Stating the Obvious – The Light Rail Photo Crawl

We had originally planned to be spending the night in Jerome last night for a little Sunday/Monday photography outing, but we had a winter storm front move through the state over the weekend and most of the roads to the north of us, especially at the higher elevations, were not drivable yesterday.  So we decided to stay here in the Valley instead, and I went ahead and took Monday off anyway since I’d already requested it at work.

After spending several hours at South Mountain yesterday, we decided to do something different today and ride the light rail from one end to the other, stopping along the way to shoot whatever we found at each stop.  The entire line is about 20 miles long from Spectrum Mall to Mesa.  It travels through downtown Phoenix and the ASU campus in Tempe.  We had ridden most of the route before, going as far as Tempe, but we had never ridden all the way to Mesa.  We thought it would be something fun to do.

Well, it was kinda cool for the first couple of stops, but then it started to get monotonous.  There’s about a 15 minute wait between trains, so we would get off at the station, take a few shots of what little there was worth shooting, then sit around and wait for the next train.  Boring.

So we gave up the idea of stopping at EVERY station, and instead we rode all the way in to downtown Phoenix and had lunch at Five Guys.  After shooting a little bit around there, we got back on the train and went all the way to the end of the line in Mesa.  There was absolutely nothing out that way that tempted me in the least to get off the train and shoot.  So then we rode the return route back into Tempe and stopped for beers and refreshment on Mill Avenue.

And that’s where we found this:

Stating the Obvious
Nikon D700, VR 28-300mm F/3.5-5.6G lens, 300mm, F/5.6, 1/50s, ISO 200, processed in PaintShop Photo Pro X3, Topaz Adjust / DeNoise.

This was right above our table on the patio balcony of the fine establishment (which shall remain nameless) where we took a break from our walk. We thought it was pretty ironic and kind of stated the obvious. It gave us a good laugh!

After a few more shots in downtown Tempe we decided to call it a day and head back to the starting point at Spectrum Mall.

There were a few things about today that were especially challenging. Some were bad decisions on my part, some were unanticipated. First,it turned out to be a much sunnier day than originally forecast, so the harsh shadows were tough to deal with. So, I should not have carried that extra jacket because it warmed up more than expected. Second, we didn’t use the tripod at all, so we should have left that at home. Third, the plan was overly ambitious and didn’t have a clear focus.

Next time, we’re going to pick one or two major intersections and just spend a couple of hours exploring those interesting areas in depth. But at least now we know we don’t have any need or desire to go all the way to west Mesa to do it.

I did come away with some decent shots that I’ll be posting over the next few days, along with some additional HDR’s from yesterday’s outing at South Mountain.  It’s been a fairly decent weekend of shooting, and now comes the fun part – the digital darkroom!

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.

Scorpion Gulch After the Storm

The Valley of the Sun actually got some rain this weekend.  While other parts of the country might complain about such weather, here in the desert we welcome it and celebrate it by going out in full force with all our camera gear.

It rained all morning today, but about noon the clouds started breaking up, so we drove down to South Mountain Park in hopes of getting some good shots of the dark clouds against the mountains.  This was the first time I’ve been able to spend any quality time with my new 14-24mm wide angle lens, and I was anxious to see how it performed.

At the entrance to the park, there are a couple of old historic structures which, in the early 1930’s were an old store and a home.  Here’s a little bit of history from Wikipedia:

Located in South Mountain Park in Phoenix, Arizona, Scorpion Gulch was built as a home and store by William Lunsford. Lunsford’s store sold curios, Indian-made items, sodas, and candy. It was still in operation in 1966, when Lunsford was 75. In the 1970s, it became a bar. According to the Phoenix Historic Property Register, Scorpion Gulch was built in 1936, and was first listed on the historic preservation register in October of 1990. Historical Photographs show a sign on the original building entitled, “South Mountain Trading Post”, under which jewelry, Indian Curios, and Leather Goods are advertised.

The old homesite is the larger of the two structures, and also the most interesting architecturally.  The roof is mostly gone, so it was a great subject for HDR photography today, with the dark clouds outside and the interesting features on the inside of the structure.  The wide angle lens let me capture everything brilliantly, and the D700 allowed me to FINALLY be able to shoot more than three brackets at a time.  In this case, I shot seven brackets:

Scorpion Gulch at South Mountain 01
HDR created from seven bracketed photos (at 1.0 intervals) processed in Photomatix v4. Post-processing in Paintshop Photo Pro X3.

