Big Changes, New Content – Elephant Butte Lake, New Mexico

Wow, how long has it been since I’ve posted anything that I’ve shot with my Nikon?

Way, way too long!

But that’s about to change. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve retired from work, and the hubby and I recently sold our house and almost everything we owned and we’re now living full-time in our 24′ Class C RV, traveling the country. We left our home in Tupelo, Mississippi on August 31, 2018, and we’re currently in New Mexico, making our way westward for the winter.

We’ve finally started to get into somewhat of a groove or a routine, and so I *finally* got my Nikon 700 out of my camera bag today and did some shooting. This was primarily a day for getting reacquainted with my camera, trying to remember the very basics of aperture, shutter speed and ISO. I used my 28-300mm zoom lens since we were exploring and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

We’re currently staying at Elephant Butte Lake State Park near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. The lake is actually a reservoir, but due to the ongoing drought it is currently at about 4% of its capacity. Therefore there is almost a Mad Max desolate feeling about the beach, although there is a lot of wildlife and the park is very popular with RVers and campers.

We were hiking and shooting in the early afternoon when the sunlight was most severe, so after I looked at the results I decided to convert the shots to black and white. I have a real preference for B&W photography, especially for high-contrast images when there is no real interesting color in the shot anyway.

ElephantButteSP_20181024_037 bw

This is one of my favorite shots from today. The ripples in the stone remind us that these rocks are supposed to be under water, but as long as the drought continues, they will be exposed to wind and rain instead.

I’m looking forward to having much, much more time to spend on my photography, now that I am retired and living on the road. I love the Southwest USA, and look forward to capturing much of it through the lenses of my Nikon.

I do still shoot a lot with my iPhone8+, and I post a curated series of those shots to Instagram at Instagram.com/zen_of_zann. I also post iPhone shots related to our RV travels to Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads. Feel free to follow both those feeds if you’re interested!

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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!

Look for me here!

WordPress Blog: http://zenofzann.com
iPhoneography: http://zanntastic.com

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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2015-photo-challenge-zannonewordphotochallenge

Zann’s One Word Photo Challenge – Delicate

This has been an absolutely miserable week, weather-wise. It started off bitterly cold, with nothing but rain at our house but ice and snow to the north of us. On Wednesday it warmed up to the 60’s and rained, and then the temperatures took another dive and we got a tiny bit of icy sleet.

Since the theme for this week’s challenge was “delicate”, I kept hoping for some snowflakes or at least some ice crystals, but all I got were raindrops. So I did the best I could with the hand I was dealt.

When I think of “delicate”, I think “small”, so I decided to use my 24-85mm lens which has a macro setting. I took some handheld shots of some of the flowers and plants in the yard this morning when they were covered with a combination of dew and raindrops. I tried to concentrate on getting a good depth-of-field, so that the main subject in the frame would be sharp; but with my shaky hands, it wasn’t an easy thing to do.

I processed these as usual in Paintshop Pro X7, using various Topaz plug-ins (Clarity, DeNoise, StarEffects, Simplify). After working on a few of the images, I found a look that I liked, where the main subject was highlighted and the rest of the out-of-focus area was kept very dark. I accomplished this by using the Levels adjustment in PSP, sliding the mid-tones slider far to the right. I’ve never used that technique before, but I really like how it turned out here.

All of these images are cropped from the original size to improve the composition.

This first one is my personal favorite.

delicate_oneword_009_20150222_psp

This one is my hubby’s favorite.

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I like the color in this one.

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Even though kale can be a tough leaf, the water drops and the cell structure are still delicate.

delicate_oneword_017_20150222_psp

My Boston ferns are surviving the winter, so I’m not sure how “delicate” they are, but I think the rain-covered fronds fit the definition.

delicate_oneword_012_20150222_psp

The challenge for this next week is the word “open”, so stay tuned to see how I go about interpreting that concept.

