The Mogollon Rim on a Cloudy Day

I’m still going through photographs that I took on our camping trip in early September.  On the third day we were there, we drove from the campground over to the Rim Road that leads to Woods Canyon Lake.  It was quite windy that day which made it hard to do any bracketed shots for HDR’s.  All the tree branches, grasses and bushes were swaying back and forth so much that it’s hard to get a good composite image that doesn’t have a lot of blurry action in it.  Maybe I’ll play with some of them someday, but not today.

So I’ve taken some of the single images and processed them to see what I could get.  Here are a couple that caught my eye:

Wildflowers in the Crevices

Highway of Light

Both of these show how cloudy it was that day, but they don’t convey just how windy it was.  Regardless, it was still a beautiful day to be up on the Rim, enjoying the beauties of the high country in Arizona.  These photos were shot with the Nikon D5000 with the kit lens (18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6 G), tripod mounted, in raw NEF format.  They were processed to JPG in Paintshop Pro X3.

To see other shots from our camping trip, check out the set Camping at Canyon Point on Flickr.  You might also enjoy the images of the star trails that I took while we were away from the city lights!


Images of a Rainy Sunday in the Neighborhood

True to the forecast, it has been a rainy, wet Sunday, which is just fine by me.  It washes the pollen out of the air, it cleans the dust off of everything, and it makes for some excellent sleeping conditions.

After spending the morning in my reading corner with my Kindle, catching up on a book that I’ve been pecking away at, I decided it was time to get out of the house for a little bit.  There was a break in the shower activity, so I picked up the Nikon, mounted the 75-200mm zoom lens, grabbed Andy who volunteered to carry the umbrella in case we needed it, and we  took off for a walk around the neighborhood.

It was still very overcast, so the lighting wasn’t the best for many of the shots, but what’s that got to do with anything when you have photo-editing software, right?  Anyway, I was concentrating on composition today, which led to me getting into some pretty awkward positions trying to capture shots of plants and flowers that were low to the ground.  Glad there weren’t that many people around!

The raindrops on the plants produced some really nice images, especially when viewed large.  The image above is a partially opened bloom on one of the large succulents that is growing by the sidewalk near the subdivision behind us. As we saw yesterday, so many of the plants are starting to bloom now, especially with all the rain that we’ve had.  The citrus trees have started to bloom this week–it’s one of the true pleasures of living in this area, getting to smell the lemon, orange, and grapefruit blooms each spring.  It’s heavenly!  The shot below if from a grapefruit tree in a neighbor’s yard.

I really enjoy walking outside after it rains, and having a camera along reminds you to pay attention to the details of things that you would normally overlook.  We were outside for about a half-hour, and just after we got back to the house the rain started again.  Sometime this summer, I’ll look back at this day longingly, I’m sure!

Andy reflects while being reflected.

I posted a dozen of my favorites to Flickr in the set titled “Rainy Sunday in the Neighborhood“.  Drop by and check them out and let me know which is your favorite!


Thunderbird Sunset Revisited

I took a break yesterday from the camera and the computer in order to spend time getting new tires on my car, and then watching the final day of the Olympics.  Today I was a little late leaving the office, and the skies were overcast this evening, so I didn’t get a chance to shoot anything new.

However, I still had a lot of shots from last Saturday evening to play with, so I’ve spent some time this evening experimenting with different processing techniques in Photomatix.  I basically selected a bracketed series and then processed the same series multiple times in Photomatix using Detail Enhancement, Exposure Fusion, and Tone Compression separately to compare the results.  I’ve found that one size does NOT fit all when it comes to producing a pleasing image.

This first shot was taken just before the sun went behind the big cloud bank that was drifting in from the west ahead of the storm front that came in this past weekend.  (The sun was off to the left of this shot.) On this particular 3-shot series, I used Exposure Fusion, and I love the way it produced almost a painterly effect in the clouds:

The shot below was taken just after the sun went behind the cloud bank.  I kept hoping for the real distinct “God Rays” to appear, but it didn’t happen.  I still thought that the light was dramatic enough, however, to make a halfway decent photo.  For this one, I processed the three RAW files into an HDR using Detail Enhancement.  I then upped the contrast slightly and also sharpened it a little in Paintshop Pro, and here’s the result:

I tried this series using the Exposure Fusion method as well, but I wound up with a lot more noise, which I’m sure was partially due to starting out with JPG’s instead of RAW files.

