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:

snowstorm_004_2015-02-22_clarity

snowstorm_030_2015-02-22_clarity

snowstorm_050_2015-02-22_clarity

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.

snowstorm_051_2015-02-22_tpzClean

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!

2015-photo-challenge-zannonewordphotochallenge

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Roadside Snow On the Rocks – Working with Layers

I’m finally starting to slow down a little bit and try to concentrate on learning more about the software that I use to process my photos.  Rather than cranking out a lot of so-so shots, I’m trying to pick one shot (or one set of brackets) and play around with the various options in Paintshop Pro to compare the results of various techniques.  Tonight I started trying to figure out how to use adjustment levels in my processing.

I ran across a great blog called HDR Cookbook that is authored by Klaus Herrmann, who turns out some of the most beautiful HDR images I’ve seen. The HDR Cookbook is filled with some very useful information that is very helpful to beginners like myself. One of the first chapters discusses workflow, and I found some extremely helpful information in there about using levels to separate each tweak to the image so that the original image is untouched. The tutorial is written for the Photoshop products (including Adobe Camera Raw), which I don’t own, but I was able to translate a lot of the information to Paintshop Photo Pro with no difficulty.

One thing that the Cookbook talks about at the very beginning is a phenomenon called “chromatic aberration” (CA). This is the purple fringe that sometimes shows up when there are areas of high contrast in a photo. I hadn’t had to deal with that problem until I started processing HDR’s from the snow shots from this past weekend. The Cookbook recommends using Adobe Camera Raw to remove the CA. Since that software isn’t in my arsenal, I tried using the Photomatix option “Reduce Chromatic Aberration” during the HDR process, but it didn’t appear to have much of an effect…the purple was still there. Of course, you have to zoom in close to see it, but now that I know it’s there, it will haunt me.

Anyway, I did the best I could with this shot, playing with separate layers for Topaz Adjust, DeNoise, Curves, and Saturation. I couldn’t figure out how to create a separate layer for sharpening, so I applied that step after I merged the layers. The great thing is, I still have all the original image files and I can go back and try this over and over until I get it right as I learn more about the process.

So, here’s my shot for today…snow on the roadside rocks. Enjoy!

Roadside Snow and Stone

Snowy Rough Rider

The Yavapai County Courthouse in Prescott, Arizona has several Western-themed sculptures on the grounds.  A couple of days ago I posted a shot of one of them, and today I’ve processed another one.  This is the Buckey O’Neill Monument dedicated to the Rough Riders.  Buckey O’Neill was the true archetype of the American cowboy.  There’s a nice article about him on Wikipedia, where you’ll find, for instance, that he was played by Sam Elliot in the TNT movie Rough Riders.

The statue is not Buckey, but Buckey was a member of the Rough Riders and was killed in action in 1898 in the war against the Spanish.  Teddy Roosevelt wrote about the death of O’Neill: “The most serious loss that I and the regiment could have suffered befell just before we charged”.

The statue, designed and created by Solon Borglum, was erected in Prescott in 1907.  It was seen in the movie Billy Jack in the Korean martial art scene.

The HDR image below was created from three hand-held bracketed photos.  I used Photomatix to merge the photos, and then used Paintshop Photo Pro X3 and Topaz Adjust / DeNoise to post-process.  It’s challenging to work with the dark sculpture against the lighter sky and snow, but hopefully I didn’t butcher this one too badly….I like it anyway!

Snowy Rough Rider

No Entry

This shot was taken on Highway 89 south of Prescott, Arizona late last Sunday afternoon.  Arizona was hit by a sizeable winter storm just before New Years Day, and there was still plenty of snow on the ground around Prescott, enough to entice us to drive up from Phoenix (about 90 miles away) for a quick photo shoot.

This is a HDR image from three bracketed photos.  I tweaked it quite a bit using Photomatix, Topaz Adjust/DeNoise, and Paintshop Photo Pro X3. I even added the sunburst since the day was actually quite overcast…it just seemed to need a little bit of light.  Click the photo to view large on black:

No Entry

Even though the sign says “No Entry”, it’s obvious from the tracks in the snow that the sign was being ignored. Here in Arizona, snow is a big event, and people of all ages get out to play in it at every opportunity, no matter what the sign says. I know I did!!

The Flag, the Tree and the Snow

I’m working through the shots that I took on Sunday afternoon in Prescott after the big New Year’s snowstorm.  There was still a lot of snow around on Sunday, but there wasn’t much sun, so the shots that I took were mostly dull and flat.  Thank goodness for the digital darkroom and the power of software!

