 1 – Get Closer (especially for wet giraffe kisses)

After our visit with family members ended tonight, I processed a couple more photos from our Out of Africa trip this past Sunday.  I find that most photos are much more interesting when the subject is up close (landscapes are the exception, of course), and I was delighted with this extreme example:

Giraffe

We took a ride in a unimog (a truck with seating in the back for paying customers on the “safari”) into the Serengeti area of the park where many of the animals came running to greet us.  They were, of course, accustomed to being fed by the people in the unimogs.  Our tour guide had provided each of us with a handful of animal treats and we were encouraged to interact with the animals.  This giraffe was very friendly, and so I was able to get some great shots of him through the open roof of the unimog.  I was using a 75-200mm zoom lens, which proved to be overkill for this type of shooting.  I would have been much better off to have used the standard lens, but I didn’t want to waste time changing lenses.  The clear blue sky was a perfect background for the headshot of the big guy.

The tour guide, Jeff, let us know that the giraffe would even take the treats from between our teeth if we were willing to risk a kiss from a giraffe.  So my hubby, being the clown that he is, decided to give it a try.  I missed the exact moment that the treat was exchanged, but I did get a clear shot of the stream of giraffe saliva that they shared after their big wet kiss:

Giraffe Wet Kiss

Some people celebrate Valentine’s Day with chocolate, some with roses, and some with giraffe kisses.

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It’s all about quality, not quantity

How is it possible that I took 244 photos at Out of Africa yesterday and came away with so few that I was really excited about?  After getting home so late last night and then having to go to work today, I’m just now getting around to reviewing yesterday’s shoot and doing a little editing.  Yes, I took 244 shots (that includes a few that I took at the rest stop on the way up to Camp Verde).  First of all, let me just say that I’m glad I had the new 8GB SD card (thanks, Andy, for the early Valentine’s Day gift!).  Secondly, I’ll just point out that my camera battery charge indicator never budged the entire day, while two other cameras in our group died from lack of juice.  So far I’m very pleased with the D5000’s power consumption.

Anyway, back to the photos.  There were several reasons why I came back with so many photos that weren’t acceptable to me:

  • Stupidity – Once again I forgot to check all the settings on the camera before I started out and I didn’t realize that I still had the auto-bracketing turned on.  I kept wondering why some of my shots looked so dark and some looked so bright…until my internal light bulb came on.  By then, I had missed some great shots in the Serengeti area of the park.
  • Chain-link fencing – I will give this park kudos for the little observation decks at many of the exhibits where you can get a decent shot of the animals without obstruction, but I couldn’t help wishing there were more of them.  Some of the exhibits did not have the decks at all, and on a brightly sunlit day like yesterday, the chain link is so shiny it’s hard to get a decent photo of the animals.
  • Little people – most adults will at least try to stay out of the way when they realize you’re aiming your camera at something, but kids have absolutely no sense of propriety when it comes to the photographer’s right-of-way.  They will run right in front of you and just stand there, waving their little arms in the air, jumping up and down, and making all kinds of noise while they do it.  Pardon me while I vent…

I did get some shots that I really liked, though, and I’ll post a few of them at a time as I go through them.  I’m editing them in Paintshop Pro, and I’m doing a little experimenting with different settings as I go, so I don’t want to rush the process.  Besides, I’m still extremely tired from lack of sleep, so I’m going to call it an early night tonight.

I’ve posted some new shots to Flickr, but here’s one of my favorites that I worked on tonight:

Sleepy Lioness

Visit my “Out of Africa” set on Flickr to see the others.

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Out of Africa – A Busy Weekend

We had family visiting from out of town this weekend, so we stayed on the road quite a bit exploring some of the sights in and around Phoenix.  Today we spent most of the day at Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde, about 90 minutes north of the Valley.  I took almost 250 photos, but we just got home and it’s late and I’m not about to start processing all of them now.  I do have to go to work tomorrow, after all.

But I couldn’t resist doing at least one of the images just to get a sample.  Here’s one of the tigers we saw there:

This was shot with a 200mm zoom lens, and the image was processed in Paintshop Pro to adjust color balance, contrast, saturation and sharpness.  Can’t wait to see how the rest of them turn out!

Digital Darkroom – Zoo Shots

I’ve finally gotten a few hours to concentrate on editing the photos that I took at the Wildlife World Zoo last Saturday.  Since these are all single exposures (no bracketing), I skipped the whole “let’s-try-to-make-an-HDR-out-of-nothing” process, and decided to stick to the basics in Paintshop Photo Pro X3.

I found that the software does a fantastic job of providing options to the user, from the very basic “One Step Photo Fix” that could very quickly clean up a batch of snapshots from the family picnic, to a full gamut of sophisticated tools for adjusting the images down to the very fine details.  The user interface is intuitive and well-organized, and the software loads up much faster than the previous version did.  All in all, I’m very satisfied.

I edited twelve shots tonight and uploaded them to Flickr.  Here are just a couple that I especially liked (reduced in size):

I’m still trying to decide where and what I want to shoot this weekend.  I have a few ideas–the problem is that I want to do them all, and I know I can’t be everywhere at once.  I’ll wait until the weather forecast is more precise and then make my decision tomorrow.