Both of these shots can be seen in all their glory in large size on my Flickr page at

While I was up on the hilltop in the stiff breeze taking these shots, I was getting very irritated at the way my camera strap kept catching the breeze, making the camera move ever so slightly on the tripod.  I really wanted to take the strap off the camera, but it’s a pain to try to unthread the strap connectors through the little slots on the camera body, and an even worse pain to try and put them back on after the shooting was over.  So I got on the Internet last night and ordered a new strap with quick-release buckles (Tamrac N46 in Red Flame….ooooohhh!).  The ends of the straps connect to the camera body, but the rest of the strap can be quickly released and removed from the strap-ends, leaving the camera on the tripod without a strap whipping around in the wind.  My new purchase shipped out today, so I should have it by this weekend!!


Digital Darkroom – Swans and a Sunset

Yes, I know I said that I wasn’t going to take any more photos this week and concentrate instead on improving my skills in the editing software, but nature took its course this evening.  As I was driving home from work toward the west, I could see the sun setting in the southwest, but there was an intensely dark cloud gathering in the northwest–the perfect formula for a dramatic sunset.  Since I just happened to have my camera kit with me, I started looking for a good spot to exit the freeway and setup for some photos.

It took me about fifteen minutes and a couple of “dry runs” before I found a little park/trailhead just off Cave Creek Road and the 101 Loop.  I parked my car and grabbed the camera and started shooting hand-held shots as the sky turned all kinds of shades of gold, yellow, orange and red as the sun set behind the hills.  And then behind me, a rainbow appeared in the dark clouds as it started to sprinkle rain.

I tried to do some hand-held bracketed shots, but I was starting to get a few raindrops on my lens, so I had to stop and wipe it dry.  Fortunately the sprinkles didn’t last long, and I was able to get my tripod out and get some decent bracketed shots using the cable release.  As with any sunset, it’s all in the timing, so I just shot as much as I could and hoped for the best.

So when I got home, I was really torn between working on the zoo pictures from last weekend, or processing some of the sunset pictures.  I started with the sunset shots, first of all because I wanted to see just what I had captured (I already know what I have from the zoo), and secondly because I wanted to see if I could get some decent HDR’s out of them.

I processed five HDR’s using Photomatix.  Two of them use the same series of shots, but I used detail enhancement on one and exposure fusion on the other (the latter turned out better!).  Here’s a sample of what I was able to capture:

I’ve uploaded the others to my photostream on Flickr if you’d care to take look.

So then it was time to get back to the zoo pictures and test out some of the new features of Paintshop Photo Pro X3.  For today I selected one of my favorite shots of the day, these two swans who seemed to be overseeing things at the lagoon.  I took this shot as the sun was starting to set, and I used auto exposure and my telephoto lens.  The original settings were ISO 200, F4.5, 1/60 second, 99mm, no flash.

I loved the composition of the shot, but it looked a little bland and washed out to me.  I loaded the RAW file into PSP (wasn’t able to do that in the older version), and did some tweaking with the color balance, luminescence, and some local tone mapping.  Here’s the result:

I like this so much better!  It captures the glow of the setting sun while still keeping the detail of the swan feathers, the puddle of water at their feet, and the thatched roof of the the sunshade in the background right.  It’s a warmer picture, which I think instills a feeling that the swans are lovingly watching over their flock (which may or may not be the case, but it sounds good, huh?).

Anyway, let me know what you think!  Feel free to subscribe to this blog and offer tips and suggestions as I learn more about using both my camera and the digital darkroom software!

