My plan is to have purchased all the photo gear that I’d like before I retire, then be able to spend as much time as possible outdoors, shooting photos. That sounds simple enough, but there’s a lot more to it than that. For one thing, there’s the weather to contend with, and how I deal with it. One of the things that I look forward to be able to do is to plan where I go and what I photograph around the weather that day.
Yesterday, which was Sunday, there was dense fog that lingered well past noon, making the day almost a complete bust for me. The sun had finally come out and burned off the last remnants of the fog at about the same time as I had to leave the Muskegon area and return home. I’m sure that I missed a great sunset from what I saw through the window here at home as I was going to bed.
Fog can be good for some landscape photography, but not fog as thick as it was yesterday. The visibility was close to zero in places, and I had a hard time negotiating my way around roads that are very familiar to me. If I hadn’t known exactly where I was going, I probably would have gotten lost. As it was, it seemed silly to be creeping along at less than 5 MPH looking for the correct place to turn. It was such a bust as far as photography that I gave up for a while and took a nap while parked as I waited for the fog to lift at least a little. But before I get hung up on yesterday, back to my plans for the future.
I’d like to travel, to see the places that I’ve already been in the past, such as Yellowstone and the Canadian Rockies, along with the places that I haven’t been, like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Death Valley. While the wide-angle lenses that I have are fine for Michigan, I could use better ones for the spectacular scenery that I’ll find in those places. Also, I’d like to reduce the weight of my backpack that I carry my camera gear around in.
I thought that weight wouldn’t matter, and it I were still young and spry, it wouldn’t, but I have to face it, I’m old and grey now, and carrying all the gear that I have now wears me out. To the point where as I’m returning to my vehicle, I’m too tired to bother getting the correct lens out of the backpack, and I shoot what ever I see with the long lens set-up that I use for birding, or skip the shot completely unless it is a really chance for a really great photo.
As it is, I carry too much stuff with me that I seldom use on most days, but since I have limited time to be out shooting photos, I feel that I have to be ready for anything. But as I say, it wears me out to the point where it doesn’t matter if I am ready for anything, if I’m too tired to bother digging what I need out of the backpack.
That’s where having more time will be a good thing. I’ll be able to make trips to shoot specific types of images, say landscapes one day, macro photos on another day, and of course, days when I shoot mainly wildlife. That will be especially true when I’m traveling, then, I’ll be shooting mainly landscapes and wildlife. That means getting my gear better organized so that I only bring what I’ll really need on any particular day.
I plan to have a backpack set-up just for excursions when I plan on shooting mostly landscapes, and it will have the second camera body, a Canon 24-105 mm lens and a Sigma 12-24 mm lens in it. Along with the new 100-400 mm lens that I’ll have on my 7D, I’ll be able to shoot everything that I see, other than true macro photos. I’ll probably add the set of extension tubes and my tele-converters to that backpack, and it will still weigh less than half of what it does now. That will cover everything from 20 mm to 800 mm, and I’ll be able to take my good tripod, rather than the lightweight one that I carry now.
Since good macro photos are much easier on days when there’s little of no wind, when I have more time, I’ll be able to carry everything that I need for those images on days best suited for that type of photography, leaving the landscape gear in my vehicle or at home while I shoot the macro photos. I think that you get the idea.
Anyway, speaking of macro photography, I’m going to start the photos in this post with just such a photo, although it may not appeal to everyone.
The reason that I’m starting with that image is because it represents something else that I’m planning on for the future, getting better with the gear that I already have. That was shot with the 100 mm macro lens on the 7D, one of the few times that I’ve used that lens on that body. I typically use the 60D for macros, and it works well enough, or so I thought. What I’m impressed with in that image is that I shot it at ISO 12800, and the sharpness, detail, and clarity are much better than I had expected when I shot it.
Until a few weeks ago, I limited the 7D to ISO 6400 because I couldn’t get photos as good as the spider is at the higher ISO settings due to the noise that I’d get at those ISO settings. By learning a few more little tricks to help reduce the noise, better camera settings and learning to use Lightroom’s noise reduction better, I hate to say this, but I amazed myself with that image.
