The light rail platform at 5th and Mill Avenue

I took this shot as I was leaving downtown Tempe last Friday night. I had been feeling pretty lousy about the shots I’d taken, they didn’t feel “awesome” and I had no idea what I would end up with. I switched to my 50mm lens when I was walking out and wished I had taken the time to just walk around and snap candid “life” photos of downtown instead of what I had been doing the last few hours.

Don’t get me wrong…I ended up with a few nice shots, a beautiful sunset…but while HDR is great and fun, it’s also a lot of work and it takes me away on occasion from the beauty of a simple shot of a sign on a light rail platform.

I loved this photo, but I loved it even more when my wife said she thinks she’d love to have this printed and on a wall somewhere. She’s always a good gauge for me. Of course, she’s more partial to this type of photography than the grand scale of some of my HDR work.

The Fountain at Mission Palms in Tempe

My tour around downtown Tempe took me through the Mission Palms Hotel and right by this fountain. It’s located in the middle of a round-a-about that serves as the hotel’s main entrance. I plopped down on a curb and grabbed a bunch of brackets ranging from 1-30 seconds.

What struck me most about the shot was just the way the palm trees were lit up from spotlights and the way they served as a pretty sweet background to the fountain. My only wish was that the water spilling over the edges had a stronger flow, because the blur is a little more subtle that I was hoping.

Still, the light catching where the water lands in the basin is kind of cool.

Definitely click on the photo for the larger version, there is a lot more detail in the full-sized view.

Two more sunsets from downtown Tempe

I posted a shot on Monday of the Hayden Flour Mill at sunset, which you can see here again in the above panoramic view of the town of Tempe, Arizona. The sky was cooperative that night and it made for a nice sunset from the slopes of A-Mountain. Click on the photo for a larger, more detailed view.

The shot below is looking north-northwest towards the Tempe Town Lake, also from A-Mountain. I love how it was just dark enough to see the string of lights running across the Mill Avenue bridges, plus a few street lights here and there. The reflection off the building is what makes the shot for me.

The Tempe Hayden Flour Mill after dark

Residents of Phoenix and those that know Tempe well enough realize how smack-dab-in-the-middle-of-everything this old Hayden Flour Mill is located. It’s right on the main drag of Mill Avenue, one of the hottest spots for weekend nightlife in Phoenix. You can see another shot I took of it from Monday and all the new buildings around it. It was a struggle to get a wide angle shot of the entire structure while making sure there was almost nothing to indicate it was in the middle of a super-busy area.  I found a nice spot up against A-Mountain, got low and other than a snippet of a newer structure on the left, I think it almost looks like an isolated old flour mill in the middle of nowhere.

My only wish was that the city lights behind it hadn’t been so bright…maybe a few more stars would have shown up. I love the shadows on this structure even though it was at night. Such a great looking old building, I only wish I could grab a really wide angle lens and get inside the fence someday *grin*

Technobabble for my photog compadres: This was an experiment in processing HDR in a way. I essentially started with a single RAW 30-second exposure in Photoshop, changed some contrast and lightning, then I dropped in the HDR version as a lower layer and masked in some details I liked.  It’s a little reverse of how I normally do it and I liked the results.

The light rail bridge in Tempe, AZ

I’ve been playing around a bit with my HDR processing methods after snapping photos in downtown Tempe Saturday night. I was ending up with a lot of noise in my shots and had to find alternative ways of getting the job done.

This one above was in the same boat, but I ended up loving how it looked anyways. There is a lot of “grain” as I like to call it in the shot above. The sky, the clouds, the underneath of the bridge…all have a lot of dirty noise going on. I felt it looked a little more abstract than normal. So instead of processing it like normal, I ended up trying to embrace what I was given.

It works here for me. The clouds were moving fast, you can see the trees on the left look like they were blowing around pretty good. I lowered the saturation of the original HDR photo and masked in bits and pieces of an original raw shot.

I hated it at first because the colors were dominating the shot and there was gobs of noise, but just dropping the saturation gave it a whole other atmosphere. I love the grain, which is something I work very hard against in most of my other HDR photos. Experimenting today with something different…let the noise be your friend.

A lot of techno babble, but it was a tough group of photos to process. I left my photowalk not loving the shots I got, so being able to turn any of them into something I actually love has been a triumphant struggle.

Aside from all the post-processing talk, I just loved the composition of the shot. The bridge coming from overhead and behind, plus the curved road in front of me. I timed it to make sure I got a some headlights going around the bend, but it wasn’t s super-busy road. The clouds in the sky were hard to see with the naked eye, but a 30-second exposure really created something with a little motion to it.

It was there before I knew it

(photo shot somewhere between 1989-93)

People who are friends of mine know I tend to jump from hobby to hobby. I’ve done so many different things in my life so far, had so many different hobbies, that people may start to wonder how long the current one will last and what will be next?

And in turn, it ends up making me wonder. I have an amazing wife who has taught me a lot about self-examination and self-awareness. I am by no means an expert, but something everyone should try to learn is the ability to look at one’s self from the perspective of an outside viewer. I tend to do that a lot and I think it helps me a be a better person.

Because of always examining myself and what I’m doing, this new love of photography has been placed under the microscope for constant study. For awhile there I was pondering daily what exactly it meant for me.

Why? Why now? For how long? What’s the point? Is this just the latest fad for me?