Chasing the light is not zen-like

I was able to telecommute today, and as I was working from home, I was also keeping an eye on the weather outside my home office window.  From my upstairs room, I could see the sun trying to peek through the dark clouds throughout the day as the wind blew the tree branches back and forth.  At about 4:30 PM, I decided to log off the computer, and I gathered up my camera and tripod and headed toward the west in hopes that there would be a sunset worth capturing.

Today it wasn’t to be.  As I drove west in rush hour traffic, the sun completely disappeared behind the cloud cover, so it was obvious there wasn’t going to be any “glow” in the sunset.  Instead, it began to get dark even quicker, and what little dramatic lighting there had been was just about gone.  I came to a roadblock where Olive Avenue had been closed due to flooding from the past two days’ rain, so I turned around and headed back east.  In the distance I could see the silver dome of the UOP stadium shining against the dark clouds, so I headed in that direction back over to Westgate to see if I could find anything interesting in the area.  As I drove west, I spotted the Zanjero development, and decided there might be just enough light to get a couple of shots. Zanjero is (was) a beautiful development that started construction just as the economy took a dive.  It has never been occupied, but it’s still a beautiful structure, surrounded by dilapidated construction fencing and fields of sagegrass.

I set up the camera on my tripod and took several bracketed series of shots, but I felt rushed the entire time I was there.  I was in such a hurry to catch the light that I overlooked several important things:

  1. I walked away from the car with my camera and tripod, leaving my wallet and keys in my unlocked vehicle sitting on the side of the road.  Granted I wasn’t that far away, but it was far enough that I wasn’t comfortable about it.
  2. I forgot to take my new cable release with me….I left it in my camera bag back in the car.  I was afraid that I would lose the light by the time I walked back to the car to get it, so I just tripped the shutter without it.
  3. I set the camera on aperture-priority, but I didn’t even look at the f-stop that I was using, so the depth of field could have been anything.

I was just in a hurry to get the shots before the light was gone, my car was stolen, or the police arrested me for trespassing on private property.  Overall, it was way more stressful than it should have been, and not at all zen-like.

I was fairly pleased, however, with the shots that I got, considering the light that was available.  Here’s an HDR rendering of one of them that I cropped somewhat:

And here’s one that I took from a little further away:

So, my lesson learned today is that I need to plan my shooting a little better.  Until I’m more proficient with my equipment, I need to plan my shooting sessions a little more in advance, allowing myself plenty of time to set up my equipment so that I can look at the results of each shot.  I need to adjust the settings, and try the shots again and again, so that I can learn how the different settings change the way the image is captured.  I need time to enjoy the experience of taking photos, otherwise this is going to become more of a chore than a pleasure.  Zen is all about being happy and present in the moment.  My goal for tomorrow is to spend at least a couple hours just taking my time and enjoying whatever I shoot.

HDR without a tripod

Ever since the rain started this week, I’ve envisioned getting a shot of the Arizona Cardinals stadium (pathetically known as the University of Phoenix stadium) with dark clouds in the background.  It was cloudy and rainy all day today, but there was a little daylight left and there was a pause in the downpour when I got home, so I grabbed the camera and drove over to Westgate, hoping to be able to set up the tripod in the parking lot and get a good shot.

Of course, just as I got to the stadium the rain started up again….not a hard downpour, but enough that I didn’t want to set up the camera on the tripod without any kind of cover or shelter.  So I rolled down the car window, rested the camera on the car door and fired off three bracketed shots of the stadium, trying to hold the camera as steady as possible.

When I got home I ran the three shots through the Photomatix processor, matching on features rather than just correcting for horizontal and vertical shifts.  I also checked the box to reduce the noise, although I’m not sure how much there was to be reduced.  I then played around quite a bit with the tone mapping, moving the sliders from one extreme to the other to see how they impacted the image.  Some effects are very subtle, some are jarringly obvious, but it was interesting (and sometimes frustrating) to see the image change with each adjustment.

Because the original RAW files came from handheld shots, I didn’t get as sharp a result as I would have liked.  I’m sure I’ll go back and try again with the tripod.  But in the meantime, here’s what I came up with: