Sign of Spring

Just a quick post tonight, then some exciting news (at least it’s exciting for me!):

Last Saturday I stopped by the Thunderbird Conservation Park’s viewing blinds on 59th Avenue to see what kind of wildlife might be around the water this time of year.  There were lots of ducks and geese, but they were all on the other end of the lake from the viewing blinds, so I didn’t get a lot of great shots.  However, there were plenty of bees buzzing around where I was sitting, so I decided to make lemonade out of lemons.  Using the 55-200mm zoom lens gave some great depth of field to this shot:

Sign of Spring

I used the Frame presets in Paintshop Pro to give it that little extra interest around the edges.  It’s a simple shot, but it has a Zen quality to it that I rather like.

And now for the news…

Last night I ordered a new camera body and two new lenses.  On Wednesday I should be receiving:

Did I go overboard?  Most definitely.  But over the past year my love for the art of digital photography has only gotten stronger, and I want to give myself every possible opportunity to produce the best images that I can reasonably afford to produce.

My biggest challenge this week will be forcing myself to go to my day job when I know there are thousands of photo-ops just waiting out there.  With any new equipment there comes a learning curve, and the sooner I can get comfortable with the new camera and lenses, the happier I’ll be.

We’re planning a trip to Vancouver, B.C. in July for our 20th anniversary, and I want to be somewhat proficient with this gear by the time we go.  I can’t wait to get started!!

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.

Butterfly with Tattered Wing

Here’s a shot of a butterfly that I chased for several minutes through the campground last week.  There were storm clouds moving in, and I was trying to get a decent shot of this guy before the rain started.  He finally settled on this patch of flowers and stayed put long enough for me to get several shots with my telephoto lens.

It wasn’t until later when I was viewing the shots on my computer screen that I noticed that his right wing was torn.  Poor guy!  Anyway, I was thankful that he offered to pose for me for a few seconds just before the rain started.

Butterfly with Tattered Wing

This was shot in raw NEF format, converted to JPG and processed in Paintshop Pro X3.

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Yes, there is color in the desert

Tonight I got a good start on processing my photos from last Saturday’s excursion to Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.  There was such a variety of plant specimens on display there, and I photographed so many different types of subjects, from closeups to landscapes, that it was hard to know where to start processing.  So I finally just started at the beginning.

So many people who have never lived in the Sonoran desert have the mistaken idea that the area is just brown and sandy.  True enough, there is a lot of brown, especially after the winter rains are gone and before the monsoon rains begin.  But in the spring, especially after an unusually we winter like we’ve just had, the desert blooms in the most amazing colors.  The Desert Botanical Garden showcases specimens not only from our Sonoran desert, but from desert environments around the world, and their displays are artfully designed and impeccably maintained.

Upon entering the garden, one of the first things that catches everyone’s attention is the glass sculpture created by Dale Chihuly that stands at the front gate.  I didn’t see one single person pass by this exhibit without either taking a photograph of it or posing in front of it for someone else’s shot.

While this photo only shows two of the sculptures, there are actually three of them.  To see more photos of this beautiful exhibit, check out my new set on Flickr, “Desert Botanical Garden – Phoenix“.

My processing workflow for these shots was pretty simple:  I used the JPG files, and processed them in Paintshop Pro X3.  For each one, I adjusted the Brightness/Contrast, applied Local Tone Mapping, adjusted the Saturation, and then sharpened.  Here are a few of the shots that I worked on tonight:

All of these are best viewed large and on black, so scurry on over to my Flickr set and check out the entire collection.  So far I’ve posted twenty-four, but more will be added as I get them processed this week.

On a technical note, I had been having problems for the past couple of weeks using the Flickr Uploadr (the utility that allows multiple images to be uploaded and edited more efficiently in batch).  Seems like every time I tried to upload a batch, I would lose my Internet connection after a couple of files had uploaded.  I would have to reset my modem and router to get the connection back.  After consulting with my ISP, Cox Communications, I determined that I most likely needed a new router.  Cox recently boosted the speed of their broadband service, and my router was only “wireless-G”.  I bought a new “wireless-N” router and set it up yesterday.  Tonight I was able to upload all 24 files in one batch (each is between 12MB and 17MB), and my connection never went down.  Needless to say, I’m a happy camper!!

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Wildflowers, Hiking and a Macro Filter on Good Friday

We’ve had a short reprieve from the imminent arrival of high 80’s and low 90’s–today’s high was in the mid-70’s, so it was a perfect day for an urban desert hike, especially since I had the day off.  I elected to hike a route that I knew would have some traffic, because I was hiking alone and didn’t want to be out in the boonies by myself in case I had an emergency.  Never know when you’re going to twist an ankle or a knee.

I went to Thunderbird Conservation Area in north Glendale (59th Avenue, north of Deer Valley Road).  My first stop was in a little parking area on the east side of 59th where they have built some wildlife viewing blinds that look out over a small lake–however, there wasn’t any wildlife stirring out there this morning, so I got back in my car and drove to the main trailhead parking lot.  My intention was to hike back to the east and approach the lake from the north where there are three other viewing blinds, and hopefully get some good shots of birds and wildflowers along the way.

