Back To the Beginning

Every new year calls for new resolutions, and this year mine is to seriously get back into my photography. For many reasons (I can’t really go into all of them yet), this is going to be an epic year for me and the hubby, and I want to make sure my skills and my equipment are ready to capture the moments ahead.

I recently went through my camera gear and sold a few things that I wasn’t using. I got rid of my Nikon D5000 and a couple of lenses, as well as a little point-and-shoot Canon camera that I had. I still have my Nikon D700, another point-and-shoot, a new GoPro Hero 5 Black, and my iPhone 8 Plus. Plenty of equipment and no real excuses for not getting behind a viewfinder.

It has been so long since I was really shooting a lot, and I found that I needed to go back to the basics, just to remember how the settings worked on the camera. I decided to challenge myself to do one photo or video shoot every weekend until I can feel confident enough to just grab the camera and go, without having to refer to the manual or fumble around with the buttons and menus. In addition, I’ve almost forgotten how to use my editing software (especially Lightroom), so that’s also part of my resolution for this year, to get my mojo back in the computer darkroom.

So, even though it technically was not the new year yet, I took my Nikon D700 out for a photo walk last Saturday morning, December 30, before the bitterly cold arctic front moved in. I challenged myself to shoot 100 images, and that’s what I did, walking around downtown Tupelo. There weren’t many people around, and I was there for a couple of hours, wandering through alleys and skulking around houses and businesses.

And I had so much fun! I had forgotten how satisfying it is to look for the beauty and/or interest in the everyday scenery of life. I didn’t limit myself to any one subject, I just shot things that caught my eye.

I spent some time over the past two days going through the images and doing some editing, trying to remember how to use some of my favorite tools (Curves, anyone?). Some images I processed both in color and in black-and-white (I shot everything in raw to make it more challenging and rewarding to edit). And then I picked out my favorite five (so far) and uploaded them to my Flickr site which has been sorely neglected for too long.

Here are my top five:

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I’m really looking forward to more shooting this year! My plan is to take a different camera with me each weekend, including my video gear (GoPro, iPhone, and gimbals for each). Repetition and practice, shooting and editing, learning and exploring….that’s my plan for 2018!

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Weekly One Word Challenge – OPEN

I’m starting to get a little more caught up on my weekly photo challenge work. I’ve just now completed processing the images that I shot for the February 23 challenge around the theme “Open”. As I mentioned, I was a week late shooting these images because of the bad weather that we had, but better late than never!

I decided to process all of these in black & white this week. I’m also using Lightroom and Photoshop for the very first time (after years of using Paintshop Pro in every version up through the current X7). I have to say that I really like Lightroom for its simple slider adjustments, although I’m not yet a fan of all the Collections, Catalogs and other nonsense. I like a simpler method of organizing.

Photoshop is another beast that I’ll need to get better acquainted with, although Paintshop Pro has many of the same features and has already given me a headstart on learning to use levels and masking.

My images for this week were all shot around downtown Tupelo on a sunny Saturday morning just after our most recent ice storm. Each of these has some interpretation of the word or concept “open”, at least in my own mind.

Enjoy!

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The next challenge I’ll be presenting is the word “Wet”. Stay tuned!

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Downtown Tupelo From a Huey

A couple of weeks ago we had the opportunity to take a flight in a Vietnam-era Huey helicopter as part of a fund-raising event held at the nearby Veterans Memorial Park. They are trying to raise money to install a replica of the Vietnam Memorial wall in the park. There was an outfit there called Sky Soldiers who are made up of veterans who used to fly these helicopters in combat in Vietnam. The Huey that we flew on had been used for medical evacuations, and the guys flying them that day were veterans who had flown these machines in the 60’s and 70’s. They’ve still got it!

We had a blast! We got to sit in the gunner’s well, which meant we were seated on the side of the helicopter facing outward, with nothing but the wind in our faces. It was a sobering reminder of the dangers that soldiers face, being so exposed to gunfire.

Instead of a gun, I had my Nikon, and I was able to just fire off shot after shot as we buzzed around above the city. While they aren’t the most technically perfect photos and they’re not artsy-fartsy, they are a wonderful reminder of an awesome experience.

Here’s one of my favorite shots of downtown Tupelo, looking toward the southwest. Click to view it large for detail!

Downtown Tupelo from a Huey

Shot with the Nikon D700 and the Nikkor 24-85mm. Processed in Paintshop Pro X7.

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Textures of Downtown Tupelo

About three weeks ago, I decided to spend Sunday afternoon playing with my new 24-85mm Nikkor lens, so the hubby and I took off on a photo walk in downtown Tupelo.  Like any Southern town, as soon as church is over, the downtown area is pretty much deserted, so I knew I’d be able to get some shots of some of the architecture without having to worry about having a lot of cars and trucks parked in front of the buildings.

We spent a little over an hour exploring some little nooks and crannies that I hadn’t shot before.  We were having a great time until I decided to try and get some HDR brackets out behind an abandoned ice house.  The vacant lot was full of weeds, so I was keeping a close eye out for snakes, and fortunately we didn’t see any.  However, as I was setting up my tripod and absentmindedly scratching my lower leg with my other foot, my hubby suddenly exclaimed, “Baby, your legs are covered with mosquitoes!”  And he was right!!  As they say here in the South, I got “eat up” by the little varmints.  I was so miserable, we cut the day short and went home to indulge in some Benadryl and ointment.

But before all that happened, I did manage to get some shots that I enjoyed working with later.  Here are three images that I processed in Paintshop Photo Pro X5, using Topaz Adjust and Topaz Black & White Effects.

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Glendale Historic Buildings and Other Cool Stuff

The closer it gets to Christmas, the less time I have to work on my photography projects.  But tonight I let everything else go, and went back to the digital darkroom to continue working on some of the shots that I took in downtown Glendale several weekends ago.  For this batch, I concentrated on a couple of the historical buildings in the downtown area.

This first shot is the First National Bank of Glendale building, which has been converted into law offices.  Banks…lawyers….kind of typical, don’t you think?  This is a three-image HDR (handheld brackets), processed in Photomatix, then post-processed in Topaz Adjust/DeNoise and Paintshop Pro X3.  I also corrected the perspective in the image since the original shots had the building “leaning backwards”, and I wanted more of a straight-forward shot:

First National Bank

This next shot is the old Sine Brothers Hardware building which is now a city municipal office building. Same sort of processing as before:

Sine Brothers Hardware 02

If you would like to see the entire series of shots from my afternoon in Glendale, check out the set Glendale AZ 12-4-2010 on my Flickr site.

And if you’re interested in finding out more about these and other historic structures in downtown Glendale, check on the website GoGlendaleAZ.com for more information.

Since my last post, I haven’t been totally away from the digital darkroom….I did work on a few older photos in Topaz, just continuing to familiarize myself with the software’s capabilities.  Here are a couple of shots that I thought came out pretty well:

Catalina Island
Catalina Island

From Mom’s Garden
From Mom's Garden

Behind the Facade – in HDR

I took the Nikon to downtown Glendale this afternoon to spend some time shooting some parts of the city that are not so visible from the street. Downtown Glendale is a quaint little area that used to be populated primarily by antiques dealers, but the recession has hit hard and many of the shops have closed. The city is trying hard to revitalize the area, and some new restaurants have moved in, thanks to generous tax incentives and deals offered by the city. But there is still a lot of empty real estate, and it’s kind of sad to see the area struggling like it is.

We parked the car and started walking through some of the back alleys and down some of the smaller side streets, and we found a rich source of photo material. Much of it wasn’t pretty, but it had a certain grit to it that was appealing (at least to my photographer’s eye).

I shot both single images and bracketed series for HDR processing. I wound up shooting over 200 images, so I have a lot of material to work with. I’ll be sharing a different image here daily for the next few weeks, but if you want to jump ahead, the entire series will be posted on my Flicker site in the set titled Glendale AZ 12-4-2010.

One of the images from today was especially poignant to me….we came across what was obviously someone’s “home”–a blanket, some cardboard, old chairs and various debris–on a covered porch area on the back side of a row of closed storefronts.  I was glad that the occupant wasn’t “home” at the time, but I still felt guilty for taking photos of someone else’s misery.  I am so blessed, and this image will be a constant reminder to me that except for a few lucky choices, I could be in the same circumstances.

Rear Entrance

Click image to view large in Lightbox. Image created from three bracketed photos (-2.0/0.0/+2.0) shot hand-held with a Nikon D5000 and kit lens (18-55mm 1:3.5-4.6). HDR created in Photomatix v4, post-processing in Topaz Adjust/DeNoise and Paintshop Pro X3.

Downtown Phoenix Architecture Old and New

Tonight I have three more HDR images from my photo walk in downtown Phoenix, Arizona this past weekend.

This first image is the bell tower at the historic First Baptist Church on Monroe Street.  The church was built in 1929, and it was gutted by fire in 1992.  The interior of the church is gone, but the shell still stands, including this bell tower.  It’s on the National Register of Historic Places, and the owners of the property are trying to pitch it to investors as a future art space of some kind.  Fortunately, there is a parking garage right across the street from the tower, and by climbing up about five or six floors, I was able to get almost eye-level with the top of the tower, avoiding any perspective issues with shooting the tall tower from ground level:

Downtown Phoenix 004

This next image is the the back of the Orpheum Theatre (on the right) where it intersects with the side of Phoenix City Hall (on the left).  I know that there’s a perspective issue on this shot–since it was taken from ground level with the camera pointed up, the buildings look like they’re leaning into each other.  I thought about trying to correct it, but decided that I kind of like the compositional aspects of the way the buildings appear to be huddling together.  I think there’s a lot of geometrical interest that would be lost if I corrected the perspective on the shot:

Downtown Phoenix 005

And finally, here’s a shot of the newly expanded downtown Phoenix Convention Center.  I really love the multi-color stone facing on the building, as well as the angles of the walls.  I also like the way the glass of the overhead pedestrian walk reflects a nearby sign–I didn’t notice that detail when I was taking the shot:

Downtown Phoenix 006

Each of these images was created from a bracketed series of three photos (-2.0/0.0/+2.0) taken with my Nikon D5000 and the kit lens (18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6) at F/13.  I used Photomatix Pro v3 to produce the HDR image, and then post-processed in Paintshop Pro X3 to tweak the brightness and contrast, and I used the Curves tool to modify the color balance slightly.

Hope you enjoy these images from a very warm October day in downtown.  I’ll be sharing more as the days pass.