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
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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:
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Foggy Saturday Night in Tupelo

It rained all day today, which gave me a perfect excuse to stay indoors and work on our income taxes.  But by the end of the day I had a good dose of cabin fever and was ready to go outside, rain or not.  By about 6:00PM the rain had stopped and a light fog had settled in for the evening.  I decided it might be a good time to do a little night shooting in downtown Tupelo.

I was hoping to get some interesting photos of the lights glowing through the fog, but it wasn’t quite dense enough to provide the effect I was looking for.  In addition, there was more traffic downtown than I had expected due to a theatre production by the Tupelo Community Theatre that was going on at the Lyric.

Still, I did get quite a few images that I really liked.  I used the D700 and my 50mm prime lens, mounted on the tripod so I wouldn’t be at the mercy of the dim light.  Andy went with me and we walked around for about an hour before the fog turned to a light sprinkle and we headed back to the car to protect the equipment.

I processed sixteen of the images when we got home, and decided to do them all in black and white–it just seemed to fit the mood.  I used Paintshop Photo Pro X4 with Topaz Black & White Effects, and I’m pretty pleased with the results.  Let me know what you think!

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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.

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

End of the Workday

Today’s post is a shot I took at Westgate on Valentine’s Day.  I just imagined that the guy who operated this machine left it parked there at the end of the workday and walked toward the sunset, straight into Gordon Biersch for a beer.  Sounds like a great way to end the workday.

End of the Workday
HDR created from five hand-held bracketed photos processed in Photomatix v4. Post-processing in Topaz Adjust / DeNoise with Paintshop Photo Pro X3.

And since it’s the end of a long workday, that’s the end of my post for today.

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.

Mill Avenue Bridge at the Blue Hour

To me, the “blue hour” is the most beautiful part of the day for shooting architectural features with lights, especially if they’re reflecting off the water.  The blue hour is that period of twilight each day between full darkness and sunlight, when you can still see stars but there’s just a hint of light in the atmosphere.  Many amateur photographers (myself included until I learned better) will take hundreds of shots of sunrises or sunsets, but never extend their shooting time into that magic hour when the sky turns a deep indigo.

Last Saturday on our photowalk in Tempe, we were fortunate enough to be at Tempe Town Lake before the blue hour started, so we had plenty of time to find our best angles for shooting.  Here’s one of my favorites from the morning’s walk….the east Mill Avenue Bridge.  There are two parallel bridges that carry vehicular traffic over the lake, one running inbound and one running outbound.  For this shot, I was between the two bridges, facing east.

Mill Avenue Bridge East

I actually took three bracketed shots here, but I chose to only process one of the images, the one that was slightly under-exposed. I used Topaz Detail to get a little more texture in the bridge, and then used Topaz DeNoise to clean up the artifacts. A little tweaking with the Curves took and a little final sharpening was all it took.

Compare this shot to the one that I took a few minutes later after I walked further east and then turned around shot both bridges.  The blue hour doesn’t last long, so be prepared to capture it before it fades away!

The Payoff for Getting Up Early

Several of my photographer buddies from work decided to do an early morning photowalk in Tempe, Arizona this past Saturday morning.  The plan was to meet at the Starbucks on Mill Avenue between 6:00 and 6:15 AM.  Since it’s a 35 minute drive for me to get there, I had to get up at an ungodly hour (for a Saturday).  It was so tempting to just bail on the guys, but I thought it would be a great chance to compare notes with other non-professionals, plus get some good sunrise shots on Tempe Town Lake.

There were four of us (not too many, not too few), and we had a great time exploring the area on the south side of the Lake from before dawn until after the sun rose.  I’ll be posting more shots from our photowalk, but I’ll start with this one:

Tempe Town Lake Just Before Dawn

To the right is the Mill Avenue bridge which carries vehicle traffic. To the left you can see the light trails created from the passing of the light rail train as it traveled over the Lake. The boats are just waiting for the sun to come up to start taking passengers.

You can see more shots from our photowalk in the set that I’ve posted on Flickr, called Tempe Photowalk 2011.01.15. I’ve just started processing, so more images will be added to the set soon. I’ll be posting a few more on this blog as well.

This was my first photowalk, and I’d like to thank Ed Brice for organizing things for us, and Adam Schmid and Kurt Neurauter for lots of great tips and good humor. I had a blast and look forward to more of these excursions!

