ABFriday: Stone, Water and Sky

It’s once again time for After-Before Friday, hosted as always by Stacy Fisher over at Visual Venturing. To see other pictures from ABFriday, click here.  It’s always fun to check and see the many variations that happen each month!

On the left is the original photo; on the right is how the photo looked after I enhanced it in Lightroom. The colors and textures have improved and there is more variation between the sky and water.

This was the finalist, using Topaz Glow “Whiskers and Fur 1”. Topaz Glow uses “energetic sparks of neon lights” (per their advertising) “to create beautiful and vibrant images”.

I’ve found it difficult to find anything I like when using it, so my challenge this month was to see if I couldn’t figure it out. It took some experimenting, but I finally found a look that after some adjustment, I thought showed off the textures and colors in a way that was pleasing. To finish it, I used a border called “antique” from onOne Software to give it a vintage look.

The finalist! This used Topaz Glow, "Whiskers and Fur 1", with an antique border from onOne.

The finalist! This used Topaz Glow, “Whiskers and Fur 1”, with an antique border from onOne.

I didn’t clone out the people. On the other experiments, I thought it helped give perspective to the photo and they were clearly recognized as people. For the Topaz Glow, it’s harder to tell what they are and if I were to redo the picture, I’d try it with and without the people to see how it looked.

Here are some of the others that turned out surprisingly well, even though I didn’t use them as the finalist. The left one has a softer effect from using Topaz Adjust “Simplify” to remove details. The right one used a Topaz Adjust effect called “Bleached Bypass Cool” to give it a desolate and wintery look. Yes, I’m from the Midwest so the thought of winter doesn’t bother me.

On the next set of photos, the left one used Topaz Lens Effects to create a fog on the right; the right photo used a cracked paper texture from onOne. I liked how they both turned out, but I’m not sure if I’d be in a hurry to repeat either one in another photo.

I always love to hear which ones you like, so please – vote below and let me know what you think! Besides of course, the laughter that comes from seeing all the experiments.

To see other months of different effects, click here.


Half and Half

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So what happens when I go in the yard to take pictures? A miniature pinscher goes on full alert to guard me as I carelessly walk around the yard, oblivious to all the dangers that could be out in the street – like Mom’s pushing strollers and worst of all, old grandma’s taking a walk and minding their own business. He will protect me!

What I liked about the photo was how it divided his face in half, which is also the theme of this week’s photo challenge, which was to share an image that has two clear halves, literally or figuratively. To see how others interpreted the challenge, click here.


Beagle Reporting on the Backyard

Hello kind and gentle readers! It’s me, the beagle, reporting on what’s happening around the backyard. Mom and Dad took down the garden last year. They said it was too much work for what they got out of it. Plus there was a little problem with destruction. Apparently one of the dogs kept playing in it.

And when the tomatoes ripened, the mockingbirds and squirrels ate them up.

What Mom and Dad really wanted was for me and my brothers to stop tracking in so much mud and dirt. Ha! Don’t they know that’s one of the purposes of having a dog? But Dad foiled me. He seeded the dirt and PUT UP A FENCE TO KEEP ME OUT. Can you believe it? I couldn’t go rooting around for moles!

20140712-16 BlogBut I had the next laugh. The grass grew several inches and it all died! Ha ha ha ha ha ha. I never have told Dad how I made that happen. It’s a big secret – but I’ll tell you. I peed it up. Yep, beagle pee is so potent that I killed all that grass. Hey, I don’t care if you believe me! I’m a beagle and I have superpowers! And one of them is to kill large swatches of grass when I want.

But that Dad. He went to the next plan and he did foil me. This year, he put pine straw down on the one side and gravel near the deck stairs. Nooooo. Ick! No more tracking in mud because I slog through a wet pit to get to the back door. No more Mom making me stand there to wipe my feet off while I object loudly. LOUDLY. Right in her ear too because her head is next to me when she lifts up my touchy tootsies. No more seeing how much dirt I can drop from these big toes when I tromp through the kitchen and family room.

20150623-14 Blog Now I wouldn’t want Dad to know this, but it actually looks kind of nice. No, no, don’t tell him! He’ll just start bragging again about how he finally figured it out. But yeah, it is nice and Mom’s a lot happier that the house doesn’t get dirty quite as fast. So that’s the report on the backyard.

Now if only my superpowers could get the pantry open and the treats off that top shelf. . . Maybe if I sit here and stare, Mom will get a clue and give me some. I’m very good at looking pitiful. A beagle could only hope!

Hello? Anyone there? I'm ready to come in!!!

Hello? Anyone there? I’m ready to come in!!!

To see other beagle stories, click here. A gallery of my pictures is here.

