My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

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Rethinking many things

As always, I’ve been giving a lot of thought about ways that I can improve my photos, without going to extremes using software such as Photoshop.

It’s funny, I used to be a purist, believing that I could get the images that I wanted straight out of the camera without using any software at all, until I failed every time when using a digital camera. Gradually, and grudgingly, I gave in and began using Lightroom to make up for the lack of dynamic range of the cameras I was using at the time, and I’ve even gone so far as to purchase and use Photomatix software for the same purpose, to increase the dynamic range of the images that I shoot when part of the scene is very bright, and other parts very dark. And, I’ve begun to experiment with stitching multiple photos together to create panoramas that show more of a scene than what I would be able to capture in a single frame with even my widest lens, or for other reasons.

No matter how much I have come to rely on software, my goal has always been the same, to capture as closely as possible what I see with my own two eyes as I view a scene. I say that even though I recently posted a trick photograph of my own…

Double exposure of the full moon and the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan

…where I used a double exposure to bring the full moon lower in the sky than it otherwise is. I could have shot the scene as it really was, but if I did, you’d hardly be able to see the moon in the photo.

That’s because when one uses a wide-angle lens in photography, reality becomes distorted. Things in the foreground of the image appear larger than they really are, and things in the distance, such as the moon in this case, appear farther away, and therefore smaller than they really are. I didn’t give in to the temptation of shooting the image of the moon that I used in the double exposure to use my longest tele-photo lens set-up to make the moon appear even larger than it really is in the double exposure, so I was going for as close to reality as I could.

So, I recently posted this landscape photo…

Another Michigan farm

…even though I’m not that happy with it. For one thing, there’s nothing interesting in the foreground, but another thing about this photo that I dislike is that the rolling hills in the background appear smaller than they really are, and are difficult to see because I used a wide-angle lens to shoot it. Even the barn and farmhouse look too small in this image. I wanted the width of the middle of the image, but with the hills in the background more prominent. I shot that with the 16-35 mm lens at about 20 mm if I remember correctly. Even as I viewed the scene before I shot it, I wasn’t happy, but I did the best that I thought that I could do.

That brings me to another photo that I recently posted…

Thunder cloud at dawn

…which is made of 6 images stitched together to get the entire cloud in the frame at one time. If I had an intermediate length lens to fit the new 5D Mk IV, I wouldn’t have had to stitch the 6 images shot with my medium telephoto 70-200 mm lens together to get that shot. But, that image was very easy for me to produce, and it has me thinking, as all of my photos do.

Since nature doesn’t always provide us with scenes that match our lenses and sensor sizes perfectly, I’m trying to come up with ways to work around that. I could do it with software, I’ve seen videos of people literally moving and reshaping mountains using the warp tool in Photoshop or blending images shot at varying focal lengths together to achieve the results that they wanted. However, I don’t want to spend countless hours in front of the computer editing images.

I think that panoramas are one way that I can get the results that I want without spending too much time at the computer. If I had shot several images of the landscape above at a longer focal length and stitched them together, I could have gotten the width of view I wanted, and the hills in the background would have appeared more prominent in the final image because I wouldn’t have gotten the perspective distortion from having used a wide lens. Now, I want to go back and shoot that same scene to see if it will work as I hope that it would. But, I think that I can find a place closer to home where I can test my theory on this.

It’s all about learning how to capture what I see with my eyes in a camera given the constraints that even the best modern cameras and lenses impose upon a photographer. It’s learning different techniques, and how to get the best from the equipment that I have. To that end, I have to remember all of the various techniques that I learn, and when to put each one, or a combination of them, together to produce the image that I envision when I first survey a scene. The last part is the hardest, remembering the different ways that there are to shoot the same scene to produce different results, and which one would work the best.

I must say this however, I’m loving the new 5D Mk IV with its expanded dynamic range and other improvements over the crop sensor cameras that I have been using. For example, I’ve shot a few bracketed series of images to blend into a HDR image in Photomatix with the new 5D, and I’m able to get better results with a single, well exposed image, from the 5D than what I can produce in Photomatix. But, if I were to use one of the crop sensor bodies for a landscape image, I’d still have to use bracketed images and Photomatix to produce the same results.

The fact that the 5D has so much more dynamic range that I don’t have to bracket images and use software to get the correct exposure is a good thing in more than one way. For example, I haven’t shot many time lapses of scenes because I didn’t want to take the time to go through the process of creating a HDR image of each frame within the time-lapse. Also, when creating panoramas, the exposure for all the frames that end up being stitched together has to be correct and match the other images used in the panorama, or I’d end up with part of the final image too dark or too light when compared to the image as a whole. Getting the exposure correct is much easier if I’ll be dealing with single images rather than bracketed images run through software to get the correct dynamic range. And, there’s always the problem of motion within the scene when I’m working with multiple images, for either HDR images, or when stitching images together for panoramas.

Well, I’ve been out with the camera since I began this post, and I’ve started to put some of the things that I’ve discussed to use.

After the storm

If I’d been really lucky, I would have found a good scene sooner when the storm in the distance was still producing bolts of lightning, but at least I was close to being in the right place at the right time for a change as the sun began to emerge from behind the storm cloud.

This storm missed

It may surprise you to learn that I shot both of them with the 16-35 mm lens on the 7D body. I did so to get the correct focal length to best capture the scene, since I haven’t purchased the 24-70 mm lens yet that would give me the full range of focal length lenses I need for the 5D. On the 7D, the 16-35 mm lens becomes a 56 mm lens at the long end due to the crop factor of the 7D body. I suppose that a I could have gone wider on the 5D and cropped to get to the same place, but I don’t like cropping landscape images. Also, I would have run into the problem of the background disappearing due to the use of a wide-angle lens. My other choice would have been to use the 70-200 mm lens on the 5D, but that didn’t go as wide as I wanted for that scene.

The 16-35 mm lens on the full frame 5D is crazy wide at 16 mm…

The blockhouse at Muskegon State Park

…I was standing less than 50 feet from that structure to shoot that photo.

At this point, I may as well throw this one in here at this time…

The interior of the blockhouse

…as well as this one.

Historical marker at Muskegon State Park

The stairway shot was a test of the 5D with the 16-35 mm lens in some of the worst light I’m likely to face, and I’m happy to say that I’m pleased with the results.

I have one old image to post again, shot with the 16-35 mm lens on the 7D…

Muskegon State Park sand dunes

…to compare to a six image panorama of the same scene that I shot today. The six images used were shot with the 70-200 mm lens at 70 mm on the 5D body.

Dunes at Muskegon State Park panorama

That shows that there isn’t much difference in the way that the scene appears, but it’s not a true apples to apples comparison.  The first one was the 16-35 mm lens on the crop sensor 7D, so doesn’t show how much smaller the top of the dune would appear if I used the same lens on the 5D. Also, the dune is relatively close to where I shot that from, as the distance increases, the wide-angle perspective change will be greater.

This is more of a true test of what I’m thinking of doing will work, here’s Snug Harbor in Muskegon State Park shot as a single frame with the 16-35 mm lens at 16 mm on the 5D…

Snug Harbor in Muskegon State Park

…and here’s the panorama with three images shot at 28 mm with a good deal of overlap between the images.

Snug Harbor in Muskegon State Park panorama

I probably should have gone all the way to 35 mm for that test, but as windy as it was, I did want to leave as much overlap between the images to assist in getting them lined up correctly. As it was, I was trying to time the waves on the lake so that the image wouldn’t come out looking weird.

I have a couple more images that I shot this afternoon at Muskegon State Park, they may as well go in here now.

A creek emptying into Muskegon Lake

Nothing special, just more of me learning to see through the wide-angle lens on the 5D.

A creek flowing towards Muskegon Lake

Even if the images that I shoot aren’t going to be award winners in any way, I’m still having a great time exploring the world around me through the camera.

Also, I’m thinking of trying something that I’ve never tried before, focus stacking software. While focus stacking software is often used for macro photography to get a greater depth of field and the entire subject in focus…

Unidentified dragonfly

 

Unidentified dragonfly

…I doubt that I’d be able to use it on insects…

Unidentified dragonfly

…because you really need to use a tripod and have the subject sit still for the length of time that it requires to shoot a series of images while changing the focus slightly between shots to stack together in software that blends the sharpest parts of each image in the stack together to produce a single image with the entire subject sharp and in focus.

I’d really like to give focus stacking a try when photographing flowers…

Bee balm

…so that I could get the entire flower in focus in one image.

Bee balm

I haven’t had too many times when I needed focus stacking software for landscapes, but I’m sure that as I shoot more of them, the need will arise, especially if I use a longer lens to shoot a scene.

Colors and textures

That’s one of the few times so far that the 5D camera has not produced exactly what I had hoped that it would as far as capturing the colors and textures of the vegetation in the scene. Still, that’s much better than what I’ve ever been able to do in the past, so maybe as I learn the 5D better, I’ll eventually get the shot that I want.

Back to focus stacking software, or I should say an image where it wasn’t needed, just for the heck of it.

Red milkweed beetle

There is one thing that I need to remember to do more often. If I see something that I end up shooting, even as a test shot such as the stairway in the blockhouse that I put in this post earlier, I need to “work the scene” and keep every possibility in mind as I’m shooting the scene.

The stairway in the blockhouse

While I like the warm colors of the wood in the previous image, the same scene also would lend itself to a good B&W image if I had put more thought into what I could come up with, rather than thinking only of testing the high ISO setting and dynamic range capabilities of the new 5D. By the way, the stairwell was shot at ISO 25600, and while there is noise in it, the noise is something that I could easily remove in Lightroom if I had put more thought into the image in the first place. There’s still too many times when I look at an image at home on the computer and think to myself about the ways I could have improved it if I had put more thought into what I’d end up with by changing my position or camera settings. Too many of the images I shoot end up as throw aways because that’s what I’m thinking when I shoot them, when they could have been good images if I had applied myself when I shot them.

Sometimes, I luck out, as I was testing the 100-400 mm lens without an extender behind it when I shot this mourning dove…

Mourning dove

…and I looked up again after putting the 1.4 X tele-converter behind the lens again to see that the light had changed…

Mourning dove

…so even though I had planned on moving on and not shooting any more photos of the dove, I had to shoot more when I had better light. It’s almost hard to believe the difference when it was the same dove perched on the same rock and shot from the same spot, all that changed was the sun came out from behind a cloud, and even the water in the background changed color due to the light.

Speaking of water…

Great blue heron

it makes a great background most of the time…

Great blue heron

…whether the subject is a perched bird…

Great blue heron in flight

…or in flight, or flowers…

Queen Anne’s lace

…in groups…

Queen Anne’s lace

…or a single flower head.

I know that this has been another boring post where I’ve written too much about photography, but as I’ve said before, as I take the time to type these posts out, what I’ve thought about and taken the time to type sticks with me in my memory. A few years ago, most of my babbling about photography dealt with my trials and tribulations of learning how to get good photos of birds in flight.

Now, I have the basic camera settings that I need saved in the cameras, and I can shoot images like this most of the time.

Bank swallow in flight

So, in my next post, I’ll show you how I used what I taught myself through babbling away in my blog to good use, showing the swallows plucking insects off from the surface of the water as they fly.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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Short stories

I have plenty of photos left over from the last two weeks, I’ll have to decide if I’m going to use them now (probably) or wait until I see what I come up with next week. Hmm, looking at my calendar, I see that I have an appointment with the dermatologist this Thursday, so may not get out to shoot any photos at all on that day. My appointment is for mid-morning, which doesn’t leave me enough time before the appointment to shoot any photos. And, the weather isn’t helping either, it remains very hot and very humid here, which limits where I choose to go, and how long I stay out in the heat. So, I won’t be going out after the appointment either.

Maybe I’ll see if I can go out and shoot the Milky Way Wednesday night, then get some sleep before the appointment. I’m really itching to shoot both the Milky Way and a few star trail photos as test shots for future reference, just as the fireworks photos from my last posts were tests for in the future. I need to learn the correct exposure and other settings for my camera and lenses before I spend the time and money to go to a great location for such images.

So, I guess that I will use up the leftover photos that I have. Oh, and by the way, in preparation for, and in conjunction with the physical that I had a couple of weeks ago with my regular doctor, I had more blood work done this week. That’s both to make sure that the medicine that I’m taking to control my psoriasis isn’t causing any major side effects, and to check my overall health. I’m happy to report that I won’t see any of these guys coming for me soon…

Turkey vulture in flight

…although this one seemed to be checking me out.

Turkey vulture in flight

I saw a Cooper’s hawk in the distance being chased by some eastern kingbirds, when I looked through the long lens on my camera, I could see that the hawk had made a kill.

Cooper’s hawk with its kill being chased by an eastern kingbird

I don’t think that it was a young kingbird that the hawk had, the kingbirds weren’t making very much of a fuss, they seemed to simply want the hawk out of their territory, and soon gave up the chase.

Cooper’s hawk with its kill being chased by an eastern kingbird

I spotted a northern flicker on a dead tree…

Northern flicker and downy woodpecker

…if you look closely, you can see a much smaller downy woodpecker above the flicker. The downy was chattering away at the flicker, so I thought that the downy had a nest close by. I’ve never heard of flickers, or any other species of woodpeckers, going after the eggs or young birds of other species, so I kept an eye on the flicker.

Northern flicker

The flicker was just looking for food, and the downy woodpecker’s nest was nearby, but on the other side of the tree.

Downy woodpecker

She looked around to be sure the coast was clear, then entered the nesting cavity…

Downy woodpecker

…to feed her young…

Downy woodpecker

…I used the time that she was in there to switch to the 7D camera for more reach as she looked around again before leaving the nest.

Downy woodpecker

She was very careful about looking for predators that could have been watching her as she went in and out of the nest, but my presence there didn’t seem to bother her.

