The Payoff for Getting Up Early

Several of my photographer buddies from work decided to do an early morning photowalk in Tempe, Arizona this past Saturday morning.  The plan was to meet at the Starbucks on Mill Avenue between 6:00 and 6:15 AM.  Since it’s a 35 minute drive for me to get there, I had to get up at an ungodly hour (for a Saturday).  It was so tempting to just bail on the guys, but I thought it would be a great chance to compare notes with other non-professionals, plus get some good sunrise shots on Tempe Town Lake.

There were four of us (not too many, not too few), and we had a great time exploring the area on the south side of the Lake from before dawn until after the sun rose.  I’ll be posting more shots from our photowalk, but I’ll start with this one:

Tempe Town Lake Just Before Dawn

To the right is the Mill Avenue bridge which carries vehicle traffic. To the left you can see the light trails created from the passing of the light rail train as it traveled over the Lake. The boats are just waiting for the sun to come up to start taking passengers.

You can see more shots from our photowalk in the set that I’ve posted on Flickr, called Tempe Photowalk 2011.01.15. I’ve just started processing, so more images will be added to the set soon. I’ll be posting a few more on this blog as well.

This was my first photowalk, and I’d like to thank Ed Brice for organizing things for us, and Adam Schmid and Kurt Neurauter for lots of great tips and good humor. I had a blast and look forward to more of these excursions!

West Fork Revisited

I revisited some of my shots from West Fork tonight, to see what I could do with some of the single images in Topaz Adjust. Here are the results (I really should remember to make notes of the presets and sliders that I used).

Be sure to click on the image to view large on black:

West Fork Revisited 001

West Fork Revisited 002

However, this next one just cried out to be processed as an HDR, with the shadowy details of the rock wall and the sunny highlights of the gold leaves. I just couldn’t resist running the bracketed series through Photomatix to produce this:

West Fork Revisited 003

Next stop with the Nikon will be back in North Mississippi as I travel home for Thanksgiving. Hoping to get some great shots while I’m there, and also hoping I can get through airport security without being forced to baggage-check my gear. Have a great holiday everyone!

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.

Oak Creek at West Fork

Whew, things seem to be going a little better this evening in the digital darkroom (or maybe I’m just not being so picky tonight).  I decided to concentrate on pictures from West Fork (trailhead in Oak Creek Canyon between Sedona and Flagstaff, Arizona) this evening, and give the aspens a rest for the time being.

I’m still practicing creating HDR’s using the new Photomatix V4, which has some more robust anti-ghosting functionality.  It’s actually coming in very handy on the shots from last weekend, giving me some extra tools to try and clean up the blur caused from the waving grasses and branches.  I know that if I spent a lot more time on each of these images (and if I actually knew what I was doing), they could be even better, but since I’m just learning from trial-and-error, I’m not too awfully disappointed in the way these have turned out.

This first shot was taken with the tripod sitting on a rock in the middle of the creek, and the camera about three feet above the surface of the water.  I wanted to get this lower perspective so that I would have more of a “flow” of the water. Photomatix did a good job with the de-ghosting of the leaves, but the Curves tool in Paintshop Pro is what really made this one pop, bringing out the detail in the darker part of the stream as well as the bright sunlit mountainside in the background:

West Fork - Running Water

This next shot was taken at a point where two streams meet. This past spring there was a lot of rainfall, so there is still quite a bit of debris in and alongside the creek. I liked the way these two white logs formed an “X” in the middle of the stream. In the background you can see a tree that has fallen across the creek as well. Once again, the Curves tool in Paintshop Pro allowed me to control the exposure in various parts of the image to where I was pretty well satisfied with it:

West Fork - X Marks the Spot

This last shot was taken in an area where a lot of downed trees had piled up during one of the spring floods. I really liked the way the fungus had grown on the trees (you can tell it obviously grew on this log AFTER it was down, because of the horizontal orientation). There was no problem with ghosting on this one, but there is a lot of detail in both the tree bark and the fungi that I wanted to capture. I think I got most of what I was after:

West Fork Fungi

So, a good night in the digital darkroom. Tomorrow, I’ll head back to the aspens again.

Downtown Phoenix – Fire, Water, Peace and Justice

Tonight’s post is another group of HDR images from last Sunday’s photo walk around downtown Phoenix.  It’s quite a variety, so let’s get started.

