White Goose in Late Afternoon

We stopped by Veterans Park in Tupelo on Sunday afternoon just about an hour before sundown.  We wanted to see if there were any geese on the lake, and we were fortunate enough to get there just when (1) the light was right and (2) a family was tossing pieces of bread into the water to attract the geese, ducks and other waterfowl.

I tried to practice something that I read recently about photographing birds and other wildlife–try to focus on the eyes.  It’s harder than it looks, as animals don’t exactly look into the camera and pose for you.  But just thinking about that little rule made me pay more attention to what I was shooting, and I did manage to capture a few shots where the eyes look pretty darn sharp!

White Goose in Late Afternoon

I used my Nikon D5000 with the 55-200mm lens for this shot, set at about 190mm. I used a fairly large aperture of F/6.3 to get a faster shutter speed and also to blur the background a little bit. I processed the raw file in Paintshop Photo Pro X4, using Topaz Adjust 5, as well as Topaz DeNoise to clean up the very slight bit of noise in the dark areas of the water.

If you like my work, please subscribe to this blog and feel free to offer comments. You can also find me on:
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60 Minute Photo Challenge

Lately I’ve been a little short on inspiration and ideas for doing any shooting.  I was starting to lose the excitement of just going out with the camera and looking for interesting subjects to photograph.  Instead, I was all caught up in the trap of trying to get the “perfect” shot, and getting all hung up on the technical details of F-stops and exposure metering and depth of field.  I just wasn’t having fun with it any more.

I’m a subscriber to the AdoramaTV channel on YouTube.  They post some excellent instructional videos for photographers, both amateur and professional.  The guy who presents the videos, Mark Wallace, works here in the Valley, so it’s kind of cool to see the places here in the Phoenix area where he’s filming his videos.  Not only are the photography tips great, but I get free location tips just by watching where he’s shooting.

Last week, Mark posted a video about his “60 Minute Photo Challenge“.  He talked about the importance of just getting out there and shooting in order to develop your skills, and he recommended giving yourself some sort of general subject (he used “round” and “red”), and then give yourself 60 minutes to shoot everything you see that fits that subject.  No time to worry about tripods, lighting, props….just take the camera and shoot.

I thought that was a great idea, and I actually made a list of subjects that I plan to use in the coming months when I need a kick in the pants.

Now Mark is posting a weekly challenge on Fridays (just follow his Twitter feed at @jmarkwallace to join in!), and this weekend’s challenge was “Shadows and Reflections”.  Since we got an early release from work today for the Memorial Day weekend, I picked up my camera with my 50mm prime lens, and headed to downtown Glendale to see what I could capture.

I had a blast!  I set my watch to make sure I stayed within the 60-minute time frame, and then I just started walking down the sidewalk, looking for shadows and reflections that looked interesting.  It was about 3PM when I got started, and normally that’s a horrible time of day to shoot here in Arizona because of the harsh shadows cast by the glaring sun.  But given the subject of today’s challenge, it was a perfect fit.

I haven’t used the 50mm prime very much, but I really enjoyed playing with it today.  I did put a polarizer on the lens to give me a little more flexibility with shutter speeds (it was REALLY bright out there), but I didn’t fiddle with it very much.

Street Reflections on Antiques

I got some great reflections on the shop windows around the square. I like the one above with the antiques in the shop window, and the traffic from the street being reflected on top of it. Kind of a juxtaposition of old and new that I thought was cool.

I found lots of shadows from the mid-afternoon sun, and the ones cast by the park benches and the overhead gazebo by the police station were among my favorites:

Shadows in Squares

When I returned to the parking garage, I noticed all the cool reflections in the windows of the building next-door. I climbed the stairs on the outside of the parking garage and got shots from several different angles. This one became a self-portrait, and I think it looks even better in black-and-white:

Self-Portrait in Building Reflection

I took about 75 photos in the 60 minutes I was out there, and of course there were quite a few duds. I didn’t spend a huge amount of time processing any of them, but I did find nine (including the three above) that I wound up submitting to the challenge. You can see the entire set on my Flickr page–the set is named “Shadows and Reflections – 60MinPhotoChallenge“.  I used Paint Shop Photo Pro X3, along with Topaz Adjust, for all my processing.

So, in only one hour (plus processing time), I got a little of my mojo back–and it feels great. Can’t wait for the next challenge!

If you like my work, please subscribe to this blog and feel free to offer comments. You can also find me on:
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My Official Website at http://zannwalker.com

Take Your Seat and Watch Your Step

I love using my 28-300mm zoom lens with my Nikon D700, but I sometimes forget to take advantage of the great depth-of-field opportunities it provides, especially when I’m concentrating on capturing brackets for HDR processing.

