I’m in the middle of processing my photos from last Sunday afternoon’s shoot with Ashley in downtown Glendale.  Ashley saw my post asking for volunteers who were willing to let me practice my lifestyle portrait photography skills on them, and graciously offered her services.  We met on the square in Glendale around 4:30 and spent about an hour shooting in various locations within a two-block radius.

Ashley was a delight to work with.  Besides being beautiful, she has a generous spirit and a refreshing spontaneity that made me feel more comfortable about shooting a total stranger.  Thanks, Ashley, for your time and for the fantastic images for my portfolio.

Here are a few of my favorites that I’ve processed so far:

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Images shot with a Nikon D700, Nikkor 28-300mm zoom. 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, and you can follow me on Twitter @suzanne_hight.

Exit – Scorpion Gulch

This morning’s post is another shot of the interior of the old homesite called Scorpion Gulch, located at the entrance to South Mountain Park in Phoenix, Arizona. This shot was taken right after a winter storm front had moved through, so the clouds were just starting to break up.

I love how the HDR process revealed the deep cracks in the walls to the right, along with the details in the floor.

HDR created from seven bracketed photos processed in Photomatix v4. Post-processing in Topaz Adjust / DeNoise with Paintshop Photo Pro X3.

Short post this morning, gotta head to work!

Scorpion Gulch After the Storm – Part 2

First, I just want to say thanks to everyone for the positive feedback this week on the images I’ve posted.  I’m not sure if it’s a result of the new equipment, the locations I shot, or (hopefully) my processing is improving–but whatever it is, the response has been great.  Thanks, all!

Tonight I’m presenting another view of  Scorpion Gulch at South Mountain.  You might remember that I posted an interior shot a couple of days ago. Today’s image is a look at the outside of the old homesite taken from the side.  Behind and to the left, you can see the top of the mountain where all the radio, television and cell phone towers are posted to provide communication services to the Phoenix area.  Quite a contrast between the old and the new:

Scorpion Gulch After the Storm

This image was taken with the Nikon D700 and the 14-24mm wide angle zoom lens that I acquired recently. Some wise person told me that I should go full-frame, and for this type of shot, I have to agree. It would be hard to imagine getting this much area into a single shot with the D5000 DX format, even with the wide angle lens. The sharpness of the images produced from this equipment still blows me away.

This HDR was created from seven bracketed exposures in Photomatix, with post-processing in Paintshop Photo Pro X3, using Topaz Adjust (Photo Pop) and Topaz DeNoise.

The forecast is calling for another winter storm front to be moving through the Valley this weekend. I’m scheduled to do my first client shoot (gratis) tomorrow morning, so I’m hoping that the rain holds off at least for a few hours. If not, maybe I’ll get some more storm shots!

Saguaro and Big Sky – and Guns

For tonight’s post I’ve returned to South Mountain and the great outdoors.  When we visited there last Sunday just after the storm front moved through, I was expecting it to be totally overcast, but in true Arizona fashion, the sun began to burn through the clouds by early afternoon.

I used my 14-24mm wide angle zoom to capture this shot of the saguaro in seven brackets for HDR processing.  It was pretty windy that day, but fortunately on this side of the hill there was only a slight breeze, so I got just a faint amount of ghosting from the ocotillo branches on the right.

Saguaro and Big Sky

Interesting story on this shot: When we got out of the car with the camera and tripod and started to hike up the hill, we suddenly heard gunshots. There were multiple shots, and they were very close by. If you know anything about Arizona, you know that (1) we have very liberal gun laws, and (2) we have a lot of people who carry guns openly. Andy and I just froze in place for a moment or two until we heard laughter close by. We decided to hike on up the hill, and then the shots started again. Call us crazy, but we kept walking but kept our heads down. Finally we got to where we could see three people at the bottom of the hill doing some kind of target shooting with a handgun. The kid that was shooting the gun didn’t look all that old, and his two companions appeared to be possibly his parents.

We tried to avoid eye contact from our position up on the hill. I certainly didn’t want to point the camera in that direction and have them misinterpret our intentions. They finally packed up and left about the same time that we did, after firing off at least 40-50 rounds while we were there. I don’t know what the regulations are in South Mountain Park, but I can’t imagine this is legal. In fact, I tweeted about it that afternoon, and I included the hashtag #guns in my tweet. And wouldn’t you know it, now I’m getting all these new followers (from bots, I’m sure), all telling me about the fantastic guns they’ve bought/sold/discovered. I’m blocking them all.

