End of the Workday

Today’s post is a shot I took at Westgate on Valentine’s Day.  I just imagined that the guy who operated this machine left it parked there at the end of the workday and walked toward the sunset, straight into Gordon Biersch for a beer.  Sounds like a great way to end the workday.

End of the Workday
HDR created from five hand-held bracketed photos processed in Photomatix v4. Post-processing in Topaz Adjust / DeNoise with Paintshop Photo Pro X3.

And since it’s the end of a long workday, that’s the end of my post for today.

If you like my work, please subscribe to this blog and feel free to offer comments.  You can also find me on Facebook at ZannWalker Photography, and you can follow me on Twitter @suzanne_hight.


Big Sky from South Mountain

Tonight’s post is an HDR image from South Mountain, taken last Sunday afternoon just after the last winter storm had moved out of the area.  The clouds had started to break up and the bright blue sky provided a beautiful contrast to the white and gray of the clouds that remained.

This was my first day out with the 14-24mm F/2.8 wide-angle lens, and it certainly didn’t disappoint, especially on the full-frame sensor of the Nikon D700.  The lens was not only perfect for the interior shots at Scorpion Gulch, it also provided some beautiful wide-angle vista shots of the Phoenix metropolitan area from the mountainside vantage point.

I used the tripod and set the camera to shoot 7-bracket series, using increments of +/- 1 (from -3.0 to +3.0).  I used my new cable release to trip the shutter because I still haven’t completely figured out how to get the camera to shoot the set using the self-timer.  I set the focal length to F/14 to take full advantage of the wide angle.

Here’s an example of what I was able to capture with the new equipment:

Big Sky from South Mountain
HDR created from five bracketed photos (-2.0/-1.0/0.0/+1.0/+2.0) processed in Photomatix v4. Post-processing in Paintshop Photo Pro X3.

For this shot I actually wound up using only five of the brackets, discarding the most under-exposed and over-exposed. There’s a little bit of flare from where the sun was just starting to peek through the clouds, but I kinda liked it so I didn’t try to get rid of it. Make sure you click on the photo to view it large.

On a different note, I got my new flash in the mail today, a Nikon SB-700 Speedlight. I have an appointment on Saturday morning to do a lifestyle portrait shoot with a friend I worked with at the library. She’s just adopted a new dog, so this will be people/pet photography practice. I’m hoping to get a little practice with the new flash as well, even though the shoot will take place outdoors.

Have I mentioned that I love photography? 🙂

If you like my work, please subscribe to this blog and feel free to offer comments.  You can also find me on Facebook at ZannWalker Photography, and you can follow me on Twitter @suzanne_hight.

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.

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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!

Checking out the Slopes – HDR or Not?

When we visited the Snowbowl Ski Resort recently, they had just had their first snowfall of the year the previous night.  It wasn’t enough to completely cover everything, but it was certainly enough to cause some excitement among the people who had driven to the top of the mountain just to view the scenery.  And, of course, the kids were thrilled.

I was happy to get a chance to photograph snow at the same time I was shooting pictures of the aspens.  I was shooting everything in bracketed series of three (-2.0/0.0/+2.0), in both RAW and JPG format, just to try and cover my options for processing.  I wasn’t sure whether I would want to give these the HDR treatment, or just work with the single images.

Here’s an example of just how different the processes can be.  I took this shot just around 1:00 in the afternoon.  It was heavily overcast, with low-hanging clouds and fog in the trees just a few hundred yards above where we were.  It was a tricky lighting scenario with the dark pines, white snow, golden aspens and gray clouds.  There was a guy and his two kids climbing the slopes, offering a great perspective of how large the trees and the slope are.

Here’s the shot I took at “normal” exposure (I had set the camera to Aperture Priority mode), and let the camera control the shutter speed.  This one was at F/14 at 1/100 second, with the Nikon D5000’s equivalent of ISO 100.  I tweaked this one a little bit in Topaz Adjust (yeah, I went ahead and purchased it last night), and then did a little more adjusting in Paintshop Pro X3 (CLICK THE IMAGES TO VIEW LARGE!):

Now here is the same shot, but processed as an HDR by merging the three bracketed images in Photomatix v4.  I used the Fusion preset in Photomatix, and used the de-ghosting functionality to take care of the movement of the hikers between the three shots.  I then did some adjusting in Topaz Adjust, with final tweaks in Paintshop Pro, and here’s the result:

I like the way the HDR kept the gray of the clouds while highlighting the gold of the aspens, and this one obviously has more detail of the snow on the pines but to me it looks over-processed.  And I don’t think either of the images are exactly what I saw, color-wise.

So, I’ll keep practicing and processing until I get better at using the software as well as the camera.  But, it was sure fun seeing the snow last week.  Hopefully it’s a sign of a good ski season just around the corner.

Snowbowl On the Cusp of Winter

Tonight I went back to processing photos from the Snowbowl near Flagstaff.  If you’ve been keeping up here, we visited the Snowbowl last Saturday, right after they had received their first snow of the season.  On our drive up the mountain we stopped several times to photograph the beautiful aspens that still had most of their golden leaves.  Although the skies were mostly cloudy, occasionally the sun would peak through, and that’s when I would shoot like mad trying to get as many exposures as possible before the next cloud covered the sun.

I was doing almost all my shots in bracketed series of three (-2.0/0.0/+2.0) .  This first shot is an HDR image produced from one of those series.  I used Photomatix V4 to merge the images.  Fortunately, this must have been one of those moments when the breeze stopped blowing for a few seconds, because I couldn’t find a lot of evidence of ghosting.  I then applied a slight contrast adjustment in Topaz Adjust (I’m trying out the trial version), and then did some final adjustments using Curves and Sharpening tools in Paintshop Pro X3:

This next image is also an HDR of one of the ancillary ski lifts at the Snowbowl Ski Resort.  The main lift (not pictured), which is a little further up the mountain, was running that day, carrying visitors to the top of the mountain just for the viewing experience, which was probably minimal because of the heavy cloud cover.  The snowfall from the previous night had reached down to 9,200′ which was right about  where that main lift started, but it didn’t get down quite as far as this smaller lift.  You can just get a glimpse of snow in the background, and you can see how heavy the cloud cover was.  There’s a lot of mountain hidden in those clouds!  I loved the massiveness of this huge weight on the lift machinery.  The dark, black metal of the lift is accentuated by the heavy gray clouds, but one can just imagine that in a few weeks the entire scene will be softened by a white covering of snow:

I used the same general process on this shot as the first one–Photomatix, Topaz Adjust, Topaz DeNoise and Paintshop Pro.  There is still more noise in the clouds than I would like, but when I tried to remove it I was losing detail in the shadows of the machinery.  Guess I need to play around with that tool a lot more to learn its nuances.

It was almost 90° here in the Phoenix area today.  It really made me wish I was back up in Flagstaff where we were last weekend.  It’s so hard to remember that it’s almost November when it’s so hot outside.  Much more fun to drive north and play in the snow!

HDR on the Cloudy Windy Mogollon Rim

Tonight I worked on a few of the photos that I took on our recent camping trip.  These were all taken on the Mogollon Rim in central Arizona on September 8, 2010.  It just happened to be mostly cloudy, a little rainy and VERY windy that day.  I had taken my camera and the tripod with me to get some shots from the edge of the Rim near Woods Canyon Lake, but with the wind blowing so hard, I knew that it was going to be difficult, if not impossible, to get any decent HDR images from the bracketed sets.  The tree limbs, grasses, and flowers were swaying back and forth so wildly that it’s impossible to get them perfectly aligned in a single image.  Heck, even the clouds were moving so quickly across the sky that the motion was obvious in the HDR image.

At first, I wasn’t even going to fool with processing these shots, but then I started thinking….the rugged rocks and boulders in the foreground of the pictures weren’t moving.  Perhaps a little ghosting in the foliage would just add some interesting texture to the image.  Well, at least that’s how I reasoned with myself when I produced these images tonight.  They were all done in Photomatix Pro, with post-processing in Paintshop Pro X3.  Enjoy!

Mogollon Rim 2010.09.08_007

Mogollon Rim 2010.09.08_006

Mogollon Rim 2010.09.08_005

Mogollon Rim 2010.09.08_004

Mogollon Rim 2010.09.08_003

Don’t forget to order your 2011 Zen of Zann calendar.  Just click on the link to Lulu.com on the left sidebar, or right from here.


White Tanks Regional Park at Sunset

I’ve mentioned before on this blog how important it is to follow your bliss, to be flexible enough to change your plans and go where the light leads you.  Yesterday as I drove home from work, heading west toward the setting sun, I noticed in my rear-view mirror that there were clouds building in from the east.  Since the Phoenix area is essentially a large bowl in the desert (hence the name “Valley of the Sun”), it’s possible to climb the mountains on one side of the bowl and see miles and miles in the distance to the mountains on the other rim.  So I decided to rush home, grab my camera gear and head to the west rim of the bowl, which is the White Tanks Mountains.  My plan was to go into the White Tanks Regional Park and set up my camera and tripod at the same location where I took my very first sunrise shots with this camera, back in January.  From this location, one can look all the way across the valley to the east, and I was pretty sure I could get some decent shots of the clouds moving in.

It’s about a 35-minute drive from our house to the White Tanks.  Andy wanted to go with me, so I waited for him to change out of his work clothes (I’ll admit I was mentally tapping my toes while I waited), and then we headed west.  I always get a little frantic when I’m driving to a location at sunset because I know how the light changes constantly, and I wanted to be sure that I was set up in time to capture the best shots.

