Back To the Beginning

Every new year calls for new resolutions, and this year mine is to seriously get back into my photography. For many reasons (I can’t really go into all of them yet), this is going to be an epic year for me and the hubby, and I want to make sure my skills and my equipment are ready to capture the moments ahead.

I recently went through my camera gear and sold a few things that I wasn’t using. I got rid of my Nikon D5000 and a couple of lenses, as well as a little point-and-shoot Canon camera that I had. I still have my Nikon D700, another point-and-shoot, a new GoPro Hero 5 Black, and my iPhone 8 Plus. Plenty of equipment and no real excuses for not getting behind a viewfinder.

It has been so long since I was really shooting a lot, and I found that I needed to go back to the basics, just to remember how the settings worked on the camera. I decided to challenge myself to do one photo or video shoot every weekend until I can feel confident enough to just grab the camera and go, without having to refer to the manual or fumble around with the buttons and menus. In addition, I’ve almost forgotten how to use my editing software (especially Lightroom), so that’s also part of my resolution for this year, to get my mojo back in the computer darkroom.

So, even though it technically was not the new year yet, I took my Nikon D700 out for a photo walk last Saturday morning, December 30, before the bitterly cold arctic front moved in. I challenged myself to shoot 100 images, and that’s what I did, walking around downtown Tupelo. There weren’t many people around, and I was there for a couple of hours, wandering through alleys and skulking around houses and businesses.

And I had so much fun! I had forgotten how satisfying it is to look for the beauty and/or interest in the everyday scenery of life. I didn’t limit myself to any one subject, I just shot things that caught my eye.

I spent some time over the past two days going through the images and doing some editing, trying to remember how to use some of my favorite tools (Curves, anyone?). Some images I processed both in color and in black-and-white (I shot everything in raw to make it more challenging and rewarding to edit). And then I picked out my favorite five (so far) and uploaded them to my Flickr site which has been sorely neglected for too long.

Here are my top five:

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I’m really looking forward to more shooting this year! My plan is to take a different camera with me each weekend, including my video gear (GoPro, iPhone, and gimbals for each). Repetition and practice, shooting and editing, learning and exploring….that’s my plan for 2018!

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Topaz ReMask and Layers

What a gorgeous day outside!! I would really love to be out there with my camera, but since I’m technically still employed for the next two weeks, and therefore have to stay close to my workspace, I decided to spend some time practicing on some photo editing and processing skills. I’m still getting acquainted with my new Wacom Intuos tablet,and I also wanted to get more practice with masking and layers.

I decided to work on this image that I took this past weekend in downtown Tupelo. It’s some sort of sculpture that’s supposed to celebrate water. (I really should pay more attention to what I’m shooting!). Anyway, when I was taking the photo, there were several things going through my mind:

  • I wanted to catch the rising sun coming through the opening at the top of the sculpture.
  • I wanted that sunburst effect, so I used a narrower aperture (f/13) than I would have normally used.
  • I was more concerned about the exposure on the sculpture than on the sky, even though I knew that the sky would be blown out.
  • I forgot to check the ISO setting when I was setting up this shot, but it was at ISO 500, and the exposure time was 1/200 sec.

So here is the raw file (saved as a JPEG):

Tupelo_misc_017_2015-03-15-3_unaltered

I got the starburst that I wanted, along with some cool green lens flare. And as expected, the sky was blown out and the sculpture itself is underexposed.

So I thought this would be a good candidate to use for practicing with masking and layers.

The first thing I did in Lightroom was to straighten the image slightly so that the base of the sculpture was more horizontal. (Evidently I can’t hold my camera straight to save my life!). I then exported the image to Photoshop.

