The Zen of Architecture – Sun Devil Stadium

Sometimes in photography we get caught up in capturing details. We want colors and action, texture and excitement. We process in HDR, and we Spicify in Topaz.

Sometimes we forget to look for the simple things–lines, curves, reality.

On last weekend’s light rail photocrawl, we got off the train at Arizona State University, near Sun Devil Stadium. I took numerous shots around the campus, but the one that I keep coming back to is this one:

Sun Devil Stadium

I simply enjoy the curve of the building, the contrast between the light concrete and the deep blue sky, the glare of the sun on the windows which is indicative of the desert environment, and the little tiny capture of the airplane in the lower left corner as it lifts off from nearby Sky Harbor airport.

I did very little processing on this shot, just a little curves adjustment to set the white point.

Sometimes it’s good to just simplify and go with the Zen.


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.

Prime Real Estate

I’m still going through some of the shots from our photowalk in Tempe a few weekends ago.  There was such a variety of shots stored on my SD card that it’s been hard to pick an choose which ones to work on.

Tonight’s post is from Mill Avenue in downtown Tempe.  This area of Tempe is the main hangout for students from Arizona State University which is just a few blocks away, so nighttime is when all the action takes place.

However, we were there in the early morning hours, so it was fairly quiet and family-friendly, and we got some mostly unobstructed shots of the real estate along the avenue.

I found this property available for rent–right between an Irish pub and and Irish restaurant…now, that’s what I call prime real estate!

Prime Real Estate

This is an HDR from three bracketed photos, processed in Photomatix v4. I then used Topaz Adjust’s “Spicify” preset (which I normally avoid like the plague but it seemed to work here), and then Topaz DeNoise (just a little bit, really). I used Paintshop Photo Pro X3’s Curves tool to set the white and black points, and to sharpen it slightly. That’s it.

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 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.

Mill Avenue Bridge in Pastel

This is another shot from our photowalk last Saturday morning.  Just after the blue hour faded away, the pastel colors bloomed.  I love the quiet, peaceful Zen of this shot.  Fortunately the lights on the bridge were still on, so I got some nice reflections in the water.

Mill Avenue Bridge in Pastel

This is an HDR from three bracketed images.  I cropped a little off the bottom to balance the composition a little better.  I used Topaz Adjust to add just a little bit of detail to the bridge, and I used Topaz DeNoise at the max setting to smooth everything out to look a little closer to what I saw that morning.  I’ll admit I did juice up the saturation a little…okay, a lot…but the colors had to have been there in order to be juiced up, right??

I wonder just how many ways there are to shoot pictures of the Mill Avenue Bridge??

I have a new Facebook page, ZannWalker Photography, that I hope you’ll visit and “Like”.  I’ll be using that page to post links and tidbits of all kinds of photography-related stuff that I personally find interesting.  Hopefully you will to.  So come on over and see me on Facebook!

Mill Avenue Bridge at the Blue Hour

To me, the “blue hour” is the most beautiful part of the day for shooting architectural features with lights, especially if they’re reflecting off the water.  The blue hour is that period of twilight each day between full darkness and sunlight, when you can still see stars but there’s just a hint of light in the atmosphere.  Many amateur photographers (myself included until I learned better) will take hundreds of shots of sunrises or sunsets, but never extend their shooting time into that magic hour when the sky turns a deep indigo.

Last Saturday on our photowalk in Tempe, we were fortunate enough to be at Tempe Town Lake before the blue hour started, so we had plenty of time to find our best angles for shooting.  Here’s one of my favorites from the morning’s walk….the east Mill Avenue Bridge.  There are two parallel bridges that carry vehicular traffic over the lake, one running inbound and one running outbound.  For this shot, I was between the two bridges, facing east.

Mill Avenue Bridge East

I actually took three bracketed shots here, but I chose to only process one of the images, the one that was slightly under-exposed. I used Topaz Detail to get a little more texture in the bridge, and then used Topaz DeNoise to clean up the artifacts. A little tweaking with the Curves took and a little final sharpening was all it took.

Compare this shot to the one that I took a few minutes later after I walked further east and then turned around shot both bridges.  The blue hour doesn’t last long, so be prepared to capture it before it fades away!

