Exit – Scorpion Gulch

This morning’s post is another shot of the interior of the old homesite called Scorpion Gulch, located at the entrance to South Mountain Park in Phoenix, Arizona. This shot was taken right after a winter storm front had moved through, so the clouds were just starting to break up.

I love how the HDR process revealed the deep cracks in the walls to the right, along with the details in the floor.

Exit
HDR created from seven bracketed photos processed in Photomatix v4. Post-processing in Topaz Adjust / DeNoise with Paintshop Photo Pro X3.

Short post this morning, gotta head to work!

The Zen of Architecture – Sun Devil Stadium

Sometimes in photography we get caught up in capturing details. We want colors and action, texture and excitement. We process in HDR, and we Spicify in Topaz.

Sometimes we forget to look for the simple things–lines, curves, reality.

On last weekend’s light rail photocrawl, we got off the train at Arizona State University, near Sun Devil Stadium. I took numerous shots around the campus, but the one that I keep coming back to is this one:

Sun Devil Stadium

I simply enjoy the curve of the building, the contrast between the light concrete and the deep blue sky, the glare of the sun on the windows which is indicative of the desert environment, and the little tiny capture of the airplane in the lower left corner as it lifts off from nearby Sky Harbor airport.

I did very little processing on this shot, just a little curves adjustment to set the white point.

Sometimes it’s good to just simplify and go with the Zen.

Scorpion Gulch After the Storm – Part 2

First, I just want to say thanks to everyone for the positive feedback this week on the images I’ve posted.  I’m not sure if it’s a result of the new equipment, the locations I shot, or (hopefully) my processing is improving–but whatever it is, the response has been great.  Thanks, all!

Tonight I’m presenting another view of  Scorpion Gulch at South Mountain.  You might remember that I posted an interior shot a couple of days ago. Today’s image is a look at the outside of the old homesite taken from the side.  Behind and to the left, you can see the top of the mountain where all the radio, television and cell phone towers are posted to provide communication services to the Phoenix area.  Quite a contrast between the old and the new:

Scorpion Gulch After the Storm

This image was taken with the Nikon D700 and the 14-24mm wide angle zoom lens that I acquired recently. Some wise person told me that I should go full-frame, and for this type of shot, I have to agree. It would be hard to imagine getting this much area into a single shot with the D5000 DX format, even with the wide angle lens. The sharpness of the images produced from this equipment still blows me away.

This HDR was created from seven bracketed exposures in Photomatix, with post-processing in Paintshop Photo Pro X3, using Topaz Adjust (Photo Pop) and Topaz DeNoise.

The forecast is calling for another winter storm front to be moving through the Valley this weekend. I’m scheduled to do my first client shoot (gratis) tomorrow morning, so I’m hoping that the rain holds off at least for a few hours. If not, maybe I’ll get some more storm shots!

Saguaro and Big Sky – and Guns

For tonight’s post I’ve returned to South Mountain and the great outdoors.  When we visited there last Sunday just after the storm front moved through, I was expecting it to be totally overcast, but in true Arizona fashion, the sun began to burn through the clouds by early afternoon.

I used my 14-24mm wide angle zoom to capture this shot of the saguaro in seven brackets for HDR processing.  It was pretty windy that day, but fortunately on this side of the hill there was only a slight breeze, so I got just a faint amount of ghosting from the ocotillo branches on the right.

Saguaro and Big Sky

Interesting story on this shot: When we got out of the car with the camera and tripod and started to hike up the hill, we suddenly heard gunshots. There were multiple shots, and they were very close by. If you know anything about Arizona, you know that (1) we have very liberal gun laws, and (2) we have a lot of people who carry guns openly. Andy and I just froze in place for a moment or two until we heard laughter close by. We decided to hike on up the hill, and then the shots started again. Call us crazy, but we kept walking but kept our heads down. Finally we got to where we could see three people at the bottom of the hill doing some kind of target shooting with a handgun. The kid that was shooting the gun didn’t look all that old, and his two companions appeared to be possibly his parents.

We tried to avoid eye contact from our position up on the hill. I certainly didn’t want to point the camera in that direction and have them misinterpret our intentions. They finally packed up and left about the same time that we did, after firing off at least 40-50 rounds while we were there. I don’t know what the regulations are in South Mountain Park, but I can’t imagine this is legal. In fact, I tweeted about it that afternoon, and I included the hashtag #guns in my tweet. And wouldn’t you know it, now I’m getting all these new followers (from bots, I’m sure), all telling me about the fantastic guns they’ve bought/sold/discovered. I’m blocking them all.

Oh, well, I’m really enjoying having more brackets to play with on these HDR’s. My Nikon D5000 would only shoot three brackets (auto-bracketed) at a time, but my D700 will shoot up to nine brackets. Not sure I need that many, but it’s nice to have options. Only problem is that the additional shots eat up space on my memory card as well as my hard drive. I’ll have to be much more disciplined about deleting those shots that I know I’m never going to use.

Looks like there’s another weather front moving this way for the weekend, so there’s a distinct possibility I’ll be out shooting clouds again. I love this time of the year here in Arizona!

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.