Bike Night – Developing an Eye for Detail

Here are a few more shots from last Thursday night’s Bike Night at Westgate in Glendale, AZ. Although I enjoy taking those wide-angle shots to get the “big picture”, I’m finding that I enjoy even more getting close to a subject and looking for the little interesting details.

Here are some examples, two in black-and-white and one in color. Be sure to click on them to view large on black..

In this first shot, the detailed etching on the fender and the wheel of this bike caught my eye as I passed by. Yeah, I could have taken a shot of the entire bike, but then I would have had all kind of extemporaneous busyness in the frame that would have distracted from my real subject–the wheel:

Bike Night on Veterans Day 012

I processed this next image in color because I liked the way the red and blue lights reflected off the silver of this hood (fender?) ornament, especially since it was Veterans Day. Had a lot of fun playing with this one in Topaz DeNoise and Adjust.  I did have to crop a little off the top, but it was all empty space anyway:

Bike Night on Veterans Day 013

And finally, another black-and-white image. I was really torn on this one. The bike had blue lights under the gas tank that lit up the motor with an eerie neon glow, and I thought it would be really cool to process in color. However, what really caught my eye was the reflection of nearby bikes that showed up in the rear fender. I didn’t want the blue from the motor to detract from the reflection, so I chose to process this one in monochrome. Just an aesthetic preference on my part, I guess.  I also like the DOF on this one–having the rest of the bike a little blurry helped draw the eye to the reflection:

Bike Night on Veterans Day 014

Once again, all these were shot with a Nikon D5000 with the kit lens (18-55mm, f/3.5-5.6), handheld, ISO around 2000, and in aperture-priority mode with the aperture pretty much wide open.

I have several more shots from Bike Night that I may or may not get around to processing. A week from tonight I’ll be headed “home” to visit my family for Thanksgiving, and of course my camera bag and tripod will be traveling with me. I’ve got a lot to do between now and then–I do have a day job after all–so I’m not sure how much time I’ll get to spend in the digital darkroom.

Of course, if insomnia strikes……

Bike Night Grunge – Single Image HDR

I’m posting early today because I have these shots that I processed late last night that I truly love.

When we were at Bike Night on Thursday, we were surrounded by gorgeous, shiny, powerful machinery with lots of chrome and highly polished surfaces.  And in the middle of all that bling, we found THIS bike.  It looks like it might have been buried in someone’s barn or possibly under a sand dune for years…or maybe it belonged to Mad Max.

Anyway, the grunge bike looked like the perfect candidate for some HDR treatment, but since I was shooting in a low-light situation without a tripod, I was doing good to get a single exposure, much less a bracketed series.

So, I used Topaz software to create an HDR effect.  First I used Topaz DeNoise to clean up the digital noise speckles in the photo.  Then I used Topaz Adjust, playing with the presets and sliders to get just the right amount of detail and color saturation.  Finally, I used the Paintshop Pro X3 Curves tool to tweak the exposure, then the Sharpen tool to define the edges.

Be sure to click on the images to view them large on black…it’s worth the extra click!

Bike Night on Veterans Day 009

Bike Night on Veterans Day 011

Bike Night on Veterans Day 010

Bike Night in Color

I processed a few more of the images from Thursday night’s Bike Night photo shoot today, only this time I worked with the raw files and processed them in color.  (My last post showed some of the black-and-white shots SOOC.)

Because I was shooting at such a high ISO and wide open aperture, the raw files had quite a bit of noise, so I used Topaz DeNoise to clean them up a bit.  Then I used Topaz Adjust to sharpen and add contrast, and boost saturation where needed.  I did some final tweaking in Paintshop Pro X3 using Curves and Sharpen.  In some cases, I tried to keep the shot as close to  how we saw it as possible, but on some of these I played with the presets in Topaz Adjust to give them a little spice…almost an HDR effect.

It was definitely trickier working with the color images than the black-and-whites. The plaza where these shots were taken is surrounded by huge jumbotron billboards that are constantly shifting colors and light intensity. Additionally, the walls of the buildings on one side are a pistachio shade of green, which gave everything a greenish cast. Having all these different colors and lights reflecting off all that chrome made for some interesting processing challenges.

Hope you like the results!

Bike Night on Veterans Day 004

Bike Night on Veterans Day 005

Bike Night on Veterans Day 006

Bike Night on Veterans Day 008

Bike Night on Veterans Day 007