I also wonder how much of a role that the lens played in making that image as good as it was? I’ve never read or heard anything about the quality of a lens contributing to noise, but I’ve seen it in the lenses that I own. The better the lens, the less noise in an image produced by that lens at the same ISO setting as the other lens I’m comparing it to. The 100 mm macro lens is the best lens that I own, followed closely by the 70-200 mm and 100-400 mm lenses.
That plays into learning to get the best out of the 7D Mk II, rather than to purchase a much more expensive Canon 5DS R body to get better detail and resolution in my images. Here’s another example, also shot with the 100 mm macro lens on the 7D.
And, here’s the other end of the spectrum, a herring gull portrait, shot with the 100-400 mm lens.
Juvenile herring gull
It always helps to have a willing model that’s willing to pose, as was the hawk…
Juvenile red-tailed hawk
…from my last post. When you can see the texture of a bird’s feathers, then it doesn’t get much better than that.
Okay, so I’ve laid out some of my plans, one other thing that I’d like to have is a second excellent long lens for birding. I know that it sounds silly after the photos that I’ve just posted, but getting images like those often requires that I add or swap tele-converters to the 100-400 mm lens, just as I used to do with the 300 mm lens.
Once I’m retired, I’d like to spend some days in blinds or hides, which ever you prefer, and shoot both portraits like those above, along with action photos like these.
Rough-legged hawk in flight
Rough-legged hawk in flight
Male mallard in flight
I have some ideas as to what I may purchase as a second long lens, but I’ve also got to do some more testing of what I already have, and learn just what it’s capable of before I make a decision on another long lens, or if I need one at all.
I was hoping to do some of that testing yesterday, which was Sunday, but those plans went out the window because of how long the thick fog lingered.
Monday dawned bright and clear…
…although a little bit of fog tried to form just as the sun was rising…
Just the right amount of fog
…and there was some wonderful light as the sun began to climb above the horizon.
Canada geese at dawn
Mourning dove at dawn
It’s too bad that I couldn’t catch this buck in that light…
8 point whitetail buck
…and since it is hunting season here, the buck was in no mood to pose for me.
8 point whitetail buck
With good light, I thought that it would be a good day to test out some of the things that I wanted to, so I put the 2 X tele-converter on the 300 mm lens and used that for longer shots all day, reserving the 100-400 mm lens for action photos. As it turned out, there were few chances for action photos, here’s the best of the lot.
Mallards in flight
Just as I was afraid of, the 2 X tele-converter on the 300 mm lens just doesn’t cut it as far as image quality now that I’ve seen what I can get from the 100-400 mm lens.
But, I kept trying to do better with the 300 mm lens all day.
I tried a variety of camera and lens settings, but even my best attempts were not quite up to what I’ve been getting from the 100-400 mm lens.
Juvenile ruddy duck
However, I should have known that, it’s been the same story with that lens since I bought it, unless I’m close to a subject…
…the sharpness just isn’t there compared to the new lens.
I don’t have many regrets about “wasting” a day shooting with that set-up though, I learned what I needed to learn. The only time that I wished that I had done things differently was when I saw this eagle.
It hung around for a minute or two, giving me the look…
…then it was off to chase the gulls and ducks for a while.
Bald eagle in flight
That’s the only regret from the day, that photo would have been so much better if I had used the new lens with its better auto-focusing than the 300 mm lens and extender, which focus so slowly that the photo above is the sharpest of the series that I shot as the eagle flew away.
If I were to go through and list all the photo gear that I have, the only piece of it that I would say was a mistake was the 300 mm lens. I say that even though up to the point when I purchased the 100-400 mm lens, the 300 mm lens was the one that I used most of the time. On a sunny day like Monday, I probably would have been better off using the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) than the 300 mm lens.
The 300 mm lens does focus closer, and it’s much better in low light, but it is a soft lens at any distance over about twenty feet. It’s only because of its superior low light performance over the Beast that it was my go to lens for birding most of the time. Even then, when I had a trying day when using the 300 mm lens, I’d switch back to the Beast to use its superior auto-focusing to get images of small, fast birds that stay deep in the brush most of the time. Without a doubt, the 100-400 mm combines the best features of both the Beast and the 300 mm lens, with none of the drawbacks of either of those two lenses.
