Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon

If I won the Powerball Lottery and could live anywhere in the United States that I desired, I would happily settle down near Sedona, Arizona, where I could have a view of the magnificent red rocks and hear the peaceful sounds of Oak Creek.

But you can’t win if you don’t play, and the lottery isn’t legal where I live, so I’ll have to be content with an occasional vacation trip and a collection of photographs to look at from time to time.

Hubby and I got to spend a few days in Sedona early this month on a combination work/vacation trip. Even though we were both sick with sinus and upper respiratory infections while we were there (I even wound up in Urgent Care), I still managed to spend some time outdoors getting some landscape shots with my Nikon D700 and my 14-24mm glass. It’s always a bit of a pain in the ass to haul all my camera equipment, including tripod, on a business trip, but since Andy was with me this time to help share the load, it wasn’t too bad.

My first round of shooting was done just north of Sedona at Midgely Bridge on Highway 89A. There’s a trailhead at the bridge, so a lot of people park here to hike off in several different directions, but it’s also a wonderful place just to sit and soak in the view. Because we were at the bridge in the middle of the day, there was a lot of contrast between dark and light areas. I chose to shoot brackets so I could use HDR processing to draw out the details in the shadows and highlights.

Click on the photos to view large!

Sedona2015_037_2015-04-05And4more_tonemapped

This next shot was taken from about the same spot, but with the camera turned about 45° to the left:

Sedona2015_047_2015-04-05And4more_tonemapped

A little further up Highway 89A, we found a place to get down to the creek. Unfortunately there was a good bit of natural debris along the edges of the water, and the trees had not completely leafed out yet, but it was still a beautiful day. This image is not HDR, but a single image.

Sedona2015_071_2015-04-05

Stay tuned for my next blog post where I’ll show you some images taken at Lizard Rock, one of my favorite formations in the Sedona area.

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West Fork Revisited

I revisited some of my shots from West Fork tonight, to see what I could do with some of the single images in Topaz Adjust. Here are the results (I really should remember to make notes of the presets and sliders that I used).

Be sure to click on the image to view large on black:

West Fork Revisited 001

West Fork Revisited 002

However, this next one just cried out to be processed as an HDR, with the shadowy details of the rock wall and the sunny highlights of the gold leaves. I just couldn’t resist running the bracketed series through Photomatix to produce this:

West Fork Revisited 003

Next stop with the Nikon will be back in North Mississippi as I travel home for Thanksgiving. Hoping to get some great shots while I’m there, and also hoping I can get through airport security without being forced to baggage-check my gear. Have a great holiday everyone!

Autumn Stream at West Fork in Oak Creek Canyon

I only processed one image tonight, but I’m extremely happy with how it came out. Click on the small version below to view it larger in the lightbox:

West Fork in Oak Creek Canyon

This is an HDR created from three bracketed photos in Photomatix V4. Amazingly, I can find no obvious ghosting in this image, even though it was a breezy that day. This shot was taken deep in the canyon, which offered some protection from the wind….plus, I think I just got darned lucky.

After merging the photos and tonemapping them in Photmatix, I adjusted the image using the Curves tool in Paintshop Pro X3, and then bumped up the saturation and sharpened it slightly (Overlay).

I love this shot….it’s so peaceful and serene, and totally Zen.

Oak Creek at West Fork

Whew, things seem to be going a little better this evening in the digital darkroom (or maybe I’m just not being so picky tonight).  I decided to concentrate on pictures from West Fork (trailhead in Oak Creek Canyon between Sedona and Flagstaff, Arizona) this evening, and give the aspens a rest for the time being.

I’m still practicing creating HDR’s using the new Photomatix V4, which has some more robust anti-ghosting functionality.  It’s actually coming in very handy on the shots from last weekend, giving me some extra tools to try and clean up the blur caused from the waving grasses and branches.  I know that if I spent a lot more time on each of these images (and if I actually knew what I was doing), they could be even better, but since I’m just learning from trial-and-error, I’m not too awfully disappointed in the way these have turned out.

This first shot was taken with the tripod sitting on a rock in the middle of the creek, and the camera about three feet above the surface of the water.  I wanted to get this lower perspective so that I would have more of a “flow” of the water. Photomatix did a good job with the de-ghosting of the leaves, but the Curves tool in Paintshop Pro is what really made this one pop, bringing out the detail in the darker part of the stream as well as the bright sunlit mountainside in the background:

West Fork - Running Water

This next shot was taken at a point where two streams meet. This past spring there was a lot of rainfall, so there is still quite a bit of debris in and alongside the creek. I liked the way these two white logs formed an “X” in the middle of the stream. In the background you can see a tree that has fallen across the creek as well. Once again, the Curves tool in Paintshop Pro allowed me to control the exposure in various parts of the image to where I was pretty well satisfied with it:

West Fork - X Marks the Spot

This last shot was taken in an area where a lot of downed trees had piled up during one of the spring floods. I really liked the way the fungus had grown on the trees (you can tell it obviously grew on this log AFTER it was down, because of the horizontal orientation). There was no problem with ghosting on this one, but there is a lot of detail in both the tree bark and the fungi that I wanted to capture. I think I got most of what I was after:

West Fork Fungi

So, a good night in the digital darkroom. Tomorrow, I’ll head back to the aspens again.