That wasn’t the case with the osprey. While I was there at their nest the first time, I could see that the female didn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that I was standing in the area near the nest, but the male did seem to be bothered by my being there. I’ve never watched osprey near their nest before, so I wasn’t sure. I went back to the nest last week, and this time…

Male osprey returning to its nest with food for his young

…I was sure that the male didn’t want there…

Male osprey returning to its nest with food for his young

…so I shot this series of images to test out the new 5D Mk IV…

Male osprey returning to its nest with food for his young

…for both its auto-focusing and dynamic range…

Male osprey returning to its nest with food for his young

…and then left. The male wouldn’t land at the nest as long as I was there the second time. However, unlike the first time that I visited the nest, I couldn’t get farther away from the nest because the power utility that had built the nesting platform for the osprey had taken delivery of a load of new equipment to be used at the dam, and they had a portion of the parking lot there closed off to use for storing the new equipment. So, I doubt if I’ll return to the nest this year, if ever. Well, maybe to check in to see if the nesting platform is still being used in the future, and just to see these magnificent birds up close from time to time. I’ve gotten the photos of them that I wanted, so there’s no reason for me to stress them in hopes of a better image.

Since the nest is on top of a pole and a good distance off from the ground, I can’t see into the nest, although I did get a few poor images of the female osprey feeding one of the youngsters when I was there before.

I suppose that I could have set-up the portable hide that I still haven’t gotten around to testing, but it seemed rather foolish to use a hide in the middle of a parking lot, and I’m sure that the osprey would have still known that I was there even if I were in the hide. And, since it was another very hot, humid day, the thought of sitting in the hide and sweating to death wasn’t that appealing to me.

If I had more time to devote to shooting a single subject in a single location, things would be different. Just as with the juvenile barn swallows from my last post, I don’t want to stress the birds that I photograph any more than necessary for one or two good photos. So, I suppose that for the time being, I’m limited to telling just short stories.

I do look forward to the days when I can set-up the hide and spend time watching a bird’s nest or something else that would bring wildlife within range of my camera, there’s only a few more years for me to work before I can retire and have the time to do that.

In the meantime, I have to shoot what I can while I can. While at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, I noticed this rose-breasted grosbeak acting strange.

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

That was after he stood up and turned towards me. When I first saw him, he was wiggling himself down into the leaves on the ground, at first I thought that it was to stay cool.

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

As it was, I had to manually focus on him due to all the vegetation between us as you can see in that image. But, you can also see that he has his feathers fluffed out a bit as he pressed himself into the leaves. I’m not sure what he was doing, if it was to stay cool, or if he was anting. For those of you not familiar with the term “anting”, here’s an explanation from Wikipedia…

“Anting is a self-anointing behavior during which birds rub insects, usually ants, on their feathers and skin. The bird may pick up the insects in their bill and rub them on the body (active anting), or the bird may lie in an area of high density of the insects and perform dust bathing-like movements (passive anting). The insects secrete liquids containing chemicals such as formic acid, which can act as an insecticide, miticide, fungicide, or bactericide. Alternatively, anting could make the insects edible by removing the distasteful acid, or, possibly supplement the bird’s own preen oil.”

Scientists still haven’t figured out why birds do what they do when it comes to anting, so whenever I get a chance to photograph a bird that my be doing that, I shoot photos, even if the photos are as poor as those are.

And, I’m still trying to get a good image of a male rose-breasted grosbeak this year. This isn’t it…

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

…I’m afraid that my chances are getting slim, as they will soon be molting out of their breeding plumage. It’s funny, I have several good images of the females of that species this year, with them posing for me in good light. Typically, the females are harder to photograph, because they tend to stay in the shadows or out of sight completely. This year, it’s been the males skulking in the shadows, and the females out in the open.

Here’s another short series of images that show a red-bellied woodpecker finding and eating something that I can’t identify…

Male red-bellied woodpecker

…even though what it found to eat was quite large…

Male red-bellied woodpecker

…and whatever it was must have tasted good judging by the woodpecker’s reaction.

Male red-bellied woodpecker

By the way, my plans to attempt to photograph the Milky Way and/or star trails was thwarted by clouds moving into the area, so I’ll have to wait for another chance to try that genre of photography.

Okay, it’s now Saturday morning, with three more days of very hot, humid days left before more seasonable and comfortable weather arrives here in West Michigan.

After the appointment with the dermatologist on Thursday, I returned home for a while to catch up on chores indoors and out of the heat. Later that day, when I checked the weather forecast and radar to see what Friday was going to be like, I saw dying thunder-storms to the north of where I live, along the route that I drive each night for work. There are several good places along that route for either sunset, storm, or more traditional landscape images, so I thought that I would risk driving that far for photography. It was a chance that I took that didn’t turn out very well. I missed the back of the cloud line as the storms collapsed at around sunset by being about 30 miles too far to the west judging from some of the sunset photos that I saw others had shot that evening. I never did see a bolt of lightning, or hear thunder, but at least there was a little rain. All that I ended up with were three poor landscapes that I’ll put in at the end of this post.

Anyway, taking that trip on Thursday evening more or less ruined my Friday as well. I slept in too late to get anywhere by dawn, and it was another very hot day. Birds don’t like heat any more than we do, and they tend to stay in shady areas and not do very much other than try to stay cool. By the time that I arrived at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, it was already hot, and the birds were few and far between. So, I decided to make it a test day of sorts, trying all of my long lenses and tele-converters in various combinations to see how well that they work on the new Canon 5D Mk IV camera that I recently purchased.

One combination that I wanted to test was the 300 mm f/4 Series lens with the 2 X teleconverter. That’s because it’s an f/4 lens, one stop faster than either my 400 mm prime lens, or the 100-400 mm zoom lens.  With the 2 X extender behind the 300 mm lens, I thought that I’d be able to get 600 mm of focal length and use all 61 of the focus points of the 5D. Nope, I can use all the focus points at f/8 with either of the other two lenses and a 1.4 extender with an effective aperture of f/8, but with the 300 mm lens and the 2 X extender for the same effective aperture of f/8, I’m limited to just one row of focus points across the center of the frame. Another Canon quirk.

Before I purchased the 5D Mk IV, I downloaded the manual for it that includes a lens compatibility chart which lists Canon’s various lenses and how many focus points can be used with either the 1.4 X or 2 X tele-converters. Of course I checked the chart for the 400 mm prime and 100-400 mm zoom lenses, because they are the lenses that I use most often, and I was never that happy with the performance of the 300 mm prime lens when I used it with the 60D or 7D Mk II cameras. I saw that both of the longer lenses worked fine at f/8 effective aperture, so after thinking about trying the 300 mm lens on the 5D, I assumed that it would as well.

You would think that f/8 was f/8 no matter which lens was on the camera as far as the focus system inside of the camera body, but it doesn’t work that way I found out, the hard way.

I know, I’m getting far too technical for most people, but these things matter to me as I’m going after the photos that I shoot, and I hope that the information that I pass on will help others who shoot with Canon equipment. Because, I discovered yet another Canon quirk. As I said, I was never very happy with the performance of the 300 mm prime lens on either of my crop sensor camera bodies when the subject that I was shooting was more than about 20 feet from me. The 300 mm lens wasn’t as sharp as I wanted, with or without an extender behind it. It has done an excellent job on subjects very close to me though.

So, here’s the surprise…

Male dickcissel preening

…the 300 mm lens and 2 X tele-converter work very well on the new 5D Mk IV at all ranges from what I could tell from my testing on Friday.

Grasshopper sparrow on a sunflower

I wrote in an earlier post that some Canon lenses perform much better on either full frame or crop sensor bodies than they do on the other type of bodies, and that seems to be the case with the 300 mm lens. I don’t think that it’s quite as sharp as either of my other two long Canon lenses, but it produced acceptable results for me in my limited testing so far. Much better than it did on either of my crop sensor bodies.

It just hit me, now I’m going to have to try the Sigma 150-500 mm lens out on the 5D to see how well it performs on the new camera, sigh.

I shouldn’t do what I’m about to do, but I will anyway, for it shows the results that I got using the various lens/extender combinations while shooting gulls. I know that gulls are boring to most people to begin with, but they do pose nicely for me, a great subject for testing lens and camera performance.

Ring-billed gull

And, having a lot of white feathers, they help me to evaluate the exposure system of my gear.

Herring gull

Also, because they are very sleek in their appearance, most of the time, I can judge the resolution of the various lens/extender combinations better.

Ring-billed gull

To tell you the truth, I don’t see much difference in these images no matter which lens and extender was used to shoot them. I do remember that this next one was shot with the 400 mm prime lens and 2 X extender because I had to manually focus with that combination and I was still able to get a good, sharp image of the gull.

Ring-billed gull

And, I remember that this next one was shot with just the 400 mm lens, because I wasn’t able to get close enough to any of the gulls to get a head shot with just that lens and no extender.

Ring-billed gull

Once again, I’m sorry for posting so many photos of the gulls, but the things that I learn while shooting these tests will help me in the future. Earlier this summer, I was doing dedicated outings where I was focusing mostly on one genre of photography, such as macros, landscapes, or just wide-angle photography. I plan to do more of those in the future, especially after I retire in a few years. Knowing how my various lenses and extenders function on each camera body will become more important when I do make the transition to more dedicated outings.

Besides, since it was another very hot day on Friday, other photos that I shot look like this one…

Sandhill crane

…with the crane panting in the heat, and you can also see the heat waves coming off the ground behind the crane.

So, that brings me to the three landscape photos that I shot Thursday evening. None of them are great, but they do give you a better idea of what Michigan looks like.

A “pothole” wetland, of which there are many in Michigan

At one time, after the great forests that covered most of Michigan were cut down for timber, much of the state was farmed. However, the land here isn’t that fertile, so many farms have been abandoned or have become dairy or cattle farms rather than crop farms.

More of Michigan

This next one is one of the views that I see every evening while driving for work, and prompted me to make this trip. I like this scene because you can see the gently rolling hills and forests of the state I live in. By the way, it was nice of the white cow that you can barely make out in this photo to stand still for the 3 second exposure required for this image.

Another Michigan farm

Bad weather, or times when the weather is changing, often produces the most dramatic images. However, as I said earlier, I missed the change from heavy overcast skies to broken clouds colored by the setting sun by a few miles, darn. But in my defense, I had to guess where the clearing line would be when I arrived in the area that I wanted to shoot over an hour before my arrival there. Or, if I had been able to capture lightning bolts in any of the photos above from the dying storm, these would have been much better.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

Just the beginning, part two

I’m beginning this post on Wednesday, July 4th, just before I head out to see if I can shoot some photos of fireworks this evening, and then maybe some photos of downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. It’s been a very hot day, too hot for me to venture out after working last night.

What I didn’t know when I did my last post was that I wouldn’t have to do the typical four-hour long shift for work on Wednesday, since it’s a holiday. So, I’m not expecting much in the way of great photos of the fireworks tonight, since I didn’t have time to make plans, and because of the weather. It will be a learning experience for me as I get used to using the new 5D camera. I’m also afraid that I won’t have the correct focal length lens for the fireworks.

On my way home from work just before sunrise on the 4th, I could see a dying thunder-storm in the distance, and it was lit up beautifully by the predawn light. I managed to get home in time to run into my apartment and grab my camera for this photo.

Thunder cloud at dawn

That was with the 16-35 mm lens, and even after I cropped it to what you see above, there’s still too much foreground that adds nothing to the photo. So, I ran back inside and switched to the 70-200 mm lens, and even at 70 mm, I couldn’t get the entire storm cloud in the frame. Having had good luck stitching together photos in Lightroom the few times that I tried it in the past, I shot 6 images of the storm cloud in the portrait orientation and stitched them together to produce this image.

Thunder cloud at dawn

In the first place, I can’t believe the difference between 35 mm and 70 mm, from far too wide to needing 6 images stitched together. I know that 70 is twice 35, but I didn’t realize what that meant as far as field of view on a full frame camera, but that’s what I mean about learning to see through my shorter lenses.

In the second place, Lightroom joined the 6 images together much easier than I thought that the process would be.

Well, the fireworks photo shot turned out better than I had the right to hope for.

4th of July fireworks

I could have had a better foreground, but as this was my first time at this location, at least I could see the fireworks going off…

4th of July fireworks

…after moving a few feet to my left.

4th of July fireworks

I chose where to set-up by using only Google maps and a lot of guessing. One of the reasons I chose this spot was because there was a small pond there, and I was hoping to get reflections of the fireworks from the water of the pond. Once I flipped the camera to the portrait orientation on the tripod, I was able to get some reflections…

4th of July fireworks

…but not like I wanted to have in the photos.

4th of July fireworks

But, these are far and away my best photos of fireworks to date. I won’t go into the challenges of photographing fireworks, I’ll leave it at this. I did well enough for me to plan more in the future. I experimented a good deal with various exposure settings, and I could have used every image I shot after some tweaking in Lightroom. For example, I went up with the ISO and captured individual shell bursts with shorter shutter speeds, but they aren’t that interesting. I also went with very long exposures, capturing even more shell bursts, but then their combined brightness tended to fade the colors out of the images. My best results came at 15 seconds, ISO 200, and the aperture at f/8 if any one is interested.

I thought about going into downtown Grand Rapids after the fireworks, but it was still sweltering outside, even at 11 PM.

Okay, it’s now mid-morning on Thursday, and I have decided that I won’t be going to Muskegon this morning, obviously. It’s still sweltering outside, and I didn’t want to bother driving to Muskegon for just a couple of hours of photography before I was driven away by the heat and humidity. In the first place, I slept past sunrise, I guess this heat wave has taken a toll on me and I needed the extra sleep. It doesn’t help that they are building another new addition to the apartment complex that I live in, and that they access the construction site right outside of my bedroom.

While they weren’t working yesterday due to it being a holiday, the noise of the bulldozers and trucks coming and going are something that I’ve been dealing with all spring as I try to sleep. So, between the heat and being sleep deprived already, I decided to spend a quiet day at home. I may do some indoor testing of the new Canon 5D Mk IV later today, or I may run out if I see any thunder storms approaching my area later in the day when I check the weather radar over the course of the day.

It’s forecast to be much cooler tomorrow, cool enough so that I’ll be able to spend the better part of the day outdoors without melting in the heat. In the meantime, here’s a couple of photos shot with the new camera last weekend.