I started hiking up the H1 trail, headed toward the pedestrian overpass, but came across some wildflowers pretty quickly and I stopped to get some closeups with the macro filter.  While I as in the process of shooting, a woman approached me to see what I was shooting, and then she changed my plans.  She told me that if I took the H3 trail to the west that there was a “huge” saguaro next to the trail where a nesting owl could be seen.  Well, that sounded pretty good to me, so I headed west on the H3 trail.  I’ve hiked this trail before and knew that it got pretty steep in places, but I knew I was physically capable of hiking the entire thing if I decided to.

I found the saguaro, but saw no sign of the owl.  Just my luck.  However, I did get a lot of shots of the wildflowers that are growing in the park.  I used my 18-55 lens, and attached/removed my 4X macro filter as needed.  Here are a few of the macro shots that I captured:

The shot above was from a little patch of flowers on the side of the trail.  No, I don’t know what any of these plants are, but feel free to leave that information in the comments if you know.  I just liked the way these little flowers had bits of yellow and red accenting the light purple.

The shot below show what happens when the beetles get hungry!

There were tons of these little orange flowers growing along the trailside.  It was a little tough to focus on them with the macro because there was breeze that kept them moving, but I tried to use a fairly fast shutter speed to keep them as sharp as possible (although the narrow depth of field was an additional challenge).

And finally, the cactus are just starting to bloom.  I found a couple of specimens that had these beautiful blooms on them.  The barrel cactus are also just starting to bloom, but I didn’t find any flowers that were fully open.

All of these were shot as high-resolution JPG files.  I’m trying to work on the “Zen of letting go” when it comes to my photo files.  I got into the (bad) habit of shooting everything in both RAW (NEF) and high-resolution JPG because I was learning to do HDR’s.  However, I tend to take a lot of shots, and so my hard-drive space is rapidly being devoured by all these files.  I have a hard time deleting any of them–what if I might need them in the future and they’re not there??  Oh, the horror!!

Anyway, today I started my workflow by deleting all the NEF raw files, and only saved the JPG files.  Then, when I processed the JPG’s in Paintshop Pro, I didn’t save the original copy.  I just saved the processed version.  And you know what?  It really didn’t hurt that bad to let all those files go.  Now I just have to make time to go back to my previous folders and clean them out as well.

I wound up with 26 macro images that I posted to Flickr.  They are available in the set titled “Thunderbird Conservation Park in Spring“.  I hope you’ll stop by and check them out, the colors are beautiful.

I also have quite a few photos that I took without the macro filter, and I’ll be going through them later and possibly posting some.  Hope you all have a blessed weekend–get out there and enjoy life!!

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Bees on the Brittlebush

Tonight I went back through some photos that I took a few weeks ago but never processed.  When we visited the Estrella Star Tower, the wildflowers were just starting to bloom, and as usual, the brittlebush was one of the first species to show its spring colors.  I took some close-ups of some of the blooms and then noticed that there were lots of bees buzzing around them:

Now, normally I don’t particularly like bees, but it was pretty obvious that these guys were much more interested in the flowers than they were in me, even though I was within just a few inches of them with the camera lens.  You can see from the photo above that their pollen sacs were full, so they were pretty preoccupied with what they were doing.

I just used my normal 18-55mm zoom lens for these shots without any filters, and at the 55mm focal length I was able to get some pretty decent bokeh effects.  The flowers weren’t the prettiest ones on the bush, but I was after the bees anyway.

So, enough of the bees.  I have a couple of projects in mind for this weekend.  First of all, a small carnival has set up in the parking lot over at Glendale Community College, which is within walking distance of here.  My plan is to go there tomorrow night to see if I can get some experience shooting night shots with motion–you know, the typical turning ferris wheel shot.  Then, on Saturday morning, we’ll leave for an overnight visit to Arcosanti, where I hope to get a ton of great shots of the area, including some of the red rocks around Sedona.  Should be a busy, productive weekend!

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Wildflower Riot and a Macro Filter

Yes, I am fully aware that “real” photographers turn up their noses at taking pictures of flowers.  I don’t care.  When I see a profusion of color that occurs for only a short time each year, I’m bound and determined to capture it.  And this year, I’m determined to capture it up close.

After yesterday’s hike at Cave Creek, I was a little disappointed in the way most of my close-ups turned out, using the programmed setting on the camera.  It just happened that when I checked yesterday’s mail (this morning), the latest issue of “Popular Photography” had arrived, and there’s an article specifically written about shooting wildflowers.  Serendipity?? I think so!!

The article recommended getting up close and shooting in macro (either with a macro lens, and extender tube, or a filter).  It just happened that I had a set of macro filters left over from my old Nikon 6006 film camera days, so I was good to go.  And I knew just the location where I wanted to shoot.  There’s a vacant lot at the corner of 39th and Dunlap Avenues in Phoenix where the wildflowers are in full bloom right now.  I waited until about 4:30 this afternoon so the light would be a little softer, and then I dragged Andy off with me to shoot some flowers.

