Bike Night on Veterans Day at Westgate

I got a tweet from my Westgate feed late this afternoon advertising Bike Night…tonight.  Wish they would give us a little more advance notice about these things, but that’s another subject.  Bike Night is a monthly family-friendly gathering of local motorcycle enthusiasts at the Westgate entertainment complex in Glendale.  I thought it would be a great opportunity to get a little practice shooting handheld shots under fairly low lighting conditions.

Since today is also Veterans Day, the gathering had quite a patriotic theme to it.  They had a live band, several speakers from the military and first responders, and a flag from Ground Zero on display.  There was the playing of the National Anthem, “America the Beautiful”, and of course, Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud To Be An American”.   There was a mini-parade of motorcycles carrying flags through the crowd which drew a big response from everyone as well.

Click on the images below to view LARGE on black:

Bike Night on Veterans Day 001

We wandered around through the crowd and the parked motorcycles and I took about fifty shots. I had the camera set to Monochrome and RAW+Fine, so I got a black-and-white JPG and a raw file with all the color information. Sometimes I just like the black-and-white shots better, especially since I was shooting at a fairly high ISO (around 2000 most of the time), with a wide open aperture. I really need to start saving up my money for a fast lens.

Bike Night on Veterans Day 002

These shots are SOOC (straight out of the camera) JPG’s. Honestly, I’m happy with these just the way they are. However, I’m going to be spending some time playing around with the entire set from tonight’s shoot over the weekend. I got some really nice close-up shots of the bikes with the colorful reflection of the lights that really need the color processing to do them justice. But I wanted to throw these out there just to give you an idea of what the evening was like.

Bike Night on Veterans Day 003

Wow, it’s almost 10:00PM already! Guess I’d better close up the darkroom before I’m tempted to start working on these shots!

Photomatix V4 – Mayhew Lodge in B&W

I had a great time this past weekend on a two-day photo shoot in northern Arizona. On Saturday we drove from Phoenix up to Flagstaff and spent several hours around the Snowbowl Ski Resort. The road that winds from the highway up to the ski resort is lined in many places with beautiful aspen trees that were in their full, golden fall color. The skies that day were mostly cloudy, so it was a bit of a waiting game sometimes, standing by the tripod-mounted camera, remote release in hand, waiting for the sun to peek through the clouds so that I could pull the trigger when the leaves were in their most dramatic sunlit glory. When we got up to the ski lodge, we found that they had a light dusting of snow which had accumulated the previous night. It gave the pine trees that nice “frosting” effect, and since there are aspens interspersed among the pines, it was even more lovely.

After spending a few hours having lunch and hiking around the area with camera and tripod, we drove back down the mountain and went west on Highway 80 to the Chapel of the Holy Dove. I won’t reveal too much about this site, except to say that it is a perfect subject for HDR photography. I took a lot of shots of both the inside and outside of the chapel, and now we’ll just have to see if I can handle them correctly during processing.  I’ll be posting the best of them here and on Flickr.

I had an 8GB SD card in my camera, and I was carrying an extra 4GB card as a backup.  On Saturday night after taking over 400 photos around Flagstaff, the 8GB card was full.  I used my camera connector kit’s SD card reader to transfer the files (both JPG and raw NEF files) from my SD card to my iPad.   It worked like a charm, and left me with an empty 8GB card to start out with on Sunday.  So I can still say that the iPad is a great investment for photography buffs.

After spending the night in Flagstaff, we drove into Oak Creek Canyon on Sunday morning to the West Fork trailhead. After waiting at least a half-hour for a parking space, we hiked into some of the most beautiful and interesting scenery in Oak Creek Canyon. At the beginning of the trail are the remains of the Mayhew Lodge. According to the website “City of Sedona: Tourism“:

As early as 1895, Lou Thomas turned Bear Howard’s cabin into a two-story hunting fishing lodge. It was there that Zane Grey was inspired to write his book Call of the Canyon, which he turned into Sedona’s first movie. In 1925, the property was sold to Carl Mayhew who operated it as Mayhew’s Lodge. It became a favorite destination for prominent movie stars, politicians, and writers. Guests included Lord Halifax, President Herbert Hoover, Clark Gable, Susan Hayward, Cesar Romero, Jimmy Stewart, Walt Disney, and Maureen O’Hara. The U.S. Forest Service acquired the property and made plans to renovate the structure, but tragically the lodge burned to the ground in 1980.

I took a ton of pictures in this area without hiking any great distance into the canyon (we’ve hiked it many times before, and this time I was there to take pictures).  There was a lot of fall color, and even though the sky was mostly cloudy, I still managed to get some pretty decent shots.

When I got home, I transferred all my files to the computer, and then I upgraded my Photomatix V3 software to version 4.  I wasn’t quite ready to start the really intensive photo processing.  I was still exhausted from all the hiking, fresh air, and driving over the 36 hour period.  However, I couldn’t resist trying out some of the new features of V4 of Photomatix.  One thing that I really like are the presets that are now available as soon as the bracketed files are loaded.  And one of those presets is for a black-and-white image.  I had some shots that I took with the intention of converting to B&W, and this software made it so easy.

Here is one of the buildings from the ruins of Mayhew Lodge, done in Photomatix V4 with post-processing in Paintshop Pro:

Mayhew's Lodge in B&W

I just love the way that the HDR process brings out the details of the interior of the building, which was in some pretty deep shadow, as well as revealing the details in the surround trees and the roof of the building.  I did a little tweaking of the contrast in Paintshop Pro, and also did a slight bit of High Pass sharpening.  I’m very pleased with the way this photo turned out, and I’m really ready to start working on ALL the shots that I brought back with me.  Most will be in color, but I’ll probably do a little more experimenting with B&W where the subject matter is amenable.

Speaking of color, here’s a shot that I processed last night after we arrived home.  This is the footbridge from the parking lot at West Fork to the far side of Oak Creek.  Andy and I have been visiting West Fork since the year after we got married (1991).  Back then we would hardly see anyone there while we picnicked on “our” rock–a big flat stone that rested under a tree, high on the bank of the creek overlooking a small quiet pool of water.  When we wanted to cross the creek, we had to use the stepping stones that oftentimes were slippery and unstable.  Now there’s this bridge, and along with it, a LOT more people.

Footbridge to West Fork

Things change, I guess.  Gone are the days of quiet reflection on the West Fork trail….now it’s a mecca for wannabe photographers like myself.  There were lots of DSLR’s, tripods and long lenses seen on the trail on Sunday. I’m happy that people recognize the beauty of the place, but at the same time I’m sad because of how crowded and noisy the area is now. And I didn’t realize it until last night, but I spent more time worrying about finding and setting up the perfect photo that I didn’t take time to enjoy the scenery. I kept complaining about the wind blowing the leaves around (not good for HDR’s), instead of enjoying the cool breezes that I don’t feel very often in Phoenix.

So, I can’t really blame the lack of ambiance on the crowds or the modern bridge that brings them there. I need to remind myself to put the camera aside from time to time and enjoy my surroundings with all my senses. That’s what Zen is about.