This type of shot is what makes HDR photography so special.  Using the seven brackets, I was able to capture the details in the wooden roof with the high exposure shots, while keeping the details of the outdoors showing through the windows.  Gotta love HDR for situations like this!

I’ll be processing the shots from today over the next week or so, and I’ll be posting them to the “South Mountain 2011.02.20” set on Flickr.

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.

Hoop Dancers – Grand Entrance

I had a great time shooting at the Native American World Hoop Dancing Championship held yesterday (continuing today) at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ.  It was a perfect opportunity to get acquainted with the new camera (Nikon D700) and the new zoom lens (Nikon 28-300mm F/3.5-5.6G).

I was sitting about three rows back from the edge of the dance area, maybe 20 yards from the center of the ring.  The day’s festivities started with the Grand Entrance, when all the dancers lined up and paraded through the crowd and into the ring, led by three men carrying the Eagle Staff and the flags of the United States and Canada.  As they came into the ring, they formed a spiral of dancers, stirring up a small cloud of dust.  It was quite dramatic, colorful and a lot of fun to watch.

I tried to use that opportunity to practice selective focusing, selecting a specific subject in the crowd of dancers.  I set the camera to shutter-priority because I needed a fast shutter speed to capture the fast-moving dancers.  I was using a little higher ISO (320) to obtain the fast shutter speed, balanced with a little deeper depth of field.

Hoop Dancing - Grand Entrance
Single image JPG processed in Paintshop Photo Pro X3, Topaz Adjust / DeNoise

This shot is one of my favorite from the Grand Entrance. I was shooting in JPG mode only because I knew I was going to be shooting a LOT of images and I wasn’t sure how much memory the raw files would eat up…besides, this was just a practice run. The sun was behind me, shining directly in the face of the dancer, which caused a little loss of detail. I used Topaz Adjust selectively on the central figure to restore some of the detail back to his face and his clothing.  It still looks a little bit over-processed to me, but better than the original.

I’ll be posting a few more shots from the dancing over the next few days. I’ve posted a few straight-from-the-camera shots of the Tiny Tots division (ages 1-5) on my Facebook page which you can view here. Here’s a short video that I shot with my Blackberry so you can hear the drummers and singers who provided the Native American music for the dancers:

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.

The Hat – and the new Nikon

I finally got some time (and some daylight, and some warmer weather) to go out for my first shoot with the new Nikon D700.  I wanted to try out the 28-300 zoom, so I went to the Heard Museum here in Phoenix where they are hosting the Native American Hoop Dancing World Championship this weekend.

It’s the first time I’ve ever attended this event, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  You never know where they will or will not allow cameras and tripods these days.  I shouldn’t have worried.  There were more DSLRs there than I’ve ever seen in one place, most with zoom lenses, and a lot of them mounted on tripods or monopods.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a large number of women photographers my own age out there with gear similar to mine.  Suddenly I don’t feel so alone in a sea of male photographers!  I knew those ladies must be out there somewhere!

I got there early enough to get a great spot for my lawn chair with only a couple of people in front of me.  We were instructed by the event organizer that some of the dancers objected to having their picture taken, and that announcements would be made before they performed.  We were also instructed that we could only use our photos for personal use unless we got permission from the dancers.

I was there from about 9:00AM until about 2:00PM, so I got to see the Grand Entrance, along with performances by the Tiny Tot, Youth, and Teen divisions.  I took a total of 575 photos, and by that time my left arm was getting really tired.  The D700 is about twice as heavy as my D5000, and I was using a heavier lens than I’ve been using.  Guess I need to start lifting weights or shooting more photos!

All through the performance there was a lady sitting down front to the left of us who was wearing a huge hat to shade herself from the sun.  Fortunately she wasn’t in my direct line of sight for my photos, but I could still see that hat out the corner of my eye.  As I was getting ready to leave, I decided to get a shot of it.  The sun was creating some beautiful patterns on the straw, and I think it wound up being my best shot of the day:

The Hat

This shot is straight out of the camera with no processing. After looking at this and the other 574 shots, I think I’m truly going to enjoy this camera and lens!

Caboose – Rear End Only

Continuing my series of photos taken along Grand Avenue in Phoenix, AZ:

Got a late start tonight, but I went back to a familiar subject–the caboose on Grand Avenue.