I’m finding that there are all kinds of possibilities for working with such high-contrast subjects as snow, an overcast sky, and the darker objects in the foreground.  Here’s a shot that I especially like.  This is the flagpole in front of the Yavapai County courthouse in downtown Prescott.  By aiming my camera up at the flag, I caught the dark, snow-covered branches of the trees, with the overcast sky in the background.  The shot was kind of dull out of the camera, but by boosting the contrast and doing some edge enhancement, it improved quite dramatically (click to view large on black).  It almost looks like a black and white photo with some color-popping applied, but it’s not:

Flag Trees and Snow

While the photo above was processed from a single image, I’m also getting some good HDR results, even though my shots were hand-held and I was shivering from the cold (thanks, Photomatix V4, for your great image alignment functionality!). Here’s a shot of one of the municipal buildings across from the courthouse, with a beautiful snow-covered spruce tree giving it a fairy-tale appearance. After combining three bracketed images to create the HDR image, I then used the Vibrance preset in Topaz Adjust to bring out the colors that had been washed out by the overcast skies. A little bit of Topaz DeNoise, and a little tweaking of the Curves in Paintshop Pro X3 yielded this result:

Snow Icing

More snow shots to follow, so stay tuned!

Yes, It Snows in Arizona

Last week we had a pretty powerful winter storm come sweeping through Arizona just in time for New Years.  There were even reports of snow here in the Phoenix area, although the weather gurus said that most of it was sleet or tiny hail.  Whatever.  Anyway, about 90 minutes and 4000 feet in altitude away, there was quite a bit of snow in Prescott.  I had to work over the weekend, and didn’t get a chance to go check it out until today.

I finished my “work” work about 2:00PM, and then we figured we still had about three good hours of daylight left so we packed the camera gear and some gloves in the car and headed north.  When we left Phoenix the skies were partly cloudy, but it was obvious that it was becoming more overcast as the day went on.  And sure enough, by the time we reached Prescott about 3:30, the skies were completely cloudy.

That didn’t stop us from trying to get some interesting photos, however.  Our first stop was at the Yavapai County courthouse in downtown Prescott.  We parked the car on the square and then had a great time walking around in the snow with all the other tourists who had probably driven up from the Valley.

I didn’t bother getting the tripod out because there was still a lot of ice in places, and I was doing good to keep myself upright without having my hands full.  I shot everything hand-held, including some bracketed series that I intended to use for HDR’s, relying on Photomatix to line up the shots.  Even though I had the VR turned on, I was shivering enough that it was hard to keep the camera steady, so I really hope Photomatix comes through for me.

We didn’t get home until 8PM, and I have to go back to work tomorrow, so I only processed one shot tonight, just to get a feel for what I got.  I’ll be sharing more shots later this week, including some that we took in the Prescott National Forest that are pretty cool.

Here’s a shot of one of the sculptures on the lawn of the courthouse.  It was tough to get a good exposure reading with the dark bronze sculpture against the white snow and the overcast sky.  I think that’s where HDR really shines.  I took a bracketed series so that I was able to capture the detail of the sculpture in one exposure, but get the detail of the snow in another, and then combine them so that it’s all visible.  Then I couldn’t resist applying a little Topaz treatment to really make the colors pop (it was such a drab day, why not liven things up a little?), and I really liked the results.

Hope you do too! Be sure to view it large!!

Bronze in Snow

Checking out the Slopes – HDR or Not?

When we visited the Snowbowl Ski Resort recently, they had just had their first snowfall of the year the previous night.  It wasn’t enough to completely cover everything, but it was certainly enough to cause some excitement among the people who had driven to the top of the mountain just to view the scenery.  And, of course, the kids were thrilled.

I was happy to get a chance to photograph snow at the same time I was shooting pictures of the aspens.  I was shooting everything in bracketed series of three (-2.0/0.0/+2.0), in both RAW and JPG format, just to try and cover my options for processing.  I wasn’t sure whether I would want to give these the HDR treatment, or just work with the single images.

Here’s an example of just how different the processes can be.  I took this shot just around 1:00 in the afternoon.  It was heavily overcast, with low-hanging clouds and fog in the trees just a few hundred yards above where we were.  It was a tricky lighting scenario with the dark pines, white snow, golden aspens and gray clouds.  There was a guy and his two kids climbing the slopes, offering a great perspective of how large the trees and the slope are.

Here’s the shot I took at “normal” exposure (I had set the camera to Aperture Priority mode), and let the camera control the shutter speed.  This one was at F/14 at 1/100 second, with the Nikon D5000’s equivalent of ISO 100.  I tweaked this one a little bit in Topaz Adjust (yeah, I went ahead and purchased it last night), and then did a little more adjusting in Paintshop Pro X3 (CLICK THE IMAGES TO VIEW LARGE!):

Now here is the same shot, but processed as an HDR by merging the three bracketed images in Photomatix v4.  I used the Fusion preset in Photomatix, and used the de-ghosting functionality to take care of the movement of the hikers between the three shots.  I then did some adjusting in Topaz Adjust, with final tweaks in Paintshop Pro, and here’s the result:

I like the way the HDR kept the gray of the clouds while highlighting the gold of the aspens, and this one obviously has more detail of the snow on the pines but to me it looks over-processed.  And I don’t think either of the images are exactly what I saw, color-wise.

So, I’ll keep practicing and processing until I get better at using the software as well as the camera.  But, it was sure fun seeing the snow last week.  Hopefully it’s a sign of a good ski season just around the corner.