Unidentified green insect

 

Unidentified white flowers

Okay, it’s now Saturday morning, and I did go out to shoot photos yesterday. It was a relatively slow day overall as far as the number of birds that I saw, but there were plenty of flowers blooming, so I spent most of my time photographing them.

I’m going to attempt to refrain from going on and on about the new camera, however I’m sure that I’ll fail in that attempt. For one thing, because it was a slow day, I shot a good many photos just to see how the new 5D camera stacks up against the old 7D. Another reason that I’ll fail is because I was wowed when I saw how most of the images from the new 5D looked when I viewed them on the computer for the first time. So, I may as well get some of that out of my system to begin with.

Early on in my day, I came across 4 juvenile barn swallows that must have just recently left the nest. There were two of them together side by side and they were the closest of the four to me. So, I shot this photo with the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X tele-converter on the 7D.

Juvenile barn swallows

That’s the way that it came out of the 7D, I did zero editing to it.

I then switched to the 5D with the same lens and tele-converter at the same ISO setting of 4000 for this one.

Juvenile barn swallows

You can see how much reach I lose with the full frame sensor, what you can’t see in the way that the images appear here is how little noise that there is in the image shot with the 5D compared to the one shot with the 7D. The noise shows up more when I view both images full screen on my computer, and the noise would definitely be a problem if I were to print them out, I’d have to do some noise reduction in Lightroom before I could print them, especially the one shot with the 7D.

Anyway, it was a cool morning, a break from the heat wave we’ve been having, and the two swallows were huddled together for warmth I’m assuming. I moved a little closer to them and shot a few photos every now and then when I thought that their poses were good or if I thought that they were going to fly. I caught this “swallow kiss” between siblings by doing that.

Juvenile barn swallows

From what I understand, touching beaks together is one way that birds show affection towards each other.

Juvenile barn swallows

I thought that the one on the left was going to fly away at one point…

Juvenile barn swallows

…but it was only stretching its wings. I could have spent more time watching these two…

Juvenile barn swallows

…but they were getting fed up with me being so close. And, when one of their parents flew towards them to feed them, then turned away when it saw me…

Juvenile barn swallows

…I knew that it was time for me to leave.

By the way, I was so happy with the way that those images looked when they came out of the camera that I did nothing to them at first, I went back to them a second time to crop them a little and to tweak the exposure slightly, although I should have moved one way or the other to have gotten a better background or spent more time editing them in Lightroom.

Since I’m raving about the new 5D, I may as well throw this one in now.

Morning mute swans

I wanted both swans with their entire reflections in the frame, but I couldn’t get the exact shot I wanted, so that had to do. I then zoomed in all the way on the swan on the left as it began preening.

Mute swan preening

And, while I’m showing white birds, here’s a herring gull that I shot later in the day.

Herring gull

I know, too many images of common birds that I post too many photos of, but white birds are difficult to photograph well, and these were shot with the 5D, so I wanted to compare its performance to images I’ve shot in the past with the 7D.

Herring gull

I wish that I had been able to get even closer to the gull so that I could make a direct comparison to my best image of a gull shot with the 7D from a few months ago…

Herring gull

…but I think that you can see more detail in the white feathers of the gull shot with the 5D even at the greater distance.

Birds that are colored black are also difficult to photograph well in many situations, this wasn’t one of those.

Common raven

There were four ravens in the field, but I shot photos of only one of them, just to record my sighting of them.

I did shoot this image later in the day for the purpose of testing how well the 5D handles a black bird against a blue sky…

Red-winged blackbird

…and while the sky looks lighter in that image than it did in person, I didn’t have to reduce the highlights 100% in Lightroom which also kills the sheen from the bird’s feathers as I usually have to do. Here’s how the sky should have looked in the image above.

Male northern cardinal singing

Those two added stops of dynamic range that the 5D has means that I have much less editing to do to my photos when I get home. I could work on the image of the red-winged blackbird more to get the sky the correct color, but it isn’t worth it to do so. You couldn’t ask for a worse day as far as hash shadows, you can’t see a cloud in the sky in any of the images that I shot yesterday…

Green heron in flight

…yet the 5D’s dynamic range helped me produce images that look very close to what I saw without having to raise the shadows under the bird’s wings to the point where doing so introduced noise in the images.

Green heron in flight

I have some very good images of other subjects that I shot…

Buttonbush flower

…that was with the 100 mm macro lens on the 7D, these sunflowers were with the long lens and the 5D…

Unidentified sunflower

…and I put the macro lens on the 5D for this one.

Spotted horsemint or bee balm

I had a great time with whatever camera and lens I was using at the time. Good gear may not guarantee great images, but it sure makes the act of shooting even the bad images that I shot more fun. And, it was a day for playing…

Sparkly water

…even when I purposely under-exposed that image to highlight how sparkly the water looked under the cloudless sky.

Since it was a day for playing around, I shot a series of images to stitch together into a panorama in Lightroom to show how many mute swans I could see from the observation deck at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, but that was a failed effort. It didn’t fail due to Lightroom, but it was because the swans moved, along with the waves and some of the other things in the scenes as I shot them. I didn’t know that it would be a failure, but I suspected it would be, so I shot this scene wide, then cropped off the top and bottom of this image.

Mute swans flocking together

I didn’t know that mute swans would form flocks, because they are usually very territorial.  It’s kind of fun to watch them, as for no reason that I can see, battles often break out between members of the flock. You can hear them going at it even when you can’t see them, but they never approach the preserve so that I’d be close enough for photos, at least not good photos.

I hope that I have all of that out of my system now, but I’m not sure. One thing that I am sure of though is that this new camera will work extremely well in combination with the camera that I have been using. I do still have a lot to learn about the new camera as I get to use it more, and how best to use it in conjunction with the old camera. That will come with time. I also have to do more testing, for example, the 300 mm lens that I seldom use any longer may work well on the new camera with the 2 X tele-converter behind it, I’ll have to give that combination a try soon. I have no doubt that it will work well when I’m very close to my subject, I wish that I had brought that lens along while I was shooting the juvenile swallows.

There I go again, always thinking of ways to get the best images that I can with the gear that I have now, so I’d better end this post or I’ll be doing too much thinking here.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

Just the beginning

I’m starting this post as I drink my morning coffee before heading out for my second day of shooting with my new 5D Mk IV camera. I’ve had more time to look more closely at the photos that I shot yesterday, and all I can say is that I’m very happy with what I see. The final output from Lightroom may not be a huge leap in quality over what I was able to get from the 7D Mk II, but the RAW images from the camera are much better, and I’m just getting started with the 5D. As time goes on, and I get to know the camera better, and learn to process the images better in Lightroom, I think that I’ll see even more improvement in the overall quality of my images.

That doesn’t mean that I’ll stop using the 7D, with its crop factor, it gets me closer to my subjects. However, I will limit when I use it to those times when I have enough light to keep the ISO settings down to a reasonable level for that camera. It’s all about getting the best possible images on a given day.

I’m back home now after my second day of trying out the new camera.

I would have liked to have tried a few different places to go with the new camera, but we’re in the middle of a heat wave here with temperatures climbing over 90 degrees (32 C). Unfortunately, that’s forecast to continue for the next week to 10 days, so it looks like I’ll be stuck going to Muskegon until it cools off.

That’s because Muskegon is on the shore of Lake Michigan, and although it’s now officially summer, the water of the big lake is still cool enough so that when the wind blows the hot air over the lake, the air is cooled by as much as 15 to 20 degrees, so the wind coming off the lake is nature’s air conditioning. It helps that we had an east wind most of the preceding week, which blew what little warm water that there was in Lake Michigan to the other side of the lake, letting 50 degree  (10 C) water come to the surface on the Muskegon side of the lake. That cool breeze coming off from the lake sure felt good! I would have liked to have spent some time on the beach shooting landscapes, but as you may imagine, the beaches are a popular place for people looking to escape the heat, and therefore very crowded when it’s this hot.

I began my day by returning to the scene of the crime from the day before, when I had a menu item in the new camera set incorrectly which caused most of my images of the wildflowers to be unusable. While I had great light once again, it was also windy already just after sunrise, but I did mange to get better images than on the previous day.

Purple prairie clover

I should know by now that I should install one of the extension tubes behind the macro lens whenever I’m photographing flowers so that I can get closer to any insects that appear on the flowers.

Unidentified bee on purple prairie clover

But, as much as the wind was blowing the flower with the bee around, I suppose that I’m lucky to have gotten that one.

A few more flowers…

Butterfly weed

 

Butterfly weed

 

Milkweed flower

…and the insects that I saw while shooting the flowers…

Red milkweed beetles mating

…this next one is straight out of the camera, as it was a test shot for me and I love it so much I have to include it here…

Rabbit’s foot clover

…when this is what I was shooting the test shot to end up with…

Rabbit’s foot clover

…and I was about to try for a better shot of the insect on this flower…

Unidentified flowering object with guest

…when another insect landed on the same flower, and I couldn’t decide which bug to go for…

Unidentified flowering object with guests

…the long skinny bug made up my mind for me by flying away, leaving me with the green bee to shoot…

Unidentified flowering object with guest

…until it too took off, so I was able to get this clean shot of a flower that looks like a rose, but I don’t think that it is.

Unidentified flowering object

Well, it’s time for me to write something that I’m sure that you’ll tire of reading in my next few posts, the Canon 5D Mk IV is a huge step forward over the 7D camera that I have been using. All of the images you’ve seen so far were shot with the 100 mm macro lens that I’ve been using for a few years now. However, the clarity, resolution, and details is much better, almost if I had a new lens. Also, and it’s hard to explain this, but the images look brighter, even though the I try to keep the exposure of the final image the same as I have been. I think that it’s because the color reproduction is much better, especially with the warmer colors such as yellows, reds, and oranges.

What ever the reason, I love what I’ve seen so far, and it was only my second time out with it. I’m already learning that there are a few differences between the two cameras, the 7D tends to under-expose most scenes, while the exposure system of the 5D is more accurate. Both cameras use the same system, first introduced in the 7D, but Canon’s engineers must have fine tuned the system since the 7D was introduced. It’s the same with the auto-focusing system, again, both cameras use the same system, but they have refined it a great deal in the 5D.

As much as I love the overall image quality of the 5D, it’s hard to beat the 7D especially for getting close to the subject that I’m shooting.

Grasshopper sparrow

And, it isn’t as if the image quality is horrible…

Grasshopper sparrow singing

…so I’ll have to give some thought to which camera to use…

Male dickcissel singing

…small songbird singing from the treetops…

Male dickcissel singing

…or perched on a wire…

Northern mockingbird

…then I should use the 7D for its reach.

Northern mockingbird

By the way, after searching for the mockingbird for a month, it has made itself visible to me on my last three trips.

Northern mockingbird

However, if I’m close to a small bird that’s under the leaf canopy on a bright, sunny day…

Female yellow warbler

…then I should use the 5D for its low noise at higher ISO settings and wider dynamic range.

Common yellowthroat

The 5D works just fine if I do see a bird in good light!

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

This next photo reminds me, I didn’t install the free battery grip that I received with the 5D until I got home from my second day of using the new camera.

Male downy woodpecker

On the evening that I picked up the camera, I didn’t have time to fool around installing the grip. After using the camera without it the first day, I loved how light the 5D was to carry compared to my 7D which I do have the grip installed on.

The battery grips for both bodies weigh far more than it looks like they would, given how small they are. It isn’t the weight of the batteries, I’ve removed one of the batteries from the 7D in the past in an attempt to lighten the camera up a little, and even the removal of the battery didn’t seem to help. However, I do like using the battery grip a lot, both when shooting in either landscape or portrait orientation, and for just carrying the camera around. I’ll live with the extra weight of the grips to make use of how much better I can hold the cameras with them installed.

Female downy woodpecker

In either orientation, I’m able to get a better grip on the camera, which I believe leads to sharper images because I can hold the camera steadier with the grip on it. They are called grips for a reason, and the ones that Canon designed for both bodies do give me a much better feel and hold on the camera while I’m using it.

That brings me to one other thing that I should mention, both bodies can use the same batteries and memory cards.  That meant that I could use my spare batteries and cards in the new body when it arrived to save myself a little money for the time being. I will add a battery or two, and a couple of more memory cards to my kit, but I can get by with what I have for the time being. And, I don’t have to worry about making sure that I have the right spare stuff for each camera with me, what fits one fits the other.

Anyway, back to choosing which came I should use. For insects shot with the longer lenses, it doesn’t seem to matter which body I use…

Monarch butterfly

…both bodies perform well in good light…

Dragonfly

…although, I can tell which body I used for each of these images…

Dragonfly

…I doubt that the average reader of my blog can, or if they even care which body I used.

For landscapes, it’s the 5D hands down!

Dunes at Muskegon State Park

That one was shot at 20 mm, the next one at 35 mm, as I play with the newer 16-35 mm lens and learn to use it. I did shoot one at 16 mm, but that was too wide of a focal length for a good portrayal of the scene. But, that helped me to realize how wide that lens will go on the full frame body.

Dunes at Muskegon State Park

Just for comparison, here’s about the same scene shot with the same lens but on the 7D from earlier this spring, and at 16 mm.

Muskegon State Park sand dunes

Sorry, I’m sure that most of you don’t care which camera, lens, and focal length that I shot the photo with, but that’s very useful to me for future reference.

Since I tend to be a nerd when it comes to figuring things out, I can think of a number of ways to compare the 7D to the 5D in images, but it doesn’t really matter. The 7D is a 20 MP crop sensor body and the 5D is a 30 MP full frame sensor body, so theoretically, the 7D should have slightly higher resolution due to the smaller pixels packed into the smaller sensor. I do see that to some degree in the few images that I’ve shot with the 5D, however, the overall quality of the images shot with the 5D is much better. It’s almost as if some one raised the clarity slider in Lightroom a good deal in the images shot with the 5D. That, along with more accurate color reproduction and increased dynamic range are the reasons for the differences in image quality that I see, I believe. Again, it doesn’t really matter, they are the two camera bodies that I have to work with, although the more I learn, the better my images will be, no matter which camera I use at the time. And, since I don’t want to end this post with that image shot before the trees leafed out, here’s one more from the new 5D.

