Dramatic Skies in Black & White

I’m a big fan of the Topaz Labs family of filters and plug-ins. I’ve been using them for several years now, and Topaz continues to improve both the functionality of the product as well as the user-friendliness of the interface.

Another thing that I like about Topaz is that they offer free, live webinars where they demonstrate how to use their products to achieve specific results. The webinars are offered about twice a week–usually there’s a one-hour version on Tuesdays, and then there’s a “Quick Tip Thursday” edition that addresses a more specific task. The webinars are recorded and made available for free on YouTube afterwards.

Today’s Quick Tip Thursday edition dealt with using the Topaz Black & White Effects plug-in to add drama to skies and clouds, without darkening up the rest of the photo. The process uses the selective color sliders in the plug-in to darken up the blues and cyans, while leaving the other colors alone. This technique works great on images where there isn’t any other blue in the shot.

After watching the demonstration, I pulled out an old photo from February 2011 that I shot at South Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona. This image was shot with the Nikon D700, using my 14-28mm Nikkor glass (love that lens!!). I had never processed this particular image, but thought it would be fun to use for this technique.

The first thing I did was open the image in Lightroom and adjusted the exposure just slightly, and added a touch of clarity.

Here’s what I had at that point:

20110220_295_SouthMtn copy_LROnly_800w

I then exported to Photoshop and opened the Topaz B&W Effects filter. Using the techniques that Nichole demonstrated during the webinar, here’s where I wound up (click to view larger in Flickr):

20110220_295_SouthMtn_LR_TopazBW

I think I probably overdid the sky just a little bit, but I was trying to push it to see how the technique worked. Overall, I like the results, though, especially since the foreground did not get darkened when the sky did. I do like the drama of the image, and how it highlights the feathering in the clouds!  This is something I look forward to practicing more in the future!

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Topaz ReMask and Layers

What a gorgeous day outside!! I would really love to be out there with my camera, but since I’m technically still employed for the next two weeks, and therefore have to stay close to my workspace, I decided to spend some time practicing on some photo editing and processing skills. I’m still getting acquainted with my new Wacom Intuos tablet,and I also wanted to get more practice with masking and layers.

I decided to work on this image that I took this past weekend in downtown Tupelo. It’s some sort of sculpture that’s supposed to celebrate water. (I really should pay more attention to what I’m shooting!). Anyway, when I was taking the photo, there were several things going through my mind:

  • I wanted to catch the rising sun coming through the opening at the top of the sculpture.
  • I wanted that sunburst effect, so I used a narrower aperture (f/13) than I would have normally used.
  • I was more concerned about the exposure on the sculpture than on the sky, even though I knew that the sky would be blown out.
  • I forgot to check the ISO setting when I was setting up this shot, but it was at ISO 500, and the exposure time was 1/200 sec.

So here is the raw file (saved as a JPEG):

Tupelo_misc_017_2015-03-15-3_unaltered

I got the starburst that I wanted, along with some cool green lens flare. And as expected, the sky was blown out and the sculpture itself is underexposed.

So I thought this would be a good candidate to use for practicing with masking and layers.

The first thing I did in Lightroom was to straighten the image slightly so that the base of the sculpture was more horizontal. (Evidently I can’t hold my camera straight to save my life!). I then exported the image to Photoshop.

Once in Photoshop I took the following steps (as best I can remember):

  • Duplicated the Background layer.
  • On the duplicated layer, I opened Topaz ReMask, and created a mask using only the sculpture portion of the photo. I actually did this step about four or five times, trying to get it right.
  • Next, I duplicated the Background layer again, and on this new layer, I again went to Topaz ReMask and created a mask of everything EXCEPT the sculpture (the sky and the foliage).
  • Back in Photoshop, for the SKY mask layer, I applied Gaussian blur, a brightness/contrast adjustment layer, and a curves layer. This helped bring back some details in the sky and the trees.
  • For the SCULPTURE mask layer, I used the Topaz Clarity filter to brighten the color, exposure and details.

And here is the final result (saved for the web, so it’s only 800 pixels tall, but you get the point):

Tupelo_misc_017_2015-03-15_Lr_remask

I’m pretty pleased with it, considering it’s my first real attempt at something this complicated. I’ll have to say that using the Wacom tablet made it a lot easier to make the mask selection, but I’m still trying to figure out all the hand gestures that the tablet recognizes when used like a touchpad. It gets pretty confusing when suddenly the image zooms in or out and I have no clue what I just did.

Pretty fun!! Can’t wait to try more!

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Weekly One-Word Challenge – Broken

Hooray, I am officially caught up with my weekly one-word challenges! The word for the week of March 9, 2015 was “broken”. And after several days of rain, the sun finally came out today, just in time for me to meet the deadline to get some shooting done for this challenge.

I did all my shooting between 7:30 and 9:30 a.m., hoping to catch some good light. My morning started off with a slight hiccup. I drove about five minutes from my house, parked my car, got out and fired up my camera, just to find that my battery was depleted. I could have kicked myself for not checking it before I left home. Fortunately, I had a second battery completely charged and ready to go, so I drove home, swapped them out, and then headed back downtown. Not that far to drive, but it did waste a little bit of that early morning golden hour.

