After-Christmas Sale

I’m trying out another new plug-in from Topaz Labs–this one is called “Star Effects”, and its purpose is to give that little extra glow to points of light in your photos.

I pulled out this shot that I took in downtown Tupelo on a foggy night back in early February.  I found this window display that looked like it was left over from Christmas, but it was still beautifully lit.  I was using the tripod with my Nikon D700 and the 50mm lens, so I took three different exposures, not knowing how the glare of the lights on the window might affect the outcome of the shot.

So since I had the three different brackets, I decided that I would combine them into an HDR image using Photomatix, and then try the new Topaz Star Effects plug-in on the little points of light.  I downloaded the trial version of the software from Topaz Labs (regular price $29.99) and, as usual, installed it with no problem.

After using Photomatix to product the HDR, I then ran the combined image through Topaz Star Effects, trying each of the different presets to see what it did to the light points.  Most of the effects were far too extreme (this image already had some star points on the lights as a result of the HDR processing).  So I selected a very mild effect and then tweaked it a little bit using the sliders in the plug-in.  Afterwards I used Topaz DeNoise to clean up some of the artifacts in the darker areas of the image, and then I used Paintshop Pro to do just a bit of sharpening.

And that’s it..here’s the result:

After-Christmas Sale

 

I’ll need to play around with Star Effects a little more on some other types of images, some with less obvious “points of light”.  But, as with all the other Topaz products, I really like the design of the user interface, the ease of installation, the variety of presets, and the affordable price.  And, no, I’m not affiliated with Topaz and I don’t get paid to test or recommend their products.

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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Parades Are For Children (Mostly)

Continuing my series of images from the 2011 Christmas Parade in Tupelo, Mississippi:

I love taking candid shots of kids–their faces can’t lie.  You know when they’re happy or sad, tired or excited, bored or angry.

We had positioned ourselves on the sidewalk along Main Street toward the end of the parade route.  I wanted to be near the judges’ viewing stand because I knew that the marching bands and floats would be stopping to perform in front of the judges.  By the time the parade got to where we were located, the participants had been marching or riding for about an hour, not including the time they spent getting organized before the parade even started.

Little kids get tired and bored pretty quickly, and even though they’re in a parade, they haven’t yet learned that they’re supposed to “put on a happy face”.  And that’s when you get the really good shots!

This guy had been riding this toy pony for awhile, and I think he was ready to dismount:

Tupelo Christmas Parade 008

And this little girl was obviously bored with the whole thing and was ready to go “off the wagon”:

Tupelo Christmas Parade 007

I have so many more images from the parade, but they’re pretty standard stuff….snapshot quality, mostly. But we had a great time, met some really nice people, and I’ve had plenty of images to use while getting acquainted with the new versions of Paintshop Photo Pro X4 and Topaz Adjust 5.

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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Topaz Adjust 5

Topaz Adjust 5 was released today, and I downloaded it as soon as I got the email regarding the release.  I had just a little bit of time to take it for a spin tonight, and I’m already liking what I see.

The layout of the user interface and the tool set is almost exactly like the recently-released Topaz Black & White Effects, which was light years ahead of their previous releases in terms of features and flexibility.  Topaz Adjust 5 comes with about 100 presets, neatly organized into collections.  One of the collections contains only the presets that existed in version 4, for those who don’t like to rush into exploring anything new.

The workspace can now be viewed in split-screen mode so you can see your original image along-side the version that you’re working on.  And tools that are now available on the right side of the workspace are the meat-and-potatoes of this release.  There are many new sliders brushes that can be used for global as well as local adjustments.  Your changes can be applied sequentially without closing the image, allowing you to “stack” your effects.

I pulled out an old photo from last February that I had never processed, just to see what the new version of Topaz could do with a slightly-out-of focus, slightly-over-exposed image that was poorly composed.  I tried all the different presets, some with mild effects, and some with really “out-there” results, but here’s the one I liked the best.

Original, unretouched image:

No processing

 

Same image with only Topaz Adjust 5, and slight tweak with Topaz DeNoise, and application of the Unsharp Mask:

Processed with Topaz Adjust 5

 

I love how the colors and the detail just POP, especially in the little boy in the stroller.  The brick sidewalk also becomes much more detailed, lending texture to the photograph.

I’m really excited about this new release, and am really tempted to go back into my library and re-process some images from past photo shoots.  And best of all, this upgrade was free!