Oh, well, I’m really enjoying having more brackets to play with on these HDR’s. My Nikon D5000 would only shoot three brackets (auto-bracketed) at a time, but my D700 will shoot up to nine brackets. Not sure I need that many, but it’s nice to have options. Only problem is that the additional shots eat up space on my memory card as well as my hard drive. I’ll have to be much more disciplined about deleting those shots that I know I’m never going to use.

Looks like there’s another weather front moving this way for the weekend, so there’s a distinct possibility I’ll be out shooting clouds again. I love this time of the year here in Arizona!

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.

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.

HDR on the Cloudy Windy Mogollon Rim

Tonight I worked on a few of the photos that I took on our recent camping trip.  These were all taken on the Mogollon Rim in central Arizona on September 8, 2010.  It just happened to be mostly cloudy, a little rainy and VERY windy that day.  I had taken my camera and the tripod with me to get some shots from the edge of the Rim near Woods Canyon Lake, but with the wind blowing so hard, I knew that it was going to be difficult, if not impossible, to get any decent HDR images from the bracketed sets.  The tree limbs, grasses, and flowers were swaying back and forth so wildly that it’s impossible to get them perfectly aligned in a single image.  Heck, even the clouds were moving so quickly across the sky that the motion was obvious in the HDR image.

At first, I wasn’t even going to fool with processing these shots, but then I started thinking….the rugged rocks and boulders in the foreground of the pictures weren’t moving.  Perhaps a little ghosting in the foliage would just add some interesting texture to the image.  Well, at least that’s how I reasoned with myself when I produced these images tonight.  They were all done in Photomatix Pro, with post-processing in Paintshop Pro X3.  Enjoy!

Mogollon Rim 2010.09.08_007

Mogollon Rim 2010.09.08_006

Mogollon Rim 2010.09.08_005

Mogollon Rim 2010.09.08_004

Mogollon Rim 2010.09.08_003

Don’t forget to order your 2011 Zen of Zann calendar.  Just click on the link to on the left sidebar, or right from here.


The Mogollon Rim on a Cloudy Day

I’m still going through photographs that I took on our camping trip in early September.  On the third day we were there, we drove from the campground over to the Rim Road that leads to Woods Canyon Lake.  It was quite windy that day which made it hard to do any bracketed shots for HDR’s.  All the tree branches, grasses and bushes were swaying back and forth so much that it’s hard to get a good composite image that doesn’t have a lot of blurry action in it.  Maybe I’ll play with some of them someday, but not today.

So I’ve taken some of the single images and processed them to see what I could get.  Here are a couple that caught my eye:

Wildflowers in the Crevices

Highway of Light

Both of these show how cloudy it was that day, but they don’t convey just how windy it was.  Regardless, it was still a beautiful day to be up on the Rim, enjoying the beauties of the high country in Arizona.  These photos were shot with the Nikon D5000 with the kit lens (18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6 G), tripod mounted, in raw NEF format.  They were processed to JPG in Paintshop Pro X3.

To see other shots from our camping trip, check out the set Camping at Canyon Point on Flickr.  You might also enjoy the images of the star trails that I took while we were away from the city lights!


More Campsite Critters

Tonight’s post presents a few more of the critters that shared our campsite with us last week.  I wish I could tell you the exact name of each of these guys, but I’m not very familiar with the species names–I just know them as “squirrel”, “lizard”, and “bird”.

So, here they are!


Campsite Critter 01


Campsite Critter 02


Campsite Critter 03

Hey, I’m a photographer, not a biologist. 🙂

Anyway, hope you enjoy the shots. These guys were all kind enough to let us get reasonably close to them, probably because the hubby was eating sunflower seeds and almonds. This is one of the reasons that I love to go camping, just to get up close and personal with cute critters like this!

All of these were shot with the Nikon D5000 in raw NEF format, using a 75-200mm zoom lens. Since it was shady, I was using a fairly large aperture, so getting the proper depth of field was a little bit of a challenge. The shots were all processed in Paintshop Pro X3, where I tweaked the brightness and contrast, added a little Local Tone Mapping, and sharpened somewhat. I cropped the shot of the bird just a little from the top because the top wasn’t very interesting. However, I left the squirrel uncropped because I wanted to illustrate how he was sitting out in the open rather than hiding from us. The lizard….well, he is what he is.


Prickly Pear in HDR

We had a wetter-than-usual spring this year, and as a result the prickly pear cacti are loaded with fruit that is just now starting to ripen.