Once in Photoshop I took the following steps (as best I can remember):

  • Duplicated the Background layer.
  • On the duplicated layer, I opened Topaz ReMask, and created a mask using only the sculpture portion of the photo. I actually did this step about four or five times, trying to get it right.
  • Next, I duplicated the Background layer again, and on this new layer, I again went to Topaz ReMask and created a mask of everything EXCEPT the sculpture (the sky and the foliage).
  • Back in Photoshop, for the SKY mask layer, I applied Gaussian blur, a brightness/contrast adjustment layer, and a curves layer. This helped bring back some details in the sky and the trees.
  • For the SCULPTURE mask layer, I used the Topaz Clarity filter to brighten the color, exposure and details.

And here is the final result (saved for the web, so it’s only 800 pixels tall, but you get the point):

Tupelo_misc_017_2015-03-15_Lr_remask

I’m pretty pleased with it, considering it’s my first real attempt at something this complicated. I’ll have to say that using the Wacom tablet made it a lot easier to make the mask selection, but I’m still trying to figure out all the hand gestures that the tablet recognizes when used like a touchpad. It gets pretty confusing when suddenly the image zooms in or out and I have no clue what I just did.

Pretty fun!! Can’t wait to try more!

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Weekly One-Word Challenge – Broken

Hooray, I am officially caught up with my weekly one-word challenges! The word for the week of March 9, 2015 was “broken”. And after several days of rain, the sun finally came out today, just in time for me to meet the deadline to get some shooting done for this challenge.

I did all my shooting between 7:30 and 9:30 a.m., hoping to catch some good light. My morning started off with a slight hiccup. I drove about five minutes from my house, parked my car, got out and fired up my camera, just to find that my battery was depleted. I could have kicked myself for not checking it before I left home. Fortunately, I had a second battery completely charged and ready to go, so I drove home, swapped them out, and then headed back downtown. Not that far to drive, but it did waste a little bit of that early morning golden hour.

Today I used my Nikon D700 with the 24-84mm Nikkor lens. I’m learning to be more cognizant of my f-stops, ISO, shutter speeds and depth-of-field, rather than just concentrating on composition.

I took quite a few images, processed them in Lightroom and Photoshop, using Topaz filters. I’ve uploaded the ones I liked best to my Flickr account. Here are my favorites from this morning, with a little commentary:

These first three are a little urbex from a partially abandoned warehouse near the railroad tracks. The broken windows fit the theme perfectly. I had to do some perspective adjustments to account for the camera tilt, but all in all, I’m happy with these:

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These next two are from an alley in downtown. If you’ve been following along, you’ll recognize the vase from an earlier challenge when I shot it for the word “Open”. In keeping with the rules of the challenge (photos must be shot in the appropriate week timeframe), I re-shot it and processed it differently today to represent “broken”. The photo of the toilet is self-explanatory.

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This next image is a whiskey and wine bar in downtown Tupelo. No, the bar is not broken, but the old original lettering at the top of the building seems to be missing something.

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The next image is a statue on the lawn of the Lee County Courthouse, erected in 1908 by the Tupelo Woman’s Christian Temperance Union to commemorate the statewide prohibition of alcohol. Not sure when the angel lost her hand, but Prohibition was definitely broken.

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Next is a bicycle frame lying in a neighbor’s yard. Those boys are tough on their toys.

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Finally, a little something different. Almost a year ago, on April 28, 2014, Tupelo was hit by an E3 tornado, which left a wide path of damage and destruction (but fortunately only slight injuries to people). While the recovery still continues, these bare trees are stark reminders of what happened that day. The trunks are starting to push out new twigs and branches, so even though they were “broken” last year, their recovery mirrors the spirit of Tupelo as businesses, churches and homeowners rebuild for the future.

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While I was out shooting this morning, I did take some other shots that were not related to the weekly challenge. I’ll be sharing those separately.

So now, I’m ready for next week’s challenge, which is the word “Ice”. So ironic that we had the ice storm week before last, and now the weather is starting to warm up. Not sure what I’ll shoot for “ice”, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something!

