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:

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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.

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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!

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Soft Sunset in Biloxi

Sometimes when I’m shooting I’m just playing with exposures and buttons on the camera, trying to learn more about how they work, and at the time I’m not paying any real attention to composition or the scene that I’m capturing.

And sometimes, that just seems to work out fine.

Last month when we were in Biloxi, I took the camera out to the beach at sunset (doesn’t everybody?). I wanted to play around with the ISO settings to see how far I could push them with the 24-85mm f/1.8 Nikkor lens that I bought earlier this year. The sunset wasn’t as colorful as I had hoped it would be, but there were some nice pinks and purples as we slipped into the blue hour.

So, without thinking about it too much, I snapped a picture of a pier and some pilings from the beach. This one was shot at ISO 4000, at about 1/80s at f/7.1. It didn’t look like much when I first saw the raw NEF file, but with a little tweak of the Levels in Paintshop Pro X7 and just a little touch of Topaz De-Noise, I got the shot that I wanted.

It just makes me feel peaceful and content when I look at this. And that’s why I love photography…it’s a tool to provoke emotions and preserve memories.

Soft Sunset in Biloxi
Click on the image above to view large.

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Hymns at Cafe Du Monde

I don’t care what diet you’re on, no visit to New Orleans is complete without a stop at Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter for some fresh, hot beignets and coffee.  And while they do have indoor seating, it’s almost sacrilegious to succumb to the lure of air conditioning when you could be sitting out on the patio, dripping sweat, while people-watching and listening to the ad-lib free entertainment that’s offered 24/7.

On our most recent trip, we were treated to some a capella hymn-singing by this enthusiastic gentleman.  He had a decent baritone and an infectious spirit, so we enjoyed his renditions of some old familiar church songs.

From a photography standpoint, this was a tricky shot given the wide range of lighting conditions from the shade of the patio to the bright sunlight on the street.  The Nikon D700 handled it nicely, shooting in RAW format gave me the data that I needed to recover the details in the shadows, and Topaz plug-ins provided some nice detail recovery.

I love this shot because there are so many stories going on at once….the couple buying tickets on the left, the singer, the older couple walking up the ramp, the younger couple lounging on the bench, and the crowd on the patio enjoying the show.  One of my favorite images from the day.

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Click the image to view large!!

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More HDR from Fort Pike

Things have been a little slow at work lately, so I’ve had some more time to work on processing the images from our recent discovery of Fort Pike in southern Louisiana.

Just like my previous post, these images are all HDR’s created from seven brackets in Photomatix V4 and edited in PaintShop Pro X7.

These first two are inside the outer walls of the fort. The only light in the interior was the natural light coming through the portholes where the cannons used to be mounted. Therefore, HDR was really the only way to capture the whole dynamic range of light that our eyes were experiencing.

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I always hate to see historical sites defaced with graffiti, but I have to admit that sometimes it makes for an interesting photograph. For this one, I went with a little more abstract processing using Topaz filters, something more “painterly” and less sharp.

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Spider in the Roses

This morning I was dead-heading my knockout roses, a task that I actually enjoy as it gives me a chance to get out in nature instead of sitting in front of a computer all day. Just as I was reaching into the interior of one of my bushes to clip some old dead blooms, I spotted this beauty just hanging in its web right in front of my hand.  It’s an orb weaver spider, non-aggressive and not dangerous to humans, but I didn’t know that at the time.

I may have uttered an expletive at that point….I really don’t remember. But after I caught my breath, I was just kind of blown away by the beauty of this creature, hanging in its web in the middle of my rose bush. I had my iPhone in my back pocket, so I tried taking a couple of shots with it, but couldn’t get it to focus correctly in the low light.

So I finished up my yard work and then retrieved my Nikon D700 with my 28-300 Nikkor lens and went back to see if the spider was still there. Thankfully, it was right where I had left it (him? her?), and I was able to get a few good shots with some great depth of field. I had the ISO bumped up to 2500 so I could get a faster shutter speed since there was a slight breeze blowing the web back and forth, and with the narrow depth of field I wanted to make sure I stayed in focus.

I processed this in Paintshop Photo Pro V5 with Topaz Adjust.

Spider In the Roses