Yesterday at the abandoned dog track, I actually remembered to play around with the focal length on the lens.  I lowered the height of the tripod to about knee-level, and then aimed the camera down the front row of seats in the “yellow” section.  I focused on one of the seats about a third of the way down the row, letting the other seats go slightly out of focus.  I was using a focal length of 92mm, at F/10.

These seats were positioned right in front of what used to be the huge plate glass windows looking out on the dog track.  The glass has been shattered, and quite a bit of it was lying in pieces right in front of these seats.  The late afternoon sun was at the perfect angle to give the seats a nice glow.  And since I shot a five-bracket series, I was able to retain the detail of the interior as well as the exterior of the grandstand:

Take Your Seat and Watch Your Step

I find that HDR processing is complicated a bit by using these shallow depths of field, because the areas that are purposely left out of focus can actually turn out worse during the HDR process. For instance, in this shot, I wound up with some obvious chromatic aberration along the mountain tops in the background. Probably should have spent some time trying to fix it, but hey, I was tired.

I’m still going through the rest of the shots and trying to decide which one I want to work on next. So much to choose from!

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
Twitter @suzanne_hight
My Official Website at http://zannwalker.com

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.

Stating the Obvious – The Light Rail Photo Crawl

We had originally planned to be spending the night in Jerome last night for a little Sunday/Monday photography outing, but we had a winter storm front move through the state over the weekend and most of the roads to the north of us, especially at the higher elevations, were not drivable yesterday.  So we decided to stay here in the Valley instead, and I went ahead and took Monday off anyway since I’d already requested it at work.

After spending several hours at South Mountain yesterday, we decided to do something different today and ride the light rail from one end to the other, stopping along the way to shoot whatever we found at each stop.  The entire line is about 20 miles long from Spectrum Mall to Mesa.  It travels through downtown Phoenix and the ASU campus in Tempe.  We had ridden most of the route before, going as far as Tempe, but we had never ridden all the way to Mesa.  We thought it would be something fun to do.

Well, it was kinda cool for the first couple of stops, but then it started to get monotonous.  There’s about a 15 minute wait between trains, so we would get off at the station, take a few shots of what little there was worth shooting, then sit around and wait for the next train.  Boring.

So we gave up the idea of stopping at EVERY station, and instead we rode all the way in to downtown Phoenix and had lunch at Five Guys.  After shooting a little bit around there, we got back on the train and went all the way to the end of the line in Mesa.  There was absolutely nothing out that way that tempted me in the least to get off the train and shoot.  So then we rode the return route back into Tempe and stopped for beers and refreshment on Mill Avenue.

And that’s where we found this:

Stating the Obvious
Nikon D700, VR 28-300mm F/3.5-5.6G lens, 300mm, F/5.6, 1/50s, ISO 200, processed in PaintShop Photo Pro X3, Topaz Adjust / DeNoise.

This was right above our table on the patio balcony of the fine establishment (which shall remain nameless) where we took a break from our walk. We thought it was pretty ironic and kind of stated the obvious. It gave us a good laugh!

After a few more shots in downtown Tempe we decided to call it a day and head back to the starting point at Spectrum Mall.

There were a few things about today that were especially challenging. Some were bad decisions on my part, some were unanticipated. First,it turned out to be a much sunnier day than originally forecast, so the harsh shadows were tough to deal with. So, I should not have carried that extra jacket because it warmed up more than expected. Second, we didn’t use the tripod at all, so we should have left that at home. Third, the plan was overly ambitious and didn’t have a clear focus.

Next time, we’re going to pick one or two major intersections and just spend a couple of hours exploring those interesting areas in depth. But at least now we know we don’t have any need or desire to go all the way to west Mesa to do it.

I did come away with some decent shots that I’ll be posting over the next few days, along with some additional HDR’s from yesterday’s outing at South Mountain.  It’s been a fairly decent weekend of shooting, and now comes the fun part – the digital darkroom!

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.

My Hubby, the Model

I’m pretty sure that if I ever hope to make any income as a photographer, it’s going to involve taking lots of pictures of people instead of deserted buildings and Arizona landscapes.  I’ve started putting together a plan for getting some volunteers to let me practice on them, and my first victim…er, subject, was my hubby, Andy.

Fortunately, Andy actually enjoys having his picture made, and he’s enough of a ham that he doesn’t mind posing in public while absolute strangers walk by.  This evening he agreed to let me take some shots of him as we were on our way to dinner.

I was using my Nikon D700 and the 28-300mm zoom lens.  By the time we got to the location, the sun was just slipping below the horizon so there wasn’t much light left.  I had to bump the ISO up to about 500 to get a shutter speed of about 1/50s with a wide-open aperture.  I didn’t bring my tripod, so this was all hand-held, and I was really afraid that the shots weren’t going to be as sharp as I would have liked.

I also took a few shots with my old Quantaray 35-82mm F4-5.6 that I re-discovered today still attached to my old Nikon 6006 35mm camera.  Whether it was the rapidly fading light or the poorer quality of the lens, the pictures I took with that lens were noticeably softer than the ones with the 28-300mm.