Scorpion Gulch After the Storm

The Valley of the Sun actually got some rain this weekend.  While other parts of the country might complain about such weather, here in the desert we welcome it and celebrate it by going out in full force with all our camera gear.

It rained all morning today, but about noon the clouds started breaking up, so we drove down to South Mountain Park in hopes of getting some good shots of the dark clouds against the mountains.  This was the first time I’ve been able to spend any quality time with my new 14-24mm wide angle lens, and I was anxious to see how it performed.

At the entrance to the park, there are a couple of old historic structures which, in the early 1930’s were an old store and a home.  Here’s a little bit of history from Wikipedia:

Located in South Mountain Park in Phoenix, Arizona, Scorpion Gulch was built as a home and store by William Lunsford. Lunsford’s store sold curios, Indian-made items, sodas, and candy. It was still in operation in 1966, when Lunsford was 75. In the 1970s, it became a bar. According to the Phoenix Historic Property Register, Scorpion Gulch was built in 1936, and was first listed on the historic preservation register in October of 1990. Historical Photographs show a sign on the original building entitled, “South Mountain Trading Post”, under which jewelry, Indian Curios, and Leather Goods are advertised.

The old homesite is the larger of the two structures, and also the most interesting architecturally.  The roof is mostly gone, so it was a great subject for HDR photography today, with the dark clouds outside and the interesting features on the inside of the structure.  The wide angle lens let me capture everything brilliantly, and the D700 allowed me to FINALLY be able to shoot more than three brackets at a time.  In this case, I shot seven brackets:

Scorpion Gulch at South Mountain 01
HDR created from seven bracketed photos (at 1.0 intervals) processed in Photomatix v4. Post-processing in Paintshop Photo Pro X3.

This type of shot is what makes HDR photography so special.  Using the seven brackets, I was able to capture the details in the wooden roof with the high exposure shots, while keeping the details of the outdoors showing through the windows.  Gotta love HDR for situations like this!

I’ll be processing the shots from today over the next week or so, and I’ll be posting them to the “South Mountain 2011.02.20” set on Flickr.

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.

Life Among the Ancients

Several weeks ago I purchased a Groupon for admission to the Deer Valley Rock Art Center in Phoenix, AZ.  I’ve lived here in the Valley for over ten years and had no idea that this place existed.

The Deer Valley Rock Art Center was established to preserve the 1,500 ancient petroglyphs at the Hedgpeth Hills petroglyph site.  The center is operated by the Arizona State University’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

The petroglyphs at the site were made by people hundreds, even thousands, of years ago, and have continuing significance for Native American people of this region.  The Hedgpeth Hills petroglyph site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It is the second archaeological site to be listed on the Phoenix Historic Property Register.

So, that’s a little of the history of the site, and now to the photography–

The very first thing I can tell you is this: If you’re planning to shoot pictures of the ‘glyphs, go there in the morning.  All the petroglyphs face east, and when you’re trying to photograph them or even see them in the mid-afternoon sun as we were, it’s tough.  We found ourselves staring into the sun a lot.

I started out using my normal kit lens (18-55mm) with a polarizer, but since Nikon did not see fit to include a lens hood with this lens, I was getting tons of flare.  My able-bodied assistant (my hubby!) tried holding the Center’s brochure above the end of my lens and that helped some.

It finally dawned on me that I had my telephoto lens (55-200mm) in my camera bag–ON MY BACK–and it does have a lens hood.  So I quickly switched lenses and things improved from there.  It was a good thing that I did, because just around the bend in the path we reached the main site of the ‘glyphs, and they’re mostly higher up on the hillside facing east.  The zoom lens is essential for capturing the details of the rock art from a vantage point on the ground.

Here’s my favorite shot of the day, for two reasons.  First, it’s a great petroglyph, very clear and defined.  And secondly, there’s a lizard right at the feet of the ‘glyph that I didn’t even notice until I started processing.  Bonus!!

Life Among the Ancients

I’ll definitely go back to the Center, but in the morning hours, to try my shots again with some different lighting. If you’re interested in this kind of thing, be sure to check it out. The pathway to the rock art is only about a quarter-mile long, and it’s handicapped-accessible. You can learn more at dvrac.asu.edu.

Prickly Pear in HDR

We had a wetter-than-usual spring this year, and as a result the prickly pear cacti are loaded with fruit that is just now starting to ripen.

Prickly Pear 001

As we were driving north on the Beeline Highway last week, headed toward our camping spot, we stopped just south of Rye, AZ on Gisela Road to look for some Indian ruins.  The map indicated that the ruins were about two miles off the highway, but we never did find them.  Instead we found a gravel road that led to the top of a hill that provided a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains as the summer storm clouds moved in.  When we stepped out of the truck to look around, we found these beautiful prickly pear cactus plants.  The fruit is edible and delicious, but of course you have to be extremely careful when handling it.  The juice makes great jellies, jams, and margaritas.

Prickly Pear 002

All of these images are HDR’s composed from three bracketed photos (+2.0/0.0/-2.0), processed in Photomatix, and then post-processed in Paintshop Pro X3. They were shot with my Nikon D5000 and the kit lens (18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6 AF), tripod mounted.

Prickly Pear 003

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:

Brushstrokes

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!!

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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!

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