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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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!

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Storm Clouds at Dobbins Lookout

It’s been too many days since I processed an HDR, so I couldn’t resist staying up late tonight to work on this one.  It’s been sitting in my computer for several weeks now, and I finally brought it out to play.

This shot was taken in South Mountain Park in Phoenix, just after a winter storm blew through.  The clouds had started to break up, but then they started blowing in from the east again, creating these dark thunderheads over Dobbins Lookout.

Storm Clouds at Dobbins Lookout

This is a seven-exposure HDR shot with my Nikon D700 and the 28-300mm zoom. Processed in Photomatix, Paintshop Photo Pro X3, and Topaz DeNoise.

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Phoenix from South Mountain

Phoenix from South Mountain
HDR created from seven bracketed photos processed in Photomatix v4. Post-processing in Topaz Adjust / DeNoise with Paintshop Photo Pro X3.

There was a bit of haze that showed up when I used the telephoto, so I took a few liberties with Topaz and PaintShop Photo Pro X3 to selectively sharpen a few things…gives it a little pop on the city skyline.

Also, there’s just a bit of snow on the mountaintops in the background. We don’t see that very often here in the Valley of the Sun, so I thought it was really cool to be able to capture it in this shot.

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.

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.