Pickerel weed flowers

Like I said, it doesn’t matter why the image quality is better, as long as it is, and I’m happy with what I see, which I am. Much more than I thought that I would, as I thought that the only real difference would be less noise at higher ISO settings.

If it doesn’t cool off around here, and the weather forecast isn’t looking good for that to happen, I may have to try out the new camera doing some night photography to help escape the heat.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

Return to osprey land

A few posts back, I had a few photos of an osprey nest and the osprey that built it. On Friday, it was cloudy with occasional sprinkles of rain around home, but the weather was much nicer not that far to the north of where I live, so I thought that it would be a good day to return to the osprey nest and see if I could shoot a few good images of them.

Osprey in flight

Since very few of the images of the osprey that appear in this post were cropped at all…

Osprey in flight

…I think that these qualify, even if the light wasn’t always the best.

Osprey in flight

It was almost like shooting fish in a barrel, and almost too easy to get photos of the osprey in flight.

Osprey in flight

You can see that the osprey is carrying what’s left of a fish that it had caught. From watching the osprey for as long as I did, I was able to tell that the one seen above was the male returning to its nest…

Male osprey bringing a fish to the waiting female and two youngsters in the nest

…as female osprey are larger than the males, and that the males do most of the fishing for the family. The males also typically eat the heads from their catch before bringing the remainder back to the nest.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s go back to the beginning, here’s a map of the area to start with.

Dam sign

And since the osprey nest is right next to the dam, here’s a shot looking up the Muskegon River, which is known as Rogers Pond behind the dam.

The Muskegon River (Rogers Pond)

And, here’s the view of the Muskegon River looking downstream from the top of the dam.

The Muskegon River slow Rogers Dam

Sorry about the power lines, since it’s a hydroelectric dam, they sort of go with the territory.

As you can see, it was sunny when I arrived, but the clouds soon moved in from the south, and I had to shoot in less than ideal conditions for most of my time there. Although, the clouds meant that I could shoot in any direction, I had planned this trip to have the sun at a low angle and behind me as I looked at the nest, shown here with the two chicks’ heads showing.

Osprey nest with two chicks in it

The chicks are aware of their surroundings, the chick on the left stared straight at me when it saw me.

Osprey nest with two chicks in it

Basically, my time there consisted of standing around watching the nest and the skies around it looking for the male to return with fish.

There were a few gulls around, and I was surprised that neither of the osprey chased the gulls away, as gulls will eat anything that don’t eat them, but maybe the osprey chicks are too large for the gulls. Also, the gulls hung around the spillway at the dam, picking up the fish that had been injured by being sucked through the turbines that generate power. I wondered why the osprey didn’t do the same thing.

At one point, I saw the male osprey come up the river towards the nest, then spiral down to the river below at the spillway. I wanted to run over watch what happened, but I didn’t. A few minutes later, the male appeared over the top of the dam again, with a fish, which is what I thought would happen, and I wanted to be close to the nest if he flew directly to it.

Male osprey carrying a fish

You can just make out that it’s the entire fish that it is carrying…

Male osprey carrying a fish

…a while later, he returned to the nest with the portion he hadn’t eaten himself.

Male osprey carrying part of a fish

I shot over 350 photos that day, and almost all of them are of osprey in flight. I could easily fill this post with good ones that I shot…

Osprey in flight

…but I’m not sure how many of them I’ll use in this post. Many of them look like the same image as before unless you examine them closely. I’d like to return to the nest again when the skies are clear and I have better light, and for other reasons.

One is my work schedule. I start my workweek on Saturdays, at 4:45 PM. I typically finish my workday 12 hours later, meaning I get home around 5 AM. Sundays, I start at 7:15 PM, and finish at about the same time the next morning. On Mondays and Tuesdays, I start at almost 8 PM, and again, I get home around 5 AM. On Wednesdays, I start at 4 PM and work just four hours, which means I get home just after 8 PM. That schedule is working well for me, on Wednesdays, I come home, eat supper, then go to bed, even though it’s much earlier than during the rest of the workweek. That gets me to the places that I typically go to at dawn, or shortly after, which means I’ve had very good light on most of my days off from work.

However, it means that I have to flip my sleep time 180 degrees twice a week, once at the end of my workweek, once at the beginning.

However, where the osprey nest is located, the best time of the day for photographing the osprey is late afternoon, because of the angle of the sun at that time. It worked well for me this week, other than the clouds rolling in after I arrived. I was able to go right back to my normal sleep pattern sooner, so I was able to sleep normally on the day that I returned to work.

This new schedule for work is going well on many levels, I don’t want to bore you with all of them, but it will also make capturing sunsets or doing night photography easier in the future.

There’s another reason for me to return to the osprey nest again, no mosquitos. That’s one of the reasons I return to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and the Muskegon County wastewater facility as often as I do, I don’t need to use insect repellent.

I have psoriasis, a hereditary auto immune skin condition. I had a really bad flare-up of my psoriasis last spring that sent me to the hospital for almost a full week, which I’m still paying for, by the way. Since that flare-up, and with the drugs that I’m taking, my psoriasis has been under control very well, better than at any time during my adult life. However, the few times that I have applied insect repellent this spring, I’ve noticed that it aggravates my psoriasis, something that I suspected in the past. So, I’d like to avoid using insect repellent as much as I can, since it’s been great to have the psoriasis under control as it has been.

I sure don’t want to wind up in the hospital again, not that I think that a few applications of insect repellent is going to cause that, but the quality of my everyday life has been improved much more than I thought that it would by having the psoriasis under control. I had set my mind to the fact that I was going to have to live with it the way that it was for the rest of my life, and having it under control is something that I no longer care to risk.

By the way, I just went in for my yearly physical in the morning before going to shoot the osprey, and I’m still as healthy as a horse, which I’d like to maintain.

Trying to avoid mosquitos and repellent is problematic for a nature photographer in Michigan, along with ticks, which I hadn’t mentioned yet, are just about everywhere in Michigan. So, when I find a place where I can shoot good photos without having to apply insect repellent, I have to think about returning at least several times, until I get the best possible images that I can. The images that I shot of the osprey on this trip are good, but with better light, I can do better.

Because of how thick the clouds became as I waited there, and the resulting loss of light, there’s more noise in the images that I shot on this day than there would be if I had better light. That noise was compounded by how much I had to raise the level of the shadow areas in Lightroom, due to the bright white of the clouds in the background. As it was, I blew out the sky in almost every one of the images that I shot to get the darker parts of the osprey as bright as they should be when seen with the human eye. I hate to bring it up again, but I was dealing with the 7D Mk II’s lack of dynamic range and its poor high ISO capabilities when compared to a full frame sensor camera. I didn’t really need the extra reach of the crop sensor 7D, as I walked away from the nest to be sure that I’d be able to get the osprey’s entire wingspan in the frame as they approached the nest.

Osprey coming in for a landing

That’s the female by the way, she left the nest twice, I assume just to get some exercise, as she flew around in circles near the nest, never letting it get out of sight, and returned quickly after both of her short flights.

Anyway, I can’t say that I’m disappointed in the images of the osprey that I shot, I was able to more than completely fill the frame with their wings several times without cropping the images…

Osprey in flight

…and I shot enough of them in the last of the good light that I should be, and I am, very happy with these. Still, knowing that I could do even better is a tempting thought, both as far as camera gear, and the weather is concerned.

I’ve been doing what may be a dumb thing lately, I know what camera gear I want to end up with, so I’ve been carrying the gear that I do have which is the closest that I can come to where I want to end up. I thought that it would be a good way to confirm that the plans I was making were solid and would work. They have, probably too well, for even though I’m getting the best images of my life with what I have now, knowing what the future will be like only makes me want to get to that point sooner.

I’m more positive than ever that having the 7D with its crop sensor for reach in good light, and having a full frame sensor camera to use in lower light will be a great combination for me. Seeing the images that I’ve been shooting with the 16-35 mm lens only makes me want to use it on a full frame camera even more. The 24-70 mm lens with its near macro capabilities, along with the 100-400 mm lens and its close focusing capabilities will also be a great combination of lenses for me to mix and match from between the two camera bodies I’ll carry in the future. The thought of carrying just two cameras and two lenses to cover 90% of what I typically photograph is very appealing to me.

The only fly in the ointment so far has been using the 60D body for macro photography. I love being able to use its swiveling screen at times when shooting macros, but its low light performance is even worse than the 7D body, so flowers and insects have to be in full sun or I need to use fill light from another source for good macro photos. I can work around that though.

There’s one more reason that I’m chomping at the bit about a full frame camera again, the recent Supreme Court ruling on the states being able to collect sales tax on purchases made outside of the state means that I’ll soon see the price of the camera and lens I want jump another 6% if I wait.

So, the time seemed right to make the move, and I did, I’ve ordered just the Canon 5D Mk IV, unfortunately, I can’t afford the 24-70 mm lens at this time, but I should be able to swing that by this fall if things go well. Getting the camera at $400 off, along with a free $300 battery grip, and a few needed accessories to go with it were just too much for me to resist. I should receive the camera in time for my next outing, so I should start thinking about where I’ll go to test it out.

I may well return to the osprey nest one afternoon to see how the new camera handles birds in flight, and I think that going somewhere to shoot landscapes would be a good test as well. Landscapes will be a good way to test the dynamic range of the 5D, and I’ll also be able to see what the 16-35 mm lens is capable of on the full frame body. I may not have the 24-70 mm lens yet, but I do have my 70-200 mm lens for longer landscapes. Plus, if needed, I can shoot more panoramas if I need a lens between 35 mm and 70 mm.

Although with some further thought, I shouldn’t go somewhere that’s very special for landscapes, it will be my first time out with the new camera. If you look at the 7D and the 5D, the controls are almost exactly the same with only minor differences that will be easy for me to get used to. It’s the things in the menu system that I have to think about. While I can copy the settings that I use in the 7D, there are so many things in the menu that I need to change that I’m sure that I’ll miss a few items.

Also, the 5D Mk IV has a touchscreen, something that I’ve never used yet. The touchscreen works for both navigating the menu system, and for auto-focusing in live view, so I’ll have to learn to use it to full advantage, but that’s not something that I need to learn right away.

Okay, I suspended working on this post until I had the chance to get out with the new Canon 5D Mk IV. I had a few missteps early on, I tried a setting that it has that isn’t available in the 7D, and so I messed up a good morning to shoot some terrific macros of flowers.

Butterfly weed

 

Milkweed flower

 

Butterfly weed

Actually, it was a combination of a menu setting and my not remembering to change other settings from after I had shot this image of the sunrise.

June sunrise

That isn’t a HDR image, I was able to the highlights and shadows adjustments in Lightroom to get that photo the way that I wanted it to look. That’s a huge improvement in dynamic range over the 7D Mk II!

Also, and this surprised me, there’s a large increase in image quality even when I had good light to work with. I spotted a pair of mute swans and shot several photos with the 5D, then switched to the 7D with the same lens and tele-converter. Here’s the 7D image…

Mute swan shot with the 7D Mk II

…and here’s the same swan shot with the 5D.

Mute swan shot with the 5D Mk IV

Some of the perceived increase in image quality is due to the overall exposure, however, some of that difference is due to the lower dynamic range of the 7D, which requires more adjustments to bring the final image to where it needs to be.

By the way, the image from the 7D didn’t need to be cropped at all, I did crop the image from the 5D slightly.

Later in the day, I had the chance to test the low-light capabilities of the 5D, this image was shot at ISO 25600…

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

…and there’s very little noise in it compared to what I get with the 7D at ISO 12800. I used Lightroom to clean up a little of the noise, and came up with this.

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

If the subject was something special, I could tweak that a good deal more in Lightroom, because the base image is so much better than what I would have gotten with the 7D, and not just the noise, but because of the better dynamic range and resolution with the 5D.

The 5D Mk IV also has a better auto-focusing system, which I was able to test. With the 100-400 mm lens and the 1.4 X tele-converter, I can only use the center focusing point with the 7D. With the 5D Mk IV, I can use all 61 focus points, and I put that to use when shooting this young bunny.

Young cottontail rabbit

I was able to move to a focus point that landed on the bunny’s eye, so that the eye looks sharp in the image.

Also, because I can use all the focus points when shooting with the tele-converter, I can use more than one when shooting birds in flight.

Great egrets in flight

 

Great egret in flight

I will say this though, the 7D will shoot ten frames per second, the 5D Mk IV can “only” shoot seven frames per second.

Green heron in flight

I’m not sure if I’ll miss those three frames per second, but I sure notice the difference in sound between the two bodies, the 5D sounds much slower.

Green heron in flight

But, that could also be because the shutter of the 5D is much quieter to begin with.

Green heron in flight

The quite shutter is a good thing, because I’ve seen wildlife respond to the sound of the shutter of the 7D, and so far, I haven’t noticed that happening in the few shots that I have taken with the 5D so far.

Green heron in flight

Also, this was my first day out with the 5D, my images will only get better as I live with the camera longer.

Green heron in flight

 

Great blue heron in flight

All in all, it was an impressive first time out with the new 5D, better than I had hoped for. One thing that I have learned is that I have to really get to know a camera before I can get my best images from it. I’m still tweaking the 7D even though I’ve been using it for a couple of years now.

I think that the 5D is going to prove that it is also lucky, not that I’m superstitious or anything. But, I did get the best view of a belted kingfisher that I have ever had today…

Male belted kingfisher

…and I was almost going to put the lens on the 7D for the added reach of its crop factor, when his mate landed even closer to me…

Belted kingfishers

…and, she was carrying a minnow she had just caught.

Female belted kingfisher

I have two more landscapes for this post…

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

…because I absolutely love having the expanded dynamic range of the 5D…

Muskegon State Park at Snug Harbor

…and because I love the 16-35 mm lens and the images it produces.

I love having my images turn out looking like what I saw when I pressed the shutter release!