Tonight, I went with a vertical shot of the rear end of the caboose.  I had a couple of shots that were cropped more tightly on the train car itself, but I liked this one better because it shows some of the railroad track.  In addition, it has the cell phone tower over the top of the car (really, I could have done without that, but I didn’t feel like taking time to clone it out).

Caboose - Rear End Only
HDR created from three bracketed photos (-2.0/0.0/+2.0) processed in Photomatix v4. Post-processing in Topaz Adjust / DeNoise with Paintshop Photo Pro X3.

To see the other two views of the caboose that I posted earlier, follow this link to Flickr.

I checked the UPS tracking site, and my new camera gear has traveled from Philadelphia, PA to Manchester, NH, then to Louisville, KY, and then finally to Phoenix in the past 18 hours. Just think, right now it’s somewhere here in the city, just waiting to be delivered to me sometime tomorrow. Can’t wait!!!

Life Among the Ancients

Several weeks ago I purchased a Groupon for admission to the Deer Valley Rock Art Center in Phoenix, AZ.  I’ve lived here in the Valley for over ten years and had no idea that this place existed.

The Deer Valley Rock Art Center was established to preserve the 1,500 ancient petroglyphs at the Hedgpeth Hills petroglyph site.  The center is operated by the Arizona State University’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

The petroglyphs at the site were made by people hundreds, even thousands, of years ago, and have continuing significance for Native American people of this region.  The Hedgpeth Hills petroglyph site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It is the second archaeological site to be listed on the Phoenix Historic Property Register.

So, that’s a little of the history of the site, and now to the photography–

The very first thing I can tell you is this: If you’re planning to shoot pictures of the ‘glyphs, go there in the morning.  All the petroglyphs face east, and when you’re trying to photograph them or even see them in the mid-afternoon sun as we were, it’s tough.  We found ourselves staring into the sun a lot.

I started out using my normal kit lens (18-55mm) with a polarizer, but since Nikon did not see fit to include a lens hood with this lens, I was getting tons of flare.  My able-bodied assistant (my hubby!) tried holding the Center’s brochure above the end of my lens and that helped some.

It finally dawned on me that I had my telephoto lens (55-200mm) in my camera bag–ON MY BACK–and it does have a lens hood.  So I quickly switched lenses and things improved from there.  It was a good thing that I did, because just around the bend in the path we reached the main site of the ‘glyphs, and they’re mostly higher up on the hillside facing east.  The zoom lens is essential for capturing the details of the rock art from a vantage point on the ground.

Here’s my favorite shot of the day, for two reasons.  First, it’s a great petroglyph, very clear and defined.  And secondly, there’s a lizard right at the feet of the ‘glyph that I didn’t even notice until I started processing.  Bonus!!

Life Among the Ancients

I’ll definitely go back to the Center, but in the morning hours, to try my shots again with some different lighting. If you’re interested in this kind of thing, be sure to check it out. The pathway to the rock art is only about a quarter-mile long, and it’s handicapped-accessible. You can learn more at

Blue Art Deco on Grand Avenue

Just a short post tonight because I’ve been starting at the computer all day and I’m beat.  Here’s a shot that I took of a really cool house/business (sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference) on Grand Avenue near downtown Phoenix.  A lot of the houses have been turned into galleries, so I’m not really sure if someone was living here or not….but that didn’t stop me from setting up my tripod right outside the front door and getting this shot.  Processing the brackets in Photomatix was a little bit of a challenge because of the movement in the bougainvillea in the foreground, but I think I got most of the ghosting cleaned up.  Just didn’t have the patience to really stress over it tonight.

But I love the colors in this shot, along with the shapes of the door and windows.  I think the Christmas lights along the roofline are a nice touch as well!

Blue Art Deco House

I’m trying to make up my mind about a photoshoot for this weekend…indoors or outdoors? Color or black-and-white? People or places? Early or late? Too many decisions to make, so I think I’ll put my tired brain to bed now.

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.

Get Your Kicks…

Continuing my series of images from along Grand Avenue in Phoenix, AZ:

I’ve driven Grand Avenue a lot, and I’ve always seen this car and this boat atop this trailer…but I could never figure out how to get to it.  Grand Avenue runs diagonally from northwest to southeast, while every other street is laid out in a grid of proper east-west and north-south roadways.  Therefore, every mile along Grand Avenue there is a three-way meeting of major roadways, usually with one of them elevated over the other.  The exits are tricky, and it’s hard to get your bearings when you have to make several turns just to get off of Grand…oh, and did I mention there’s a railroad track that runs parallel to Grand that must be crossed?

Anyway, on this trip I made it my mission to find this “art installation” and get a shot of it.  And here it is, rendered in all its HDR glory.  I found that the “installation” (I’m not even sure what to call it) is located right next to  a salvage/junkyard. Once we got up close, we could see there was actually a lot of detail in the painting on the trailer that isn’t visible when one is zooming by on Grand Avenue.  I had never noticed that it depicts Route 66, of which Grand Avenue is a part.  Very appropriate!!

So, enjoy!!  I know we enjoyed tracking this thing down!

Get Your Kicks

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.

Bikini Cocktail Lounge in HDR

I’m posting a little early today since I was up until about 3AM this morning working on this shot.  We went to dinner last night at a great new (to us) restaurant, and I ordered decaf coffee with my dessert.  My hubby ordered regular coffee.  I’m pretty sure that they switched them up because I was wired all night long and he slept like a baby.  I even commented to the waiter about how rich and flavorful the coffee was, while Andy said his tasted a little weak.  Yep, they switched them all right.

Since I was wide awake, I decided to go ahead and post my shot for Sliders Sunday at 3AM.  So, what is “Sliders Sunday”?  I belong to a Flickr group called “Sliders Sunday” in which you are encouraged to post one photo per week, on Sunday, in which you used whatever processing tools you want, to whatever extreme suits your fancy.  All those sliders in Photomatix and Topaz get put to use in this group.

This is an HDR image from three bracketed photos that I took on our photowalk on Grand Avenue in Phoenix, AZ.  The challenge with this image was trying to deal with the flags in the upper left corner.  It was a windy day, and the flags were in a different position in each of the three bracketed photos.  I used the de-ghosting tool in Photomatix to clean up most of it, but it still didn’t work like I wanted it to.  It left some of the flag lines in disconnected pieces, and there was a lot of haloing that was unattractive.

So I finally bit the bullet and decided to try some masking and layering.

  • In Paintshop Pro, I opened the raw file of the single image that was shot at normal exposure and saved it as a JPG file (probably should have saved it as a TIFF file, but…)
  • I opened the HDR image in Paintshop Pro and duplicated the background layer.
  • I copied the JPG file and pasted it as a new layer in the HDR image.
  • I moved the JPG layer under the duplicated HDR layer (so it was sandwiched between the background and the duplicated layer).
  • On the duplicated HDR layer (the top layer), I used the Eraser tool to erase the top left area where the sky and flags were located, being careful to stop at the edge of the buildings.  This allowed the sky and flags from the JPG image to show through.
  • I then merged all the layers and proceeded with my normal processing.

I’m sure others could do a much better job with this HDR and masking/layering exercise, but I don’t think it turned out too badly for a newbie.

So, here is the Bikini Cocktail Lounge, a landmark on Grand Avenue:

Bikini Cocktail Lounge

And, oh yeah, Happy Sliders Sunday!!  Now I think I’ll take a nap.

The Photographer In The Window

I seem to have a thing for windows and doors.  There’s something about the geometry, the right angles, the textures….not exactly sure, but windows and doors are one of my favorite subjects for photography.

Today’s image is a case in point.  These are the windows in the front of Monti’s La Casa Vieja restaurant in Tempe, Arizona.  Monti’s has the distinction of being the “oldest continuously occupied structure in the Phoenix metropolitan area“.  The architecture and character of these old buildings just lend themselves to making great photographs, and especially to HDR work.

Monti’s is located right across from the old Hayden Flour Mill (check out this shot), another historic structure in Tempe. On our recent photowalk, the three of us stopped in front of Monti’s to shoot the flour mill which was lit up by the reflections of the morning sun bouncing off a large office building across the street. It was only by chance that I turned around and saw the wall behind me with these two beautiful windows. The window on the left shows the reflection of the flour mill, and the one on the right has a reflection of one of my fellow photographers.

The Photographer In the Window
HDR created from three bracketed photos (-2.0/0.0/+2.0) processed in Photomatix v4. Post-processing in Topaz Adjust / DeNoise with 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.