Bayou Pierre Church

I was going back through my archives this evening, looking for something to play with, and I came across a folder of shots that I took back in June 2013 near Port Gibson, Mississippi.  We had driven down there to visit the Windsor Ruins, and we just happened across this little bit of history tucked into the trees just off the country road.

This is what remains of the Bayou Pierre Presbyterian Church, founded in 1807.  It’s a tiny little structure perched on a slight hill, surrounded by trees that are dripping with Spanish moss.  I had a great time shooting brackets there for HDR processing–that is, until I found myself standing in the middle of a mound of ants.  As I remember it, I was sick for several days afterwards from all the ant bites.  That’s probably why I never got around to processing these photos, but now seems like a good time.

All these shots were taken with my Nikon D700 and the 14-24mm lens.  Each one is an HDR processed from seven bracketed shots using Photomatix.  Post-processing done in Paint Shop Photo Pro using Topaz Adjust.

BayouPierreChurch 1-7 HDR

BayouPierreChurch 8-14 HDR

BayouPierreChurch 15-21 HDR

BayouPierreChurch 22-28 HDR

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To Color or Not

I really have a love affair with black and white photography, and I’m always looking for opportunities to drain all the color out of a shot and replace it with shades of gray.

But sometimes, I just can’t resist the blue of the sky against the green of the grass.

This was one of those times, so I just decided to have my cake and eat it, too.

Here’s a 9-bracket HDR of St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, processed both in color and in black and white.  The HDR processing was done in Photomatix Pro V4, and the further editing was done in Paintshop Photo Pro X5.  For the black and white image, I used the Topaz B&W plug-in.

It was a little windy that day, so there’s some ghosting in the clouds as they were skittering across the sky, but I actually kind of like it so I didn’t attempt to process it away.

So, which do you like best?

St. Paul's Methodist Church - Houston TX (Color)

St. Paul's Methodist Church - Houston TX (B&W)

Magnolia at First Methodist

The more I process in black and white, the more I enjoy the way the images emphasize the textures and form of the subject rather than the color.  It’s so deceptively simple–shades of black, gray and white–but within those shades are shadows and highlights that help you feel the picture, rather than just see it.

I love this shot of the huge, spreading magnolia tree that sits on the lawn of the First Methodist Church in downtown Tupelo.  I started out trying to process the image in color, but I was so distracted by the red brick of the building that it was drawing my attention away from the tree.  So I decided to try the black and white approach, and voila!  It’s exactly what I wanted:

Magnolia at First Methodist

I used Paintshop Photo Pro X4, along with Topaz B&W Effects to process the image.  I wish the large window had not gotten blown out so much, but overall I’m still pleased with the shot.

I’m trying to build a collection of black and white photos to have mounted and hung in my home office, and I think this one will make the cut.  Very Zen.

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The Light of the World – Under Construction

Continuing my series of images captured on last week’s photowalk along Grand Avenue in Phoenix AZ:

One of the most talked-about sites along Grand Avenue for the past year has been the construction project at the Light of the World church.   This Christian non-denominational church is building a new sanctuary with a domed roof to accommodate the larger crowds at their services.  The structure is clearly visible from Interstate 10, and people who were unfamiliar with the church were starting to get concerned that someone was building a mosque.  The church members, who are providing the volunteer labor to build the new sanctuary, were concerned about a possible backlash.  They had to erect signs on the side of the building, visible from the freeway, assuring the passers-by that they were, indeed, a Christian organization.  So sad that it has to be that way.

Anyway, when were were on our photowalk, I stopped to take some shots of the exterior of the building.  As I was trying to get a good angle to capture the golden flame scupture on top of the bell tower, we were approached by one of the young construction workers who asked if we would like to take some pictures.  I assumed that he was going to help me get a better angle on the flame, but instead he led us right back into the interior of the construction site.  I was really surprised that we were allowed to go inside, but I didn’t waste any time in shooting a series of bracketed photos from five or six different positions around the inside of the structure.

As I was shooting, I saw several other construction workers talking to Andy, and when I got back around to them I found that, sure enough, we really weren’t supposed to be in there.  I sure hope the young guy didn’t get into any trouble for bringing us in!  They were all very polite and informative, and they invited us to come back when the construction is done to see the results.  And I’m sure we will!

So, sometimes it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time….and here’s what I saw inside the unfinished dome:

Under Construction
Shot with my Nikon D5000, kit lens (18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6), tripod-mounted. HDR processed from three bracketed images in Photomatix, Paintshop Photo Pro X3 and Topaz Adjust/DeNoise. The orange “ghosting” on the stairs would be the project foreman coming down to talk to Andy about how we really shouldn’t be in there.  I decided to leave it in as a reminder!

Church After the People Leave

The old First Baptist Church building in downtown Glendale continues to be an eyesore, at least until the economy turns around.  It remains boarded up and fenced in.  I was able to use the reticulating LCD on my Nikon D5000 as a kind of periscope–I held the camera over the fence and used Live View instead of the viewfinder to frame the shots.  I shot hand-held brackets and processed as HDR’s in Photomatix, Topaz Adjust/DeNoise, and Paintshop Pro X3.  They didn’t turn out too badly, I don’t think.

Former First Baptist Church, Glendale AZ

 

Back of the building

 

Side of the building

Front of the building

On a different subject, I’ve started a separate blog to post what I consider to be the best of my work.  The blog is located titled “The Best of Zann” and it’s located at http://zannwalker.aminus3.com.  I’ll be posting only one photo per day on “The Best of Zann”, kind of a 365 project.  I like this blog service because they display the photos much larger on a black background, whereas WordPress is primarily geared toward written blog posts.

I’ll continue to post photos here because I like to provide some background about my shooting expeditions.  Hopefully the information provided here can be informative and inspiring to others who, like myself, are trying to improve their skills and find new places and subjects to shoot.

Chapel of the Holy Dove – Interior Details in HDR

Tonight I’m wrapping up the series of HDR images from the Chapel of the Holy Dove near Flagstaff, Arizona.

This first image is a shot taken from the front of the Chapel looking back toward the door.  The big glass window was to my back, so there was a lot of natural light inside the building (be sure to click on the images to view them larger on black):

Chapel of the Holy Dove 008

The image shows how the interior of the building feels so much larger from the inside than it looks on the outside. The high peak of the A-frame building lends a feeling of openness to the space that mirrors the openness of the landscape outside the window.

These next images show some of the finer details of things found inside the Chapel:

Open Bible left on the pulpit
Chapel of the Holy Dove 009

Prayer box
Chapel of the Holy Dove 007

Prayers written on the walls
Chapel of the Holy Dove 010

As with the earlier images in the series, these are all HDR’s created in Photomatix V4.0 from three bracketed images (-2.0/0.0/+2.0). HDR’s were post-processed in Topaz Adjust and Paintshop Pro X3 to adjust contrast, curves, saturation, and anything else that caught my eye.

If you’re just now joining me for this series, I hope you’ll visit my Flickr site to see the entire set of ten images, and that you’ll check out the previous postings of the past few days for more information about the Chapel and the images that I’ve posted.

Chapel of the Holy Dove – Interior Lighting Challenges

Today I’m continuing my series of images from the Chapel of the Holy Dove located near Flagstaff, Arizona.  My two previous posts have shown the exterior of the chapel, but today’s post deals with the interior.

The entire front wall of the A-frame structure is a huge window that faces the San Francisco Peaks, so there is plenty of natural light inside the building.  But since there is no light source at all coming from the rear (if the door is closed), it creates a very challenging scenario for photography.  Even when using a bracketed series of images in HDR processing, I found that the lighting extremes were very hard to deal with, especially for a beginner like myself.  And it didn’t help matters that I seem to have had dust on my lens, because it showed up  in the more brightly lit shots, whereas I didn’t notice it at all in the normal exposures.

Chapel of the Holy Dove 005

Anyway, today I’m posting these shots of the front window of the chapel to give you an idea of the view from the parishioner’s perspective.  Once again, it was mostly overcast that day, so you can’t see the mountain top in the distance….too bad, because it’s such a beautiful background on a clear sunny day.