Zann’s Weekly One Word Challenge – Wet

I’m finally getting caught up with my weekly challenges after a couple weeks of nasty weather. While the challenge for this week is shooting images for the word “Broken”, I’ve just finished processing images from last week’s challenge for the word “Wet”.

I shot these images around downtown Tupelo this past Sunday. We were still thawing out after an ice storm came through on Thursday, and there was still ice scattered around in shady places on the north side of buildings, in dirty piles where the plows had cleared the streets, and most impressively, in the fountain on the old Courthouse lawn. Because the ice was melting, it fit the description of “wet”!

All of these images were taken with my Nikon D700 and the 28-300mm Nikkor lens. They were all processed in Lightroom, and some have some slight nudges Photoshop and Topaz plug-ins like Clean or DeNoise. I’m still getting acquainted with the Adobe products, but so far I’m loving Lightroom!

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1word_wet_009_2015-03-02_LR_TpzRestyle

1word_wet_030_2015-03-02_LR_TpzClean

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Weekly One Word Challenge – OPEN

I’m starting to get a little more caught up on my weekly photo challenge work. I’ve just now completed processing the images that I shot for the February 23 challenge around the theme “Open”. As I mentioned, I was a week late shooting these images because of the bad weather that we had, but better late than never!

I decided to process all of these in black & white this week. I’m also using Lightroom and Photoshop for the very first time (after years of using Paintshop Pro in every version up through the current X7). I have to say that I really like Lightroom for its simple slider adjustments, although I’m not yet a fan of all the Collections, Catalogs and other nonsense. I like a simpler method of organizing.

Photoshop is another beast that I’ll need to get better acquainted with, although Paintshop Pro has many of the same features and has already given me a headstart on learning to use levels and masking.

My images for this week were all shot around downtown Tupelo on a sunny Saturday morning just after our most recent ice storm. Each of these has some interpretation of the word or concept “open”, at least in my own mind.

Enjoy!

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The next challenge I’ll be presenting is the word “Wet”. Stay tuned!

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Snow, Ice, and Routine Chores

Nothing like some crazy weather to throw me off my schedule! The good news is, I’m spending much more time on my photography these days, even if I’m not totally up to date on my weekly photo challenge.

The challenge for the week of February 23 was the word “Open”. I had some ideas for what I wanted to shoot that week, but you know what they say about plans–they are made to be broken. On Wednesday of that week, we got 7.3 inches of snow, the second largest snowfall ever recorded on any date here in Tupelo. Of course, I took my camera out for some shots, so even though I wasn’t sticking to the theme for the week, the important thing was that I was shooting and processing. Here are a few images I captured that week:

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On this last one, I used the Topaz Clean plug-in to give it a little different effect in the details, especially on the tree branches. Kinda different, but I really like it! View it large to see what I mean.

snowstorm_051_2015-02-22_tpzClean

The following weekend, we delivered my four prints to the Elvis Presley Birthplace where hubby helped our club president get all the artwork hung for our spring exhibit. We have about 66 photographs from 20 different photographers on display for the entire month of March. We opened the exhibit on Monday, March 2, and I’ve already received positive comments from friends who have visited.

So, my weekly challenge for this past week was the word “Wet”. And wouldn’t you know it? On Wednesday, we had another winter storm come through, this time dumping almost an inch of sleet and ice, making travel impossible for two days (there were several fatal car accidents, one involving a mother and two of her children, so sad). So I didn’t get out to do any shooting until yesterday (Saturday), and I tried to shoot images for both the “Open” and “Wet” themes to get back on track. I think I got some decent shots which I’ll be processing this week.

Today it was time to do some general housecleaning around my photography gear and files.

First, I had hubby reconfigure my desk so I could move my monitor further away from my face, leaving more room on my desktop to accomodate my new Wacom Intuos tablet. I’m really excited about learning to use this piece of equipment!