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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Main Street Vintage Guitars

One thing that I’m learning to love about downtown Tupelo is the emphasis on restoring and re-using old historical buildings for shops, restaurants, bars, and offices.

Today’s image definitely has an urbex feel, but there’s a great story behind the surface.  This is the Main Street Vintage Guitar shop, located at the corner of Main and Spring streets.  This is actually the side of the building, facing Spring Street, but I just had to shoot this side because of the great Coca-Cola mural painted on the wall which has been preserved along with the building.

Main Street Vintage Guitars

I found their website that has a ton of information about the building, including pictures from its past as well as the restoration process that turned it into its modern-day incarnation as a vintage guitar shop. I found out that this building was originally the First National Bank, and it was constructed in 1890.  The store is visited by musicians from everywhere, most recently by Keith Urban when he was in Tupelo for a recent concert.  Be sure to check out http://www.pwogs.com/msvg_history_building.html for the full story.

This image is a single image taken with my Nikon D700 and 50mm 1.8 prime lens, hand-held.  This was about 3:45 PM, and the setting sun was casting some pretty good shadows on this side of the building.  I used Paintshop Photo Pro X4 and Topaz Adjust to process the image and bring out the detail in the brick and morter, as well as the mural on the wall.

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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Dinner Interrupted

Finally! I finally got the Nikon out of the house for a few hours of shooting this afternoon. We spent some time exploring the alleys and side streets of downtown Tupelo, our new home. Today was the first day after daylight savings time ended, so I wasn’t exactly sure what the lighting would be like in the late afternoon in this part of the country. I decided to just shoot with the 50mm prime lens and concentrate on architectural and urbex details.

Downtown Tupelo has some wonderful old buildings with the original brick and mortar, some with old advertisements that were painted there years and years ago. We have been pleasantly surprised at the number of restaurants, bars and coffee shops that have been opened in these old buildings, preserving the architectural details of the brick and the wood. Lots of ambiance and good food to be had here in downtown Tupelo!

While exploring one of the alleys, we came across this table behind one of the newer restaurants, Nautical Whimsey, where it was apparent that one of the restaurant staff had been dining before he or she was interrupted. The pasta, salad and drink looked so good that we were enticed to check out their wine bar, and ended up spending two hours there.

Dinner Interrupted

The owners, Dave (bartender) and Amanda (chef and bartender) were friendly, generous and entertaining. We each ordered a beer, and then after checking the menu, decided to try their crab cakes and the bruchetta. We were not disappointed.  They get two thumbs up from us!

This shot was processed in the new version of Paintshop Photo Pro X4, using Topaz Adjust.  I was able to get the upgrade from X3 to X4 for $50, and I still think it’s a heck of a deal compared to Photoshop.  I’ve processed six shots so far from today’s excursion, and I’ll be sharing them over the next few days, so stay tuned!

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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Siwash Rock in Triplicate

Tonight I was in the mood to play around with some of the Topaz Adjust presets to see what they could do with a rather blah photo.  Tonight’s subject is Siwash Rock, a landmark on the shore of Stanley Park in Vancouver.

I took this photo the first full day we were in the city.  It was overcast and breezy that morning, with the clouds breaking occasionally to let the sun shine through.  I had seen other photos of this landmark and wanted to try my hand at getting that “perfect” shot.

As it turned out, it wasn’t so perfect.  This would have been a prime time to have the tripod and shoot some brackets for HDR processing, but I was trying to travel light that day.  I like the composition of this shot, but the exposure variations between the bright clouds and the dark rock in the foreground didn’t give me a lot to work with.  So I decided to play around with Topaz to see what I could dig out of the raw file.

I tried three different presets.  Which one do you like best?  I have my opinion, but I’ll save it until later!

The first one is the “Clarity” preset–basically it just accentuates the details, and gives the color a little pop.  This one wasn’t too bad, but the clouds in the background are badly blown out.

Siwash Rock 01

The second one was something I just did on a whim. I used the “Night” preset to give the sky a little of its color back, while making the rock look almost haunted:

Siwash Rock 02

The last one is a black-and-white version that I created using a preset that I customized in Topaz. I started with the “Spicify” preset, and then used the sliders to totally desaturate the color and then bump up the contrast and the sharpness. I’ve used this custom preset before and it seems to work pretty well:

Siwash Rock 03

So before I tell you which one I like best, let me tell you about a couple of plaques that are posted at Siwash Rock.

