To Color or Not

I really have a love affair with black and white photography, and I’m always looking for opportunities to drain all the color out of a shot and replace it with shades of gray.

But sometimes, I just can’t resist the blue of the sky against the green of the grass.

This was one of those times, so I just decided to have my cake and eat it, too.

Here’s a 9-bracket HDR of St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, processed both in color and in black and white.  The HDR processing was done in Photomatix Pro V4, and the further editing was done in Paintshop Photo Pro X5.  For the black and white image, I used the Topaz B&W plug-in.

It was a little windy that day, so there’s some ghosting in the clouds as they were skittering across the sky, but I actually kind of like it so I didn’t attempt to process it away.

So, which do you like best?

St. Paul's Methodist Church - Houston TX (Color)

St. Paul's Methodist Church - Houston TX (B&W)

Cancer Survivors Plaza – Houston TX

After the little Elvis diversion, we’re back to photos from our recent trip to Houston, Texas. I love this little plaza in the Medical Center area of Houston (although it looks as though it could use a little TLC).

Cancer Survivors Plaza - Houston TX

This is an HDR image produced from nine brackets, shot with a Nikon D700 and the 28-300mm lens. Processed in Photomatix Pro V4 and Paintshop Photo Pro X5.

Houston Architecture in HDR

Wow, it’s good to be processing photos again!  I especially enjoy the HDR processing, and while we were in Houston I was able to get a few good brackets to bring back to the computer.  For most of them, I was using the tripod and shooting nine exposures (that’s one of the things I love about the Nikon D700, it allows a LOT of bracketing!).  But there were a few where I just shot hand-held exposures of five brackets.  I haven’t processed any of the latter yet, but I’m hoping that Photomatix will be able to align them without too much of a problem since there are a lot of straight line, architectural features in the shots.

So…here are a couple of images that I’ve processed so far.

This first one is the Museum of Fine Arts, which just happened to be hosting an exhibit of Picasso’s work, thus the banners on the front of the building.  The grounds were beautiful with the spring flowers in full bloom, and the partly cloudy skies gave plenty of shadows and light to enhance the HDR effect:

Houston Museum of Fine Arts

This next one is St. Luke’s Paul’s Methodist Church, located nearby the museum and medical center. I probably should have pulled out my really wide angle lens for this one, but I don’t think it came out too badly. I love all the detail in the facade of the building. It was a breezy day, so there’s a little bit of ghosting in the tree limbs that I wasn’t able to totally remove in Photomatix, but I don’t think it’s too distracting at all:

St. Luke's Methodist Church - Houston TX

There are more images to come, so stay tuned! It’s good to be back!

Supermoon 2012

So, who DIDN’T go out last night to shoot the supermoon?

Since we don’t have any really high hills or mountains where I live, I decided to go for some moon-on-water reflection shots.  So I dragged the hubby along and we went to Lake Mohawk where my parents live, to grab not only some shots of the moon rising, but also of the sunset that would precede the big event.

The sky was mostly overcast with high, thin clouds all afternoon, but we decided to try for it anyway in hopes that the clouds would begin to break up in the late afternoon.  I decided to set up on a fishing pier about halfway between the east and west ends of the lake so that I could get water reflections from both the sunset in the west and the moonrise in the east.

We got there about 5:15 I think, which was way too early, so we wound up just hanging out for almost two hours before the sky got interesting, but it was pretty relaxing and gave us a chance to unwind a little bit from the week.  Just before sunset, I called my parents to let them know where we were, and they came down to the pier to join us for the festivities.

The clouds didn’t break up quite as much as I would have liked, and we were probably too close to the tree line to get the best angle on the rising moon.  But still I think I managed to come away with a few images that pleased me.

For the sunset shots, I used the Nikon D700 and shot brackets of five exposures for HDR processing.  I started off with the 14-24 wide angle lens, and finished up with the 28-300 telephoto zoom.  I’ve processed these as HDR’s using Photomatix v4, Paintshop Photo Pro X4, and Topaz DeNoise.  On a side note, since I used both lenses for the same basic shots, I’ve finally figured out that the spots that keep appearing in the photos in the upper left quadrant of the sky must be dust on my sensor.  Ugh.  I used the Object Remove tool in Paintshop Pro to get rid of as many as possible, but I may have to take the camera to have it cleaned.

Sunset Before SuperMoon 01

Sunset Before Supermoon 02

When the moon started rising, I used the zoom to try and get some of the detail.  Later I widened my zoom to capture the reflection of the moon on the water, which to me was a much more interesting composition than just the moon in the sky (which EVERYONE was shooting).  These are all single images processed in Paintshop Photo Pro X4 with Topaz DeNoise:

Supermoon Rising

Supermoon at Lake Mohawk 01

Supermoon at Lake Mohawk 02
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

After-Christmas Sale

I’m trying out another new plug-in from Topaz Labs–this one is called “Star Effects”, and its purpose is to give that little extra glow to points of light in your photos.