The Payoff for Getting Up Early

Several of my photographer buddies from work decided to do an early morning photowalk in Tempe, Arizona this past Saturday morning.  The plan was to meet at the Starbucks on Mill Avenue between 6:00 and 6:15 AM.  Since it’s a 35 minute drive for me to get there, I had to get up at an ungodly hour (for a Saturday).  It was so tempting to just bail on the guys, but I thought it would be a great chance to compare notes with other non-professionals, plus get some good sunrise shots on Tempe Town Lake.

There were four of us (not too many, not too few), and we had a great time exploring the area on the south side of the Lake from before dawn until after the sun rose.  I’ll be posting more shots from our photowalk, but I’ll start with this one:

Tempe Town Lake Just Before Dawn

To the right is the Mill Avenue bridge which carries vehicle traffic. To the left you can see the light trails created from the passing of the light rail train as it traveled over the Lake. The boats are just waiting for the sun to come up to start taking passengers.

You can see more shots from our photowalk in the set that I’ve posted on Flickr, called Tempe Photowalk 2011.01.15. I’ve just started processing, so more images will be added to the set soon. I’ll be posting a few more on this blog as well.

This was my first photowalk, and I’d like to thank Ed Brice for organizing things for us, and Adam Schmid and Kurt Neurauter for lots of great tips and good humor. I had a blast and look forward to more of these excursions!

Saturday in Tempe

It’s almost 10:00 PM, and I’m just winding up a full day of quality time with the hubby and the Nikon.  Since the weather in Sedona was going to be mostly cloudy and quite cool today, we decided to spend the weekend around the Valley instead.  Today our destination was Tempe.

We started our excursion with a trip to Tempe Camera.  I wanted to look for a new camera bag that would hold all my equipment comfortably, and I also wanted to check out their tripods for a future purchase.  Tempe Camera is a photographer’s paradise for those who are really into their equipment.  We spent probably 45 minutes in there trying on different camera bags and backpacks, inspecting the tripod legs and heads, comparing different cleaning kits, and poking around in all the other goodies that the retail establishment offers.  The sales floor is located on the second floor of the building, and the first floor is devoted to repairs and rentals.  It’s probably a good thing that I don’t live so close to Tempe, or I could quickly become very well acquainted with the people that work there.  I came away with a new Tamrac Adventure 7 backpack, a cleaning kit, and the February issue of “Outdoor Photographer” (because it has an article on HDR that I want to read.)

After leaving the store, we drove (yes, drove) across the street to Mucho Gusto, a Mexican bistro, where we had a scrumptious lunch.  I had the Gringo quesadilla, and Andy had carne asada tacos, and we both had Dos Equis Amber to celebrate dining outdoors on such a beautiful day (after all, it was sunny and in the high 60’s here, while all our family members are dealing with ice and snow back east/southeast).

After lunch, we drove to Tempe Town Lake, parking at the Tempe Center for the Arts.  Andy was my official “Tripod Carrier”, and we spent the next couple of hours strolling along the lakeside, stopping to take lots of photos along the way.  The first thing we came across was the area below the dam where the egrets were hanging out.  I pulled out my old 300mm Quantaray zoom lens (which is not auto-focus) and tried to get some shots of the egrets.  I did manage to get a few decent ones, but many of them were just a little blurry.

Next, we stopped in front of the TCA, which has a cool fountain and some very neat architecture.  The light wasn’t optimum for great pictures, but I took some bracketed shots for HDR processing, hoping that I could make them work.  Further along the lakeside, I got plenty of shots of the three different bridges that span the lake, as well as some of the sculpture and the gazebo in the park.  In addition, we got shots of ducks and kayakers–things that like to float on the water.

We finished up the photo shoot with some closeups of some wildflowers growing next to the path.

After leaving the park, we hit Starbucks for an afternoon shot of caffeine, and then headed home, where I’ve been on the computer ever since.  I’ve spent about five hours editing photos through the HDR process and I have them uploaded to my Flickr account (click here). I’ll be posting the non-HDR shots tomorrow…I’m just about wiped out right now!

We’re planning to visit the World Wildlife Zoo tomorrow, and I’m anxious to see how the telephoto lenses work in that environment.  In the meantime, it’s time to get some sleep!