The first one reads:

SIWASH ROCK – Indian legend tells us that this 50 foot high pinnacle of rock stands as an imperishable monument to “Skalsh the Unselfish”, who was turned into stone by “Q’uas the Transformer” as a reward for his unselfishness.”

The second one reads:

In memory of ROBERT DENNIS TRIBE, age 17, or North Vancouver, B.C. who at 3:15 P.M. Sunday, June 5, 1966 failed to notice it was low tide and dived to his death from Siwash Rock to the rocks below. This plaque erected by Bob’s friends as a reminder of the danger of diving from Siwash Rock.

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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(I like the black-and-white one best! 🙂 )

Assay Office

I haven’t done an HDR image in a little while, so I pulled out some brackets from our last trip to Jerome.  This is the old Assay Office from the Gold King Mine ghost town in Jerome.  When I took the shot, it was almost high noon, and the lighting situation was getting pretty harsh.  I took a series of five brackets, and needed all five of them to get all the detail in this shot.  The items on the desk in the foreground were sitting in a patch of bright sunlight, while the back of the little office was almost completely shaded.  For situations like this, HDR rocks!

Assay Office
HDR created from five bracketed photos (-2.0 thru +2.0) processed in Photomatix v4. Post-processing in Topaz Adjust / DeNoise with Paintshop Photo Pro X3.

I really intended to get out and do some shooting this weekend, but somehow time has slipped away (again). The weather is starting to warm up now here in the Valley of the Sun, and it’s so much easier to just sleep late in the air-conditioned house than to get up early enough to get some quality camera time. However, we’re looking forward to our trip to Vancouver the first week in July for our 20th anniversary, and I’m planning to fill up every memory card I have with images from the Pacific Northwest. Can’t wait!

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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60 Minute Photo Challenge

Lately I’ve been a little short on inspiration and ideas for doing any shooting.  I was starting to lose the excitement of just going out with the camera and looking for interesting subjects to photograph.  Instead, I was all caught up in the trap of trying to get the “perfect” shot, and getting all hung up on the technical details of F-stops and exposure metering and depth of field.  I just wasn’t having fun with it any more.

I’m a subscriber to the AdoramaTV channel on YouTube.  They post some excellent instructional videos for photographers, both amateur and professional.  The guy who presents the videos, Mark Wallace, works here in the Valley, so it’s kind of cool to see the places here in the Phoenix area where he’s filming his videos.  Not only are the photography tips great, but I get free location tips just by watching where he’s shooting.

Last week, Mark posted a video about his “60 Minute Photo Challenge“.  He talked about the importance of just getting out there and shooting in order to develop your skills, and he recommended giving yourself some sort of general subject (he used “round” and “red”), and then give yourself 60 minutes to shoot everything you see that fits that subject.  No time to worry about tripods, lighting, props….just take the camera and shoot.

I thought that was a great idea, and I actually made a list of subjects that I plan to use in the coming months when I need a kick in the pants.

Now Mark is posting a weekly challenge on Fridays (just follow his Twitter feed at @jmarkwallace to join in!), and this weekend’s challenge was “Shadows and Reflections”.  Since we got an early release from work today for the Memorial Day weekend, I picked up my camera with my 50mm prime lens, and headed to downtown Glendale to see what I could capture.

I had a blast!  I set my watch to make sure I stayed within the 60-minute time frame, and then I just started walking down the sidewalk, looking for shadows and reflections that looked interesting.  It was about 3PM when I got started, and normally that’s a horrible time of day to shoot here in Arizona because of the harsh shadows cast by the glaring sun.  But given the subject of today’s challenge, it was a perfect fit.

I haven’t used the 50mm prime very much, but I really enjoyed playing with it today.  I did put a polarizer on the lens to give me a little more flexibility with shutter speeds (it was REALLY bright out there), but I didn’t fiddle with it very much.

Street Reflections on Antiques

I got some great reflections on the shop windows around the square. I like the one above with the antiques in the shop window, and the traffic from the street being reflected on top of it. Kind of a juxtaposition of old and new that I thought was cool.