Here are a couple of shots that I’ve processed.  To see the entire set, visit my Flickr site here.

Taken with the 28-300mm:

20110212_023_AndyAtCitadel

Taken with the 35-82mm:

20110212_062_AndyAtCitadel

All the shots were processed in Paintshop Photo Pro X3.

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.

The Arabian Library in Copper

Tonight’s post is another image of the Arabian Library in Scottsdale, Arizona.  Its exterior walls are a beautiful copper color which positively glows in the sun, especially against the bright blue of the desert sky:

Arabian Library in Copper

This is a single exposure shot handheld at 85mm, ISO 200, F/6.3, 1/640s. I processed it in PaintShop Photo Pro X3, using Topaz Adjust to bring out some of the details that were lost in the harsh sunlight.

I spent a few hours (and a few bucks) today establishing my new online domain, ZannWalker.com. Over time, I plan to get a website set up to display my best photography, and then eventually start some sort of business from what is now a very expensive hobby. But for now, I just wanted to make sure that I own the domain. It may never amount to anything, but one has to start somewhere.

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.

Copper Entryway

I took my camera to work with me today and at lunchtime I made a quick trip over to the Arabian Library in Scottsdale.  I’ve been there several times before and always thought that those copper walls would make some great photos, especially when contrasted with the deep blue sky.

I got several decent shots today with the 28-300mm zoom, even though the noontime sun was quite harsh.  This particular shot was made on the side of the building where there was an entryway cutout in the wall.  Just inside this entryway there are doors leading to the left and the right, although they aren’t visible here.  What caught my eye were the two pieces of red alarm equipment on the inner wall.

I just liked the geometry of the scene:

Copper Entryway

This is a single exposure shot handheld at 85mm, ISO 200, F/6.3, 1/640s. I processed it in PaintShop Photo Pro X3, using Topaz Adjust to bring out some of the details that were lost in the harsh sunlight. I love the texture and color variations in the copper sheeting, it would have been a shame to lose that!

Fresh Grapefruit

I decided to play around with the 50mm prime lens on the D700 late this afternoon just to see what I could find around the house. One of my friends at work brought in a cartload of fresh citrus fruit last week, so I had this big bowl of fresh pink grapefruit sitting on my dining room table. The late afternoon filtered light coming in through the windows gave it such a soft look that I really liked, especially with the bokeh of the wine bottle in the background:

Fresh Grapefruit

This one was shot at F/1.8, 1/160s at ISO 1250. I went with the large aperture to get a narrower depth of field, just to see how it would do.  The light to the front and right is natural coming through the window, and the light to the left is primarily florescent coming from the kitchen. I shot handheld in JPG (fine), and processed in PaintShop Photo Pro X3, using the Curves and Saturation adjustment tools, along with some selective sharpening.

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.

Hoop Dancers – Grand Entrance

I had a great time shooting at the Native American World Hoop Dancing Championship held yesterday (continuing today) at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ.  It was a perfect opportunity to get acquainted with the new camera (Nikon D700) and the new zoom lens (Nikon 28-300mm F/3.5-5.6G).

I was sitting about three rows back from the edge of the dance area, maybe 20 yards from the center of the ring.  The day’s festivities started with the Grand Entrance, when all the dancers lined up and paraded through the crowd and into the ring, led by three men carrying the Eagle Staff and the flags of the United States and Canada.  As they came into the ring, they formed a spiral of dancers, stirring up a small cloud of dust.  It was quite dramatic, colorful and a lot of fun to watch.

I tried to use that opportunity to practice selective focusing, selecting a specific subject in the crowd of dancers.  I set the camera to shutter-priority because I needed a fast shutter speed to capture the fast-moving dancers.  I was using a little higher ISO (320) to obtain the fast shutter speed, balanced with a little deeper depth of field.

Hoop Dancing - Grand Entrance
Single image JPG processed in Paintshop Photo Pro X3, Topaz Adjust / DeNoise

This shot is one of my favorite from the Grand Entrance. I was shooting in JPG mode only because I knew I was going to be shooting a LOT of images and I wasn’t sure how much memory the raw files would eat up…besides, this was just a practice run. The sun was behind me, shining directly in the face of the dancer, which caused a little loss of detail. I used Topaz Adjust selectively on the central figure to restore some of the detail back to his face and his clothing.  It still looks a little bit over-processed to me, but better than the original.

I’ll be posting a few more shots from the dancing over the next few days. I’ve posted a few straight-from-the-camera shots of the Tiny Tots division (ages 1-5) on my Facebook page which you can view here. Here’s a short video that I shot with my Blackberry so you can hear the drummers and singers who provided the Native American music for the dancers:

http://www.facebook.com/v/1876320986557

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.