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

You getting any good pictures?

“You getting any good pictures?”

I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked that while I have been out in the woods with my camera. It’s usually the first thing that people say to me when they see me toting my heavy Nikon.

There are times when I’d like to answer “No, I lug this very expensive boat anchor around with me for 6 miles a day just to take the worst photos that I can”, but I don’t.

If you’ve seen the photos from my last few posts, you may well think that is exactly what I do. 😉

Instead, I usually say that I’ll have to wait until I see them on the computer before I know if I’ve gotten any good ones. That’s certainly true for me, I wonder if other photographers have the same experience, of not knowing if a photo is good or not until they see it blown up on a computer screen?

I have an excuse for some of those though, they were mainly action shots with birds chasing other birds around. Action shots are seldom easy, it’s darned hard to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time, and not scare the subjects of your photos away, so I have a much lower standard as far as the quality of action shots that I post here.

Then, it can be easy to get into a debate as to what constitutes a great photo versus which photos evoke the largest amount of praise. Often, the subject of the photo plays more of a role as far as people’s perception of a good photo, more so than the technical merits of the actual photo.

Seldom does how hard I had to work for a photo have any bearing on what people see as great photos.

So what is a great photo, to me, it all depends. Of course I am going to illustrate this with some photos, good, bad, and down right ugly.

To start with, here’s what I think is one of the very best photos that I have ever taken, both on the technical side, and the subject.

BTW, you can click any of these photos for a larger view.

Red-tailed hawk portrait

Red-tailed hawk portrait

I love that photo, it’s sharp, fairly well composed, the lighting is a little harsh, but no shadows to speak of, and I love the expression on the hawk’s face.

OK, but here’s one that draws more praise.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

To me, that one is good, but not great.  But, because it’s an eagle, people seem to go gaga over that one.

It isn’t as sharp as I would like, I think that is somewhat due to the weird atmospheric conditions that day. It was cold, with a 35 MPH wind blowing out of the southeast, the windchill that day was well below 0 degrees farenheit. Other than the bone chilling cold to deal with, it was a rather easy photo to take. I was surrounded by eagles, I could pick and choose which one to shoot when it was in the best position as far as lighting. The exposure on the eagle’s wing could have been better, but overall, I would rate this one as very good, not great.

There was enough light, I was in the right spot, and I didn’t have to adjust anything on my camera to get that shot, it really was point and shoot.

Then, there’s this horrid photo of a barred owl.

Barred owl

Barred owl

I wouldn’t post that last one except for this post, and the fact that I worked my rear end off to get that really bad photo. I think that I worked harder to get that one than on any other photo that I have ever posted here.

First, the weather conditions, it was just below freezing, with a mixture of drizzle and snow falling from an extremely dark, overcast sky. Throw in a little wind so that the tree the owl was perched in, and the trees between us were all moving, making it that much more difficult. I had to find the owl, some blue jays had alerted me to the owl’s presence, but it was hiding behind the truck of the tree from where I was at first. The area between myself and the owl was filled with small trees and all their branches getting in the way. I worked my way around until I had a small gap in the branches to shoot through, I was not at all happy with view that I had of the owl, but I had to take what I could get. Because of the weather and lighting, I think that I adjusted nearly every setting on my camera to get a photo that was even recognizable as an owl. In fact, the only way that I could tell it was an owl was by its shape, the round head and stocky body. I couldn’t see any markings with the naked eye. Because of the long shutter time, I had to brace myself as well as I could, holding the camera on the owl as it and the branches between us swayed in the wind, and time the shot for the best view of the owl I could get.

So, was the shot of the owl a good photo? Yes and no. I worked my butt off for it, and you can see that it is a barred owl. That’s more than I hoped for while I was shooting it, I thought that the owl would end up as a dark, unrecognizable blob.  I learned a lot taking that photo, so in some respects, it’s a pretty good photo, for the lessons I learned have served me well since then. But, I wouldn’t normally post such a shot.

Which brings us to yesterday, and the photos I took, none of which came out as well as I expected.

First the skunk.



I was close enough, and the light was right, yet the photo didn’t come out as sharp as it should have. Being black and white, a skunk is a high contrast subject to shoot, but I have my camera set to spot metering most of the time, which seems to work out very well for other high contrast subjects, like wild turkeys….

Wild turkey

Wild turkey

…and Canada geese…

Canada goose in flight up close and personal

Canada goose in flight up close and personal

Maybe that’s what I did wrong. The sitting skunk should have been an easy shot, a sitting goose if you will. 😉 Maybe I should have gotten it to move in order to get a good shot.

Then, there’s the snow buntings, I knew I was a bit far away, but I thought that I would be able to crop down at least a little to get them to show up better, but the photos were so bad, I couldn’t crop them at all.

Snow buntings

Snow buntings

Maybe there wasn’t enough contrast between the buntings and the bare ground? I thought that I had lucked out in the regard, I have chased the buntings around while they’ve been feeding in the grass, and never gotten a clear shot of one. That is, other than this one taken on an earlier trip.

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

I have no explanation as to why none of the photos of the snow buntings didn’t come out better yesterday. I did crop that earlier photo, but it was good enough to do so, none that I took yesterday were. That last one may not be great, but I would rank it as good.

Next, the northern shovelers. I got close enough that I didn’t even have to zoom all the way to 300mm, which normally produces some of my best shots. The light was great, shutter speeds were very high, and while I was happy to catch how beautiful they are….

Male northern shoveler taking off

Male northern shoveler taking off

…I think that the photos should have been even sharper. Even the water drops look a bit fuzzy. I will admit that they are the best shots I have gotten of shovelers so far, but all the rest of my attempts were made under far less than ideal conditions. I could see having nothing but water in the background affecting the exposure, the reflected light from water can often wreak havoc on exposures, but the exposure is good, it’s the sharpness that’s missing.

Then, there’s the eagle.

Golden eagle

Golden eagle

I knew that the eagle was out of range of the 70-300mm lens I have, but I thought that I would be able to crop it down a little to make up for that.  But, like the buntings, the photos are just too fuzzy to crop even a little.

Maybe it was the weather. It was warm, variably cloudy, but very windy and hazy. With the sudden warm spell, all the snow and ice were melting, contributing a haze to the air. I could also see dust be driven by the wind as well.

I could see those factors coming into play on the long shots, but not the shots of the skunk, buntings, or even the shovelers. I thought that I was too close to them for the dust and haze to have any effect on my photos, maybe it did?

Or, was it my Nikon having a bad day? I have related how much trouble I’ve had with it since I first began using it in earnest, so I’m not going to rehash all that here.

I will say this, the Nikon seems to perform at its best when I am shooting a lot of pictures, and due to the weather and lack of photo ops, I haven’t been taking many pictures the last two months.

Maybe I was having an off day?

Maybe, but I don’t think so. I felt as if I was really on top of things, and that I was filling the memory card of the Nikon with one great shot after another.

I would really like to figure out where the trouble lies. One day I get great photos…

Female mallard

Female mallard

American robin

American robin

Herring gull jumping waves

Herring gull jumping waves

…and the next day, I get junk, like I did yesterday.

I know that it’s a poor carpenter who blames his tools, but I really think that it is the camera and lens that I am using that is the problem. I had an Email conversation with Kerry who does the Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog, and he tried the same lens that I used, he called it “atrocious”. That lens also ranks at the bottom of every list of customer reviews as far as Nikkor lenses currently being sold that I checked. (BTW, Kerry is a great guy who took the time to answer far more than my basic questions about his equipment, as well as an extremely talented photographer)

I could purchase a new, better lens for the D 50 body I have, but that would tie me into sticking with Nikon equipment, probably for the rest of my life, and I’m not all that excited about their current lines of cameras or lenses. Besides, I’m not sure that at all of the problems I have are just the lens, I think that the camera itself has some issues.

One good thing about being on a budget, I’m going to have a lot of time to make up my mind as to what I end up purchasing.