I pulled out this shot that I took in downtown Tupelo on a foggy night back in early February.  I found this window display that looked like it was left over from Christmas, but it was still beautifully lit.  I was using the tripod with my Nikon D700 and the 50mm lens, so I took three different exposures, not knowing how the glare of the lights on the window might affect the outcome of the shot.

So since I had the three different brackets, I decided that I would combine them into an HDR image using Photomatix, and then try the new Topaz Star Effects plug-in on the little points of light.  I downloaded the trial version of the software from Topaz Labs (regular price $29.99) and, as usual, installed it with no problem.

After using Photomatix to product the HDR, I then ran the combined image through Topaz Star Effects, trying each of the different presets to see what it did to the light points.  Most of the effects were far too extreme (this image already had some star points on the lights as a result of the HDR processing).  So I selected a very mild effect and then tweaked it a little bit using the sliders in the plug-in.  Afterwards I used Topaz DeNoise to clean up some of the artifacts in the darker areas of the image, and then I used Paintshop Pro to do just a bit of sharpening.

And that’s’s the result:

After-Christmas Sale


I’ll need to play around with Star Effects a little more on some other types of images, some with less obvious “points of light”.  But, as with all the other Topaz products, I really like the design of the user interface, the ease of installation, the variety of presets, and the affordable price.  And, no, I’m not affiliated with Topaz and I don’t get paid to test or recommend their products.

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

From South Mountain to Ahwatukee

Tonight I decided to pull out some old brackets and do some HDR processing, using the new Topaz Adjust and Topaz  Black & White Effects plug-ins that I’ve recently acquired.

I found this set of brackets that I shot from the top of South Mountain Park in Phoenix, on a partly-cloudy afternoon just after a storm front had moved through. From the top of South Mountain, there was a clear view of the suburb of Ahwatukee, and the remaining clouds were still dramatic enough to really lend a sense of scale to the landscape. From the to of South Mountain, you can almost see forever!

From South Mountain to Ahwatukee

I shot these brackets with my 14-24mm Nikkor wide-angle lens, using my Nikon D700 camera mounted on a tripod. I processed the brackets in Photomatix 4, then edited the resulting TIFF in Paintshop Photo Pro X4. First I used Topaz Adjust to correct exposure and bump up the clarity slightly. I then added a layer using Topaz Black & White Effects, using the low-key preset which I adjusted slightly to add some detail. I lowered the opacity of this layer, as I just wanted to add a little drama to the clouds, especially where the sun was filtering through.

Today, we closed on the sale of our home in Arizona, so we no longer have any real estate ties to the Phoenix area. I guess this image is a little bit of nostalgia for a place that I really did enjoy living and photographing. I’ll still be returning there several times a year for work, so hopefully this won’t be the last time I see such a magnificent landscape as this through my viewfinder.

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

Graffiti in the Old Cabin

I have a love/hate relationship with graffiti.  On the one hand, when it’s done right it tells a story, paints a picture and rouses a range of emotions, and it cries out to be shared with others.  Beautiful, artistic, colorful graffiti is one of my favorite photography subjects, and I’ve captured some fine examples of it in the past:

But when graffiti is done badly, and for no apparent reason, then it just becomes an eyesore.  It’s especially irritating to me when the graffiti marks up a historic building or a natural site that can’t be cleaned without being damaged.  Recently a young guy from Canada was arrested at the Grand Canyon for spray-painting his name (or at least the first part of it) on the stone face of one of the more popular formations along the heavily visited tourist route.  In his affidavit:

…Chenier told Robinson he chose the popular Duck on a Rock geological formation because “it was so special that if he left his name, then his kids would be able to see it 20 years from now.”

So now, in 20 years, Chenier’s children will be able to visit Grand Canyon and point to the rock formation where their father was arrested for being, at best, an idiot, and at worst, an arrogant ass.

Graffiti is a problem at every site where people are allowed to visit, especially when the people are young and “in love”.  On last weekend’s visit to Tishomingo State Park, I shot some bracketed photos inside the old cabin in the park, where hundreds of people have found themselves, for whatever reason, motivated and inspired to write something onto or carve something into the walls, ceiling and floor of this old building.

Tishomingo State Park - Cabin Graffiti
HDR from five bracketed photos shot with my Nikon D700, 28-300mm Nikkor. Processed in Photomatix Pro 4, Paintshop Photo Pro X3, Topaz Adjust / DeNoise.

I’m not sure how we can ever make it stop, but if one of your kids is responsible, please take him/her to the woodshed tonight–without a magic marker.

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

Building 50 – Tishomingo State Park

It’s been a long dry spell, but we finally have our move behind us and are now located in Tupelo, Mississippi.  We’re still deep in the process of unpacking, organizing, and getting settled, but we decided to take a day off today and do a little shooting.  This afternoon we drove about forty miles northeast on the Natchez Trace to Tishomingo State Park, located in the far northeast corner of the state.  I have many fond memories of visiting this park  in my younger days, and although things are never quite as you remember them, many things about the park have not changed at all.

