Sedona Sunset from Airport Mesa

When I first visited Sedona almost twenty years ago, it was much smaller and less congested.  We always stayed at the Skyranch Lodge, located at the top of a high mesa overlooking downtown Sedona, right next to the small airport.  I would get up early in the morning and walk halfway down the side of the mesa to the smaller hill which is reputed to be a vortex, and I would climb to the top of that hill and watch the sunrise.  One evening we climbed the vortex hill and witnessed a Native American going through one of his sunset rituals–it was beautiful to watch.  Back in those days, there were hardly ever crowds to contend with at sunset.

But over the past twenty years, the word has gotten out, and now the airport mesa is “the place” to be at sunset.  They’ve even built a special parking lot to hold all the cars that drive up to the top of the mesa.  The edge of the overlook has now been roped off so you can no longer park there.  People bring their lawn chairs, blankets, and every imaginable kind of camera, lens and tripod, and jostle for the best viewing angle.

What used to be a quiet meditative area in the evening is now a major production….I guess you can’t stop progress, and I shouldn’t complain because I’m just one of the many tourists that contribute to the crowd.  But sometimes it makes me wish I had never told a soul how beautiful Sedona is.

Anyway, when we were there on Saturday evening, the clouds that had lingered all day were finally starting to break up, so the sun was able to peek through just before it dipped below the horizon.  It wasn’t the dramatic colorful sunset that everyone was hoping for, but with a little bracketing and some HDR processing, I was able to capture something of what we saw:

Sedona Sunset from Airport Mesa
HDR created from five bracketed photos processed in Photomatix v4. Post-processing in Paintshop Photo Pro X3, using Topaz Adjust / DeNoise.

As crazy as Arizona is right now, this is one of the things that makes living here worth putting up with the foolishness. It’s nice to know I can leave my house and be in a place like this in two-hours time.

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Sedona – Clouds and Red Rocks

We spent the weekend in Sedona, one of my all-time favorite places to be in the entire world. Call it a cliche, but there’s just something magical about the landscape around Sedona, the way the sun lights up the red rocks at certain times of the day, and especially when there are dark clouds in the background.

On Saturday, the skies were mostly cloudy, making it difficult to get shots of the red rocks with that “glow”. It was also very windy, so any bracketed shots were sure to have ghosting issues from the movement of the tree branches.

Fortunately, we weren’t in any rush that day, so I was able to set up the camera on the tripod and then just wait for a break in the clouds and the wind to get the shot that I wanted. We found this one on Dry Creek Road. I believe it’s called Lizard Head Rock:

Sedona - Clouds and Red Rocks
HDR created from five bracketed photos processed in Photomatix v4. Post-processing in Paintshop Photo Pro X3, using Topaz Adjust / DeNoise.

I’ve just begun processing last weekend’s images, so I’m still not sure what all I came away with. Regardless, it was a fun weekend, doing some light hiking and lots of photography. We enjoyed our stay at Los Abrigados (although I’m still a little irritated that they didn’t provide the usual travel-size toiletries that most places do–they expect you to buy them in their gift shop or salon).

Stay tuned for more images from Sedona over the next week or so!

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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Jerome Grand Hotel Balcony Room

Continuing my series of images from our recent visit to Jerome, Arizona:

As I’ve mentioned before, we elected to stay at the Jerome Grand Hotel on our last trip, for a couple of reasons.  First of all, the hotel is located at the top of the mountain-side town, so it has a great view of the town and the surrounding valley beyond.  But the hotel also has a lot of history and mystique about it, and we love a good story.

From their webpage:

This Spanish Mission style building, constructed in 1926, started out as the United Verde Hospital, opening January, 1927. In 1930, it was written up as the most modern and well equipped hospital in Arizona and possible the Western States. The Hospital was closed in 1950 as the mine operation was being phased out. The building stood unused for the next 44 years until the rehabilitation plans started in 1994.

The building is one of the highest public structures in the Verde Valley, (5240 Ft.). As the last major building constructed in Jerome, the building was not only to boost the pride of the town in its classic design, but was built fire proof and able to withstand the blasts of up to 260,000 pounds of dynamite set off by the mine and sometimes felt as far away as Camp Verde, a distance of 20 miles. How this 30,000 sq. ft., five level building of poured in place, reinforced concrete, was constructed on a 50 degree slope is an engineering marvel even by today’s standards!

Purchased by the Altherr Family in 1994, from the Phelps Dodge Mining Corp, the restoration and rehabilitation was started. Having been closed for 44 years, there had been no changes to the original building except for the enclosure of the roof top deck in 1929, The building has withstood the tests of blasting as well as the tests of time. This has to be one of the best preserved buildings in Arizona and extreme measures have been used to protect the interior and exterior integrity.

Our balcony room was beautifully decorated and very comfortable, with a few quaint touches like the old telephone with no dial (you just pick up the handset and you’re automatically connected to the front desk), the steam radiator, and the transoms over the doors to let the breeze blow through.  The bed was very comfortable, the bathroom facilities were modern and functioned perfectly, and the balcony was a delightful space to sit with a glass of wine and watch the sun go down (while shooting brackets, of course!).

Here’s a view of our guest room.  This is an HDR image from five bracketed photos shot without flash with only the light from the balcony doors. I used Photomatix to merge the images, and then Paintshop Photo Pro X3, with Topaz Adjust/DeNoise for post-processing:

Jerome Grand Hotel Balcony Room

The halls of the hotel are decorated with period antiques that make the Grand Hotel a unique place to visit. Here’s a slideshow of some of the hallway decor, as well as the lobby and gift shop area. All of these images were shot with the 14-24mm wide angle lens, tripod-mounted with no flash. I didn’t do any special processing on any of them, other than straightening some that were a little crooked:

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We truly enjoyed our stay at the Grand Hotel, even though we didn’t get to meet any ghosts while we were there. The staff was friendly, the lodgings were comfortable, and the view was unbeatable.

On my next post, I’ll share some images of the exterior of the hotel…watch out for spiders!

Late Afternoon in Jerome

Continuing my series of images from our recent visit to Jerome, Arizona:

One of the reasons I wanted to stay at the Grand Hotel in Jerome is because they have a few rooms on the third floor with balconies that overlook the Verde Valley that lies between Jerome and Sedona. From our perch high on the mountainside we could watch as the glow from the setting sun ignited the red rocks on the far side of the valley, as the street lights in Jerome came on one by one.

I was hoping for a few more clouds to make the sunset a little more dramatic, but it’s Murphy’s Law….when you want clouds, the weather is absolutely beautiful.

I set up the camera on the tripod with the 14-24 wide-angle lens and my cable release, and as the sun went down we enjoyed a glass of wine and shot several five-bracket series of images.

Here’s my favorite of the evening:

Late Afternoon in Jerome
HDR created from five bracketed photos processed in Photomatix v4. Post-processing in Paintshop Photo Pro X3, using Topaz Adjust / DeNoise

I’ve decided to cut back on my posting frequency. Fortunately, I have a day job that finances my photography hobby, but the downside is that I don’t have enough hours in the day to work, shoot, process photos, and do some of the other things I’ve been neglecting lately like housework and exercise. It’s time to get a little more balance back in my life. My intention is to post maybe three times per week, but we’ll see how it goes.

Tomorrow morning I’m attending a workshop in Mesa on how to use flash, but on- and off-camera. On Monday evening, I’m attending another workshop on how to create a low-cost studio set up using everyday materials. I’m hoping these workshops will give me some ideas that I can use to start taking some great shots of Andy’s handmade jewelry and lapidary work.

Have a great weekend everyone! Happy shooting!

387th Avenue

Continuing my series of images from last weekend’s trip to Jerome, Arizona:

We’ve been visiting Jerome off and on for about twenty years now, and we always enjoyed the shops and galleries, museums and quaint restaurants.  But we had always stayed on the main streets that switchback through the main part of town.  For some reason we had never really explored the little side roads.

This time we decided on a whim to venture north of Jerome to look for some good photo ops.  We wound up on the road that leads to Gold King Mine Ghost Town.  And if you’re into HDR photography, it’s a mother lode of high dynamic range rust, machinery, wood grain, dust, and just generally old stuff.  I could have spent the day there, but I was limited to just a couple of hours since we had to get back to the hotel in time for check out.  We WILL be going back!

My photo for tonight is an example of what’s to be found at Gold King Mine Ghost Town:

387th Avenue
HDR created from five bracketed photos processed in Photomatix v4. Post-processing in Topaz Adjust / DeNoise with Paintshop Photo Pro X3.

The owner/operator of the site was very gracious and told us that we could go check out of the hotel and come back if we wanted to. She even said we could come back in a few days and continue our visit without having to pay another entry fee. They welcome photographers AND their tripods (imagine that!), so you don’t have to feel anxious about shooting anything in there.

I’ll be posting more photos from our visit to Gold King Mine here on this blog and also on my Flickr page in the set titled “Jerome Arizona – 2011.03.12“.

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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Otis Elevator at the Grand Hotel in Jerome

We just got back from our overnight trip to Jerome, Arizona, and I’ve transferred about 14GB of raw files to my computer from my three compact flash cards.  Needless to say, I have a lot of images to sort through, tag, process and post.  I’m going to try and be diligent about discarding images that are not worth processing, but you know how it is….

We stayed at the Grand Hotel in Jerome, a historic structure that at one time served as the hospital for the mining town.  After the town was all but abandoned when copper prices bottomed out, the hospital sat empty for about 44 years before it was purchased and opened as a hotel.  I won’t give you all the details of the hotel’s history, but it’s an interesting one.  Just Google “Jerome Grand Hotel” to get the scoop.