Prickly Pear 001

As we were driving north on the Beeline Highway last week, headed toward our camping spot, we stopped just south of Rye, AZ on Gisela Road to look for some Indian ruins.  The map indicated that the ruins were about two miles off the highway, but we never did find them.  Instead we found a gravel road that led to the top of a hill that provided a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains as the summer storm clouds moved in.  When we stepped out of the truck to look around, we found these beautiful prickly pear cactus plants.  The fruit is edible and delicious, but of course you have to be extremely careful when handling it.  The juice makes great jellies, jams, and margaritas.

Prickly Pear 002

All of these images are HDR’s composed from three bracketed photos (+2.0/0.0/-2.0), processed in Photomatix, and then post-processed in Paintshop Pro X3. They were shot with my Nikon D5000 and the kit lens (18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6 AF), tripod mounted.

Prickly Pear 003

White Tanks Regional Park at Sunset

I’ve mentioned before on this blog how important it is to follow your bliss, to be flexible enough to change your plans and go where the light leads you.  Yesterday as I drove home from work, heading west toward the setting sun, I noticed in my rear-view mirror that there were clouds building in from the east.  Since the Phoenix area is essentially a large bowl in the desert (hence the name “Valley of the Sun”), it’s possible to climb the mountains on one side of the bowl and see miles and miles in the distance to the mountains on the other rim.  So I decided to rush home, grab my camera gear and head to the west rim of the bowl, which is the White Tanks Mountains.  My plan was to go into the White Tanks Regional Park and set up my camera and tripod at the same location where I took my very first sunrise shots with this camera, back in January.  From this location, one can look all the way across the valley to the east, and I was pretty sure I could get some decent shots of the clouds moving in.

It’s about a 35-minute drive from our house to the White Tanks.  Andy wanted to go with me, so I waited for him to change out of his work clothes (I’ll admit I was mentally tapping my toes while I waited), and then we headed west.  I always get a little frantic when I’m driving to a location at sunset because I know how the light changes constantly, and I wanted to be sure that I was set up in time to capture the best shots.

We got to the park at little after 7:00 PM and found that they were only open until 8:00 PM–I had a little less than an hour to do my shooting.  I first drove to the the little overlook that I used back in January and set up my camera and tripod.  While the clouds were not as spectacular as I had hoped for, there was a little slice of a rainbow that provided just the right touch of color for my first shots.  I was shooting everything in RAW+JPG in bracketed series of three (-2.0/0.0/+2.0) so I could process them as HDR’s.

A little slice of rainbow

After about ten minutes at this location, the sun had set behind the mountains to our backs, so we got in the car and drove further into the park.  I finally found a spot where there were plenty of saguaro, cholla, and other cacti, with a good view of the surrounding mountains.  We parked the car and hiked a short distance off the road, and from there I finished up my shoot as the sun went down.

Evening in the White Tanks

As I processed the photos today, I was amazed to discover that the total time that had elapsed between the first shot and the last was only 25 minutes.  In that time span, I took 114 shots (38 three-shot series).  It just reinforced the fact that the light changes so quickly in the evening, and it’s important to be ready to capture every possible second of it.

Now for the technical details:  I processed the raw NEF files in Photomatix to create the HDR’s.  Normally I save these files as JPGs, but today I saved them as 16-bit TIFF files (they were about 73MB each).  I then processed each TIFF file in Paintshop Pro X3 to apply Local Tone Mapping, adjust Brightness and Contrast, Saturation, Levels, etc., along with removing noise and sharpening.  I then saved the files as JPGs, but without the usual 20% compression I normally use.  I wound up with 38 JPG files that were anywhere from 7MB to 16MB in size.

I did wind up with one image that I just could not process to my satisfaction…there was a lot of burnout in the sky, and I just couldn’t adjust it away.  So I wound up using one of the Paintshop Pro effects, Brushes, to turn it into a pseudo oil painting:


So, I’ve spent my entire Saturday processing these photos, but I feel very good about the way they turned out.  I’ve loaded the entire series (except for the one above) to my Flickr page in the set titled White Tanks Park at Sunset.  You can also view them on a black background (even better!) on my FlickRiver site.  I hope you’ll take a look and let me know what you think!

So, once again, following my Zen took me to a great photo shoot that I hadn’t planned on.  And to take it even further, as we drove home, we decided to stop somewhere for dinner, so we went south on Litchfield Road, then east on McDowell until we spotted Buffalo Wild Wings.  Yeah, I’m sometimes behind the times, but I had never eaten there and didn’t really know anything about it, but I liked the colored Christmas lights they had on the patio, so I whipped the car into the parking lot and we went in.  We had a GREAT late dinner of wings, salad, fried dill pickles, beer and ice cream sundaes.  My Zen scores again!!