Thanksgiving in the Country

I spent last week at my parents’ house in North Mississippi. They are fortunate enough to live on a beautiful lake called Lake Mohawk, and I was glad to see that there was still a bit of fall color remaining when I arrived there last Monday.

The skies were overcast and rainy for most of my visit, however. I wasn’t able to get out and shoot as much as I had planned (my tripod never got used during my visit), and most of the shots I took outside were at a higher-than-normal ISO setting. But thanks to the Topaz suite of products and Paintshop Pro X3, I was able to restore some of the color to these shots that was lost in the flat light of the overcast daylight.

This first shot was made with my 75-200 zoom lens. There is an abundance of wildlife around the lake, including lots of squirrels who like to hang out at the bird feeders that my dad stocks around the house.  I used Topaz Adjust to sharpen it up and bring out the details of the tree bark and the squirrel’s fur:

I See You Up There

There’s no cable TV where my folks live…instead, everyone has dish antennas.   There are several dishes on the hill behind their house, most of which are the smaller ones, but there’s still this big dinosaur that’s gathering leaves from the surrounding trees. This is an HDR image created from three hand-held bracketed shots using Photomatix v4, Topaz Adjust, and Paintshop Pro X3:

Return to Nature

And finally, here’s a shot of some of the fall color that was still on the trees when I arrived. By the time I left on Saturday, the thunderstorms of the week had pretty much left the trees bare. This shot was processed in Topaz Clean 3, using the “Stylize Details” preset. In Paintshop Pro X3, I used the Curves tool to adjust the exposure, and then I used the Edge enhancement effect to sharpen the edges:

Last of the Fall Color

Autumn Stream at West Fork in Oak Creek Canyon

I only processed one image tonight, but I’m extremely happy with how it came out. Click on the small version below to view it larger in the lightbox:

West Fork in Oak Creek Canyon

This is an HDR created from three bracketed photos in Photomatix V4. Amazingly, I can find no obvious ghosting in this image, even though it was a breezy that day. This shot was taken deep in the canyon, which offered some protection from the wind….plus, I think I just got darned lucky.

After merging the photos and tonemapping them in Photmatix, I adjusted the image using the Curves tool in Paintshop Pro X3, and then bumped up the saturation and sharpened it slightly (Overlay).

I love this shot….it’s so peaceful and serene, and totally Zen.

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.

Happy Halloween – The Spooky Tree

Happy Halloween, everyone! I’m still playing around with Topaz Adjust, and I pulled out this old JPG file from last March.  This picture was taken in Sedona, Arizona, just as the sun was setting behind to trees that were lined up almost perfectly in front of the sunset.  I really liked the silhouette it created against the dusky sky.

I opened this shot in Topaz Adjust and played around with the different presets, just to get an idea of what effects they would have on the image.  When I clicked on the “Dark – Night” preset, I knew I had found my perfect Halloween shot. Now it looks more like moonlight than sunset!  Here’s the Spooky Tree, a la Topaz Adjust–click on the photo to view it large on black (as it should be!):

Be safe everyone, and enjoy this beginning of the fall/winter holiday season!

Snowbowl On the Cusp of Winter

Tonight I went back to processing photos from the Snowbowl near Flagstaff.  If you’ve been keeping up here, we visited the Snowbowl last Saturday, right after they had received their first snow of the season.  On our drive up the mountain we stopped several times to photograph the beautiful aspens that still had most of their golden leaves.  Although the skies were mostly cloudy, occasionally the sun would peak through, and that’s when I would shoot like mad trying to get as many exposures as possible before the next cloud covered the sun.

I was doing almost all my shots in bracketed series of three (-2.0/0.0/+2.0) .  This first shot is an HDR image produced from one of those series.  I used Photomatix V4 to merge the images.  Fortunately, this must have been one of those moments when the breeze stopped blowing for a few seconds, because I couldn’t find a lot of evidence of ghosting.  I then applied a slight contrast adjustment in Topaz Adjust (I’m trying out the trial version), and then did some final adjustments using Curves and Sharpening tools in Paintshop Pro X3:

This next image is also an HDR of one of the ancillary ski lifts at the Snowbowl Ski Resort.  The main lift (not pictured), which is a little further up the mountain, was running that day, carrying visitors to the top of the mountain just for the viewing experience, which was probably minimal because of the heavy cloud cover.  The snowfall from the previous night had reached down to 9,200′ which was right about  where that main lift started, but it didn’t get down quite as far as this smaller lift.  You can just get a glimpse of snow in the background, and you can see how heavy the cloud cover was.  There’s a lot of mountain hidden in those clouds!  I loved the massiveness of this huge weight on the lift machinery.  The dark, black metal of the lift is accentuated by the heavy gray clouds, but one can just imagine that in a few weeks the entire scene will be softened by a white covering of snow:

I used the same general process on this shot as the first one–Photomatix, Topaz Adjust, Topaz DeNoise and Paintshop Pro.  There is still more noise in the clouds than I would like, but when I tried to remove it I was losing detail in the shadows of the machinery.  Guess I need to play around with that tool a lot more to learn its nuances.

It was almost 90° here in the Phoenix area today.  It really made me wish I was back up in Flagstaff where we were last weekend.  It’s so hard to remember that it’s almost November when it’s so hot outside.  Much more fun to drive north and play in the snow!

Branching Out

Just couldn’t resist working on one more shot from Lake Mohawk.  While I was out walking one morning, I came across this tree, and I loved the way its branches stretched so far, but in only one direction.  It’s almost as if the tree were reaching for something–maybe the sunlight? I’m just thinking that it could cast some really scary shadows around Halloween time!

This shot was a composite of three bracketed exposures (-2.0/0.0/+2.0), processed as HDR through Photomatix using Tone Compression, and then a little bit of post-processing in PaintShop Pro X3.

As the desert temperatures reach the 110’s and everything in my world turns brown and dusty, I love looking back at the photos that I took at Lake Mohawk, just to remember what a truly green landscape looks like.

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The Zen of the Bare Branch

Winter is almost over here in Arizona, at least below the Mogollon Rim.  All around us, plants are in bloom and pollen is in the air.  Trees are beginning to leaf out, and soon they will be green and the ground will be brown and parched–the way nature intended here in the desert.

But before all the trees become covered with their canopy of green, let me pay homage to the simple beauty of the bare branch.  When we were visiting Montezuma Castle two weeks ago, I was struck by the beauty of the stark white sycamore and ash trees against the azure blue sky, as seen in this single exposure processed in Paintshop Pro X3:

The white branches blended so beautifully with the chalky white limestone cliffs where the Native Americans built their cliff dwellings.  The trunks of the sycamore trees have the most gorgeous bark–it looks like a jigsaw puzzle of various shades of olive, tan, beige, pistachio, khaki, especially when processed as an HDR image from three bracketed exposures:

When we drove into Sedona later that afternoon, I spent a lot of time shooting pictures of the red rocks aglow in the light of the setting sun.  But as the sun was just about to slip below the horizon, I turned to face it and captured this shot of the bare branches of the oak trees:

It was such a lovely, peaceful silhouette that I did very little processing of the raw file.

Nature can be beautiful even when dormant and while hibernating.  It reminds us that we all need time to rest and recuperate so that we can bloom afresh and anew in the spring.

Happy Easter, everyone!

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