We got to the park at little after 7:00 PM and found that they were only open until 8:00 PM–I had a little less than an hour to do my shooting.  I first drove to the the little overlook that I used back in January and set up my camera and tripod.  While the clouds were not as spectacular as I had hoped for, there was a little slice of a rainbow that provided just the right touch of color for my first shots.  I was shooting everything in RAW+JPG in bracketed series of three (-2.0/0.0/+2.0) so I could process them as HDR’s.

A little slice of rainbow

After about ten minutes at this location, the sun had set behind the mountains to our backs, so we got in the car and drove further into the park.  I finally found a spot where there were plenty of saguaro, cholla, and other cacti, with a good view of the surrounding mountains.  We parked the car and hiked a short distance off the road, and from there I finished up my shoot as the sun went down.

Evening in the White Tanks

As I processed the photos today, I was amazed to discover that the total time that had elapsed between the first shot and the last was only 25 minutes.  In that time span, I took 114 shots (38 three-shot series).  It just reinforced the fact that the light changes so quickly in the evening, and it’s important to be ready to capture every possible second of it.

Now for the technical details:  I processed the raw NEF files in Photomatix to create the HDR’s.  Normally I save these files as JPGs, but today I saved them as 16-bit TIFF files (they were about 73MB each).  I then processed each TIFF file in Paintshop Pro X3 to apply Local Tone Mapping, adjust Brightness and Contrast, Saturation, Levels, etc., along with removing noise and sharpening.  I then saved the files as JPGs, but without the usual 20% compression I normally use.  I wound up with 38 JPG files that were anywhere from 7MB to 16MB in size.

I did wind up with one image that I just could not process to my satisfaction…there was a lot of burnout in the sky, and I just couldn’t adjust it away.  So I wound up using one of the Paintshop Pro effects, Brushes, to turn it into a pseudo oil painting:


So, I’ve spent my entire Saturday processing these photos, but I feel very good about the way they turned out.  I’ve loaded the entire series (except for the one above) to my Flickr page in the set titled White Tanks Park at Sunset.  You can also view them on a black background (even better!) on my FlickRiver site.  I hope you’ll take a look and let me know what you think!

So, once again, following my Zen took me to a great photo shoot that I hadn’t planned on.  And to take it even further, as we drove home, we decided to stop somewhere for dinner, so we went south on Litchfield Road, then east on McDowell until we spotted Buffalo Wild Wings.  Yeah, I’m sometimes behind the times, but I had never eaten there and didn’t really know anything about it, but I liked the colored Christmas lights they had on the patio, so I whipped the car into the parking lot and we went in.  We had a GREAT late dinner of wings, salad, fried dill pickles, beer and ice cream sundaes.  My Zen scores again!!


More South Mountain Sunset – It Keeps Getting Better

I’m still processing the sunset pictures that I took last weekend at South Mountain in Phoenix.  I love how these HDR images are turning out, even with my limited photo-processing skills and basic software.  Here’s my favorite from tonight’s digital darkroom session:

I uploaded this shot and four others to the South Mountain Sunset set on my Flickr site. Be sure to drop by there and see the entire group of images, all done in HDR using Photomatix and Paintshop Pro.  I still have more shots to process, and then it will be time to start planning my next shoot.  We had our first dust storm of the monsoon season this past week, and it would be really cool if I could capture one of those monsters from the top of South Mountain as it moves across the Valley.  Not very likely, but it would be quite interesting.  Regardless, we do get some brilliant sunsets and sunrises this time of the year as there is so much dust and ozone in the air….not great for breathing but sure makes some great photos!


On the Lookout for Wildflowers in Cave Creek

With all the rain that we’ve had here in Central Arizona this winter, we’re all expecting a fantastic spring wildflower season.  The desert is covered with a beautiful green blanket right now, and the buds on the trees are a reminder that spring is just around the corner.

I was surfing the Internet this morning to see if there were any interesting outdoor activities going on in the Valley that would make a suitable subject for today’s photo shoot, when I came across something that sounded perfect.  I found that one of our county parks, Cave Creek Recreation Area, was going to be hosting a two-hour workshop titled “Nature and Wildflower Photography 101”.  There was no charge for the workshop (except for the $6 entry fee to the park), so I decided to check it out.

The workshop started at 10:00AM, and I got there about 45 minutes early, so I spent some time wandering around the Nature Center before the program started.  They have seeded the area around the Nature Center for wildflowers, so there was a nice profusion of poppies, lupine, desert sunflower and brittlebrush, etc.  I decided to use the macro setting on my D5000 because I wanted to get some good close-ups.  As I found out later, this wasn’t the best idea.