I’ve only been seriously doing this since last summer, when I realized my little point-and-shoot could take 3 shots per second and I started photographing lightning. That’s when I knew I wanted a DLSR so I could use long exposures to really capture the entire essence of a lightning strike. Once I had that camera, the rest has sort of been history.

But where did this come from? Is it going to last?

Since this question started entering my brain the last 3 months, I’d always known the answer stemmed from my love of weather. I knew that I’d always loved storms, lightning, the monsoon, whatever. My recent discovery of the show Storm Chasers only served to show me something even more intense about weather to love.

The proof though came along the other day when I found some old photos lying around and scanned them. I realized they had been taken over 15 years ago when I was still in high school/starting college.

Wow. Even back then, I was fascinated with taking pictures of clouds and storms. And yet I didn’t even realize what that meant. It just had always been inside of me.

(The one above and these below were all shot around that time frame of 1989-93)

(this one above looks almost close to a supercell like structure and we probably had no idea. I do remember specifically this day my mom saying the sky looks green like in Illinois when tornadoes would show up. Weird how you remember stuff like that)

I especially like this one above with my buddy Chris. A big camping trip for us, I absolutely LOVE the cloud structure here and the fence, the lake…man, it’s beautiful.

More recently in 2005, I snapped 6 separate photos below of this amazing monsoon being lit up by the setting sun:

It’s amazing what you may not realize about yourself until one day something manifests itself that you never expected.

Now, I keep using weather as an origin for my photography hobby, but of course now I’m shooting much, much more. When my daughter was born 17 months ago, I couldn’t stop filming her and taking pictures. Once I got the new camera and a nice little prime 50mm lens, I realized even MORE how much I loved taking pictures of people.

But I think it all stems from that one place. And from that place comes validation for me. This isn’t a phase, or a passing moment that will join the pile of other things I’ve done throughout my life and left by the side of the road.

Photography has been inside of me for a long time just waiting to get out and now (and my wife would agree with a smile) it’s a beast that cannot be tamed.

My question to you guys…for all the photogs out there: When did you learn that you loved to take pictures? What’s your origin story?

Sunset behind the old Hayden Flour Mill in Tempe

Saturday night I went out for a little photowalk of downtown Tempe and started the little excursion by climbing up A-Mountain to watch the sunset over the city.

This building on the right is a 100+ year old structure called the Hayden Flour Mill which began construction in 1872. You can read all about it on the website.

It was a great night for a sunset and I’ll post a few more later this week. I also have another shot of the flour mill after dark, but I just could not find a way inside the perimeter fences. I’d be too terrified to go inside at night anyways *grin*

It definitely begs for some external HDR exploration, but it’s hard to get too close.

Sunset on the ol’ railroad tracks

I’ve taken quite a few photographs from this spot over the last 6 months. It’s amazing to think it’s only about 2 miles from my house (for now, until we move). I rarely try to dip from the same well more than once, but this place is fond to me. And I do try to go there for different reasons when I do.

And as far as I know, they are rarely, if ever, used because I’ve stood there for a long time and never have seen a train.

Last night we had some rainy-ish looking clouds roll through and while there appeared to be stuff falling from them, it seems to be only virga that never hit the ground.

The lines of the rails never goes in the direction of the setting sun, so I sat there praying the virga would be ignited by the final gasps of sunlight, and while I wasn’t completely disappointed, it definitely didn’t pop the way I’d hoped.

Click on the photo for a larger view.

Technobabble: Two, 3-bracket HDRs merged in photoshop.

The Flatiron cliffs in black and white

Nothing but Flatiron all week, although I hope you enjoyed the interlude with the alleyway yesterday. There is a slight chance there will be nothing but Flatiron and the Lost Dutchman area next week as I may go hike it again on Saturday *grin*

I loved all the color at Flatiron last week, as you can see from all the photos I’ve posted about it. The flowers were incredible, the yellow tones and hues were rich and everywhere. But I also went out there because the sky had some cool clouds going on from a cold front moving through and everyone knows how much I love photos with awesome fluffy things in the sky.

So during the hike, I see this view. It appeared almost like a scene from Close Encounters to me. A mountain with a cloud centered directly above it. Looked spooky, other-worldly.

Something about it cried out black and white to me, so I changed things up. This is a three-bracket HDR to bring out the details, but converted to a black and white to remove focus from the wildflowers/color and instead point it to the cloud hovering over Flatiron.

Plus when you are out photographing the desert, sometimes black and white just gives you that old western look that feels natural. I adore black and white so much, yet most of what I photograph cries out for colors and tones, so this was a fun little break in the action. Hope you guys like it!

Revisiting the downtown Phoenix alleyway

The shot above was taken in downtown Phoenix and is just an alleyway I found whilst doing a little urban exploration.

I first posted a version of this back a few weeks ago. I processed it using a tilt-shift style to create a blurred or bokeh effect on the sides of the photo. A friend of mine who shall remain nameless (BRYAN!) said he wasn’t a fan of the blur and wanted to see the details instead.

I thought about it and went back for a second look. While I still like the blurred effect myself, I also really do love the details in this shot that the blurry areas covered up.

So for Bryan, and anyone else that is interested, here is a “revisit” to this shot with all the yummy details of a grungy alleyway.

It actually has a ton of character to it. I suggest clicking on the photo for a larger look.

Again, as the other one, this is a 7-bracket HDR photo.