After Before Photo June 2015: House

It’s once again the first Friday of the month, which means another round of One Photo Focus on After-Before Friday, sponsored by Stacy Fischer at Visual Venturing.

In honor of the one-year anniversary of ABFriday and the six-month anniversary of One Photo Focus, Stacy used one of her own photos to see how imaginative we could be. Below is the original photograph:

Original Photo

Original Photo

It’s not a bad photo, but there are some definite challenges between the sidewalk, fence post, other house, and the angle this was taken at. I tried to transform it so it didn’t angle quite so badly, but too much of the top got cut off. It was also hard getting that fence post out of there and leaving it look normal. So in the end, I cropped it down to show just the porch. I did some minor straightening so that the front post in the center was a true perpendicular when viewed.

Cropped But Not Adjusted Yet

Cropped But Not Adjusted Yet

There’s still a lot of clutter in the picture, which I found distracting. Topaz Simplify was my way around that, after I corrected for colors and exposure. I did a first round of corrections in Lightroom, but then used other Topaz filters to further improve the picture before using Topaz Simplify.

This was my final choice, mostly because I liked the deep rich colors that came out in it. I used Topaz Effects “Grunge Me” to get the richness of colors, especially the gray and white. I then used Topaz Simplify “Painting” to remove more of the details and give it an artsy look. The windows on the left and the top right came out really dark in this version, so I lightened them up slightly.

Final Choice, Using Topaz Effects "Grunge Me" and Topaz Simplify "Painting"

Final Choice, Using Topaz Effects “Grunge Me” and Topaz Simplify “Painting”

This one used no filters to adjust colors. I went straight to Topaz Simplify “Line and Ink 1″. I did this one first and could have stopped here. It turned out good also, but as usual I kept experimenting, which was how I ended up with the one above. I did have one add thing though with the picture below. There were two small spots of a really bright lime green that were rather jarring. I ended up using the paint bucket in Photoshop to blend them in with the colors around them. This was my second pick and it’s very acceptable.

Topaz Simplify Line and Ink 1 with Minor Color Adjustments

Topaz Simplify “Line and Ink 1″ with Minor Color Adjustments

I then went to Topaz Restyle to enhance colors. This one below used “Smoky Train Stop”, followed by Topaz Simplify “Line and Ink 1″. As you can see, Restyle caused this to highlight the blue cast in the gray paint color, which was emphasized further with Topaz Simplify. The colors are good and acceptable, I just don’t like them quite as well.

Topaz Restyle Smoky Train Stop with Topaz Simplify Line and Ink 1

Topaz Restyle “Smoky Train Stop” with Topaz Simplify “Line and Ink 1″

I liked this one the least. I used Topaz Restyle “Somber Ecru” which kept the gray color, but rendered the white a little less bright. I then used Topaz Simplify “Pastel” and the end result is just okay.

Topaz Restyle "Somber Ecru" with Topaz Simplify "Pastel"

Topaz Restyle “Somber Ecru” with Topaz Simplify “Pastel”

Was it fun? Yep! I enjoyed trying out my Topaz filters, seeing what the results were, and tweaking up small differences. To see how other photographers did, click here. It’s worth the effort to see how different we all are with the same photo.

To see other post processing techniques that I’ve done, click here.


Time For A New Story

Isn't he just handsome? Even if he is a bit impatient with me taking his picture.

Isn’t my husband just handsome? Even if he is a bit impatient with me taking his picture.

As May drew to a close, it became apparent to me that I needed to tell myself a new story. I need a story that doesn’t involve the workplace, doing taxes, being a CPA, or any of the other ways that I’ve defined myself for these many, many years.

I’m proud of my career accomplishments and the hard work I’ve put into being the best I can, becoming an authority in my field, and being a recognized name “out there”. I’ve dedicated myself to learning all I could about corporate state income taxes, showing up when I was needed, being a diligent employee and mentoring those around me.

But that time has come to an end. For the rest of this year, I am on sabbatical and planning what I want to do with my writing and photography as well as seeing that new grandson of mine.

Yes, that is a cannonball in the bricks

Yes, that is a cannonball in the bricks in Yorktown, Virginia

I received one very nice offer and it was near my daughter. It didn’t pay much for relocation though and after examining many alternatives, my favorite boy toy and I decided that we didn’t want to pay for a move out of our own pockets. We will at some point move closer to her, but not this year. I don’t want to work all those hours and still be in the hole financially.

Additionally, if I want to pursue my creative ventures, I need my life to be settled. My favorite boy toy and I have moved 13 times and lived in 8 states. We lose about two years of our life each time we move, from having to fix up yet another house to finding new doctors, tradesmen, and where to go to do things (have fun). By the time we’re ready to move, we’ll also be ready to downsize and curtail our lifestyle. That will not happen for a while yet.

If we hadn’t moved so much – and lost our home equity several times – I’d have been more receptive. The company was good and I really liked the people I’d be working with. That made it hard to walk away from the offer and I really stressed out over it. I’m still stressed and fearful about how we will do with me leaving the workplace, but I believe this is the right decision for this time.

This has been a long time in coming.

Back in 2004, I was part of an on-line forum for creatives called “Planet Sark”, which evolved into this website here. When I signed up, I was encouraged to consider my dreams and write them down, which I did in the forum and in my journal.