I’m looking at online reviews of different cameras and lenses, but not finding them very helpful. I can tell that some of the users are clueless about photography, no matter what their budget is for equipment.

Luckily, I follow blogs written by some very talented photographers whose opinions I can trust, as I see the photos that they produce, and I am receiving some good tips and suggestions from them as well.

Unless I hit the lottery, I am leaning towards a Canon 60D body, with an 18-135mm lens to start. The lens won’t be “long” enough, so I’ll have to carry both cameras with me for a while, to use the Nikon on the longer shots.

The second lens I purchase will probably be the EF400f/5.6L USM which may sound strange, but the lens I have now is almost always set to 300mm anyway. That lens looks like an affordable way to get an excellent quality longer lens, and I doubt that I will have a problem using a prime lens, even that long of a lens.

My wish list lens would be the EF70-200f/4L USM, just for mid-range shots, and because I’m not sure about the quality of the kit lens that comes with the camera.

I may also put either a 1.4X or 2X teleconverter on the list, I’ll have to check the compatibility with the lenses I’m thinking of buying. I’m not sure I’d need one, but that remains to be seen.

Anyway, I do know this, I need equipment that produces results like this….

Juvenile ring-billed gull

Juvenile ring-billed gull

…all the time, not just when the camera and lens is in the right mood!

That way, when people ask me if I’m getting any good pictures, I can say yes!

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


19 responses

  1. Ditto on almost all accounts. The hawk picture is awesome! I am a Canon gal myself. Love my T2i 🙂

    January 13, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    • Thank you, Sheila! (It is Sheila, isn’t it?)

      January 13, 2013 at 7:10 pm

      • LOL yes, it’s Sheila 🙂

        January 15, 2013 at 10:21 pm

  2. It seems that Canon is edging out Nikon when it comes to wildlife photography. Save your pennies for the 7D, there is to be a new one being released in 2013, so you can get your hands on an older one for less money. Also owning the 60D I see a marked difference in the quality of the images between the two.
    I need to have Image Stabilization, so I had rented the 400mm L, but the f/2.8 IS and the f/4.0 non IS, along with the 300mm L IS. Hands down, the 400mm non IS was a non-player. Look at the 100-400mm L, gives you plenty of versatility.
    However after the 500mm in my hands…ummm I’m now spoiled rotten.
    I pair the 7D with the 24-105mm L lens. That with the 100-400mm it covers a great range. Don’t go with the 2X the image really degrades. Just try to get closer!
    OH ! Snow Buntings?? I’m so jealous!

    January 13, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    • Thanks for such a detailed reply! I understand that the 60D isn’t as good as the 7D, but I have to start somewhere, and ANYTHING would be a major step up from what I have now. What I neglected to add to my wish list was a second body, which will be a 7D or equivalent when I can afford it.

      I do agree, Canon seems to be producing lenses with wildlife photographers in mind! I don’t know what’s happened to Nikon, they seem to have gone crazy.

      I would love the 500mm lens, but that’s out of my price range. Image stabilization isn’t as important to me, they call me the human tripod. That comes from my days as a target shooter. I get usable photos shooting at 1/60 with my current lens set to 300mm with no IS, not all the time, but more often than you would think.

      I did have the 100-400mm zoom on my list, but I like a prime lens, much as you like your 500mm. Less glass means lower weight, and better image quality, although most zooms today come close, they can never match a prime lens. I would seldom use the 100-400mm at any setting other than 400, so I’d be better off with a 400 and saving $300 to use for other lenses, like a macro lens or that second body.

      January 13, 2013 at 8:04 pm

  3. Northern Narratives

    I think the person who took the photo gets to decide its level of greatness 🙂

    January 13, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    • I think you’re right! Thanks!

      January 13, 2013 at 10:34 pm

  4. I don’t get too worked up about photographic perfection. Though I think it’s important to have the best photo possible, my main mission is introducing people to nature and the photos are just a way to reach that goal. I consider myself an amatuer and i think most of the people who read my blog understand that. When I read a blog I like to see and learn about things that I don’t normally see, and I get plenty of that here, which is why I keep coming back!