That brings up the final thing that I have to say about the new Canon 5D Mk IV, you may not see any huge leap in the final image quality between it and what I have been posting shot with the 7D Mk II, but, it takes me far less time in Lightroom prepping the photos for posting here. The RAW images from new the camera only need a few tweaks, I don’t have to expand the dynamic range of every image as I’ve had to with the 7D. Less time sitting in front of the computer is always a good thing.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

From the boardwalk

I’m going to attempt to stick with one topic for this post, the photos that I’ve shot recently at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. I’m sure that I did a post on this nature preserve in the past, but I think that it’s time for me to do an updated post on it, since it’s one of the places that I visit regularly.

To begin with, here’s a map that I swiped off from the internet.

Map of the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

 

And then, a photo to get things started.

Swamp sparrow

I have better images, but the swamp sparrow is a fitting subject to start with. As you can see from the map, the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve is a peninsula jutting out into the Muskegon River delta where the river meets Muskegon Lake. Actually, with the water levels of Lake Michigan, and therefore all the connected bodies of water like Muskegon Lake, much higher than they were a few years ago, the preserve is more of an island than a peninsula until the water levels drop again. There’s water flowing under both of the two bridges that you can use to get from the parking lot to the preserve itself.

Most of the preserve is marshy or under water completely, and the dry land portions are thick tangles of vegetation that has taken hold since the area was cleaned up after being used as a dump for years. It’s a perfect example of nature reclaiming land that had been abused by man in the past. I don’t know how large the overall size of the preserve is, I would estimate that the parts of it that are dry land are between 5 and 10 acres total, not very large at all. Most of the preserve is marsh, as this photo shot from the bridge to enter the preserve shows.

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

You can see on the map, as well as in my photos to follow, that it’s far from a wilderness area. To the east is one of the few north/south roads that has a bridge to cross the Muskegon river, and it’s a state highway that carries a good deal of traffic. To the west is a condominium development and a mariana. To the south is the main part of the north branch of the Muskegon River where it enters Muskegon Lake, and across the river is the old Cobb coal-fired power plant that is being decommissioned now.

The Cobb power plant near Muskegon, Michigan

I titled this post “From the boardwalk” because at least half of the paths look like this…

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve boardwalk

…or this view along the river…

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve boardwalk

…or this section of boardwalk across the marsh.

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve boardwalk

I’d guess that the total length of the paths I usually walk is less than a mile, but I normally spend several hours there because I move very slowly. That’s because the vegetation is so thick there that I take a few steps, try to look through any openings in the vegetation, then move a few more steps. This is the way the path typically looks in the summer.

The path at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

The bad news is that it’s had to see the birds as they hide in the vegetation, the good news is that if you do see one, it’s almost always very close.

Grey catbird bringing home the bacon

 

Where the bacon ended up going (juvenile grey catbird)

The preserve is at the north end of a much longer system of paths meant for walkers, joggers, and cyclists in the greater Muskegon area, and therefore is a very popular place. Most people never see the birds or other wildlife there, but the wildlife sees them, and has become accustomed to having people nearby up to a point. It isn’t as if the wildlife is tame, but human activity and noise doesn’t bother the wildlife as much as in more natural settings. That also helps me get close to what I’m trying to photograph. Here’s a view of the main bike/walking path through the preserve.

The bike path through the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

That was shot from one of the two raised observation decks that have been built there at the preserve. The first raised observation deck is on dry land…

observation deck at the MLNP

…and I thought that it would be a great place to photograph birds that live in the leaf canopy from, however, I seldom see any birds in the trees next to the deck. The second observation deck is built out over the marsh, and once in a while, I hang out there to photograph birds flying past that deck.

Green heron in flight

Because of the height of the observation deck…

Green heron in flight

…I’m not shooting at such a high angle upwards, so it looks like I’m at about the same elevation as the birds flying past me. That’s unlike this image…

Great blue heron in flight

…which I shot with the heron directly over me as I shot it.

Most of the time that I’m there, I’m either in the thick vegetation on the dry land portion of the preserve photographing songbirds…

Blue jay

…or standing in one place on the boardwalk waiting to see what appears in the marsh for me to photograph.

Muskrat eating a cattail

In that photo, you can see that the muskrat tears the cattail stalks apart to eat the center portion of the cattail, leaving the outer sheath of the leaves. Here’s a photo of another muskrat bring cattails back to its den.

Muskrat bringing cattails back to its den

Also from the boardwalk, I shot this series of images showing a first year male red-winged blackbird bathing.

First year male red-winged blackbird bathing

Because of the height of the boardwalk I have to shoot down to photograph subjects such as the muskrat or this red-winged blackbird…

First year male red-winged blackbird bathing

…however, I have all the time in the world to get the camera settings right to produce the images that I want…

First year male red-winged blackbird bathing

…getting the shutter speed high enough to freeze the blackbird’s head, but showing the motion blur of the bird’s body and the water drops.

First year male red-winged blackbird bathing

As small as the preserve is, and with so many people using it, I’m always surprised when I see deer there.

Whitetail doe

For this series, I was standing in the dense vegetation waiting for birds to land close to me, when the deer came into view. She knew I was there, but that didn’t stop her from sampling the food there.

Whitetail doe

 

Whitetail doe

After she finished her snack, I was able to shoot a better photo of her.

Whitetail doe

Here are a few of the other subjects that I’ve photographed there recently.

Cottontail rabbit

 

Female snapping turtle laying eggs

 

Honeysuckle flowers

 

Damselfly

 

Damselfly

There aren’t that many mosquitos at the preserve, not when you look at all the still water and vegetation around, and I think that the lack of them is due to the large number of damsel and dragonflies, along with insect-eating birds, such as this barn swallow.

Barn swallow

It must have been full and also very happy, for it landed on the railing of the boardwalk next to me and began singing away.

Barn swallow

It was singing a toe tapping song as you can see from that last image. 😉

Barn swallow

I mentioned the height of the boardwalk earlier in this post, that’s good in a way, because you can see down through the reeds and other aquatic vegetation whereas, if the boardwalk was lower to the water, you’d only be able to see a wall of reeds as you walked along the boardwalk. Because of that fact, I’ve been able to photograph a number of species of birds that are difficult to photograph because of their preferred habitat. The list of species I’ve shot there includes the Virginia Rail, marsh wren, and least bittern.

Least bittern

 

Least bittern

It may not look like it from my photos here, but I had to use manual focus to get those shots, as the auto-focusing system of camera and lens couldn’t pick the bird out from the thick vegetation that it was in. The least bittern may be the most difficult species of bird to photograph that I’ve run into so far, but the Virginia rail…

Virginia rail

…was a very close runner-up.

I take that back, the Virginia rail is a more difficult species to photograph, because it stays in the reeds all the time, while the least bitterns do fly above the reeds…

Least bittern in flight

 

Least bittern in flight

…but one has to be quick to catch them during one of their short flights.

Gee, I’ve reached my self-imposed quota of photos for a post, and I still have quite a few left. So, I’m going to add this one…

Panorama from the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

…because it’s one of my first attempts at shooting a panorama and was made with three images shot with the 16-35 mm lens and stitched together in Lightroom. As easy as Lightroom makes it to create a panorama, it’s something that I need to do more of in the future so that I become better at setting up to shoot them. I really should have zoomed in more, and added another image if I had then needed it. But, that’s getting off topic.

Anyway, I do have enough photos for another post shot at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and I’m sure to return there, but I think that my next post will be from yesterday, when I returned to the osprey nest in hopes of getting good images of them.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

I shouldn’t have, but I did

On my last two days off from work, I did the same old thing at the same old places as I usually do, I went to the Muskegon County wastewater facility and the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. I did so because I was trying to find a species of bird that I need for the My Photo Life list project that I’m working on, a northern mockingbird. A mockingbird has been seen and heard several times this spring at the wastewater facility, but I hadn’t been able to locate it, until Friday.

Northern Mockingbird

That photo would have been good enough for me to cross that species off from my list of species that I need to complete the list, but I was able to use some natural cover to get slightly closer and with a clear view of the mockingbird.

Northern Mockingbird

I thought that as long as he continued to sing…

Northern Mockingbird

…that he didn’t think that I represented a threat to him. I made sure that I had shot plenty of images of him, enjoying his song as I watched him through the viewfinder, and then I moved on, listening to him as I walked back to my car. Now I know why people say that the song of a mockingbird is one of the most beautiful bird songs that one can hear.

Earlier this spring, I listed three species of warblers as my goals for this spring, but I have yet to make a serious search for any of the three. Although, I did keep my eyes open when I visited Lane’s Landing in the Muskegon State Game Area, as all three of the species have been seen passing through that area in the past. The way things have been going this spring, I may not get a chance to search for the three species that I had as my goal for the year, as I’ve been quite lucky to cross several other species off from the list this spring. That’s okay, there’s always next year, as long as I’m adding species to my completed list, it doesn’t make any difference which species they are, or where I find them.

One other thing that I have been trying to do this spring is to show a wider variety of birds, and not fill my posts with only a few species of birds. However, since I’m getting so close to having photographed most of the species of birds seen in my part of Michigan, finding new series becomes harder all the time. I have posted more than one image of one species at times, when the series told a story, as with the cedar waxwing eating aphids. I never shoot only one photo of any bird when I have the chance to shoot more than one, so I have a lot of leftover photos from my earlier trips this spring, of species that seldom appear here, such as this American avocet.

American avocet

 

American avocet

 

American avocet

And, this eared grebe.

Eared grebe

Also, this female rose-breasted grosbeak, even though they are a common species here.

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

 

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

I’m not sure why I felt the need to use those photos from earlier this spring in this post, when I shot plenty of equally good or better images this past weekend.

Male northern shoveler in flight

Early morning light reflecting off from the water makes getting an image like that easy, it’s the same with this one.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

If only the eagle had turned to look at me. 😦

Grasshopper sparrow

 

Killdeer

My new work schedule is working well for me to get to where I’m going for the day when the light is great, right at sunrise, even though most of the sunrises have been rather boring as far as the sunrise itself. I’ve been very fortunate for the past month, I’ve had excellent light with mostly clear skies at sunrise, and as the days have progressed, only high, thin clouds have formed by the afternoon, meaning that I’ve had very good light almost the entire time that I’ve been out for this month. It also helps when a bird perches in great light to shoot an image such as the last one of the killdeer.

The killdeer was standing on the rock in a place where the light from the sunrise struck only the bird and the top of the rocks, the base of the rocks and the water were still in the shade, so I had to shoot that image even though killdeer are very common, and I’ve posted many photos of them in the past.

I could go on at length about how diffuse light is easier to shoot photos in…

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

…but that I’m learning how to use the shadows to help define the shape of my subject to get a more three-dimensional look to the subject, but I won’t. I’ll only repeat something that I’m learning, light illuminates, shadows define. That’s one of the reasons that I shoot more photos of any one bird when I have the chance, along with getting the best possible pose from the subject that I can.

No wildlife, especially birds, are ever completely motionless, so I watch the subject through the viewfinder, and when I get a good pose from the subject, with the light as good as it can be, then I’ll fire off a series of shots in low-speed continuous until I see that the bird has moved again. I think that most of the images in this post so far are good examples of that. However, there are still times when a subject doesn’t move, and I have to settle for an image with shadows that are too harsh.

Ruddy duck

I shouldn’t have posted that image due to the harsh shadow on the left side of the bird, but it isn’t often that I get that close to a ruddy duck. They’re usually more skittish than this one was, and even he took off a few seconds after I shot that image.

Ruddy duck in flight

Enough of that, I think that the time has come to show a map of my home state of Michigan again.

Map of Michigan

That’s because there are several new readers to my blog, and not all of them are familiar with where I live. You can see that Michigan, shaded in yellow on the map, consists of two peninsulas surrounded by four of the five Great Lakes. I live in the metropolitan Grand Rapids area, which is labeled on the map, as is Muskegon, which is on the shore of Lake Michigan. It’s only about a 50 mile drive for me from home to Muskegon. Also, I drive to Traverse City four nights a week for work, which is about 135 miles north of grand Rapids. The area where I located the osprey nest and the three nature preserves that I featured in a recent post are about 50 miles due north of Grand Rapids.

I also posted this map because I was considering shooting completely different subjects during my time off from work this week. It just so happened that my two days off coincided with the new moon for a change, and I was thinking of trying for a shot of the Milky Way and/or a star trails image. The Milky Way appears in the southern sky, and unfortunately, most of Michigan’s light pollution is in the southern third of the lower peninsula, and I’d also have to deal with the light coming from Chicago Illinois, which isn’t shown on the map, but is only 150 miles southwest of my location. That means that I’d have to go quite a distance to the north to get away from the manmade lights

I didn’t trust the weather forecasts either, as on both of my days off, it clouded over during the afternoon, and while the forecast called for clear skies again overnight, I didn’t want to drive as far from home as would be required only to find that there were clouds blocking my view of the sky. Maybe I’ll try the night photography this fall if the timing of the new moon and the weather cooperates.

Also, on Friday, the clouds thickened to the point where thunder showers developed, and I sat along the road between Muskegon State Park and Duck Lake State Park, hoping for a chance to photograph lightning. However, the lightning bolts were few and far between, and I hadn’t thought of a way to keep my camera and lens dry as the rain fell. Maybe one of these days I’ll catch a storm where the lightning is visible before the rain starts falling, or I’ll invest in a good umbrella to keep myself and my camera gear dry. Although, I did have the idea of opening the lift gate of my Subaru, setting the tripod up under the lift gate, and sitting in the back of the car to shoot photos and stay dry. It wouldn’t have worked where I was on Friday though, but it’s something for me to keep in mind for future reference.

The point to all this, if there is one, is that there are so many things that I’d like to photograph, but as always, time limits what I can do. There are plenty of scenic areas in Michigan, but I’ve been chasing birds, because spring is the best time of the year for bird photography. The males are in their breeding plumage, and there are the birds that only migrate through Michigan, but don’t nest here.