Today I used my Nikon D700 with the 24-84mm Nikkor lens. I’m learning to be more cognizant of my f-stops, ISO, shutter speeds and depth-of-field, rather than just concentrating on composition.

I took quite a few images, processed them in Lightroom and Photoshop, using Topaz filters. I’ve uploaded the ones I liked best to my Flickr account. Here are my favorites from this morning, with a little commentary:

These first three are a little urbex from a partially abandoned warehouse near the railroad tracks. The broken windows fit the theme perfectly. I had to do some perspective adjustments to account for the camera tilt, but all in all, I’m happy with these:

1word_broken_032_2015-03-15_LR

1word_broken_015_2015-03-15_LR_TpzClarity

1word_broken_033_2015-03-15_LR_TopazClarity

These next two are from an alley in downtown. If you’ve been following along, you’ll recognize the vase from an earlier challenge when I shot it for the word “Open”. In keeping with the rules of the challenge (photos must be shot in the appropriate week timeframe), I re-shot it and processed it differently today to represent “broken”. The photo of the toilet is self-explanatory.

1word_broken_042_2015-03-15_LR_TopazRestyle_PS

1word_broken_048_2015-03-15_LR

This next image is a whiskey and wine bar in downtown Tupelo. No, the bar is not broken, but the old original lettering at the top of the building seems to be missing something.

1word_broken_039_2015-03-15_LR_TopazClarity

The next image is a statue on the lawn of the Lee County Courthouse, erected in 1908 by the Tupelo Woman’s Christian Temperance Union to commemorate the statewide prohibition of alcohol. Not sure when the angel lost her hand, but Prohibition was definitely broken.

1word_broken_046_2015-03-15_LR

Next is a bicycle frame lying in a neighbor’s yard. Those boys are tough on their toys.

1word_broken_073_2015-03-15

Finally, a little something different. Almost a year ago, on April 28, 2014, Tupelo was hit by an E3 tornado, which left a wide path of damage and destruction (but fortunately only slight injuries to people). While the recovery still continues, these bare trees are stark reminders of what happened that day. The trunks are starting to push out new twigs and branches, so even though they were “broken” last year, their recovery mirrors the spirit of Tupelo as businesses, churches and homeowners rebuild for the future.

1word_broken_061_2015-03-15_TpzBW-QuadtoneRedII

While I was out shooting this morning, I did take some other shots that were not related to the weekly challenge. I’ll be sharing those separately.

So now, I’m ready for next week’s challenge, which is the word “Ice”. So ironic that we had the ice storm week before last, and now the weather is starting to warm up. Not sure what I’ll shoot for “ice”, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something!

Zann’s Weekly One Word Challenge – Wet

I’m finally getting caught up with my weekly challenges after a couple weeks of nasty weather. While the challenge for this week is shooting images for the word “Broken”, I’ve just finished processing images from last week’s challenge for the word “Wet”.

I shot these images around downtown Tupelo this past Sunday. We were still thawing out after an ice storm came through on Thursday, and there was still ice scattered around in shady places on the north side of buildings, in dirty piles where the plows had cleared the streets, and most impressively, in the fountain on the old Courthouse lawn. Because the ice was melting, it fit the description of “wet”!

All of these images were taken with my Nikon D700 and the 28-300mm Nikkor lens. They were all processed in Lightroom, and some have some slight nudges Photoshop and Topaz plug-ins like Clean or DeNoise. I’m still getting acquainted with the Adobe products, but so far I’m loving Lightroom!

1word_wet_004_2015-03-02_LR_tpz

1word_wet_009_2015-03-02_LR_TpzRestyle

1word_wet_030_2015-03-02_LR_TpzClean

1word_wet_029_2015-03-02_LR

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2015-photo-challenge-zannonewordphotochallenge

Snow, Ice, and Routine Chores

Nothing like some crazy weather to throw me off my schedule! The good news is, I’m spending much more time on my photography these days, even if I’m not totally up to date on my weekly photo challenge.

The challenge for the week of February 23 was the word “Open”. I had some ideas for what I wanted to shoot that week, but you know what they say about plans–they are made to be broken. On Wednesday of that week, we got 7.3 inches of snow, the second largest snowfall ever recorded on any date here in Tupelo. Of course, I took my camera out for some shots, so even though I wasn’t sticking to the theme for the week, the important thing was that I was shooting and processing. Here are a few images I captured that week:

snowstorm_004_2015-02-22_clarity

snowstorm_030_2015-02-22_clarity

snowstorm_050_2015-02-22_clarity

On this last one, I used the Topaz Clean plug-in to give it a little different effect in the details, especially on the tree branches. Kinda different, but I really like it! View it large to see what I mean.

snowstorm_051_2015-02-22_tpzClean

The following weekend, we delivered my four prints to the Elvis Presley Birthplace where hubby helped our club president get all the artwork hung for our spring exhibit. We have about 66 photographs from 20 different photographers on display for the entire month of March. We opened the exhibit on Monday, March 2, and I’ve already received positive comments from friends who have visited.