I was checking online today for some local classes or workshops that might be interesting and helpful in learning all the in’s and out’s of exposure and focusing, and I found a workshop that is presented by Arizona Highways magazine that sounds like it would be perfect.  It’s a five-hour classroom course taught by one of the professional photogs for the magazine that covers all the basics of all those mysterious combinations of f-stop, ISO, shutter speed, and focus.  The workshop is in late March, so I’m pretty sure I’ll sign up for it.

Digital Darkroom – Swans and a Sunset

Yes, I know I said that I wasn’t going to take any more photos this week and concentrate instead on improving my skills in the editing software, but nature took its course this evening.  As I was driving home from work toward the west, I could see the sun setting in the southwest, but there was an intensely dark cloud gathering in the northwest–the perfect formula for a dramatic sunset.  Since I just happened to have my camera kit with me, I started looking for a good spot to exit the freeway and setup for some photos.

It took me about fifteen minutes and a couple of “dry runs” before I found a little park/trailhead just off Cave Creek Road and the 101 Loop.  I parked my car and grabbed the camera and started shooting hand-held shots as the sky turned all kinds of shades of gold, yellow, orange and red as the sun set behind the hills.  And then behind me, a rainbow appeared in the dark clouds as it started to sprinkle rain.

I tried to do some hand-held bracketed shots, but I was starting to get a few raindrops on my lens, so I had to stop and wipe it dry.  Fortunately the sprinkles didn’t last long, and I was able to get my tripod out and get some decent bracketed shots using the cable release.  As with any sunset, it’s all in the timing, so I just shot as much as I could and hoped for the best.

So when I got home, I was really torn between working on the zoo pictures from last weekend, or processing some of the sunset pictures.  I started with the sunset shots, first of all because I wanted to see just what I had captured (I already know what I have from the zoo), and secondly because I wanted to see if I could get some decent HDR’s out of them.

I processed five HDR’s using Photomatix.  Two of them use the same series of shots, but I used detail enhancement on one and exposure fusion on the other (the latter turned out better!).  Here’s a sample of what I was able to capture:

I’ve uploaded the others to my photostream on Flickr if you’d care to take look.

So then it was time to get back to the zoo pictures and test out some of the new features of Paintshop Photo Pro X3.  For today I selected one of my favorite shots of the day, these two swans who seemed to be overseeing things at the lagoon.  I took this shot as the sun was starting to set, and I used auto exposure and my telephoto lens.  The original settings were ISO 200, F4.5, 1/60 second, 99mm, no flash.

I loved the composition of the shot, but it looked a little bland and washed out to me.  I loaded the RAW file into PSP (wasn’t able to do that in the older version), and did some tweaking with the color balance, luminescence, and some local tone mapping.  Here’s the result:

I like this so much better!  It captures the glow of the setting sun while still keeping the detail of the swan feathers, the puddle of water at their feet, and the thatched roof of the the sunshade in the background right.  It’s a warmer picture, which I think instills a feeling that the swans are lovingly watching over their flock (which may or may not be the case, but it sounds good, huh?).

Anyway, let me know what you think!  Feel free to subscribe to this blog and offer tips and suggestions as I learn more about using both my camera and the digital darkroom software!

Digital Darkroom – The Peacock

After spending the past two days taking hundreds of photos, I’m planning to spend my evenings this week in the digital darkroom (a.k.a. the Sony Vaio laptop).  I decided to pick a few of my favorite shots from our trip to the Wildlife World Zoo yesterday, and concentrate on one per evening.  I’ll try different effects on the photo and post them here to compare.  The first one I’ve chosen is this closeup of a peacock.  This one was shot with my Nikon D5000 using my VR 55-200mm F/4-5.6G zoom lens.  I had it set to Auto, and the exposure information was recorded as ISO 220, 165mm, 1/500s, F5.6.  Here’s the original version, unprocessed except for resizing:

This next version shows the same photo after a few adjustments in Paint Shop Pro.  I increased the contrast slightly, changed the color temperature a little toward the warmer side, and sharpened it up slightly.  I may have done a few other things, but those are the ones I remember.  Here are the results:

Since all my shots at the zoo were single, unbracketed exposures, I didn’t have any good candidates for the standard HDR process.  Therefore, I had to cheat a little bit and use Nikon’s ViewNX to manually create a series of over/under-exposures of the same photo.  I created four copies of the RAW file, at exposure increments of -2, -1, +1, and +2, respectively.  I then ran these through the HDR process in Photomatix.  For the first one, I used all five of the exposures (including the original one) and then tonemapped the result:

As you can see, there are some obvious differences between this shot and the two above.  To me, it looks more “fluorescent” (that’s the best word I can think of for it) than the original photo.  I kind of like it, but I thought it might be a little overdone, so I tried the HDR process again, but this time I only used three exposures, leaving out the -1 and +1 versions.  I left all the tonemapping settings the same for this one, and here’s the result:

I honestly can’t tell that much difference between the two HDR’s, at least at this size (400 X 600).  But there’s an obvious difference between the HDR and the non-HDR versions.

I honestly prefer the original, untouched version.  The feathers on the neck seem more defined, and the color is more true to what I remember.  The HDR versions are more colorful, but I don’t think they are as sharp as the original (although I do like the way the background is rendered in the HDR’s).

So what do you think?  Which one do you like best?  Feel free to leave a comment and let me know!