In 2011, I dug them out, tweaked them slightly, and put together a small photo album to remind myself of what they were:

  • Dream #1 – make a living from my diaries and photography
  • Dream #2 – to have financial security before I turned 60
  • Dream #3 – to live near our daughter
  • Dream #4 – to own, without debt, a secluded private home that backs up on a nature conservancy
  • Dream #5 – to lose weight and improve my health
  • Dream #6 – to retire early and do the things I want
  • Dream #7 – to relax, sniff the fresh air, and enjoy my life

I further stated:

  • I believe each one will be answered
  • They are still alive

Earlier this year, I felt strongly about getting these out and looking at them again, which I hadn’t done for quite a while. I found:

  • I have enough financial security to retire now.
  • I live close enough to my daughter that I can hop in the car and be there in under a day.
  • My home does not back up on a nature conservancy, but within a short drive (5 to 20 minutes) I have all kinds of parks and a great botanical garden which I do not have to maintain. A little longer drive and I have other venues, such as Colonial Williamsburg, Brown’s Island and Hollywood Cemetery. That’s a good enough answer for me.
  • Several years ago, I lost nearly 40 pounds and improved my health considerably. It would be good to lose more weight, but I’m happy with what I did.
I thought this brick wall as interesting in Yorktown, Virginia

I thought this brick wall as interesting in Yorktown, Virginia

The first dream – to make a living from my diaries and photography really jumped out at me. Was it time to do this? I couldn’t decide. As a result, I spent the early part of this year angry and confused. If I was to make a living with my diaries and photography (and exactly what that means, I don’t know), why was I looking for a job? If it was time to retire, why all the calling, networking, and interviewing?

During this time, a friend of mine from Minnesota (Hi Barb!) sent me a card, feeling strongly she should share a favorite Bible verse with me, from Jeremiah 29:11 –

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.”

I carried that card around with me a good long time as I worked through my confusion of what I was supposed to be doing. I always thought when I retired that there would be a big party, people telling me they were sorry to see me go, and a final closure. I’m disappointed to not get that after all these years but this is how life has become for many workers.

I could keep looking for a job. My field has a low demand, but it also has a low supply. Companies tend to dismiss my skills until they have a problem. Then they find there are very few of me around. I’m employable, but it always takes a while to find something because of corporate state income taxes is so much smaller dollars than federal or international taxes.

But that’s not what I’m to be doing. The old story is broken and it’s time for a new story, which I will share in a later post.

Isn't that fence interesting? Taken in Yorktown, Virginia.

Isn’t that fence interesting? Taken in Yorktown, Virginia.

The beagle, of course, wants to know if that means more treats!



Happy Mother’s Day

I love my Momma!

I love my Momma!

Happy Mother’s Day from one of my four-legged children, who gave me a card this morning with the most affectionate thing he could think of – “My Momma”. Yes, I’m his Momma and his reason for living. When I’m going in and out of the back door – say to use the grill – he dashes out in front of me to take up his vigil and watch the street on my behalf. Because clearly my husband the other two dogs are not up to the task of taking care of me.

Scanning. . . scanning. . . scanning. . . any danger?

Scanning. . . scanning. . . scanning. . . any danger?

I hope you’ve enjoyed your day! My two-legged child gave me a set of lenses to use on my iPhone, so I will be busy experimenting with them this week. She’s a good kid, isn’t she?

Lydia Schabelsky, Baroness Staël-Holstein at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond, Virginia

Portrait of Lydia Schabelsky

This week’s photo challenge is to interpret “intricate” and for that, I’d like to share one of my favorite paintings at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. This is Lydia Schabelsky, Baroness Staël-Holstein. According to the placard, the picture was to be “a lasting record of their youth, status, good sense and fashion taste”.

Lydia Schabelsky, Baroness Staël-Holstein at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond, Virginia

Lydia Schabelsky, Baroness Staël-Holstein at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond, Virginia

Isn’t she just gorgeous? I can look at this picture for hours. The painting is so detailed and intricate! Here’s a close-up of her face and hair. Look at how the curls wrap around her pearls!

Face close-up of Lydia Schabelsky, Baroness Staël-Holstein at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond, Virginia

Face close-up of Lydia Schabelsky, Baroness Staël-Holstein at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond, Virginia

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Final Result

I Wanted That Red Teeter-Totter

Welcome to the May Edition of After-Before Friday, hosted as usual by Stacy Fisher at Visual Venturing. It was again fun trying new things with my photo skills! Each month brings a new challenge and it’s great to see what others do with it for their interpretation.

This month’s photo was provided by Shane Francescut and looked like this:

Original Photo

Original Photo

Isn’t that a stinker? Yes, it’s a technical term. Highly, highly technical.

I wanted so badly to highlight that red teeter-totter. I positively fixated on it. It’s so red! It’s so there! Blah, blah – the point is that’s what I wanted. And I couldn’t get it to work. The red was just too jarring against the rest of the photo. At the same time, I didn’t want to crop it out.

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Spring in Virginia

I’m experimenting with a product called Canva and thought I’d create this to see how it looks.


I’m not sure about the service – the bottom pictures were cut off in Facebook and I was unable to import this into Lightroom to run it through my export settings and downsize the picture. As a result, it’s in full size. That’s 5x the size of what I usually upload, but this is four photos in a single frame. It looks nice, but I’m not sure how much I’ll use this. They don’t have much for free either – most every image and things I’d want to do has a price tag on it. It’s not expensive individually, but you’d have to really be careful to not rack up the fees. There are others out there that charge a flat monthly fee but I haven’t priced it out or tried it to see if I’d use it.

The pictures are pretty though. They were all taken at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens.

Red Tulip at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens

Looking Up From the Ground

I become so focused on my photography, that sometimes I forget to look up and just enjoy the moment.

The other day, I was intent on photographing this robin while I was at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens:

20150421-418 Blog

Chasing a Robin

What appealed to me were the rich colors of the feathers on its back, as well as the distinctiveness of the white around its eye:

20150421-419 Blog

Pretty Robin!

Yes, I can photograph robins in the backyard and I have (click here to see the momma robin outwitting me). But when I’m at the gardens, I photograph anything that appeals to me. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But I always come back with a lot of pictures even on the days I plan on only walking.

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