I took the tripod with me so I could shoot some HDR’s, and here’s the first example of what we saw today.  This is a restored log cabin from the 1840’s that sits alongside a small creek that runs through the park.  I could have sworn that at one time there was a big mill wheel attached to the side of the cabin, but that’s probably just another case of memories playing tricks on us.  Anyway, this is an HDR image from five brackets that particularly liked, as it also captured the mid-afternoon sun coming through the trees that are just in the early stages of developing their fall color.  In the far background, you can just see a small bridge that crosses the top of a man-made waterfall or spillway where water overflows from a little lily-pad-covered pond.

Building 50 - Tishomingo State Park
HDR processed in Photomatix Pro 4 and PaintShop Photo Pro X3

It was such a beautiful day, with temperatures in the low 70’s and not a cloud in the sky. As we drove up the Natchez Trace we saw a lot of fall color, although it’s not nearly at its peak. It’s such a change from the drab brown and tan of the desert, and it has already given my creative urges a big boost. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this beautiful state through the lens of my Nikon!

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

Lizard Head in Black and White

For those of you who may not know it yet, my hubby Andy and I are preparing to take our leave from Arizona.  We will be moving 1600 miles east to Tupelo, Mississippi, within the next three to four weeks.  This is a “going home” move for me, a chance to live closer to my parents as well as my four brothers, their wives and all my nieces and nephews.  For the past few months, we have spent the evenings and weekends on home improvement projects to get our house ready to put on the rental market (the prices are just too depressed to try and sell it right now).  We already have a contract on a house in Tupelo that should close within the next few weeks, so we’re starting the process of packing and decluttering in preparation for the big move.

With all these life changes, I haven’t concentrated too much on my photography for the past few months.  But as the time draws closer to leave Arizona, I’m already missing some of the places where I’ve spent quality time with the Nikons.  And there’s no place like Sedona when it comes to pure scenic spendor.

Tonight I went through some of my files from our trip to Sedona back in March, and I found some shots that I still hadn’t processed.  I couldn’t resist running a few brackets through Photomatix to produce this HDR of Lizard Head Rock, but this time I decided to go with the black-and-white version.  I love the red rocks of Sedona, but for this shot I wanted to allow the eye more of an opportunity to see the shape and texture of the rocks, rather than the color.  Look at the top of the mountain, and you’ll see how it got its name.

Lizard Rock in Black and White

I’m looking forward to getting moved out to Tupelo just in time for the beautiful fall colors to reach their peak in October. There are beautiful landscapes, distinctive Southern architecture, and amazing people just waiting to be photographed, and I can’t wait to expand my portfolio in a totally new direction.

Stay tuned to see where the Zen takes us!

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

Siwash Rock in Triplicate

Tonight I was in the mood to play around with some of the Topaz Adjust presets to see what they could do with a rather blah photo.  Tonight’s subject is Siwash Rock, a landmark on the shore of Stanley Park in Vancouver.

I took this photo the first full day we were in the city.  It was overcast and breezy that morning, with the clouds breaking occasionally to let the sun shine through.  I had seen other photos of this landmark and wanted to try my hand at getting that “perfect” shot.

As it turned out, it wasn’t so perfect.  This would have been a prime time to have the tripod and shoot some brackets for HDR processing, but I was trying to travel light that day.  I like the composition of this shot, but the exposure variations between the bright clouds and the dark rock in the foreground didn’t give me a lot to work with.  So I decided to play around with Topaz to see what I could dig out of the raw file.

I tried three different presets.  Which one do you like best?  I have my opinion, but I’ll save it until later!

The first one is the “Clarity” preset–basically it just accentuates the details, and gives the color a little pop.  This one wasn’t too bad, but the clouds in the background are badly blown out.

Siwash Rock 01

The second one was something I just did on a whim. I used the “Night” preset to give the sky a little of its color back, while making the rock look almost haunted:

Siwash Rock 02

The last one is a black-and-white version that I created using a preset that I customized in Topaz. I started with the “Spicify” preset, and then used the sliders to totally desaturate the color and then bump up the contrast and the sharpness. I’ve used this custom preset before and it seems to work pretty well:

Siwash Rock 03

So before I tell you which one I like best, let me tell you about a couple of plaques that are posted at Siwash Rock.

The first one reads:

SIWASH ROCK – Indian legend tells us that this 50 foot high pinnacle of rock stands as an imperishable monument to “Skalsh the Unselfish”, who was turned into stone by “Q’uas the Transformer” as a reward for his unselfishness.”

The second one reads:

In memory of ROBERT DENNIS TRIBE, age 17, or North Vancouver, B.C. who at 3:15 P.M. Sunday, June 5, 1966 failed to notice it was low tide and dived to his death from Siwash Rock to the rocks below. This plaque erected by Bob’s friends as a reminder of the danger of diving from Siwash Rock.

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

(I like the black-and-white one best! 🙂 )