Arizona Faces with Topaz B&W Effects

I seem to have drifted away from my weekly challenge topics lately. Oh, well, at least I’m still working on my photography, and that’s the real point here.

I’ve been watching the webinars from Topaz Labs this month, and they’ve been concentrating on their B&W Effects product for the last couple of weeks. I love working in black and white, so this week I pulled out some old shots from when we lived in the Phoenix area, and tried using some of the techniques I’ve learned to these images.

Unfortunately, the photos themselves weren’t as sharp as I would have liked for them to be. When I took these, I was still pretty bad about checking my ISO, shutter speed and exposure before I pulled the trigger. But I still like the way these came out.

Note: Click the photos to view larger in Flickr.

This first one was taken on Grand Avenue. The older gentlemen was being pushed along the street in his wheelchair by his son. I used the B&W Effects filter to add highlights to the older man’s face and hands, while keeping the son’s face hidden under his cap. I wanted the focus of the observer to be drawn to the bottom of the image.

20110108_194_GrandAve

This next image was taken while we were riding the light rail. I used to love getting on the train at one end of the route with my camera, and riding it all the way to the other end and back, getting off at different stops along the way to shoot. Many times the most interesting faces were actually in the train car with us, right across the aisle. This lady was in her own little world, and I just loved the character lines in her face.

20110221_023_LightRailRide

This last image was also taken on the same light rail ride, as we were about to board. This guy reminded me of a NASCAR driver, at least from the waist up. Just check out those shades, and the rings on his left hand. A close look at his feet, though, make it clear that he’s not a well-to-do race car driver.

20110221_004_LightRailRide

We’re going back to Arizona next week on a work/vacation trip, and I’m looking forward to doing a lot of landscape shooting around Sedona. I’ll eventually get back to my weekly challenge, but as I said, the point is to be shooting and processing as much as possible, no matter what the subject matter!

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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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From South Mountain to Ahwatukee

Tonight I decided to pull out some old brackets and do some HDR processing, using the new Topaz Adjust and Topaz  Black & White Effects plug-ins that I’ve recently acquired.

I found this set of brackets that I shot from the top of South Mountain Park in Phoenix, on a partly-cloudy afternoon just after a storm front had moved through. From the top of South Mountain, there was a clear view of the suburb of Ahwatukee, and the remaining clouds were still dramatic enough to really lend a sense of scale to the landscape. From the to of South Mountain, you can almost see forever!

From South Mountain to Ahwatukee

I shot these brackets with my 14-24mm Nikkor wide-angle lens, using my Nikon D700 camera mounted on a tripod. I processed the brackets in Photomatix 4, then edited the resulting TIFF in Paintshop Photo Pro X4. First I used Topaz Adjust to correct exposure and bump up the clarity slightly. I then added a layer using Topaz Black & White Effects, using the low-key preset which I adjusted slightly to add some detail. I lowered the opacity of this layer, as I just wanted to add a little drama to the clouds, especially where the sun was filtering through.

Today, we closed on the sale of our home in Arizona, so we no longer have any real estate ties to the Phoenix area. I guess this image is a little bit of nostalgia for a place that I really did enjoy living and photographing. I’ll still be returning there several times a year for work, so hopefully this won’t be the last time I see such a magnificent landscape as this through my viewfinder.

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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Scorpion Gulch – Room With a View

Tonight’s post wraps up my series from our last visit to South Mountain Park. This is another view of the interior of the old abandoned homesite called Scorpion Gulch, located just inside the entrance to the park.

Scorpion Gulch - Room With a View
Nikon D700, 14-24mm zoom. HDR created from seven bracketed photos processed in Photomatix v4. Post-processing in Topaz Adjust / DeNoise with Paintshop Photo Pro X3.