Photomatix V4 – Mayhew Lodge in B&W

I had a great time this past weekend on a two-day photo shoot in northern Arizona. On Saturday we drove from Phoenix up to Flagstaff and spent several hours around the Snowbowl Ski Resort. The road that winds from the highway up to the ski resort is lined in many places with beautiful aspen trees that were in their full, golden fall color. The skies that day were mostly cloudy, so it was a bit of a waiting game sometimes, standing by the tripod-mounted camera, remote release in hand, waiting for the sun to peek through the clouds so that I could pull the trigger when the leaves were in their most dramatic sunlit glory. When we got up to the ski lodge, we found that they had a light dusting of snow which had accumulated the previous night. It gave the pine trees that nice “frosting” effect, and since there are aspens interspersed among the pines, it was even more lovely.

After spending a few hours having lunch and hiking around the area with camera and tripod, we drove back down the mountain and went west on Highway 80 to the Chapel of the Holy Dove. I won’t reveal too much about this site, except to say that it is a perfect subject for HDR photography. I took a lot of shots of both the inside and outside of the chapel, and now we’ll just have to see if I can handle them correctly during processing.  I’ll be posting the best of them here and on Flickr.

I had an 8GB SD card in my camera, and I was carrying an extra 4GB card as a backup.  On Saturday night after taking over 400 photos around Flagstaff, the 8GB card was full.  I used my camera connector kit’s SD card reader to transfer the files (both JPG and raw NEF files) from my SD card to my iPad.   It worked like a charm, and left me with an empty 8GB card to start out with on Sunday.  So I can still say that the iPad is a great investment for photography buffs.

After spending the night in Flagstaff, we drove into Oak Creek Canyon on Sunday morning to the West Fork trailhead. After waiting at least a half-hour for a parking space, we hiked into some of the most beautiful and interesting scenery in Oak Creek Canyon. At the beginning of the trail are the remains of the Mayhew Lodge. According to the website “City of Sedona: Tourism“:

As early as 1895, Lou Thomas turned Bear Howard’s cabin into a two-story hunting fishing lodge. It was there that Zane Grey was inspired to write his book Call of the Canyon, which he turned into Sedona’s first movie. In 1925, the property was sold to Carl Mayhew who operated it as Mayhew’s Lodge. It became a favorite destination for prominent movie stars, politicians, and writers. Guests included Lord Halifax, President Herbert Hoover, Clark Gable, Susan Hayward, Cesar Romero, Jimmy Stewart, Walt Disney, and Maureen O’Hara. The U.S. Forest Service acquired the property and made plans to renovate the structure, but tragically the lodge burned to the ground in 1980.

I took a ton of pictures in this area without hiking any great distance into the canyon (we’ve hiked it many times before, and this time I was there to take pictures).  There was a lot of fall color, and even though the sky was mostly cloudy, I still managed to get some pretty decent shots.

When I got home, I transferred all my files to the computer, and then I upgraded my Photomatix V3 software to version 4.  I wasn’t quite ready to start the really intensive photo processing.  I was still exhausted from all the hiking, fresh air, and driving over the 36 hour period.  However, I couldn’t resist trying out some of the new features of V4 of Photomatix.  One thing that I really like are the presets that are now available as soon as the bracketed files are loaded.  And one of those presets is for a black-and-white image.  I had some shots that I took with the intention of converting to B&W, and this software made it so easy.

Here is one of the buildings from the ruins of Mayhew Lodge, done in Photomatix V4 with post-processing in Paintshop Pro:

Mayhew's Lodge in B&W

I just love the way that the HDR process brings out the details of the interior of the building, which was in some pretty deep shadow, as well as revealing the details in the surround trees and the roof of the building.  I did a little tweaking of the contrast in Paintshop Pro, and also did a slight bit of High Pass sharpening.  I’m very pleased with the way this photo turned out, and I’m really ready to start working on ALL the shots that I brought back with me.  Most will be in color, but I’ll probably do a little more experimenting with B&W where the subject matter is amenable.

Speaking of color, here’s a shot that I processed last night after we arrived home.  This is the footbridge from the parking lot at West Fork to the far side of Oak Creek.  Andy and I have been visiting West Fork since the year after we got married (1991).  Back then we would hardly see anyone there while we picnicked on “our” rock–a big flat stone that rested under a tree, high on the bank of the creek overlooking a small quiet pool of water.  When we wanted to cross the creek, we had to use the stepping stones that oftentimes were slippery and unstable.  Now there’s this bridge, and along with it, a LOT more people.

Footbridge to West Fork

Things change, I guess.  Gone are the days of quiet reflection on the West Fork trail….now it’s a mecca for wannabe photographers like myself.  There were lots of DSLR’s, tripods and long lenses seen on the trail on Sunday. I’m happy that people recognize the beauty of the place, but at the same time I’m sad because of how crowded and noisy the area is now. And I didn’t realize it until last night, but I spent more time worrying about finding and setting up the perfect photo that I didn’t take time to enjoy the scenery. I kept complaining about the wind blowing the leaves around (not good for HDR’s), instead of enjoying the cool breezes that I don’t feel very often in Phoenix.

So, I can’t really blame the lack of ambiance on the crowds or the modern bridge that brings them there. I need to remind myself to put the camera aside from time to time and enjoy my surroundings with all my senses. That’s what Zen is about.