AB Friday: Capitol Building

Final Photo with Topaz Impressions Watercolor 4 and onOne Torn Paper Border

Final Photo with Topaz Impressions Watercolor 4 and onOne Torn Paper Border

Thanks to Stacy Fisher, sponsor for another month of After-Before Friday (ABFriday) and Robin Kent (Photography by Kent), who provided the picture! While other months had tough technical challenges to the photos, this month was hard because the photo was so nearly perfect already.
So here’s the original photo. The people are minor, the building is straight (I checked) and the sky has a nice color. I really choked. I mean, what do you do with that?
Original Photo

Original Photo

I started with some minor adjustments in Lightroom, mostly to improve the white balance and take the yellow cast off the building. I think this is the U.S. Capitol Building and assumed the building was mostly white. I cloned out some of the foreground people so that when I started playing with the picture, they didn’t interfere with the appearance. That one is always a tough call; sometimes I think pictures look nicer without people and other times a scene looks too sterile.
I also moved the bottom up slightly to hide the fence at the right. I would have liked a little more green at the bottom, but the fence could not be easily cloned. I could have tried adding in some green at the bottom, but that’s a bit tricky and didn’t appeal to me. Here’s how it looked before I took it into Photoshop:
Adjusted with Lightroom But Not Yet in Topaz

Adjusted with Lightroom But Not Yet in Topaz

I improved the picture some more with Topaz Adjust HDR Dynamic Pop, at which point I realized the sky had a fair amount of noise. I used Topaz DeNoise Raw Strong to remove that. I liked how the detail came up – that building is beautiful – and it was good enough to finish. Using onOne, I put a border around it to finalize it. I thought this would be the finalist for this month.
Close Second - Adjusted in Lightroom and Topaz, onOne Border

Close Second – Adjusted in Lightroom and Topaz, onOne Border

However – and there’s always a however for me – what I wanted was to convert it to a pen and ink drawing. That so did not work, mostly because of the sky. I’m not sure if using DeNoise was the reason, but while the buildings looked great, the sky looked weird.  I could have tried cloning out the sky to a flat blue, but I don’t think it would have looked as good as I envisioned. Here’s the black and white version. I love how the building looks! If I wanted to play with it more, I could accentuate that and de-emphasize the sky.
Robin Kent ABFriday July 2015 BW - Blog

Topaz Black & White Low Key 2

This one happened by accident as I was looking for something that gave me that pen and ink look that I wanted. This is called Charcoal 1 from Topaz Impressions. It’s not bad and I’d share it on my blog:
Photo with Topaz Impressions Charcoal 1

Photo with Topaz Impressions Charcoal 1

In the course of playing with it though, I liked the looks of Topaz Impressions Watercolor 4. It removed detail from the building, but I liked the ethereal effect it gave. I used onOne for a torn paper border and that turned out to be my favorite. It was not what I was expecting to like the best, but it turned out pretty good.
Final Photo with Topaz Impressions Watercolor 4 and onOne Torn Paper Border

Final Photo with Topaz Impressions Watercolor 4 and onOne Torn Paper Border

Here are the panels showing the adjustments in Lightroom and Photoshop, just in case you were interested!
So what do you think? Which one did you like best? I always love to hear your vote and comments about the ABFriday photos.
To see what I’ve done with other photographs, click here.
To see what others did in this challenge, click here.





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The Muse Has Left The Building


My chair and it's comfy pads along with a pile of books and my notebook.

My chair and it’s comfy pads along with a pile of books and my notebook.

Remember on the old Frazier show, how it would always end with “Frazier has left the building“, a riff of course on the phrase, “Elvis has left the building“. Well, in response to weekly photo challenge for this week on muse, I find it hard to show what’s calling to me because nothing is.

The muse has left the building.

I’m spending my mornings hanging out on the deck with the boys, enjoying the cool start to the day. I’m listening to the birds sing, the insects chirp (they were very loud this morning), and just enjoying summer. When I worked, I always resented having to go in on days like this and not being able to enjoy the beauty of a nice day.

So instead of writing, instead of taking pictures, instead of getting much done, I’m hanging out on the deck. I have my iced tea and camera.

I need my tea and the camera too.

I need my tea and the camera too.

I have a dog that I can lean over to pet anytime I feel like it, although he’d rather be inside with the air conditioning. Too bad. They’re all sleeping better for spending time outside in the morning.

Having a Vizsla lay next to my chair is always a nice extra.

Having a Vizsla lay next to my chair is always a nice extra.

Sometimes I even throw the ball for the beagle, although not for very long. He can’t chase it like he used to; after a few times up and down the steps, he’s worn out.

The beagle hopes to get the ball thrown!

The beagle hopes to get the ball thrown!

The trumpet vine is starting to flower. I haven’t seen the hummingbirds yet, but each fall we find one or more tiny nests inside the trumpet vine. They usually announce their presence by buzzing us on the deck.

The trumpet vine is just getting ready to bloom.

The trumpet vine is just getting ready to bloom.

The deck’s actually not all that big, but I enjoy it and I enjoy our backyard.

View of the entire deck thanks to my fish eye wide angle lens.

View of the entire deck thanks to my fish eye wide angle lens.

The muse will return at some point. In the meantime, I’m re-reading my J.D. Robb books, lap swimming in the afternoons after it’s gotten too hot out, and listening to videos / webinars as I move forward with my plans for a new life not in taxes. Of course, having said that, I start a contract position next week that will last several months. It was due to the network that I got this opportunity – this VP knows my former VP and recognized my name as a result. It also helped that the position is in my niche speciality – corporate state income taxes – and uses the same software I’ve used for my entire career.

So the muse might take a longer vacation than planned. Oops!

In the meantime, I hope you’ve relaxed a little with me out in the yard. I’ve been enjoying seeing all of you showing your muse (click here to see more). In case you don’t remember, here’s the ending to Frazier:


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!