This weekend we’re taking a road trip up to Jerome where I’m hoping to get some more practice with the 14-24mm wide angle lens. If you’re not familiar with Jerome, it’s an old copper mining town in central Arizona. From Wikipedia:

Jerome became a notorious “wild west” town, a hotbed of prostitution, gambling, and vice. On 5 February 1903, the New York Sun proclaimed Jerome to be “the wickedest town in the West”.

When the copper played out, the town was all but abandoned. However, in the past twenty years or so, it’s been reborn as an artists’ colony. Many of the old houses and businesses have been turned into galleries and studios. The old hospital has been turned into the Grand Hotel, and that’s where we’ll be staying (the rumor is that it’s haunted!).

I’m hoping to get not only some great landscape photography from the vantage point high on the mountain, but I’m also hoping to get some HDR’s of the interior of the hotel. Maybe even shoot a ghost or two!

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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My Official Website at http://zannwalker.com

Lunchtime at Five Guys

When we went on our Light Rail Photo Crawl a couple of weeks ago, we had lunch at the fabulous Five Guys Burgers and Fries.  Even though it was President’s Day, and thus a holiday for most of the people who normally work downtown, Five Guys was hoppin’!  This was our first time to experience the world’s best french fries, but we’ll definitely be making a return visit.

I shot this image with my Nikon D700 and the 28-300mm zoom.  I decided to process it in Topaz Adjust and give it a pseudo-HDR feel, thanks to some inspiration from this recent post from Steve Skinner, one of my favorite Flickr contacts.  Although his image is a true multi-exposure HDR, I tried to recreate the look somewhat in this single image exposure using the Topaz presets.  I was pretty pleased with how it came out.

And yes, that was Andy taking a phone call from work on his day off.

Lunch at Five Guys

And just for grins, here’s what the original image looked like with no processing:

Original image

Lunchtime at Five Guys - original image

Finance and Law

When we did our Light Rail Photo Crawl a couple of weekends ago, we stopped for lunch in downtown Phoenix.  It was a bright, cloudless noontime, which can create some harsh lighting conditions for photography.  But on the other hand, you get these brilliant blue skies that contrast so beautifully against the neutral-colored architecture.

I found this shot of the Wells Fargo building looming over the historic Maricopa County Courthouse building to be one of my favorites from the day’s collection.  The juxtaposition of the old and new architectural styles, as well as the deeper symbolism of the financial sector having such an influence over the justice system…well, that’s a topic for a different blog.

I’ll just stick to the photography:

Finance and Law
Single image shot with my Nikon D700, 28-300mm zoom lens @70mm, F/11, 1/500s, ISO 200

I’ve got a busy weekend of shooting ahead if all goes as planned. Tomorrow night I’m joining some other members of the AZ Photographers Group for a Happy Hour/Open Shoot at Vintage Lounge in Tempe, AZ. On Saturday morning, I’m planning to visit the annual quilt auction being held at the Glencroft Retirement Center, where some of the most beautiful handcrafted quilts are sold as a fund-raising activity. On Sunday evening, I’m doing another complimentary lifestyle portrait session with someone who kindly volunteered to let me practice on them.

I’m still trying to shoot as much as possible, and as many different subjects as possible, to develop my skills and discover my niche. Thank god I don’t have to pay for film processing!

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.

Lisa and Ranger – My First Photoshoot

Last weekend I had my first “client” photo shoot with a friend of mine, Lisa, and her new dog, Ranger. We met at Steele Indian School Park last Saturday morning for about an hour. The skies were mostly overcast when we started, but by the time we finished the sun had started to peek through.

Ranger is a cute dog, very photogenic, but he alternated between being nervous (shivering), and being curious (antsy), so it was a challenge to catch shots of the two of them together when Ranger was being still. However, I think we came away with some shots that were worth our time:

Lisa & Ranger 01

Lisa & Ranger 02

Lisa & Ranger 03

Lisa & Ranger 04

Lisa & Ranger 05

These were all processed using Portrait Professional and Paintshop Photo Pro X3.

Since I’m just learning to do this, I appreciate your feedback and constructive criticism.

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.

Exit
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!

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.