It just dawned on me, I go through the same cycle every year. All through the winter, I’m complaining about the lack of light and the fact that the birds, what few there are, are all in their eclipse plumage. Then, when spring arrives, I complain that I don’t have enough time to photograph everything that I’d like to.

I don’t know how to break that cycle though, it’s something that I know is going to happen, so I shouldn’t complain about it as much as I do. I should just shoot the images that I can, and let nature go through its cycles with no complaints from me.

Moth mullein

 

White campion

 

Bee on an unidentified flowering object

 

Bee on an unidentified flowering object

 

Motherwort

 

Dragonfly

 

Turkey poult

 

Eastern kingbird

 

Unidentified damselfly

And, I probably shouldn’t think about visiting new places in hopes of finding a photographic nirvana as much as I do, as long as I’m shooting good images and I’m not bored sitting around waiting for wildlife to appear, what difference should it make where I shoot the images.

I say that because I did do the exact same thing two days in a row last week while searching for the mockingbird, and now I may have to repeat that this week, as a rare to Michigan Henslow’s sparrow is being seen and heard regularly at the wastewater facility lately. That’s another species of bird that I need to track down for the My Photo Life list project that I’m working on, and I’ll probably find the temptation of adding another species to my list too great to pass up.

In addition, I’m getting good photos of birds and other subjects at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, including a few series of photos of bird behaviors, such as the cedar waxwing eating aphids. I have quite a few photos from MLNP left over to post, and I think that one day on my upcoming “weekend”, that I’ll take a few wider photos and devote a future post to just photos from there. I say that because I’m planning on where to go for my next two days off from work as I type this.

In the meantime, here’s a few more photos from my last outings.

Wood duck at dawn

 

Upland sandpiper

 

Upland sandpiper chick

 

Sandhill crane

 

Female downy woodpecker

 

Female downy woodpecker

I know that my posts have been jumbled up messes lately, I’m sorry, but I can’t help it. I get started on a subject, then it’s time for work or for me to go out and shoot more photos, and I lose my train of thought, or I worry that people will find the track I was on boring, so I switch to another subject. I’ll try to make my post more readable in the future though.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

I was afraid of that

Well, I went back to the Muskegon River area where I had gone and shot the landscape photos from my last post. But, I got a late start, and missed the chance to photograph a glorious sunrise, although it was wonderful to view as I drove north towards the river. I also managed to find the three nature preserves that I hadn’t been able to locate on my last trip up there, but more on them later.

Even though I was too late to catch the color that had been in the sky earlier, I still wanted to return to the same spot to explore other compositions for future reference. That didn’t happen, as the river was several feet higher than the previous week, and I would have needed to wear my waders or hack through brush to get to the same place. It wouldn’t have mattered if I had found the exact location that I had shot the last images from, with the river being so much higher, the scene would have been completely different anyway.

So, I settled for this shot of an ox-eye daisy…

Ox-eye daisy?

…and this photo looking downstream after the sun was above the horizon.

Morning on the Muskegon River

I mentioned in my last post that this spot on the river is between two dams used to generate electricity, so the water level of the river fluctuates depending on the demands for electricity, and the amount of water being released by the dams.

After I shot the two photos above, I stopped at the dam farthest upstream, as there’s a very small park there, and that led to my surprise of the day, which I’ll get to in a second or two. First, here’s a photo of a sign at the little park by the dam that has a map of the area on it to help give you a better idea of what this area is like.

Dam sign

The access site from where I shot the landscape photos in this post and my last post is a few miles downstream of the place on the map labeled “You are here”. I was checking out the park, and spotted these flowers there…

Unidentified white flowers

…when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a large bird carrying a stick fly behind some trees. I had just read the sign and had noticed that there was an osprey nest platform in the area, little did I know that it was right there in the park.

Osprey at its nest

I returned to my car to install the 1.4 X tele-converter to get better photos of the osprey.

Osprey at its nest

But, I was on the ground looking up at the nest, not the best angle for photography.

I’m not sure if the osprey on the nest was the bird that I had seen carrying a stick to the nest, or if it was that bird’s mate which was perched in a nearby tree screeching away at something.

Osprey

I thought about setting up my tripod with the gimbal head on it to shoot more photos of the osprey…

Osprey

…but due to the layout of the park and where the nest was located, I think that late afternoon would be the best time to photograph them.

Osprey

And as it was, I shot almost 100 images of them as I dealt with the shadows caused by the light coming from the wrong direction.

Osprey

Since they have nested there, I can return at my leisure to shoot more images of them whenever I have the time to do so.

Osprey

To tell you the truth, it felt to me as I was cheating by hanging out there by the osprey nest, but they didn’t seem to be a bit bothered by my presence at all. They’re probably quite used to people being there in the park. Even shooting with the light the way it was at the time, I got what are easily my best images to date of the osprey, and I didn’t have to work to get them.

On the other hand, my instincts for finding places to photograph birds are still as good as ever, as the area around the Muskegon River has the habitat required for many species of birds. In fact, an extremely rare to Michigan sighting of a Mississippi kite happened last week just a few miles downstream from this area that I’m beginning to explore.

Speaking of exploring, as much as I wanted to shoot more photos of the osprey, I had other places I wanted to check on to see if they would be suitable as a place to go where I could set-up my portable hide and spend a day shooting wildlife.

My first stop turned out to be a bust, it looked like public land on the maps, but it turned out that it was private and well-marked as such. My second stop was one of the nature preserves that I hadn’t been able to locate on my last outing to the area, the Coolbough Natural Area.

Sign for the Coolbough Natural Area

I walked the loop around the wetlands area that you can see on the map above, because I thought that it would be the most likely area to find a place to set-up the portable hide.

As a place to go for a pleasant walk in the woods, I couldn’t think of a much better place to go than this is. I saw only one other person during my walk around the most well used trails from what I could tell from how worn the trails were. Or I should say, from how little wear there was to most of the side trails, as the wetlands loop was easily the most used trail in this natural area. It was quiet, except for occasional singing birds, and there are many types of habitat in this natural area to see as you walk through it.

But, I didn’t find a spot that would make it worthwhile to sit in a hide, as there’s nothing there to concentrate the wildlife in any one small area. Not even the ponds, which I thought would be the most likely spot to set-up the hide.

The wetland area of the Coolbough Natural Area

I sat where I shot that photo from for some time to see if anything would show up there at the pond, but other than a good number of red-winged blackbirds, I saw only a few other species of songbirds, and no waterfowl or wading birds at all. I was a little surprised that there weren’t even any mallards or Canada geese there, although I’m sure that the pond does have a few visitors from time to time.

Given the weather that day, it would have been a good day to have taken my macro photography gear and spent my time looking for and photographing wildflowers, but I didn’t know what I would find since it was my first time there.

Lady’s slipper

That was shot with the 16-35 mm lens, but I should have brought my macro lens. The 16-35 mm lens worked fine for that image, but other things that I saw really needed the macro lens.

Slime mold?

I made do with the 100-400 mm lens along with the 16-35 mm lens while I walked the trail.

Unidentified fluttering object

 

Wild geranium?

 

Eastern box turtle

Finally, my one photo of a bird from during my walk.

Eastern wood pewee

If I were a birder that was only interested in counting the number of species of birds that I saw through my binoculars, the Coolbough Natural Area would be a great place to go, but as a photographer, it was tough to get close to any of the birds that I saw and heard during my walk there. The birds are free to spread out and so they do, and there’s no single place where one is likely to get close to the birds there.

I suppose that I could change the way I go about getting photos of birds, I did see a bluebird gathering food for its young, and I saw where the bluebird carried the food it had collected back to its nest. I could set-up the hide near the bluebird’s nest and photograph it as it came and went, but that idea doesn’t appeal to me. I’d rather not sit in a hide all day for a few images of one species of bird, even if the images turned out to be excellent. I’ll have more thoughts on this subject later.

My next stop was the Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary…

Sign for the Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary

…where I shot two poor landscape photos…

The Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary

…to show that it was mostly open meadow…

The Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary

…which is rare in Michigan.

Maybe I’m missing something, the powers that be claim that this open oak/pine savanna was common in this part of Michigan before the Europeans arrived here. But, they have to do prescribed burns every few years to maintain these open areas, or the forest would take over. You can see by these photos that there are a good number of trees that have sprouted since the last time this area was burned, and it won’t be long before they have to do another controlled burn there to keep the area as it is. That’s all I’m going to say on the subject, or I’ll get in trouble if I state my opinion on the subject.

As an area for birding, this was a complete bust, I should have taken my macro lens and shot the tiny meadow wildflowers there.

My next stop was similar…

Sign for the Karner Blue Nature Sanctuary

…in that it was mostly open meadows with only small wooded areas. However, as a place for birding, it would be a better choice than the Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary as there are more wooded areas and it is a much larger preserve as well.

Neither of the sanctuaries controlled by the Michigan Nature Association have parking areas or trails of any type, you have to pull off the side of the road to park, and you’re free to roam around both of the sanctuaries. I doubt if any one other than dyed in the wool wildflower lovers ever visit either of these sanctuaries. That’s not all bad, and for my purposes, either of them would be perfect, if there was any wildlife to photograph there. You know, that sounds misleading, as there’s plenty of insects to go with the wildflowers that I could have photographed, but I was looking for places to go to photograph birds and other types of wildlife.

Whitetail deer fawn

The fawn was shot at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, which was my final stop for the day. Since I saw that the male ducks were just beginning to molt into their eclipse plumage, I was hoping to get a few good images of the ducks in flight that showed all the colors of the breeding plumage.

Male mallard in flight

The light made for pleasing images…

Male blue-winged teal in flight

…but I couldn’t catch a duck where the colors on its wings really popped…

Male northern shoveler yoga

…with the exception of this male northern shoveler…

Male northern shoveler in flight

…and even then, I’m not happy with that image.

I still find it hard to believe that 1/2000 second isn’t a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the motion of a duck’s wings, unless they are so far from me that I have to crop the images considerably to make the bird appear as large in the frame as I’d like. Those were cropped a little, but not much, because the ducks had been resting on shore, and I was able to get close to them before they took flight. The motion blur at that fast of a shutter speed does tell you how fast the ducks flap their wings at take off though.

Okay then, of course I’ll return to the small park near the dam where the osprey nest…

Osprey

…is located to shoot better images of the adults, along with the young osprey as the grow.

I think that I’ll return to the Coolbough Natural Area from time to time when there’s good light and light winds so that I can shoot images of the wildflowers there, with maybe an occasional bird if I’m lucky.

However, I didn’t find a spot at any of the three nature preserves that would make it worthwhile to take the portable hide, set it up, and spend hours in it, as the wildlife is abundant at all three preserves, but it’s also spread out too much to make using the hide a viable plan of action for getting good images of the wildlife.

I was afraid of that. As I have speculated in the past, the small preserves on the edges of human development force the wildlife to concentrate in those small preserves, making them much better choices for photography. For example, on the day after the one that produced the images that you’ve seen so far, I spent a few hours at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve again, and there was never a time when there weren’t several birds in sight at all times.

Cedar waxwing

This waxwing was eating the few ripe berries on the bush it was perched in.

Cedar waxwing

There was never a time at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve when I couldn’t see close to 20 species of birds if I looked around. Of course, most of the birds were out of camera range, but you never know when one will fly past.

Great blue heron in flight

That’s not even my best flying bird of the day, but it goes well with the cedar waxwing images above it. There’s an advantage to having shot plenty of good images of a species, I don’t feel the need to shoot a perfect image every time that I get a chance to photograph that species again. So, I can get more creative and artistic as with the waxwing. I didn’t zoom in all the way for the first image of it, and I also stopped down the lens for more depth of field to achieve a photo that looks similar to an Audubon watercolor in my opinion, I love that image even if I was able to zoom in more for the second image of the waxwing. I also like the look of the heron image, it looks like a painting rather than a photograph.

I’m beginning to think that the place that I go doesn’t matter as much as my approach to photographing wildlife. As I said, I could take the portable hide to where the bluebird nest is and finally get good images of a bluebird, but I’ve never done anything like that before. Sure, when an opportunity too good to pass up, like the osprey nest in the small park, comes along, I take advantage of it. But, I’ve never purposely tracked down a bird’s nest just to shoot images of the birds that built the nest.

It would be easy enough for me to do this time of year…

Female red-winged blackbird gathering damselflies to feed to her young

…all I have to do is watch where an adult took the food that it was gathering for its young, and keep watching until I spotted the nest. Then, I could set-up the portable hide and wait for the adults to return time and time again as they feed their young.

Or, I could do something that I noticed that some one else has done, put up a bird feeder out in the woods somewhere and wait for the birds to come to the feeder.

That still seems like cheating to me, it isn’t as if I have a feeder outside my house where I’d be sitting and watching the birds as we used to do at my parents home. And, I’ve always taken pride in the fact that 99.9% of the wildlife that I’ve shot photos of were completely wild birds shot in natural settings. The photo of the red-winged blackbird may not be the perfect image of that species…

Female red-winged blackbird gathering damselflies to feed to her young

…but there’s something to be said for less than perfect images that are good, and show the behavior of the subject, as with these last two photos. It looks to me as the blackbird was plucking newly “hatched” damselflies from the water as the damselflies emerged from the water to dry their wings after they had transformed from nymphs to their adult stage. So, in one photo, you can tell several things at one time. The damselflies have no color yet, which is what leads me to believe that they had just emerged from the nymphal stage of their life cycle. They are easy pickings for the blackbird until their wings dry and they are ready to take flight for the first time. Because the damselflies are easy pickings, I’m sure that young red-winged blackbirds are fed a steady diet of damselflies.

Anyway, I find an osprey nest, and it’s located in a tiny park between a busy road and a working hydro-electric dam in an area that’s quite noisy, and not a good place to shoot videos. I have no need for the portable hide there, as the osprey don’t seem to mind humans being close to them.

I find a natural area that’s very quiet and would be a great location to shoot videos at, but I couldn’t find a spot within the natural area that would make it worthwhile for me to set-up the hide and spend time sitting in it.