While I was able to get a good close-up of the flower, the depth of field was much too narrow for what I was trying to capture.  It was hard to tell just by looking at the results on the camera’s LCD screen in the bright sunlight, so I didn’t know just how unsatisfactory it was until I got home and looked at the images on the computer screen.  Still, some of them made rather interesting shots, and I think that with some creative cropping they may be salvageable.

The program itself was very “101”…the guy did a nice job of talking about the importance of making sure that your light source is low in the sky and behind you to get the best lighting on the subject (generally true), and he also talked about some of the best places to find wildflowers in our area.  He showed a lot of the photos that he’s taken in the area and used them to demonstrate the use of depth of field, composition, and contrast.  And he said “do not use the macro setting on the camera for taking photos of flowers”.  Now he tells me.  He was a very “old school” kind of photographer who shoots in JPG and does not use photo-editing software…what you see is what you get.

After the session was over, I decided to hike down the Overton trail a little bit to see what might be growing along the trailside.  The wildflowers are just now starting to appear on the trails so there weren’t any big patches with lots of color.  But I did find plenty of opportunities to try taking shots with the lens zoomed in, using aperture priority mode, instead of using the programmed macro mode.

I didn’t intend to walk very far, but it seemed that every time I walked around a curve in the trail, I found something else that I wanted to see.  The trail started to climb, and before I knew it I was too far to turn back, and I was on the backside of the mountain where I had started out.  Fortunately I had taken a bottle of water with me since the temps were getting up into the low 70’s, and we all know that it’s a dry heat out here.  So I decided to complete the loop trail, a distance of almost 3 miles.  By the time I reached the 2.5 mile marker, my feet were killing me even though I was wearing hiking boots.  Gotta get some gel insoles!  I will have to say that the trails in this park are very well maintained.  They are multi-use, meaning that they are shared by hikers, mountain bikers, and horses.  All I can say is that there is a reason that the plants there are so healthy, judging by the amount of horse manure on the trail.

According to the workshop instructor, the wildflowers are just now starting to bloom, and will last until about the end of April, about the time that the cactus start to bloom.  So I still have time to get some of those shots that I messed up by using my macro setting.  I even purchased a season pass to the Maricopa Parks system since I’m really enjoying visiting the different parks in the area with my Nikon.

When I got home and started processing the photos, I got a little frustrated trying to work with the raw NEF files.  It seemed that anything I did to them only made them look over-processed, especially on the wide shots of the desert landscape.  For those images, I had better luck with the JPG files.  I’ve posted several of these to my Flickr photostream in the set titled “Cave Creek Recreation Area“.

Not sure how much time I’ll have to shoot tomorrow.  We’re going to Arcosanti next weekend, so I have some chores and errands that I need to take care of tomorrow in preparation for a busy workweek.  But it was great to get outside in the fresh air today and enjoy the beauty of springtime in the Arizona desert–although my muscles will probably be screaming at me in protest in about 24 hours!


Images of a Rainy Sunday in the Neighborhood

True to the forecast, it has been a rainy, wet Sunday, which is just fine by me.  It washes the pollen out of the air, it cleans the dust off of everything, and it makes for some excellent sleeping conditions.

After spending the morning in my reading corner with my Kindle, catching up on a book that I’ve been pecking away at, I decided it was time to get out of the house for a little bit.  There was a break in the shower activity, so I picked up the Nikon, mounted the 75-200mm zoom lens, grabbed Andy who volunteered to carry the umbrella in case we needed it, and we  took off for a walk around the neighborhood.

It was still very overcast, so the lighting wasn’t the best for many of the shots, but what’s that got to do with anything when you have photo-editing software, right?  Anyway, I was concentrating on composition today, which led to me getting into some pretty awkward positions trying to capture shots of plants and flowers that were low to the ground.  Glad there weren’t that many people around!

The raindrops on the plants produced some really nice images, especially when viewed large.  The image above is a partially opened bloom on one of the large succulents that is growing by the sidewalk near the subdivision behind us. As we saw yesterday, so many of the plants are starting to bloom now, especially with all the rain that we’ve had.  The citrus trees have started to bloom this week–it’s one of the true pleasures of living in this area, getting to smell the lemon, orange, and grapefruit blooms each spring.  It’s heavenly!  The shot below if from a grapefruit tree in a neighbor’s yard.

I really enjoy walking outside after it rains, and having a camera along reminds you to pay attention to the details of things that you would normally overlook.  We were outside for about a half-hour, and just after we got back to the house the rain started again.  Sometime this summer, I’ll look back at this day longingly, I’m sure!

Andy reflects while being reflected.

I posted a dozen of my favorites to Flickr in the set titled “Rainy Sunday in the Neighborhood“.  Drop by and check them out and let me know which is your favorite!