Vacant lot at 39th and Dunlap Avenues, Phoenix

The photo above was taken just to show part of the lot where I did my shooting for today.  The real fun was getting down on my hands and knees with my butt in the air, taking photos up close and personal with these little yellow and orange beauties.

I started off with just the normal lens (18-55mm), taking care to make sure that my shadow didn’t hit the flowers I was shooting.  There was a pretty good breeze blowing, and it made it a little difficult to focus at times, but I used a fairly high shutter speed to try and freeze the motion of the bloom.  I tried to keep the depth of field open enough to include as much of the bloom as possible, and still have some blurriness in the background.

I then moved on to some shots using the +2 and +4 macro filters, and was pleasantly surprised at how they came out.    Here are some of my favorites:

I uploaded my favorite dozen to my Flickr page in the set “Wildflower Riot“–original title, huh?  Please take a look and let me know which ones you like best!  I haven’t done any post-processing on any of them, but I may play around with some of them this week–however, I’m very pleased with them just the way they are!

Only downside to today was that I was wearing my Cardinals long-sleeved t-shirt with the white sleeves.  I came away with purple and green stains on my elbows after getting some of these shots, but it was a sacrifice I was willing to make.  (Spray-n-Wash, don’t fail me now!)

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On the Lookout for Wildflowers in Cave Creek

With all the rain that we’ve had here in Central Arizona this winter, we’re all expecting a fantastic spring wildflower season.  The desert is covered with a beautiful green blanket right now, and the buds on the trees are a reminder that spring is just around the corner.

I was surfing the Internet this morning to see if there were any interesting outdoor activities going on in the Valley that would make a suitable subject for today’s photo shoot, when I came across something that sounded perfect.  I found that one of our county parks, Cave Creek Recreation Area, was going to be hosting a two-hour workshop titled “Nature and Wildflower Photography 101”.  There was no charge for the workshop (except for the $6 entry fee to the park), so I decided to check it out.

The workshop started at 10:00AM, and I got there about 45 minutes early, so I spent some time wandering around the Nature Center before the program started.  They have seeded the area around the Nature Center for wildflowers, so there was a nice profusion of poppies, lupine, desert sunflower and brittlebrush, etc.  I decided to use the macro setting on my D5000 because I wanted to get some good close-ups.  As I found out later, this wasn’t the best idea.

While I was able to get a good close-up of the flower, the depth of field was much too narrow for what I was trying to capture.  It was hard to tell just by looking at the results on the camera’s LCD screen in the bright sunlight, so I didn’t know just how unsatisfactory it was until I got home and looked at the images on the computer screen.  Still, some of them made rather interesting shots, and I think that with some creative cropping they may be salvageable.

The program itself was very “101”…the guy did a nice job of talking about the importance of making sure that your light source is low in the sky and behind you to get the best lighting on the subject (generally true), and he also talked about some of the best places to find wildflowers in our area.  He showed a lot of the photos that he’s taken in the area and used them to demonstrate the use of depth of field, composition, and contrast.  And he said “do not use the macro setting on the camera for taking photos of flowers”.  Now he tells me.  He was a very “old school” kind of photographer who shoots in JPG and does not use photo-editing software…what you see is what you get.

After the session was over, I decided to hike down the Overton trail a little bit to see what might be growing along the trailside.  The wildflowers are just now starting to appear on the trails so there weren’t any big patches with lots of color.  But I did find plenty of opportunities to try taking shots with the lens zoomed in, using aperture priority mode, instead of using the programmed macro mode.

I didn’t intend to walk very far, but it seemed that every time I walked around a curve in the trail, I found something else that I wanted to see.  The trail started to climb, and before I knew it I was too far to turn back, and I was on the backside of the mountain where I had started out.  Fortunately I had taken a bottle of water with me since the temps were getting up into the low 70’s, and we all know that it’s a dry heat out here.  So I decided to complete the loop trail, a distance of almost 3 miles.  By the time I reached the 2.5 mile marker, my feet were killing me even though I was wearing hiking boots.  Gotta get some gel insoles!  I will have to say that the trails in this park are very well maintained.  They are multi-use, meaning that they are shared by hikers, mountain bikers, and horses.  All I can say is that there is a reason that the plants there are so healthy, judging by the amount of horse manure on the trail.

According to the workshop instructor, the wildflowers are just now starting to bloom, and will last until about the end of April, about the time that the cactus start to bloom.  So I still have time to get some of those shots that I messed up by using my macro setting.  I even purchased a season pass to the Maricopa Parks system since I’m really enjoying visiting the different parks in the area with my Nikon.

When I got home and started processing the photos, I got a little frustrated trying to work with the raw NEF files.  It seemed that anything I did to them only made them look over-processed, especially on the wide shots of the desert landscape.  For those images, I had better luck with the JPG files.  I’ve posted several of these to my Flickr photostream in the set titled “Cave Creek Recreation Area“.

Not sure how much time I’ll have to shoot tomorrow.  We’re going to Arcosanti next weekend, so I have some chores and errands that I need to take care of tomorrow in preparation for a busy workweek.  But it was great to get outside in the fresh air today and enjoy the beauty of springtime in the Arizona desert–although my muscles will probably be screaming at me in protest in about 24 hours!

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