Isn’t that the way it goes, I really was afraid of that.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

After Alberto

Well, I don’t know what type of storm Alberto was, some people referred to it as a tropical storm, others as a sub-tropical storm, but no matter what, the remnants of it came into west Michigan, passing right over my hometown of Grand Rapids. The storm pumped very warm temperatures into the area as it approached, we set several records for high temperatures this past week, and came close to setting an all-time high temperature for the month of May. Now that Alberto has come and gone, we’re beginning to cool off and return to more normal temperatures as the month of June arrives.

As for the storm itself, it was a rather ho-hum affair with a few hours of rain and a few minor wind gusts.

It’s hard to believe that it’s June already, it was just a month ago that we had our last significant snowstorm of the season. Everything in nature seems to be in a hurry to make up for lost time, and I’ve missed a lot of the parts of spring that I enjoy the most. The early spring flowers have come and gone, and the early summer flowers are blooming already.

Iris

And, I’m seeing signs that the ducks are beginning to molt out of their breeding plumage already.

Male mallard beginning to molt

Luckily, I caught this handsome chap…

Male mallard

…as I was set-up for him to take off, but he refused to move until I set the bird in flight set-up down, and picked up the set-up for a better portrait of him. That’s when he chose to fly away.

I also caught a male ruddy duck looking his best, even if he refused to pose for me.

Male ruddy duck

Okay, that brings me to something that I probably shouldn’t write about, but I will anyway. This won’t be about photo gear, but about how I go about getting the photos that I do, and why.

That bad day of shooting warblers that I had a few weeks ago may have been one of the best things that’s happened to me lately. Since then, I have redoubled my efforts to get better images of all types. I think that most people would be happy with this photo, other than some default adjustments that I have Lightroom do to every image that I import into it to make the images look like what I saw through the viewfinder when I shot them, nothing was done to this image.

Cedar waxwing

I didn’t crop that, nor did I adjust the exposure, but that’s not good enough for me any longer. I moved closer to the waxwing, and by a stroke of luck, he moved a few branches lower for this photo.

Cedar waxwing

That wasn’t cropped either, but I could see that the waxwing was eating something it was finding on the branches of the tree, and I was curious to see what it was eating. So, between my trying to get better images all the time and my curiosity to learn what the waxwing was eating, I shot close to 100 photos to get this image showing it plucking an aphid off from the tree, and, these next two images have been cropped slightly to show that.

Cedar waxwing eating an aphid

I didn’t know before this series of images that waxwings ate aphids, but because of my photos, I learned something this day.

Cedar waxwing

Of course I went for a regular portrait image as well.

Cedar waxwing

That’s not my best portrait of a cedar waxwing, but I’ll take it for now until the next opportunity comes along.

Anyway, it was my curiosity of wildlife behavior which at first fueled my desire to get better images. I wanted to see what birds were eating and how they ate for example. Somewhere along the line, that morphed into trying for the best image possible, which isn’t all bad. I think that I’m almost to the point where I can do both parts of the equation well, capture the behavior of wildlife and produce good images at the same time.

After all, I was standing there watching one of the most beautiful species of bird native to Michigan, I was able to observe its behavior and feeding habits up close through the viewfinder of my camera, and capture what I was seeing to share with others who may also be interested in such things, there’s nothing to top that as far as my way of thinking goes.

I do need to work on my landscape images more though, and while I’m driving for work each evening, I pass a spot that I thought would be a good place to shoot a sunset or sunrise, depending on the time of day it was when I was there. Since the spring migration of birds is all but over with, I thought that last Friday after Alberto had passed through the area would be a good day to shoot a few landscapes, given the weather report.

The place that I had in mind is about 50 miles (80 Km) northwest of the city of Muskegon, which is the center of the hub of places that I’ve been going to most of the time lately. It’s also about the same distance from my home. It’s a spot on the Muskegon River between two dams used to generate electricity, not that it matters, the attraction to me is the river valley and how it looks to me as I pass this spot each evening for work.

Arriving at sunrise, I started by shooting an image facing downstream, which is to the west, as the sky towards the sunrise wasn’t that interesting yet.

Muskegon River sunrise

That’s not anything special, but I like it because it says northern Michigan at sunrise to me. It was quiet except for the birds singing in the trees along the river, no wind, and a little mist rising off from the water. A very pleasant morning on a great day to be alive. This photo also shows me that this would be a good place to shoot a sunset from.

I decided that it was time to walk around a bend in the river and shoot towards the rising sun in the east. Along the way, I noticed these flowers…

Daisy?

…and with no wind, my tripod in hand, and my camera with the 16-35 mm lens on it, I decided to give the flowers a go and see what I could do. I guess that I would call that a test shot, but I like it enough to include here.

After getting around the bend in the river, I checked out a number of possibilities and settled on this one.

Muskegon River sunrise 2

I’m not that happy with the vegetation in the right side of the frame, but other than that, I love this image. In retrospect, I probably should have backed up a few feet to get all of the still water reflecting the clouds at the bottom of the frame in the frame, and possibly some of the rocks that formed that pool of still water also. Of course, some color to the sky would have been nice as well, but that’s beyond my control. Overall though, I’m quite pleased with the composition and I think that I did about the best that I could at the time.

I do need to shoot more landscapes, so that I’m more comfortable doing so, and also so that I can get set-up more quickly to take advantage of ever-changing light. There’s so much more to good landscape photography than there is to wildlife photography that I need to keep in mind as I’m setting up. Not only are all the camera settings different, but it requires a different mindset as well.

You’d think that because landscape photography tends to be slow and methodical compared to capturing the action of wildlife photography that it would be easier. It may be to some people, but not to me. I could go into more detail, but I won’t, I’ll sum this up by saying that I do see my landscape photography skills improving, and that I’ll continue to improve as I shoot more landscapes.

I have to say that I’ve come to the point where the slow, methodical actions required for landscape photography no longer bother me the way that they used to, I quite enjoyed wandering around with the camera handheld, looking for the best composition through the viewfinder. Then, setting up the tripod, double checking where I positioned it, leveling the camera on the tripod, and all the other things that are required for that type of photography. I could have gone back and shot the daisy flowers later when the exposure required was less than the nearly 2 seconds that it was when I shot the flowers using the tripod at sunrise, but it’s no longer a hassle to me to use the tripod.

Oh by the way, I should add that both of the landscape images here are HDR images where I shoot three exposure bracketed images and blend them together in software to overcome the limits of the dynamic range of my camera’s sensor. I do try to keep my images as realistic as possible though, getting the final image as close to what I saw through the viewfinder as I can. My goal is that no one would be able to tell that they are HDR images if I didn’t tell them.

On my way out of the parking lot, I stopped to shoot these flowers.

Unidentified flowers

There were hundreds of these trees loaded with the flowers, and I looked for a place where I could shoot a photo to show that, but I never did find a place that would have resulted in a good image of the masses of flowers in bloom.

My plan had been to go from the place where I shot the landscapes to three nature preserves nearby, but like the complete idiot that I am, I forgot to bring the directions to the preserves with me. I drove around looking for the preserves, but never found them. Retracing my route on Google maps, I was close to them, but I never saw a single sign of any of them. I think that it’s time for me to become more methodical about many things, like keeping a notebook with my camera gear all the time to keep things such as directions and notes on places that I go to, or would like to go to. Keeping that information on my computer is all well and good until I need the information while I’m away from home. Maybe I should begin using my Macbook for that purpose, other than as a backup for my iMac or while I’m on vacation. Silly me, I have the way to solve a problem at hand but don’t use it.

So, I’ve fired up the Macbook that I have, and put the directions to some of the many nature preserves that I’d like to check out this summer in the computer. I have them somewhat organized, and even went to so far as to set-up a folder that I can put notes about places and the times that I’ve been to them.

I will be going back to the same area again, as I would like to refine the landscape photos that I shot from along the river, and because I saw and heard many birds back in the woods as I was looking for the nature preserves.

Anyway, since I couldn’t find the nature preserves that I wanted to check out, I went all the way to the Muskegon area while on the look out for other places that may yield good landscape photos or were possible places to look for wildlife. I did see a couple of scenes that I would have liked to have photographed, but there was always traffic behind me when that happened, and I didn’t want to pull off to the side then.

That means that I spent most of my two days off from work at the same old places again, but in some ways, what difference does it make, other than I’d like to find a quieter area where I could shoot more videos, especially of birds as they sing.

Brown thrasher singing

If only he would have turned to face me, darn.

Brown thrasher singing

I had originally stopped because I saw two kestrels in the tree that the thrasher is perched in, and quite low to the ground. Of course they flew up to branches much higher in the tree before I could get a photo of them, and the only reason I’m including this photo here is because one of the kestrels had a small rodent that I can’t identify in its talons.

American kestrel with its lunch

It was while I was watching the kestrels to see what they were doing that the thrasher landed as close to me as it did, when they are normally just as shy as the kestrels are. I was lucky to get the images of the thrasher, but the kestrels remained true to form and left the area soon after I shot the photo above.

I do need to work on my photos of flower along with landscape photos, I’m happy with the iris themselves in these two photos…

Iris

…but I’m not at all happy with the background…

Iris

…as the washed out green of the grass in the background distracts from the beauty of the flowers. If it wasn’t for the background, I’d say that those are my two best images of an iris ever, as I nailed the focus point for a sharp image that shows the translucent beauty of the petals of the flowers.

It wasn’t the background that was the main problem when I shot a few columbine flowers…

Columbine flower

…it was getting the entire flower in focus in low light…

Columbine flower

…without all the noise in that last photo. I did use my LED light to try to light the flower, but it wasn’t enough.

Also, I used the 60D body and my macro lens for both the iris and columbine, the swiveling screen of the 60D came in especially handy when shooting up at the columbine. I didn’t have to lay on my back in the mud to shoot that last photo. I swiveled the screen to where I could use live view to see what the camera was seeing as I knelt down next to the flower with the camera pointed up at the flower.

I did try the on-camera flash to get more light, that didn’t work at all. I also thought about using my flash unit off camera, but I couldn’t think of a way to make it fire the way the flower and camera were positioned for that photo. I really need several more hands or an assistant for that type of photo.

The wild lupine is in bloom, and I thought that I had great lighting for this photo.

Wild lupine

However, I was a little disappointed in that image. The next day, I tried again on another lupine that I saw…

Wild lupine

…these flowers had better colors, but the light wasn’t as good, neither is the background. Also, I should stop comparing wild flowers to specimens grown in a garden, but that’s another story for another day.

I have a few more images from that day to share.

Unknown flowering object with bee

I didn’t have time to retrieve and put an extension tube behind the macro lens so that I could get closer to the bee, this is the best that I could do.

Unknown flowering object with bee

 

Eastern kingbird

 

Skipper butterfly

I’m not 100% sure that this is an Acadian flycatcher, so I’m not counting it as a new species to be added to my life list. Flycatchers are notoriously hard to ID, and this one never made a sound that would help me to identify it. The buffy eye-ring suggests an Acadian flycatcher, but better images would have helped to confirm or exclude my identification of this bird.

Acadian flycatcher?

 

Horned lark

Well, the weather forecast for my next two days off from work is looking iffy at this time. I’m afraid that I’ll have to make last-minute decisions as to where to go to avoid possible rain and thunder showers that are in the forecast. I would like to check out the three nature preserves that I didn’t find on my last weekend if the weather cooperates. However there’s something that I need to keep in mind, the possibilities for photography are endless, and I should quit trying to stick with a plan even when the weather doesn’t cooperate, and go with the flow instead.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

Help, I’ve fallen in love!

Warning, there’s a lot of technical details about photography in this post, those of you who are bored with my prattling on about those details may skip reading what I’ve typed, and only look at the photos.

Barn swallow chattering away

I’m sure that by now, most of you have seen the image of the bald eagle and fox fighting over a rabbit that the fox had killed and was carrying when the eagle decided to steal the rabbit from the fox, that image is all over the internet right now. If you haven’t seen the image, a bald eagle swooped down on a fox carrying a rabbit to steal the rabbit from the fox, but the fox refused to let go. The eagle was strong enough to carry both the rabbit and fox until the fox decided that discretion was the better part of valor and let go of the rabbit, dropping unharmed to the ground as the eagle made off with the rabbit.

Along with that image, which I can only wish that I had taken, a couple of people commented on the photography aspect of what I wrote in one of my recent posts, and one person, Cornell Apostol, even wrote a post in his own blog as a result of things that I said.

So, I feel the urge to let my mind wander around in my thoughts on photography and photo gear yet again.

Yes, the equipment used by photographers is the means to the end, not the end itself, I understand that. However, it does require good camera gear to capture an image such as the eagle and fox as well as the photographer, Kevin Ebi, was able to shoot when he saw what was happening.

Although, no one who views that image is going to notice at first how sharp it is, or how well exposed it is, that image wouldn’t have the impact that it does if the image hadn’t been good to begin with.

Also, I complained about the noise in my images taken on a recent dark, dreary day, but then I remembered what I would have gotten as far as images if I were still using the Canon 60D body and Sigma 150-500 mm lens. The old combination wouldn’t have gotten the photos of the bay-breasted warbler, they were shot with the 7D Mk II and ISO settings higher than the 60D was capable of to begin with. Add to that the fact that the Sigma is almost a full stop slower than the Canon 100-400 mm lens that I used for the warbler, and I would have been almost two full stops “short” of enough light to get any image at all from the equipment that I used to use. So, while my photos weren’t great, they were far better than nothing, which is what my old camera and lens would have gotten.

While equipment may not be everything, it’s still important to have equipment that will be able to get an image when the opportunity is presented. If I ever have the chance to shoot something as dramatic as the eagle trying to steal the fox’s rabbit, I want to be able to get the shot. If I see a rare bird, I want to be able to document it.

However, there’s more to consider when it comes to camera gear than getting a shot in the first place, or even image quality, cost is one thing, weight is another. I may be in fairly good shape for some one who is 63 years old, but I don’t want to strap a 20 pound backpack on myself and attempt to hike 10 miles a day any longer.