Chapel of the Holy Dove 006

Future posts will show more of the interior from different vantage points.  It’s such a rich environment for photography, especially HDR photography….but it definitely presents some challenges!

You can find the entire series of images from the Chapel of the Holy Dove on my Flickr site.

Chapel of the Holy Dove – Exterior in HDR

Last night I threw out a teaser titled The Red Door.  I hope that the photo in the posting made you want to know more about what was behind that door.  Today, I’ll start to fill you in on the details.

Many years ago, when driving on Highway 180 between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon, Andy and I came across this quaint little chapel on the side of the highway.  It was such an unusual structure that we just had to stop and check it out.  We found that it is a small church called “The Chapel of the Holy Dove”, and it’s open to anyone who stops by–the door is never locked.

Chapel of the Holy Dove 003

Since we first found the chapel, we’ve always stopped in to visit when we were traveling by, and I always enjoyed taking photos of it. However, once I discovered HDR photography this year, I knew I’d have to go back there and see what it looked like in HDR. We got the chance to do just that when were were in Flagstaff two weeks ago.

I found a website (JoeOreman.shutterace.com) that had some history of the Chapel, which goes something like this:

The Chapel of the Holy Dove sits on a parcel of land originally part of a small ranch purchased by Watson M. Lacy, MD in 1960. He was the only physician at the Grand Canyon Hospital which he operated with his wife, Ruth. They came to this area for respite from the demands of the medical practice at the Canyon. The beauty of the Peaks affirmed the goodness and majesty of God. They wanted to give travelers the opportunity to share it. In the summer of 1961, with the help of his sons and some hired hands, the 41 year-0ld Lacy, with no experience as a builder, used explosives to create holes in the rock beneath the Chapel to secure and position the large Ponderosa Pine logs which comprised the original A-shaped structure framing the San Francisco Peaks. Local volcanic rock and petrified wood was used to build the supporting stone walls. This was a project for intermittent days off from his practice at the canyon. The Chapel was completed in 1962. Dr. Lacy died October 1991. The ranch property was sold but the parcel on which the chapel stands remains in the trust of his widow.

On March 8, 1999, the Chapel was destroyed by a transient’s campfire but the stone walls remained. Shortly thereafter, 18 year-old NAU student, Christen McCracken obtained permission from Mrs. Lacy to raise funds to rebuild the structure. Since the Chapel had become a popular landmark, the local public supported the project. Many materials were donated by Flagstaff merchants. Volunteers supervised by Flagstaff resident Ricky Roberts, completed the current Chapel, similar to the original, in April 2000.

The Chapel is open to All. Four of Dr. Lacy’s six children, the daughter of an Arizona governor and Christen McCracken were married here, besides many others. The chapel of the Holy Dove was named to acknowledge the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, described in Matthew 3:16 as descending “like a dove” above Jesus in commissioning His earthly ministry as God, Incarnate.

The building was dedicated in memory of Dr. Lacy’s brother, George, and nephew, Randy Lacy, who drowned in a boating accident in California in 1957. The original memorial plaque read: “In Memory of George and Randy Lacy whose great love in life and great courage in death made known the Glory of God.” Lacy’s profound grief resulting from the loss propelled great soul searching which led to a personal faith in Jesus Christ. Once an agnostic, he discovered “…the Way, the Truth and the Life” was to be found only in Jesus, who said of sacrificial love in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

Chapel of the Holy Dove 004

The front of the chapel faces directly toward the San Francisco Peaks, giving parishoners a view that will either inspire them to greater things or totally distract them from the minister’s words.  My upcoming posts will give you a view of the interior of this beautiful little gem in the meadows of Northern Arizona.

Both of these photos are HDR’s created from a bracketed set (-2.0/0.0/+2.0) in Photomatix V4.0.  I used Topaz Adjust and Paintshop Pro X3 to do the post-processing.  The photos were shot with my Nikon D5000 and the kit lens (18-55mm, 1:3.5-5.6 zoom), tripod mounted.  The entire series is being posted to my Flickr account in the set entitled “Chapel of the Holy Dove“.  Please drop by and take a look!

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.