This first image is from the front of the historic First Baptist Church on Monroe Street (the same building where I shot the bell tower that was featured in the previous post).  This is the front wall of the sanctuary that at one time held stained glass, but during the fire of 1992, it was destroyed.  I took this photo from about the fifth floor of a parking garage directly across the street, using a 75-200 zoom lens.  You can see right through the openings in the window, all the way to a billboard on a building across the street on the next block:

Downtown Phoenix 007

This next image is a fountain located on the plaza in front of Phoenix City Hall.  It was a pretty popular place on a warm autumn day, with several couples shooting snapshots of each other as they posed in front of the waterfall.  I had to shoot quickly while no one was around.  I think I got this one a little too dark when I processed it, so I may have to go back and try it again:

Downtown Phoenix 008

This next image is St. Mary’s Basilica, a beautiful structure that was built in 1881 and still celebrates Mass daily.  Anyone who has spent a little time in downtown has heard the bells of St. Mary’s as they chime on the hour:

Downtown Phoenix 010

And finally, this is an image of the Maricopa County Court House building, rendered in HDR.  It’s also on the National Register of Historic Places:

Downtown Phoenix 009

I don’t care how energy-efficient and high-tech our new office buildings and churches are, they just can’t compare with the beauty and dignity of these older structures.  Even after a fire, the shell of First Baptist Church still impresses with its intricate architectural details.  How many of our glass-and-steel buildings of today will still be impressive a hundred years from now, even without a fire?

Each of these images was created from a bracketed series of three photos (-2.0/0.0/+2.0) taken with my Nikon D5000. I used Photomatix Pro v3 to produce the HDR image, and then post-processed in Paintshop Pro X3 to tweak the brightness and contrast, and I used the Curves tool to modify the color balance slightly.

Swans Up Close and Personal

Tonight I returned to the photos that I took at Encanto Park a couple of weeks ago. I got quite a few of the swans and ducks that play around in the water throughout the park, and while they are pretty mundane shots (who doesn’t have photos of these ducks and swans??), they are giving me the opportunity to just play around with some of the features of Paintshop Pro that I haven’t used very much.

While I like to shoot bracketed images and process them as HDR’s, it’s not always possible to do that with moving targets, so I have to adjust my expectations when processing single-image photos, and try to tease out all the detail possible.  This shot of a swan was a bit of a challenge.  The white feathers under the almost-midday sun were almost blown out on the swan’s back, although the neck area retained a good bit of detail.  I like how the water droplets on the neck area show up as well:

I played around with dodging and burning on this one, as well as some of the Level functionality.  I lost count of the number of times I hit “undo”, but it was all about experimentation tonight.  I’d like for these photos to be more than just snapshots–we’ll see how well I succeed.

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Encanto Park in HDR

Wow, feels good to be back in the digital darkroom!  I’ve been going through the shots that I took at Encanto Park in Phoenix this past Friday on my day off.  I had taken my tripod with me with the intention of getting some bracketed shots for HDR processing.  Unfortunately, as I was moving equipment from my travel backback to my daypack, I forgot to get the remote cable release out of the inner pocket of the backpack.  I decided to go ahead and shoot the bracketed shots anyway, just doing them handheld, trying my best not to move too much from side to side.  I was hoping that Photomatix could line them up for me.

And I think they actually came out pretty well!  Here are few samples:

All of these images were processed in Photomatix Pro from three bracketed photos (-2.0/0.0/+2.0), and then post-processed in Paintshop Pro.  Because these photos were all handheld, I used a setting in Photomatix that I don’t normally bother with, “Attempt to reduce ghosting artifacts > Moving objects/people > High”.  I also used the usual setting “Align source images > By correcting horizontal and vertical shifts”.  It did a great job of handling moving objects like ducks and maintenance vehicles that wouldn’t sit still for my photoshoot.  The fullsize versions (which look much better!) are available for viewing, along with more images from the series, on my Flickr site in the Encanto Park set.  I hope you’ll take a could of minutes to check them out and let me know what you think!

I’m just about finished with the bracketed shots, and will start working on the rest of the photos that I took.  Most of them are shots of the typical swans, ducks, geese and other such critters that you find in water features of parks such as this.  We’ll see how they turn out!

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Lake Mohawk at Sunrise

On the first morning I was at Lake Mohawk (last Friday), I got up fairly early and walked down the road “a piece”, as they say, to the south end of the levee where I set up my tripod to get some shots of the lake at sunrise.  I was hoping that there would be a good bit of fog on the lake, but I think I got out there just a little bit too late, so there was just a hint of mist left.  I took several series of bracketed shots, intending to process them as HDR images, but as it turned out, the breeze was blowing pretty good that morning, so the foilage produced a lot of ghosting on the HDR’s.

So I went through the individual shots and pulled out some to process on their own, and I don’t think they turned out too bad:

These were all processed in PaintShop Pro X3 from the raw NEF files.  The larger versions look better, and can be seen on my Flickr page in the Lake Mohawk set.  Hope you’ll visit there and let me know how you like these shots as well as the ones I posted earlier.

Also, just want to remind you that I have a separate project in the works at 365Project.org.  That’s where I’m posting one photograph every day, taken with my Blackberry Tour.  It’s actually a fun little project, and I’d encourage everyone to join in and post those candid shots taken with your cell phone!  Or, if you don’t want to post your own shots, feel free to follow me on my project!

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