If you would like to play along, you can find the weekly list here.

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Supermoon 2012

So, who DIDN’T go out last night to shoot the supermoon?

Since we don’t have any really high hills or mountains where I live, I decided to go for some moon-on-water reflection shots.  So I dragged the hubby along and we went to Lake Mohawk where my parents live, to grab not only some shots of the moon rising, but also of the sunset that would precede the big event.

The sky was mostly overcast with high, thin clouds all afternoon, but we decided to try for it anyway in hopes that the clouds would begin to break up in the late afternoon.  I decided to set up on a fishing pier about halfway between the east and west ends of the lake so that I could get water reflections from both the sunset in the west and the moonrise in the east.

We got there about 5:15 I think, which was way too early, so we wound up just hanging out for almost two hours before the sky got interesting, but it was pretty relaxing and gave us a chance to unwind a little bit from the week.  Just before sunset, I called my parents to let them know where we were, and they came down to the pier to join us for the festivities.

The clouds didn’t break up quite as much as I would have liked, and we were probably too close to the tree line to get the best angle on the rising moon.  But still I think I managed to come away with a few images that pleased me.

For the sunset shots, I used the Nikon D700 and shot brackets of five exposures for HDR processing.  I started off with the 14-24 wide angle lens, and finished up with the 28-300 telephoto zoom.  I’ve processed these as HDR’s using Photomatix v4, Paintshop Photo Pro X4, and Topaz DeNoise.  On a side note, since I used both lenses for the same basic shots, I’ve finally figured out that the spots that keep appearing in the photos in the upper left quadrant of the sky must be dust on my sensor.  Ugh.  I used the Object Remove tool in Paintshop Pro to get rid of as many as possible, but I may have to take the camera to have it cleaned.

Sunset Before SuperMoon 01

Sunset Before Supermoon 02

When the moon started rising, I used the zoom to try and get some of the detail.  Later I widened my zoom to capture the reflection of the moon on the water, which to me was a much more interesting composition than just the moon in the sky (which EVERYONE was shooting).  These are all single images processed in Paintshop Photo Pro X4 with Topaz DeNoise:

Supermoon Rising

Supermoon at Lake Mohawk 01

Supermoon at Lake Mohawk 02
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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My Official Website at http://zannwalker.com

White Goose in Late Afternoon

We stopped by Veterans Park in Tupelo on Sunday afternoon just about an hour before sundown.  We wanted to see if there were any geese on the lake, and we were fortunate enough to get there just when (1) the light was right and (2) a family was tossing pieces of bread into the water to attract the geese, ducks and other waterfowl.

I tried to practice something that I read recently about photographing birds and other wildlife–try to focus on the eyes.  It’s harder than it looks, as animals don’t exactly look into the camera and pose for you.  But just thinking about that little rule made me pay more attention to what I was shooting, and I did manage to capture a few shots where the eyes look pretty darn sharp!

White Goose in Late Afternoon

I used my Nikon D5000 with the 55-200mm lens for this shot, set at about 190mm. I used a fairly large aperture of F/6.3 to get a faster shutter speed and also to blur the background a little bit. I processed the raw file in Paintshop Photo Pro X4, using Topaz Adjust 5, as well as Topaz DeNoise to clean up the very slight bit of noise in the dark areas of the water.

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
Twitter @suzanne_hight
My Official Website at http://zannwalker.com

Forest Zen

I love scenes like this–lots of natural texture and color, contrast of light and dark, a little water and a little stone…

This is another photo that I took in Tishomingo State Park yesterday.  It’s a single exposure that I processed in PaintShop Photo Pro X3, although I didn’t do anything really radical to it beyond tweaking the color balance slightly and applying some sharpening.  The shot was taken with the Nikon D700 and the 28-300mm Nikkor lens.

Tishomingo State Park 028

Such a calming, stress-relieving place…someday I’ll have to go back and just sit there for awhile without the camera.

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!