Next, I took the plunge and cleaned the sensor on my Nikon D700, using Sensor Swab cleaning tools and Eclipse cleaning solution. I took before-and-after shots of the sky so I could see the difference it made. I actually went over it twice, using two swabs, and I think there may still be a spot or two left, but based on the photos that I took, it was quite an improvement. I may try to clean it again in another week or so.

Next, it was time to do some archiving. After a near disaster with a computer crash and an external hard drive failure last year, I’ve become somewhat OCD about backing up my photo files now. I have backups of my computer running to Mozy, and to two external hard drives attached to my system. But I also like to actually move files off my hard drive for storage now, so I’m using a combination of Google Drive, along with two additional external hard drives which I rotate out. Today I archived all my 2014 files to Google drive and to both my hard drives, and then removed them from my computer system. That’s less for Mozy to have to backup, and I can get to my archived files from any computer where I have an internet connection, via Google Drive.

And finally, I started playing with Lightroom and Photoshop. I finally took the plunge and signed up for a one-year subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud solution. For $9.99/month (I went ahead and prepaid for a year), I’m able to use the latest versions of Lightroom and Photoshop on up to two computers, as well as some mobile processing. I’m still a huge fan of Paintshop Pro, but I think it’s important to try and learn the more widely used software applications. Now that I can have access to them at a reasonable price, there’s no reason not to tackle learning something new. I also completed my collection of Topaz plug-ins by adding Illustrator and Glow.

So, I have software, hardware, workspace, updated filespace, a clean sensor, and motivation. Time to get some shooting and processing done! The challenge for this week is the word “Broken”, and hopefully with the time change, I won’t have to wait until the weekend to get my shooting done–more daylight after work hours. I still need to process shots from the “Open” and “Wet” word challenge, so time to get busy!

2015-photo-challenge-zannonewordphotochallenge

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Zann’s One Word Photo Challenge – Up

I’m wrapping up the third week of my 2015 photo challenge, and the word for this week is “Up”.

I really didn’t get a chance to do much shooting during the week, and yesterday (Saturday) we were out of town for a family visit, so this morning I got out early in order to meet my self-imposed deadline of completing each week’s assignment by Sunday evening.

And, oh my god, it was cold outside this morning. It was 23° with a wind chill of 13° when I got to my first shoot site at about 7:40 a.m. Fortunately the skies were a beautiful blue with some fluffy clouds starting to roll in, in advance of a cold front, so it actually worked out well, even though my fingers were frozen!

Today I used my Nikon D700 with the 24-85mm lens so that I could get a good wide-angle view of the structures that I was shooting upward toward. I wanted to try and convey a sense of how tall they were by including as much of the base as possible. Of course this means I wound up with perpective distortion, but in this case I really didn’t mind, in fact I welcomed it. They’re all shot in portrait mode to enhance the “up” factor.

I’ve processed these, as usual, in Paint Shop Pro X7, using various Topaz plug-ins–Adjust, Clarity, DeNoise, B&W Effects, Lens Effects, and a new one that I just picked up this week, Restyle.

So, here are the results of this morning’s efforts:

Transmission tower, using Topaz Restyle for some color tweaking:

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The same transmission tower, from a different angle, using Topaz B&W Effects:

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Water tower, using Topaz Lens Effects (neutral density filter):

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Flags in front of the Lee County Justice Center in Tupelo, using Topaz Lens Effects and Adjust:

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The old Cotton Mill building, using Topaz Clarity and Adjust:

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Another abandoned industrial building, using Topaz Clarity and Adjust:

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The one-word theme for next week, starting on February 16, is “delicate”. Feel free to play along! Just be sure to use the hashtag #zannonewordphotochallenge when you post your photos to your favorite site. Here’s the list of upcoming challenges, each of which begins on a Monday. Photos must be shot in the week indicated, before the end of the day on the following Sunday, although they can be edited later.

