The Back Room

Continuing my series of images from the abandoned house that we discovered west of Tupelo, Mississippi…

After entering the door of the house and walking through the living room, you enter a back bedroom.  But don’t go in there too quickly, or you could find yourself standing on the ground.  The floorboards in the middle of the room have rotted to the point that there’s a huge, gaping hole, partially filled with the remains of carpet padding, where you can see the ground under the house.

I love the old windows with the triple panes at the top, through which the sunlight poured to illuminate the mess in front of us.  An open closet contained a few old coat hangers, one with the paper advertisement of the local dry cleaners still attached, telling us that this place must have been inhabited in the not-too-distant past.

We walked through here very gingerly, staying close to the walls to set up the tripod and camera to get this shot.  Enjoy!

Abandoned House - Back Room


Shot with my Nikon D700 and 14-24mm Nikkor glass.  Processed in Photomatix and Paint Shop Photo Pro, using Topaz Adjust filters.


My First Wedding Shoot

My plans for this past weekend included attending the wedding of my niece, Bailey, and her fiance, Daniel on Saturday, May 26.  On Thursday evening of last week, those plans changed dramatically.  Their wedding photographer cancelled at the last minute (don’t even get me started!), and so they asked if I would be willing to take some pictures at the wedding.  Of course, I jumped at the chance….and only started to panic about twelve hours later as I started trying to figure out what the heck I was supposed to do.

I started out by going through all my equipment, charging batteries and cleaning lenses.  I realized that I really didn’t have the optimum lens for this type of shoot (a mid-range fast zoom, like a 28-70mm f/2.8, which is now on my Christmas list!), but I decided to make the best of what I had.  I attended the rehearsal on Friday night, and since my dad was the one officiating, I was already pretty familiar with how he conducts the ceremony.  I was able to get an idea of shooting angles and timing after we went through the ceremony a couple of times.

Saturday was a beautiful day, but it was pretty warm.  The ceremony started at 2:00, but I got there about 11:30 to start taking pictures of Bailey as she was getting ready.  I took a lot of the formal shots of the wedding party and the families prior to the ceremony, along with some shots of the bride and her party outside under some shade trees.

The wedding went off without a hitch, and then we headed to the reception for a full sit-down meal, all leading up to the decorating of the car and the big send-off.

By the time I got home, I was totally exhausted, and today I’m actually stiff and sore from all the bending, stooping, squatting, and carrying around that tank of a camera (the Nikon D700) with the 28-300mm lens.  Thank goodness I was able to use a tripod much of the time!  I’ve spent just about all day processing photos, and I’m about a third of the way through.  Now I know why photographers charge so much to shoot events like weddings….and this was a very simple, but beautiful, ceremony.  I can’t imaging shooting a large, hoity-toity event, even with an assistant or two!

Anyway, I’ll be posting some of the images later as I get through the processing.   I don’t want to post any of the “people” pictures until Bailey and Daniel get to see them first, but I’ll go ahead and share this one that I did of Bailey’s dress, processed in black and white.

The Dress

I feel so honored that Bailey and Daniel trusted me to shoot their wedding. They are such a sweet couple, and I wish them nothing but happiness and joy as they start their life together!  And a special thanks goes to my “assistant”, my wonderful hubby, Andy, who kept me calm and who carried all my equipment for me.  I love you, Sweetie!!

From South Mountain to Ahwatukee

Tonight I decided to pull out some old brackets and do some HDR processing, using the new Topaz Adjust and Topaz  Black & White Effects plug-ins that I’ve recently acquired.

I found this set of brackets that I shot from the top of South Mountain Park in Phoenix, on a partly-cloudy afternoon just after a storm front had moved through. From the top of South Mountain, there was a clear view of the suburb of Ahwatukee, and the remaining clouds were still dramatic enough to really lend a sense of scale to the landscape. From the to of South Mountain, you can almost see forever!

From South Mountain to Ahwatukee

I shot these brackets with my 14-24mm Nikkor wide-angle lens, using my Nikon D700 camera mounted on a tripod. I processed the brackets in Photomatix 4, then edited the resulting TIFF in Paintshop Photo Pro X4. First I used Topaz Adjust to correct exposure and bump up the clarity slightly. I then added a layer using Topaz Black & White Effects, using the low-key preset which I adjusted slightly to add some detail. I lowered the opacity of this layer, as I just wanted to add a little drama to the clouds, especially where the sun was filtering through.

Today, we closed on the sale of our home in Arizona, so we no longer have any real estate ties to the Phoenix area. I guess this image is a little bit of nostalgia for a place that I really did enjoy living and photographing. I’ll still be returning there several times a year for work, so hopefully this won’t be the last time I see such a magnificent landscape as this through my viewfinder.

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Building 50 – Tishomingo State Park

It’s been a long dry spell, but we finally have our move behind us and are now located in Tupelo, Mississippi.  We’re still deep in the process of unpacking, organizing, and getting settled, but we decided to take a day off today and do a little shooting.  This afternoon we drove about forty miles northeast on the Natchez Trace to Tishomingo State Park, located in the far northeast corner of the state.  I have many fond memories of visiting this park  in my younger days, and although things are never quite as you remember them, many things about the park have not changed at all.