I found lots of shadows from the mid-afternoon sun, and the ones cast by the park benches and the overhead gazebo by the police station were among my favorites:

Shadows in Squares

When I returned to the parking garage, I noticed all the cool reflections in the windows of the building next-door. I climbed the stairs on the outside of the parking garage and got shots from several different angles. This one became a self-portrait, and I think it looks even better in black-and-white:

Self-Portrait in Building Reflection

I took about 75 photos in the 60 minutes I was out there, and of course there were quite a few duds. I didn’t spend a huge amount of time processing any of them, but I did find nine (including the three above) that I wound up submitting to the challenge. You can see the entire set on my Flickr page–the set is named “Shadows and Reflections – 60MinPhotoChallenge“.  I used Paint Shop Photo Pro X3, along with Topaz Adjust, for all my processing.

So, in only one hour (plus processing time), I got a little of my mojo back–and it feels great. Can’t wait for the next challenge!

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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Midgley Bridge Over Oak Creek

I’ve been a little distracted lately from my photography, but with a three-day weekend staring me in the face, I’m hoping to take the camera out for a spin in the next few days.

In the meantime, I went back through some shots from the past few months and found this one that I had already processed but had never posted.  This is another shot of the Midgley Bridge on Highway 89A north of Sedona, but this one was taken from the bottom of the canyon next to Oak Creek.

We had to hike down to the creek from the bridge, which wasn’t bad…it was the hike back UP to the bridge that was a challenge.  Actually it wasn’t that bad, and it was well worth the effort.

Midgley Bridge Over Oak Creek
HDR from 5 bracketed photos taken with the Nikon D700 and the 14-24mm 2.8 lens, processed in Photomatix and Paintshop Photo Pro X3.

Mid-March is not the prettiest time of year to photograph the creek. I much prefer it when the trees are green during summer, or even better, when they’re golden and red in the fall. But there’s really never a bad time to get a shot of the red rocks in Sedona.

We’ll be flying out to Mississippi in a couple of weeks to visit my family out there, and I’m already starting to mentally pack my camera gear for the trip. Do I take the tripod? Do I take both bodies and several lenses, or just my full-frame? Do I take the laptop so I can process photos while I’m there, or wait until I get back? I’m hoping for some great photos of the family while I’m there, along with some shots of the beautiful countryside. Can’t wait!!

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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Dangerous Signs, Chair With Personality, and Modern Maturity

Wrapping up my series of images from the abandoned Black Canyon Greyhound Park in Black Canyon City, Arizona:

Although I still have quite a few images as yet unprocessed from last weekend’s adventure, I’ve quickly grown tired of the grungy, dirty chaos of the abandoned dog track.  Yes, it’s the perfect venue for getting some great HDR’s, but I can only stand so much depressing deterioration before I need to move on to something more uplifting.  So tonight, I give you three for the price of one:

Dangerous Signs

This shot was taken in the old restaurant location. The sun was just at the right angle through the window to create some nice shadows on the old shag carpet. The graffiti on the walls was a little intimidating, especially since part of it appears to have the markings of flame or smoke on the wall. I don’t think I would care to spend any time with whoever left their mark on the wall.

Dangerous Signs
HDR created from five bracketed photos processed in Photomatix v4. Post-processing in Paintshop Photo Pro X3, using Topaz Adjust / DeNoise.

Chair With Personality

This chair was sitting all alone on the old dirt race track, like someone had maybe used it to sit there in the evenings and watch the sun go down over the mountains to the west. I liked the way the chair’s design reminded me of the smiley face icon. 🙂

Chair with Personality
Single image processed in Paintshop Photo Pro X3 using Topaz Adjust / DeNoise.

Modern Maturity Circa 1991

We found these old magazines lying on the floor in the kitchen area of the old restaurant. If you look at the photo enlarged, you can see that the issue of Modern Maturity is from December 1990-January 1991. That would be after the facility was used as a racetrack, and maybe even after it was used for the swap meets. I heard that there was a caretaker that lived on the property for awhile after it was shut down. Maybe these magazines belonged to him.

Modern Maturity Circa 1991
HDR created from five bracketed photos processed in Photomatix v4. Post-processing in Paintshop Photo Pro X3, using Topaz Adjust / DeNoise.

I encourage anyone with an adventurous spirit to visit the dog track for some great photo ops (once again, don’t take the kiddos because it’s not a safe environment for them). But I’m feeling the need to look for some beautiful sunsets, some spring wildflowers, or some orderly graphic design.

After watching a series of how-to videos last weekend, the hubby and I have put together a small, inexpensive home lighting setup for photographing his handmade jewelry and lapidary work. Since the forecast calls for lots of rain tomorrow, I think it will be the perfect day for testing it out and hopefully learning a lot more about shooting close-ups with studio lighting.