Yes, there is color in the desert

Tonight I got a good start on processing my photos from last Saturday’s excursion to Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.  There was such a variety of plant specimens on display there, and I photographed so many different types of subjects, from closeups to landscapes, that it was hard to know where to start processing.  So I finally just started at the beginning.

So many people who have never lived in the Sonoran desert have the mistaken idea that the area is just brown and sandy.  True enough, there is a lot of brown, especially after the winter rains are gone and before the monsoon rains begin.  But in the spring, especially after an unusually we winter like we’ve just had, the desert blooms in the most amazing colors.  The Desert Botanical Garden showcases specimens not only from our Sonoran desert, but from desert environments around the world, and their displays are artfully designed and impeccably maintained.

Upon entering the garden, one of the first things that catches everyone’s attention is the glass sculpture created by Dale Chihuly that stands at the front gate.  I didn’t see one single person pass by this exhibit without either taking a photograph of it or posing in front of it for someone else’s shot.

While this photo only shows two of the sculptures, there are actually three of them.  To see more photos of this beautiful exhibit, check out my new set on Flickr, “Desert Botanical Garden – Phoenix“.

My processing workflow for these shots was pretty simple:  I used the JPG files, and processed them in Paintshop Pro X3.  For each one, I adjusted the Brightness/Contrast, applied Local Tone Mapping, adjusted the Saturation, and then sharpened.  Here are a few of the shots that I worked on tonight:

All of these are best viewed large and on black, so scurry on over to my Flickr set and check out the entire collection.  So far I’ve posted twenty-four, but more will be added as I get them processed this week.

On a technical note, I had been having problems for the past couple of weeks using the Flickr Uploadr (the utility that allows multiple images to be uploaded and edited more efficiently in batch).  Seems like every time I tried to upload a batch, I would lose my Internet connection after a couple of files had uploaded.  I would have to reset my modem and router to get the connection back.  After consulting with my ISP, Cox Communications, I determined that I most likely needed a new router.  Cox recently boosted the speed of their broadband service, and my router was only “wireless-G”.  I bought a new “wireless-N” router and set it up yesterday.  Tonight I was able to upload all 24 files in one batch (each is between 12MB and 17MB), and my connection never went down.  Needless to say, I’m a happy camper!!

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Glendale at Night – HDR Processing Marathon

I had great fun tonight processing the photos that I took last night in downtown Glendale (see my post from yesterday).  I had sixteen sets of three bracketed shots to work with, and I processed them all. Once again I used Photomatix to create the HDR image, and then did some post-processing in Paintshop Pro.  Tonight I did a little more experimentation during the processing in Photomatix, and I actually wound up using the Tone Compression tab more often than the Detail Enhancement tab.  The photos I was processing had a great deal of contrast, and the Tone Compression option seemed to produce a more pleasing result.

Here’s an example of the difference between the two processes.  This first HDR was produced using the Tone Compression option:

Bitz-ee Mama's - Tone Compression HDR

The photo has a great late-night diner feel to it with the roof fading into the night sky. The “Open” sign is clearly visible in the window, and the lights on the building provide some nice areas of contrast and interest.

Now here is an HDR produced from the same three photos, but this time I used the Detail Enhancement option:

Bitz-ee Mama's - Detail Enhancement

This shot kept all the detail of the trees, even the green one behind the building (keep in mind this was shot at about 9:00 PM so it was dark back there).  I’m not sure which of the shots I like best, but they’re certainly different.

Another first for tonight’s processing was that I got some experience in using layers in Paintshop Pro to do some burning and dodging on one of my HDR’s.  I shot a street scene, and during the third bracket shot (the over-exposure), a car drove by and I got the typical red and white trail of lights, which was fine.  However, it also created some glare on the backs of some of the vehicles parked on the side of the street.  When the HDR processed, this glare was badly burned out in areas, and no matter what I did with the sliders in Photomatix, I could not fix it.  Here’s the shot with the bad area highlighted:

HDR with burnout

So I decided to try my hand at masking.  I opened up the best of the three shots, which was the one at normal exposure, and then I layered the HDR image on top of it.  Then I used my Eraser tool to “erase” the burned out area and allow the clean image to show through.  I wound up totally removing the light trail since part of it was burned out–I couldn’t just leave part of it and erase the rest.  The result was not perfect by any means, but it did look a heck of a lot better, especially when viewed as a normal web image at 600X400:

HDR masked

So now, it’s after midnight, and I’m in the process of uploading my shots to Flickr, and for some reason it’s taking forever.  Probably because I’m ready to call it a night and go to bed!

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