One of the most unique features of the hotel is the Otis elevator that services the guests.  The elevator “was installed in October 1926. It is fully operational and provides service to all five levels of the Hotel. Never having been modernized with automatic doors or any other upgrades available, this is the oldest original “self service” elevator in Arizona and possibly the United States. It has been out of order for a total of 4 hours and 15 minutes in the past 10 years, far exceeding the dependability of most modern elevators.” — From the hotel’s website

Each guest that checks in to the Hotel is provided with a key to the elevator along with a set of instructions for its operation. One of the most important things to remember is that you have open and close the doors yourself, they are not automatic. When you get off the elevator on your floor, you must shut the doors behind you, or the elevator will not respond to the call buttons on any other floor. When that happens, the front desk has to radio housekeeping and tell them to go shut the elevator doors. Yep, we saw it happen.

The elevator is still beautiful. This shot was taken with my 14-24mm wide angle zoom, tripod-mounted, in a five-bracket series which was processed as an HDR in Photomatix and Paintshop Photo Pro X3:

Otis Elevator at Grand Hotel - Jerome AZ

We had a great time on our quick road trip, and even though we had visited Jerome many times in the past, we made some new discoveries this time that I’ll be sharing on this blog in the days to come, so stay tuned!

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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Saguaro and Big Sky – and Guns

For tonight’s post I’ve returned to South Mountain and the great outdoors.  When we visited there last Sunday just after the storm front moved through, I was expecting it to be totally overcast, but in true Arizona fashion, the sun began to burn through the clouds by early afternoon.

I used my 14-24mm wide angle zoom to capture this shot of the saguaro in seven brackets for HDR processing.  It was pretty windy that day, but fortunately on this side of the hill there was only a slight breeze, so I got just a faint amount of ghosting from the ocotillo branches on the right.

Saguaro and Big Sky

Interesting story on this shot: When we got out of the car with the camera and tripod and started to hike up the hill, we suddenly heard gunshots. There were multiple shots, and they were very close by. If you know anything about Arizona, you know that (1) we have very liberal gun laws, and (2) we have a lot of people who carry guns openly. Andy and I just froze in place for a moment or two until we heard laughter close by. We decided to hike on up the hill, and then the shots started again. Call us crazy, but we kept walking but kept our heads down. Finally we got to where we could see three people at the bottom of the hill doing some kind of target shooting with a handgun. The kid that was shooting the gun didn’t look all that old, and his two companions appeared to be possibly his parents.

We tried to avoid eye contact from our position up on the hill. I certainly didn’t want to point the camera in that direction and have them misinterpret our intentions. They finally packed up and left about the same time that we did, after firing off at least 40-50 rounds while we were there. I don’t know what the regulations are in South Mountain Park, but I can’t imagine this is legal. In fact, I tweeted about it that afternoon, and I included the hashtag #guns in my tweet. And wouldn’t you know it, now I’m getting all these new followers (from bots, I’m sure), all telling me about the fantastic guns they’ve bought/sold/discovered. I’m blocking them all.

Oh, well, I’m really enjoying having more brackets to play with on these HDR’s. My Nikon D5000 would only shoot three brackets (auto-bracketed) at a time, but my D700 will shoot up to nine brackets. Not sure I need that many, but it’s nice to have options. Only problem is that the additional shots eat up space on my memory card as well as my hard drive. I’ll have to be much more disciplined about deleting those shots that I know I’m never going to use.

Looks like there’s another weather front moving this way for the weekend, so there’s a distinct possibility I’ll be out shooting clouds again. I love this time of the year here in Arizona!

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.

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.

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.

Thirsty (in Macro)

This evening I was playing around with my macro filters, trying to get some decent shots to submit to the photography group that I just joined (more about that in a moment).  I set up my lightbox with my poor excuse for lighting and props, mounted the camera on the tripod and spent about an hour getting totally frustrated.  Macro photography is totally different from what I normally shoot.  Trying to manage the depth of field, adjusting the aperture and trying to balance DOF to shutter speed, was driving me nuts.  The plane of focus was so small!  Finally I just grabbed the camera and started wandering around the house looking for things to shoot hand-held.  I even resorted to using the pop-up flash.

The cat wound up in my path while he was trying to get a drink of water from the bathroom sink (his favorite place to drink).  I got right in his face with the camera and the flash, and wound up with this shot:

Thirsty
Photo taken with a Nikon D700, 50mm lens with 10X macro filter, processed in Paintshop Photo Pro X3.

Yeah, I know it’s a little (ok, a lot) blown out on the bottom right, but I still like the way the flash stopped the water droplets right on the tip of Macho’s tongue. It made me laugh, and sometimes that’s a good thing!

Now, back to the photography group. I attended my first meetup last night of the AZPhotographersGroup. The meeting was an open forum where you could ask any question you wanted about photography. I learned so much just from the discussions around each of the questions. Then Nick, the organizer of the group, presented some tips on how to photograph people, which is what I’m starting to concentrate on now, and once again I picked up some great information. The people were all friendly and willing to share information with newbies such as myself.

The group is very active, with several organized events and photowalks each month. They also do monthly photo challenges where they present a theme and members submit photos relative to that theme. This month, it’s macro photography…which explains why I was playing with the 10x filter this evening. If you’re in the Phoenix/Tempe area, I recommend that you check them out. I’ve already signed up for a workshop next month on how to use an off-camera flash. Now all I have to do is get my hands on a flash unit before then!

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.