I took the tripod with me so I could shoot some HDR’s, and here’s the first example of what we saw today.  This is a restored log cabin from the 1840’s that sits alongside a small creek that runs through the park.  I could have sworn that at one time there was a big mill wheel attached to the side of the cabin, but that’s probably just another case of memories playing tricks on us.  Anyway, this is an HDR image from five brackets that particularly liked, as it also captured the mid-afternoon sun coming through the trees that are just in the early stages of developing their fall color.  In the far background, you can just see a small bridge that crosses the top of a man-made waterfall or spillway where water overflows from a little lily-pad-covered pond.

Building 50 - Tishomingo State Park
HDR processed in Photomatix Pro 4 and PaintShop Photo Pro X3

It was such a beautiful day, with temperatures in the low 70’s and not a cloud in the sky. As we drove up the Natchez Trace we saw a lot of fall color, although it’s not nearly at its peak. It’s such a change from the drab brown and tan of the desert, and it has already given my creative urges a big boost. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this beautiful state through the lens of my Nikon!

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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.

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

Sour Diesel TrainWreck

When we were at Westgate a couple of weeks ago, I was concentrating more on shooting dials and gauges for the 60 Minute Photo Challenge. But while we were there, I stopped to get a few shots of the band that was playing outdoors in the plaza. The band is called Sour Diesel TrainWreck, and it was the first time I had heard of them. Since then I’ve seen them mentioned on a couple of other local websites. They put on a good show, so if you get a chance to hear them, check ’em out.

Here are a few shots I took while they were playing. It was right about sundown, and I didn’t have my flash with me, or a tripod either for that matter. So I bumped up the ISO on my Nikon D700 and grabbed a few hand-held shots with the 28-300mm zoom. These were processed in Paintshop Photo Pro X3, using Topaz Adjust.

Sour Diesel TrainWreck 01

Sour Diesel TrainWreck 02

Sour Diesel TrainWreck 03

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!

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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!!

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A Little Something Different – Studio Shots

My hubby has been waiting patiently for me to spend some time taking photos of the handmade silver jewelry and lapidary work that he sells on his Etsy site ( So last weekend, we watched a few YouTube videos on how to set up an inexpensive home studio and we put something together on the dining room table.

We bought a florescent light fixture that had a square white acrylic cover, and Andy wired it to take a wall plug. We bought two inexpensive shop light fixtures on clamps, and Andy rigged up some wooden stands to attach lights to, so we could move them up, down and around. We bought some white foamboard, some white fabric to use as diffusers, and we put together a little bracket strung with fishing line to hang earrings on.

Of course we mounted the camera on the tripod and used a cable release.  I shot all the jewelry with the Nikon D5000 and the 18-55mm kit lens.  I don’t own a macro lens, but I’m strongly considering renting one for the next time we shoot jewelry. (Note: The photos of the studio setup were taken with my Blackberry–not too bad, really!).

We spent about five hours experimenting and shooting, and I’ve started processing some of the shots for website already.  The trickiest part is getting the color corrected so that the color of the stones is as accurate as possible.  When these things are listed as sale items, we can’t afford to get all creative with the color–they need to match the real thing.

We found a lot of things that we’ll change–in fact, we’ve already purchased a couple sheets of acrylic (translucent white and opaque black) to replace the light fixture acrylic which wasn’t opaque enough. But all in all, we got some images that are much better than the ones he had been using on his site.

Here are a few examples–note that they are not in the highest resolution since they had to fit the size requirements of his website:

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Take Your Seat and Watch Your Step

I love using my 28-300mm zoom lens with my Nikon D700, but I sometimes forget to take advantage of the great depth-of-field opportunities it provides, especially when I’m concentrating on capturing brackets for HDR processing.

Yesterday at the abandoned dog track, I actually remembered to play around with the focal length on the lens.  I lowered the height of the tripod to about knee-level, and then aimed the camera down the front row of seats in the “yellow” section.  I focused on one of the seats about a third of the way down the row, letting the other seats go slightly out of focus.  I was using a focal length of 92mm, at F/10.

These seats were positioned right in front of what used to be the huge plate glass windows looking out on the dog track.  The glass has been shattered, and quite a bit of it was lying in pieces right in front of these seats.  The late afternoon sun was at the perfect angle to give the seats a nice glow.  And since I shot a five-bracket series, I was able to retain the detail of the interior as well as the exterior of the grandstand:

Take Your Seat and Watch Your Step

I find that HDR processing is complicated a bit by using these shallow depths of field, because the areas that are purposely left out of focus can actually turn out worse during the HDR process. For instance, in this shot, I wound up with some obvious chromatic aberration along the mountain tops in the background. Probably should have spent some time trying to fix it, but hey, I was tired.

I’m still going through the rest of the shots and trying to decide which one I want to work on next. So much to choose from!

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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