So, my weekly challenge for this past week was the word “Wet”. And wouldn’t you know it? On Wednesday, we had another winter storm come through, this time dumping almost an inch of sleet and ice, making travel impossible for two days (there were several fatal car accidents, one involving a mother and two of her children, so sad). So I didn’t get out to do any shooting until yesterday (Saturday), and I tried to shoot images for both the “Open” and “Wet” themes to get back on track. I think I got some decent shots which I’ll be processing this week.

Today it was time to do some general housecleaning around my photography gear and files.

First, I had hubby reconfigure my desk so I could move my monitor further away from my face, leaving more room on my desktop to accomodate my new Wacom Intuos tablet. I’m really excited about learning to use this piece of equipment!

Next, I took the plunge and cleaned the sensor on my Nikon D700, using Sensor Swab cleaning tools and Eclipse cleaning solution. I took before-and-after shots of the sky so I could see the difference it made. I actually went over it twice, using two swabs, and I think there may still be a spot or two left, but based on the photos that I took, it was quite an improvement. I may try to clean it again in another week or so.

Next, it was time to do some archiving. After a near disaster with a computer crash and an external hard drive failure last year, I’ve become somewhat OCD about backing up my photo files now. I have backups of my computer running to Mozy, and to two external hard drives attached to my system. But I also like to actually move files off my hard drive for storage now, so I’m using a combination of Google Drive, along with two additional external hard drives which I rotate out. Today I archived all my 2014 files to Google drive and to both my hard drives, and then removed them from my computer system. That’s less for Mozy to have to backup, and I can get to my archived files from any computer where I have an internet connection, via Google Drive.

And finally, I started playing with Lightroom and Photoshop. I finally took the plunge and signed up for a one-year subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud solution. For $9.99/month (I went ahead and prepaid for a year), I’m able to use the latest versions of Lightroom and Photoshop on up to two computers, as well as some mobile processing. I’m still a huge fan of Paintshop Pro, but I think it’s important to try and learn the more widely used software applications. Now that I can have access to them at a reasonable price, there’s no reason not to tackle learning something new. I also completed my collection of Topaz plug-ins by adding Illustrator and Glow.

So, I have software, hardware, workspace, updated filespace, a clean sensor, and motivation. Time to get some shooting and processing done! The challenge for this week is the word “Broken”, and hopefully with the time change, I won’t have to wait until the weekend to get my shooting done–more daylight after work hours. I still need to process shots from the “Open” and “Wet” word challenge, so time to get busy!

2015-photo-challenge-zannonewordphotochallenge

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Getting Ready to Show

Last year I joined a local photography club, Southern Light Photography, here in Tupelo to meet some other people who share my interest in this art form, and who might help inspire me to take more photos and improve my work. The club is preparing to do our first show of 2015, which will be held at the Elvis Presley Birthplace during the entire month of March.

We’re each supposed to choose up to four photos for the show, get them printed at least 11×14, and then have them framed in a standard gallery format (black frame with white mat). So for the past couple of weeks I’ve been going through all my old shots, trying to decide which ones I wanted to prepare for the show. Since printing and framing costs can get expensive, I want to be picky about what I select.

In the process of reviewing the photos, I kept noticing that my images always looked much more saturated in Paint Shop Pro than they did when viewed in any other application. It was driving me batty.  I used my Spyder calibration tool and recalibrated the monitor, but that did not solve the problem. Every time I processed a photo in Paint Shop Pro, it looked perfect…but then when I viewed the finished image in any other application it would look washed out and dull. So, I was afraid to get anything printed, as I didn’t know which version would be likely to come back from the lab.

Finally, I sent off some test prints to MPIX, and when they returned it was obvious that the color rendering in Paint Shop Pro was off. The prints matched the more muted versions that I saw in the other applications. I did some more research and also posted a question in the Corel user forum. I finally got a response today, and it confirmed what I had begun to suspect–the monitor calibration process was the culprit (sort of)!

When I calibrate the monitor with my Spyder, it allows me to save the calibration profile, which is then loaded up each time the computer fires up. All the other applications were using this new profile, but Paint Shop Pro was not. I had to go into the color management menu and manually change the setting for the color profile to the new one that was created when the monitor was last calibrated. After I did that, the image looked consistent with what I was seeing in other applications (i.e. Microsoft Image Viewer, Topaz, Lightroom). Yes, I said Lightroom. At one point I got so frustrated that I actually downloaded a trial version of Lightroom to see if it rendered the colors the same as Paint Shop Pro, but it rendered them in the more muted version like the other applications.

So, now that I got the settings corrected in PSP, I was able to do some quick edits on a couple more photos and then I made my final selection for the ones that I’m going to put in the gallery show. I ordered 12×18 prints of each from MPIX tonight, using a 50% off promo code. Once I get the prints in, I’ll decide if I’m going to have all four framed.

finalfour

I’m still struggling with getting motivated to shoot anything new. I’m stuck in the house all day for work, and it’s dark and cold by the time the workday ends. But I’ve got to get my shots done for my first weekly challenge, so today I at least put my camera battery on the charger to get ready. One step at a time. 🙂