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Dondero Castle

March’s assignment for Chatter Magazine was a real treat — photographing the Dondero Castle here in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Dondero Castle - front view

What an incredible place, and a fabulous opportunity to see inside this absolutely breathtaking home.  The Donderos’  fascination with castles led them to build their own, on a bluff overlooking Chickamauga Lake.  With over 22,000 s.f., it was a daunting task to pick which images would best tell the story of this beautiful place.

With time and weather constraints, I had to shoot this place in less than 3 hours — and in wintertime as well!  However, the interior had incredible details, and I focused on these to try and tell it’s story.

Great Room

The massive great room, with its reclaimed wood (most of the woodwork in the home came from the existing grounds) and beams demanded a shot that would capture the vastness of the space.

I loved the fact that the castle had knights in armor, so I made sure that I got detail shots of these, as well as the hand-carved wood detail and the massive fireplace.

Knight in Armor

You can see a slideshow of the images at:  http://www.mwjphotography.com/slideshows/donderocastle/

For more information on my services, please see my website at:  http://www.mwjphotography.com

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Ahmad’s Lakefront Home

February’s assignment for Chatter Magazine was photographing the Ahmad’s lake front home, where “middle eastern influences meet European elegance”.  That pretty much describes this beautiful home on Haig Mill Lake in Dalton, Georgia.  I used as much natural light as possible, as this lovely home was filled with the most beautiful woodwork imaginable.

Ahmads' Home

According to the homeowners, Mona and Azid Ahmad, quite a lot of the wood and fixtures came from their area in Pakistan, such as the 1752 carved, Rosewood doors from a Hindu temple.

The chandelier was inspired by a similar one in the Biltmore Hotel, and the Ahmads commissioned an artist to create this incredible light fixture, which hangs from the hand painted dome over the wrought-iron staircase.

Chandelier

Photographing the chandelier and the staircase was a bit of a problematic nightmare.  I wanted the natural light to showcase the stairs, yet the lighting coming in through the windows was too harsh, and cast strange shadows.  I worked on getting images of the rest of the house, and came back several hours later.  Voila!  Now, the lighting was much softer, yet still enough light to bring out the incredible detail in the wrought-iron.

Living Room

Keeping the lighting natural for the living room really brought out the highlights of the detail in the painted woodwork of the ceilings and mantle on the fireplace.

As for the exterior, I had to add some artificial lighting even though the home was well-lit with uplighting.  I used 6 different lights, some ground spots, and large hot lights with diffusers to make sure there was plenty of light, yet allowed some areas to be dark to create depth and an interesting image.

front of home

If you would like to see this article, see Chatter Magazine’s flipbook, starting at page 44:   http://media.timesfreepress.com/epaper/chatter/02-01-2012/index.html

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Ebony and Ivory: Can’t we just all get along?

Max and Jas playing in the snow

I was struck the other day how much we could all learn from my dog Max and my cat Jasmine.  Even though the age-long view of the world is that cats and dogs can’t get along, I can say with certainty that they can, and Max and Jasmine are living proof!

My husband Bill and I adopted Max from a shelter when he was 12 weeks old.  What a life-changing experience!  He taught us a lot about patience and unequivocal love.  I thought at the time that it was a lot like an experience I had as a teenager.  My aunt and uncle had a Colombian exchange student living with them, who couldn’t speak English very well.  She and I became fast friends, and the language difficulties didn’t create a barrier — on the contrary, they allowed us to enjoy each other’s company for who we were.  Of course, each of us helped the other learn the other’s language in time.  Living with Max was and still is a lot like that exchange student — we’re both teaching each other how to communicate with each other.

Max's baby picsA year and a half after we adopted Max, he discovered a 6 month old kitten at a neighbor’s house, and begged us to adopt her.

When Jasmine first came to live with us, she was a bit timid about this large, happy dog following her around the house.  To get them used to each other, and Max used to the idea that she really could eat by herself without his help, I would have them sit side by side and give them both a treat.  At first I did it at the same time, and then as time went on, I would give Jas a treat first (to teach Max patience and that since Jazzy was smaller, she would be fed first).  Worked like a charm!

It was also wonderful to watch Max teach Jasmine the “house rules”, and gently chastise her if she did something on the “no-no” list.  We are blessed with very intelligent animals, and they learn very quickly.

Jasmine (Russian Blue and Siamese Mix)

Our beautiful animals have a wonderful sense of humor, and make us laugh all the time.  What a blessing they have been to us.

If only we could get rid of our own prejudices and the ugly thoughts that the world wants us to have for people that “aren’t like us”, maybe the world might just be a kinder and gentle place to live.

Below is some short video clips of Max and Jasmine playing in the snow.  I apologize for the bad camera work, but I didn’t want to take my good video camera out in the cold and snow, so I used a terrible hand-held one.

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Photoshop Tips: Adding Moonlight Reflection on Water

This month, we’re working on changing a few aspects of a wonderful photograph of moon over water.  The original photograph was taken just before the moon rose high enough over the water.

I was on assignment for Chatter Magazine, photographing a beautiful castle here in the Chattanooga area.  The castle was high on a bluff over looking Chickamauga Lake.  As I was photographing the back of the castle, I noticed that the moon was just rising over the Lake.  Due to time constraints, I couldn’t wait until the moon rose high enough.   If I had time, I would have done a time-lapse image — getting the landscape bright enough, and then merging the 2 photographs.

Happily, Photoshop enables us to mimic the time-lapse with layers and a great filter called “rendering, lighting effects”.  These techniques were used with Photoshop CS 5.5, but you could do it with earlier versions.

First, the original photograph was color corrected in Camera RAW:

Original RAW Image

color corrected RAW image

Then I copied the moon onto its own layer, deleted the existing moon over the mountains, and added a layer style of “outer glow”,  to the moon to make it look more realistic, tweaking the settings until I liked the results.

After moving the moon higher over the horizon

The challenge was to create the moonlight reflection in the water without making it look fake.  I then created a new duplicate layer, and opened “filters” and then chose “lighting effects”.

By tweaking the points around the light, I was able to create a fairly realistic moonlight reflection.  However, I wasn’t done.  This kind of filter rendered the rest of the image very dark.

I wanted the moonlight reflection a little brighter, so I added an adjusted layer, and brightened the spotlight.

I then moved the original image layer on top of this filtered layer, added a layer mask, and then brought back all the original image with a brush — putting together the two different images.

And voila!  I now have a beautiful picture of the moon and its light reflection over water.

Moonlight over Water Final Image

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This Month’s Photography Tip: Outdoor Living Areas Part 1

Dressing Up the Outside:  Perk up uninspiring outdoor areas before you shoot


Summer is a great time to let your creativity flow.  When photographing a patio or deck, you can take an image’s impression from plain to powerful by adding a few details.  Setting an outdoor dining area with inexpensive yet colorful tableware suggests a “lived-in” element to the area, without the additional time needed for photographing models for a lifestyle shot.  Adding wine, glasses, and candles creates a romantic atmosphere, while the use of potted plants and flowers can help soften and add color to large areas of concrete and stone.

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