    January 14, 2013 at 6:05 am

    • Thanks, I understand what you’re saying. However, when my equipment loses photos or produces unusable results, then that interferes with my ability to tell the stories that I do.

      January 14, 2013 at 10:03 am

  5. I just learn so much about photography and nature when I visit your site. Thanks so much for all you do.

    January 14, 2013 at 11:35 am

    • Thank you very much Linda, I’m glad you enjoy my trials and tribulations in trying to get good photos! 😉

      January 14, 2013 at 11:52 am

  6. Kim

    I smiled when you talked about your camera having good days and bad days. I think mine does too. 😉 I have that EF400f/5.6L USM you’re considering, and use it on my Rebel T2i for almost all of my bird photography. It’s heavy for me to handhold for long periods, but since you’re the human tripod you should have no problem with it.

    Like you, I’ve also worked very hard for some of my worst photos too! But even if they won’t win any awards, they still serve as reminders of what I saw.

    Great post!

    January 14, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    • Thanks, I thought that I had the only camera in the world that had bad days. 😉

      January 15, 2013 at 1:21 am

  7. Pingback: I may be on to something! « Quiet Solo Pursuits

  8. Great photos and post discussion! I have my good days and bad days too, I usually blame the camera and weather, lol. I’m into Nikon, so can’t help with Canon info. Sounds like you’re getting great advice and opinions!

    January 16, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    • Thanks Donna. It’s going to be a tough choice, about half the photographers whose blogs I follow use Nikon, the other half use Canon. The reason I am thinking of switching to Canon is that they offer a better selection of lenses suitable for wildlife photography in my opinion.

      January 17, 2013 at 2:07 am

  9. When I first switched over to Canon in 2006, I started off with the Rebel body (it was an xti at the time), and used the money I saved for better lenses. Canon uses the same sensors in different bodies, its just the durability of the camera and the functions that differ. That being said, I would be hard pressed to use a rebel body these days, as I can’t do without the functions on the higher end cameras now. Some of my favorite images were taken on that rebel.

    A note on the 2x converter made by canon. It will not autofocus your lenses unless you are shooting on a 6d, 5d, or other full frame sensor. The 1.4x works with all the cameras, and retains your autofocus. When shooting wildlife, that autofocus can be key.

    I use a 300mm lens myself, versus a 400 (although sometimes I think about how nice that extra focal length would be), largely because of weight and size while kayaking, hiking, and backpacking.

    A last thing to think about, especially if you are shooting largely hand held without image stabilization, is a rifle stock attachment. Polaroid makes a great one for not a lot of money, that is fantastic to have in any wildlife photographers kit. Here’s one on ebay- Polaroid Video Stabiliser I think I’ve seen them new for as little as $40. I’ve tried a couple of makes, and for the money, this one is fantastic. It’s like a rifle stock for your camera, and that extra point of contact makes a huge difference. It could be part of why some days your happy with the sharpness of your images, and other days not. I know that for myself, some of the days when I thought I was getting great photos, it’s because I was so excited that I wasn’t taking the time to make sure that my camera was rock steady, and I was jumping from one shutter click to the next.

    Whew, this turned into a longish comment. If you want more thoughts on Canon, etc. let me know. I’m pretty familiar with them

    January 18, 2013 at 10:09 am

    • I really want to thank you for so much information! I have given up on the idea of the 2X converter, I may go for the 1.4X someday, but that’s a long way off, and it will depend on the lenses I end up buying. My biggest reason for switching to Canon will be because of the line of lenses that they offer. Theirs seemed better suited to nature photographers than does the Nikon line, and even some of their “L” series lenses are within my price range. I like the idea of the gunstock arrangement to hold the camera, I have seen them, but they are one of those things that slip my mind. I will have to look into them. Thanks again!

      January 18, 2013 at 11:03 am

  10. Oh yes, and I don’t use the goofy little handle on the stabilizer, I removed that. It’s both hands on the camera for me, but the shoulder pad is great

    January 18, 2013 at 10:11 am