I’ve written about the fog on Sunday, how foggy was it?
The clichéd lone tree in the fog
When I got to the clay pits, I decided to shoot a less clichéd shot, but in the same vein.
Lone island in the fog
On the other hand, you couldn’t have asked for clearer skies on Monday.
Making the yellow pop
Yes, I used a polarizing filter for these, and I considered de-saturating the colors a bit because I was worried some one would think that the color came from software tricks.
More of the bright yellow color
Now then, for some fun photos. I’ll never figure great blue herons out, they choose some strange places to take a break sometimes. This one was perched on the railing around the top of one of the chemical storage tanks at the wastewater facility.
Great blue heron
I did play some software tricks to these photos, I was shooting almost directly into the sun, and the sky came out with a weird greenish cast because of that. I used Lightroom to shift the color of the sky back towards blue where it belongs. Anyway, I zoomed out for that photo, to show what the heron was perched on. As I zoomed in, the heron began to walk the “tightrope”.
Great blue heron
The heron had to use its wings for balance, and it still nearly slipped off from the railing.
Great blue heron
Then, I got the look, as if to ask, “You didn’t film that did you?”
Great blue heron
I’m not sure if an eagle would try for a great blue heron, but if I were a heron, I wouldn’t want to learn the hard way that an eagle would, so I’d be a little more choosy about where to perch. On the other hand, if I were an eagle, I’d be looking at that long, skinny neck and thinking that heron may be on the menu today. Then again, on the other hand, (yes, I have three) maybe the heron thinks that having a clear field of view in all directions means that it could spot an eagle long before it came close.
Anyway, something else that I have to do is to find a number of places where I can go, set-up hides to watch and photograph wildlife from, and not have signs of man-made structures in the background of my photos.
Northern shovelers in flight
It’s really cool to see several hundred of the same species of duck take flight at once, but I would rather it be in a more natural looking area than the storage lagoon at the wastewater facility. I know that I’ll never find another place as close to home with the same numbers of any one species, or the range of species that I see there though. That means locating a number of places where I can spend a day concentrating on better images of fewer subjects. I should say, spend part of a day, for I’d only want to sit around in a hide when the light is good.
Let’s say that I’m going to shoot wading birds, ducks, or shorebirds, the place that I find will have to be on the southern side of whatever body of water that attracts the birds so that I have the best light. To get even more specific, I want to be looking towards the west or northwest in the morning, and towards the northeast or east in the evening to take advantage of the best light during the time that I’m in the hide. I’ve been checking out places online, and finding great spots isn’t going to be that easy. For some reason, most of the places that I’ve heard of end up being on the north side of bodies of water, so I’d end up shooting into the sun, which isn’t good. I can cross those places off from my list when I check them out on a map without wasting time traveling there in person.
In the meantime, here’s a few more photos from this weekend.
Savannah Sparrow in the fog
Even though I was shooting in high-speed for these next two…
Ring-billed gull in flight
…I missed the exact moment when the gull made the snatch of a tidbit of food.
Ring-billed gull in flight
The American tree sparrows have returned from their summer home range to spend the winter here.
American tree sparrow
I wish that these two eagles would choose better places to perch than this.
Male mallard in flight
My plan is to begin exploring places this winter, as long as there isn’t too much snow to get around in. Winter may not be the best time of the year for exploring, but there are still a few species of birds migrating through the area that I need photos of to add to my list of birds that I’ve seen. Recently, short-eared owls have been seen in the Muskegon area, along with a female harlequin duck. I need to get photos of both species, although I would prefer a male harlequin duck in breeding plumage. But, as has happened so many times in the past, once I get photos of a female or juvenile of a species, it isn’t long before I catch a male of the same species.
Well, it’s about time for me to go to work, so I’m going to end this post here, check to see who our next president may be, then put in another long boring night driving back and forth across the state.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!