So, when Canon announced the recent sale price and free battery grip for the 5D Mk IV, with or without a lens, with two lenses to choose from. That set me to thinking of which of the two lenses offered would be the best for my use once again. The two “kit” lenses are the 24-105 mm f/4 IS L series, and the 24-70 mm f/4 L series. I thought that I had settled on the 24-105 mm lens, but that decision has always bothered me, as that lens is far from Canon’s sharpest.

That focal range on a full frame camera is a very versatile lens, and would be the only lens that I’d need to carry with me for the occasional landscape or other subjects, other than wildlife, while I was hiking. I thought that I could get by using an extension tube or two behind that lens for macro photography, rather than carrying the 100 mm macro lens that I have.

Still, how soft that lens is bothered me.

I had considered the 24-70 mm lens in the past, but had been swayed by thinking that the 24-105 mm lens would be a better fit for me. After all, many of the professional photographers whose channels I have subscribed to on Youtube and who shoot Canon gear own and use the 24-105 mm lens. Then it dawned on me, most of the videos that those professionals posted were about learning to use Lightroom, and I was never that impressed by the photos that they shot. The one exception to that was Michael Melford, a Nat Geo photographer, who has switched to Nikon gear for better image quality. But, I thought that if the 24-105 mm lens had been good enough for Nat Geo in the past, then it would be good enough for my use. On the other hand, why should I settle for second best? Also, even a two page spread in Nat Geo isn’t the same as when you print out an image to 13 X 19 or 16 X 20 as I do with many of my best images. The small format of a magazine is better suited to the use of a lens that isn’t the sharpest available.

Another factor that has caused me to rethink things yet again are the recent trips that I made where I dedicated myself to shooting only certain subjects, and not trying to photograph everything that I saw that interested me. I learned that I can easily carry all the camera gear that I would need for landscapes, as an example, if I did limit myself to carrying only the gear needed for landscapes.

That takes me back to some of the recent photos that I’ve shot, and seeing how sharp that they were from edge to edge. Here’s an example from the 16-35 mm lens…

Sunrise over a marsh

…and you can see how sharp the lens is by looking at the dead reeds in the lower right hand corner of that image.

Then, there’s this image shot with the 70-200 mm lens…

Double exposure of the full moon and the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan

…and you can see how sharp that lens is in the lower left corner of the image by looking at the trees and power poles in the lighted position of that image.

Well, maybe you can’t really see how sharp they are in this small format, but when I view those images on my 27″ iMac, I can see just how sharp those lenses are in the corners, and I’m loving what I see. Here’s two more recent images shot with the 16-35 mm lens…

My ode to the beauty of the green of spring

 

Early summer marsh

I absolutely love the 16-35 mm lens, and I’m having loads of fun learning how to use it! Part of me wants to put that lens on a camera body and take it with me everywhere I go, shooting everything I see that comes close to being a landscape. I know that the last image is nothing special, other than it captured the scene as I saw it, which has been a problem at times with the other lenses I’ve used.

Okay, changing gears a bit, fortunately, there’s an independent  lab that has a website, https://www.dxomark.com which tests camera sensors and lenses. That’s where I learned just how superior the sensor of the 5D Mk IV was to the sensor of the 7D Mk II cameras that I current use are, in real numbers. Most reviews of camera gear are done by talking heads affiliated with one camera company, or are only talking heads, and in most of their reviews, image quality is all but ignored. That’s something that I’ve complained about in the past when I was researching gear to purchase.

Instead of a talking head telling me that I’d see “improved low-light capabilities”, the tests done at https://www.dxomark.com tell me that I’ll see almost 3 full stops of improvement in low-light as far as noise in my images, and two full stops more of dynamic range when I upgrade to a 5D Mk IV. Real numbers based on lab tests, not some one trying to sell me the latest and greatest because they’re getting paid by the company that just released the latest and greatest.

Seeing real numbers is what convinced me to not to purchase the new 6D Mk II, since the dynamic range of that camera is no better than the 7D Mk II, even though I’d see some low-light improvement, and could afford the 6D right now. It makes no sense to make what amounts to a lateral move in my opinion. I’d have to give up auto-focusing capabilities and high frame rates for improved low-light images.

It’s the same with lens testing, real numbers, not some one’s impressions of how good a lens is. When it comes to zoom lenses, https://www.dxomark.com tests the lenses at various focal lengths and aperture settings so that you get a clearer image of how well the lens may perform, the way that you use it on the camera that you use.

When I first began looking at the lens testing done by https://www.dxomark.com, one thing stood out right away. That’s because they also test the lenses on several different camera bodies.

Some of Canon’s high-end lenses do not perform very well on their consumer grade bodies, but are great on their pro grade bodies. Hmmm, that may explain why I was never that impressed with the 70-200 mm f/4 L series lens on the 60D body I was using it on. On the other hand, mounted to the 7D Mk II, I think that the same lens is one of the best that I own. Too bad that the lens in question is so old that https://www.dxomark.com has never tested it, I’d like to see the comparisons between camera bodies with that lens. I think that what I see in other lenses as far as the differences in the bodies playing a part in the performance of the lens applies to what I’ve seen in my own trials and tribulations.

To go with that, some of the Canon EF S lenses built for crop sensor cameras perform better on their consumer grade bodies better than the higher priced L series lenses intended for professional use. I don’t know if that holds true for other companies that make cameras and lenses or not, I have a hunch that it does. Canon seems to tweak their lenses towards the bodies they will most likely be used on, and vice versa.

So, anyway, getting back to the 24-70 mm and 24-105 mm lenses, and for that matter, other alternatives that I looked into, this is what I’ve discovered. For the subjects that I shoot, the 24-70 mm lens is a better choice than most of the alternatives. While other lenses may be sharper with the aperture wide open, the 24-70 mm lens is sharpest stopped down to apertures more suited for landscapes and other subjects that I’ll be using it for. That lens is sharp edge to edge at the aperture settings I’ll most likely be using, and that’s what matters. It’s not how sharp a lens is at the center when the aperture is wide open, unless that’s the type of photography you do, and I don’t.

I’d say that this is the clincher, but it isn’t, the 24-70 mm lens also has a macro function. It isn’t a true 1 to 1 macro lens, but you can get to .7 life-size by using the macro function. So, if I’m on a hike and carrying the 7D with the 100-400 mm lens for birds, wildlife, and larger insects that don’t allow me to approach them very close, I can get by with the 24-70 mm lens on the 5D Mk IV for landscapes and near macro photography. I could also put the lens on the 7D to get a little closer to the subject if needed, due to the crop sensor of the 7D. I can use an extension tube to get to life-size if needed, also.

Okay, the real clincher was playing with the 24-70 mm lens at the local camera store. Yes, image quality is the most important aspect of a lens, but being user-friendly is also important. Plus, I thought that the macro function was somewhat of a gimmick, but in trying it out in the store, I found that it is a viable alternative to the 100 mm macro lens that I already have. I tried the 24-105 mm lens before, and it’s okay, but I fell in love with the 24-70 mm lens as soon as I touched it, or I should say, as soon as I looked through the viewfinder of the camera, and began making adjustments to both the lens and camera.

An added bonus is that the 24-70 mm lens is half a pound lighter than the 24-105 mm lens. That just happens to be one-third of the weight of the 70-200 mm lens. That means when I go out to shoot mainly landscapes, I can easily carry the three lenses that I’ll most likely need, and they won’t break my back carrying them.

More added bonuses, the 24-70 mm lens is $200 cheaper than the 24-105 mm lens, and it has the same hybrid Image Stabilization as the 100 mm macro lens that I have. For landscapes, the IS is no big deal, since I use a tripod most of the time, and turn the IS off. However, when shooting macros handheld, the hybrid IS that Canon developed for macro photography is amazing, and it works when using an extension tube behind the lens.

What this all boils down to is this, there’s no lens on the market that’s extremely sharp, at the center or edge to edge, at all apertures and all focal lengths, if it’s a zoom lens. And as I learned in looking at the camera and lens tested together, what model camera that one has plays a part in how sharp a lens appears to be, when you wouldn’t think that it made a difference. There’s so many things that one has to take into account when trying to decide on camera gear that it can be overwhelming at times.

While using the 24-70 mm lens in the store, it was hard for me not to purchase it right then and there, as my saving towards the 5D Mk IV is well along the way and I can easily afford the lens now. However, that would delay my purchase of the camera even longer, and the lens wouldn’t be that useful to me until I purchase the camera. On the other hand, the 16-35 mm lens on my crop sensor 7D is about the same effective focal length range as the 24-70 mm lens will be on a full frame 5D Mk IV when I purchase it, so in a way, I’ve been playing with a set-up that’s very close to what I’ll end up with down the road. Knowing what the future will look like is fueling my desire to complete my photo kit as quickly as I can.

What would improve the quality of the images that I shoot right now is the camera, not the lens. I really could have used the 5D Mk IV to its full advantage during my recent outing when photographing the warblers on a misty, foggy, dreary day when I had to push the 7D to its limits to get any photo at all because of the lack of light.

And, I’m very much looking forward to using the 16-35 mm lens on the full frame 5D body to see just how wide that lens is compared to what I see when using it on the crop sensor 7D.

Although, as much as I love the 16-35 mm lens, the more I’d like to own its big brother, the 24-70 mm lens, right now, so that I can begin the learning curve with that lens, and to see if it will prove to be as versatile as I think it will be. That includes testing out the near macro function of that lens. If it’s as sharp, can capture fine details as well as the 16-35 mm lens, and produces such true to life colors as the 16-35 mm lens, along with functioning as a macro lens, don’t be surprised if I end up purchasing that lens if Canon offers rebates on it before I purchase the 5D Mk IV body.

One more thing (At least) for me to get off my chest while I’m on the subject of photo gear. When I was using the Sigma 150-500 mm lens, I had to stop it down to f/8 to get good sharp photos from that lens. But then, the birds that I shot tended to blend into the background to a larger degree than what birds do now in my images…

Grey catbird

…because I can shoot with either the Canon 100-400 mm or 400 mm prime lenses wide open for a shallower depth of field than I could when I used the Sigma lens. The shallower depth of field makes the birds pop out at you more, since the birds don’t blend into the background as much…

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

 

Blue jay

…and both of the Canon lenses are sharp enough wide-open that I don’t have to stop them down to get the subject sharp. That also makes for a more three-dimensional look that what I was able to get with the Sigma lens. Because of that, you can read the body language of the blue jay in the image above.

When I want to include some of the vegetation in a scene that contains a bird, I can do so…

Song sparrow, new leaves, and flower buds

..but that’s now my choice when I look through the viewfinder, not something forced on me by a lens that doesn’t perform as well unless it’s stopped down.

Male northern cardinal

Part of me wants to complete my camera kit as soon as possible so that it’s over and done with, and I won’t be thinking about it any longer. There are other considerations as well. I know that it will take me the better part of a day to go through the menu system of the 5D Mk IV after I receive it to set that camera up to what I shoot and how I shoot it. When I tried the 5D out in the store, it hit home to me just how much I have customized the 7D as far as saved settings and having changed the functions of some of the buttons used to change or access camera settings. I’ve had a 7D for a couple of years now, but I’m still tweaking the settings of it as I go along.

I’m still not to where I’d like to be, as often when I’m shooting a perched bird…

Pileated woodpecker

…I’m using a slower shutter speed to keep the ISO down for image quality, but then…

Pileated woodpecker

…the bird takes flight, and I end up with a blurry photo of it because of the slow shutter speed.

I’ve tried using the register recall function that the 7D has in those situations, however the camera won’t switch between aperture and shutter priority when I’ve tried it. I may have to approach the problem from a different angle to make the camera work as I want it.

Also, some people may call me crazy, but as I’ve speculated in the past, I think that cameras and particularly lenses need to be used for a while before they work as well as they end up working. My images continue to get sharper, and the auto-focusing of my lenses continues to improve as well, even though I can’t say why that is for sure. I think that when a lens is assembled, the moving parts for the zoom and focusing mechanisms are tight, and they loosen up over time as the lens is used. That may also explain the longer battery life that I’ve been seeing with my cameras as well.

I first purchased the battery grips for the 7D because I was coming close to draining a battery in a single day of shooting. And, even using two batteries in the grips, I would recharge the batteries after a single day of shooting because they had lost so much of their charge. Now I find that I can go for two, three, possibly four days of shooting without recharging the batteries, and there has to be a reason for it.

I think that it’s because the focusing mechanisms of the lenses have loosened up a bit, and the motor that dives them doesn’t have to work as hard to make them move. It would seem that since battery life gets shorter over the life of a battery that I’d be seeing the opposite, that the batteries would be draining faster now that they are a couple of years old, and have been recharged so many times.

Those reasons, and many others, are what are pushing me towards purchasing the new equipment that I would like to have as soon as possible. On the other hand, I’d really rather not go deep into debt to make those purchases right now.

I’ve already decided that I probably won’t upgrade the 7D body when Canon introduces the Mk III version of it, unless it does something spectacular like reach out and hold a subject in the perfect position in good light and has so much dynamic range that I don’t blow out the highlights as in this image…

Black-capped chickadee bring home the bacon

…when I can usually get the same subject better if I try hard enough.

Black-capped chickadee bring home the bacon

I have images of the back-end of the chickadee as it delivered the food to its young in the cavity of the tree in that image. I was hoping that the young could reach up to greet mom, but not yet from what I could see.

Except for its low-light performance…

Song sparrow at dawn

…and lack of dynamic range, I can’t see how Canon can improve the 7D to the point where I’d want to upgrade when I have a 5D to go with what I have now.

It’s not that my images are perfect, but many of them taken in good light are better than I hoped to achieve just a few short years ago.

American avocet

 

Female eared grebe

If only the male would have moved in front of his mate as he raised his crest…

Eared grebes

…I would have been an extremely happy camper. But, I was happy to get the shots that I did, the same applies to this great crested flycatcher.

Great crested flycatcher with lunch

 

Great crested flycatcher with lunch

OOo, that tickled as it went down!

Great crested flycatcher after lunch

And, if I could train the birds to perch in more photogenic locations…

Cliff swallow

…I’d be even happier with my images.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!