2015-photo-challenge-zannonewordphotochallenge

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Zann’s One Word Photo Challenge – Boxes

Last week I created a list of weekly challenges for myself to get me back in the mood to do some shooting. The challenge for the week of January 26 was the word “boxes”.

I decided to use my smaller camera, the Nikon D5000, so I could carry it with me every time I go out. Since I work from home I don’t get out of the neighborhood much, but at least this week I had something besides my iPhone with me when I went anywhere.

I found this challenge to be harder than I had anticipated. There are lots of boxes out there, but trying to tell a story with them or make them interesting is another thing altogether. I thought of some ideas for posed shots that I would have liked to have done, but just didn’t have the time to put that kind of shoot together. But I’ll make note of the ideas and maybe revisit them later.

Here are some of the shots that I took this week. All were processed in Paint Shop Pro X7, some with Topaz plug-ins.

A collection of wooden boxes that I own:

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Compressed boxes lying behind the local Sears store at the mall:

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The box office at the Lyric theatre in Tupelo:

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Mailbox 308 on an abandoned building in downtown Tupelo:

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Box on the railroad tracks in Tupelo:

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New storm shelter box installed after the tornado of April 2014 came through our neighborhood:

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The challenge for the week of February 2 is the word “fresh”. This should be interesting! Join me and play along! Just post links to your “fresh” photos in the comments below. All photos for the challenge must have been shot between 2/8/14 and 2/8/15, although they could have been processed later.

Weekly photo challenge

Weekly photo challenge

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Downtown Tupelo From a Huey

A couple of weeks ago we had the opportunity to take a flight in a Vietnam-era Huey helicopter as part of a fund-raising event held at the nearby Veterans Memorial Park. They are trying to raise money to install a replica of the Vietnam Memorial wall in the park. There was an outfit there called Sky Soldiers who are made up of veterans who used to fly these helicopters in combat in Vietnam. The Huey that we flew on had been used for medical evacuations, and the guys flying them that day were veterans who had flown these machines in the 60’s and 70’s. They’ve still got it!

We had a blast! We got to sit in the gunner’s well, which meant we were seated on the side of the helicopter facing outward, with nothing but the wind in our faces. It was a sobering reminder of the dangers that soldiers face, being so exposed to gunfire.

Instead of a gun, I had my Nikon, and I was able to just fire off shot after shot as we buzzed around above the city. While they aren’t the most technically perfect photos and they’re not artsy-fartsy, they are a wonderful reminder of an awesome experience.

Here’s one of my favorite shots of downtown Tupelo, looking toward the southwest. Click to view it large for detail!

Downtown Tupelo from a Huey

Shot with the Nikon D700 and the Nikkor 24-85mm. Processed in Paintshop Pro X7.

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Textures of Downtown Tupelo

About three weeks ago, I decided to spend Sunday afternoon playing with my new 24-85mm Nikkor lens, so the hubby and I took off on a photo walk in downtown Tupelo.  Like any Southern town, as soon as church is over, the downtown area is pretty much deserted, so I knew I’d be able to get some shots of some of the architecture without having to worry about having a lot of cars and trucks parked in front of the buildings.

We spent a little over an hour exploring some little nooks and crannies that I hadn’t shot before.  We were having a great time until I decided to try and get some HDR brackets out behind an abandoned ice house.  The vacant lot was full of weeds, so I was keeping a close eye out for snakes, and fortunately we didn’t see any.  However, as I was setting up my tripod and absentmindedly scratching my lower leg with my other foot, my hubby suddenly exclaimed, “Baby, your legs are covered with mosquitoes!”  And he was right!!  As they say here in the South, I got “eat up” by the little varmints.  I was so miserable, we cut the day short and went home to indulge in some Benadryl and ointment.

But before all that happened, I did manage to get some shots that I enjoyed working with later.  Here are three images that I processed in Paintshop Photo Pro X5, using Topaz Adjust and Topaz Black & White Effects.

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