My Week, Welcome 2014
Well, it’s the start of a new week, and in a few days, a new year. I should probably do a post looking back at 2013, and what lies ahead for 2014, but I’ll throw that stuff into these weekly posts as I go. I have a tendency to do that anyway.
I was up just before 6 AM this morning, hoping that there would be a little of yesterday’s sunshine left over before the next storm hits, but no luck there. Yesterday was so great, we had 100% of possible sunshine here for the first time since October 14th, two and half months ago. I’d say that it will be another two and a half months before we see another sunny day like yesterday, but as cold as the long-range forecast is looking, Lake Michigan may come close to freezing over. If that happens, we’ll lose the lake effect clouds and snow. It would also mean that the temperature around here would drop as well. Lake Michigan keeps West Michigan 10 to 15 degrees warmer on average than areas directly across the lake from us in Wisconsin.
Anyway, there’s a cold front headed this way, and the forecast for the rest of the week is very cold, and of course, lake effect snow on most days.
If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that last week I purchased a Tokina 100 mm macro lens. There will be a steep learning curve for me as I figure out how to use it well, but one thought has crossed my mind this morning.
The Tokina lens is of an older design, the lens extends out as it focuses. Canon’s newer macro lens are internal focusing, they remain the same length as the lens focuses.
At first, I saw that as a drawback to purchasing the Tokina, not any longer. The one thing that has really hit home is that for good macro photos, the camera has to be mounted on a tripod. In the few times that I have used the macro lens on a tripod, one difficulty I’ve had is getting close enough to the subject without interference between the tripod and logs, rocks, or something. I’m sure that some one makes an attachment to go on top of a tripod to extend the camera out so that you can get close to a subject, but I don’t have anything like that right now.
So, while the Tokina may be of an older design, with the lens extended for close focusing, it makes things somewhat easier for me than what one of the newer designed macro lenses would be to use. I’d have to find ways to get the tripod several inches closer to the subject using a newer lens. So, sometimes there are advantages to not buying the latest and greatest, beside just price. 😉
The macro lens won’t get much use until the weather warms up, I knew that when I bought it. This will give me time to play with it and learn how to use it correctly in time for spring, when I think that I’ll be using it a lot.
It’s beginning to get light outside, and I can’t believe how much snow melted yesterday! The lawn in front of my apartment is bare of snow, but I’m sure that’s not the norm.
I’ve already eaten breakfast, so even though it’s still not completely light out yet, I think that I’ll go for my walk early to try to beat the front coming this way.
I’m back, after a pleasant but rather uneventful walk. I did the entire 6 miles of my extended daily walk, but I was done an hour quicker than I did 5 miles at Aman Park yesterday. The difference was that with little light, I didn’t shoot many photos. I’m not going to insert any of the few that I did shoot today yet, if ever. I’m vain enough to want the photos in the header of my blog to be some of my better work, not photos like today where I went up 1 2/3 EV trying to get a crow exposed correctly on a gloomy day. 😉
I did beat the front, barely, but since I wasn’t sure, I took only the L series lens today. I saw a few birds, including some robins, but other than a few crows, I didn’t try for any photos. I have a few errands to run this afternoon, so this may be it for today, it depends on how I feel when I get back home.
The cold and clouds have returned big time! It’s 25 degrees Farenheit colder this morning than yesterday. It looks like the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) is on vacation for another week, as I’ll be taking just the L series lens with me when it’s this cold and snowing.
Since we’re approaching New Years day, time for a little reflection. Of course the big news in my life this past year has been the purchase of my new camera gear. It’s been both an eye-opening experience, and a total blast learning to use the new Canon 60 D bodies that I bought. They’ve made photography fun again. Every photo I shot with the old Nikon was a battle in a way, I never knew for sure what I was going to get when I pressed the shutter release. I can remember spending months fiddling with the settings trying to get it to work correctly, I finally gave up, and would shoot dozens of shots to get a few to post here.
It’s been just the opposite with the 60 D, it’s been a joy to use, and it reacts to adjustments just as it should. I’ve been taking a slow, methodical approach to learning the new camera, and I hate to brag, but I think that I am well on my way to getting some seriously good photos from it on a regular basis. It dawned on me yesterday that I haven’t gone much more than scratching the surface of what the Canon is capable of. For example, I have never shot any photos at an ISO of over 1600, and that I probably should, just to see how much sensor noise that I do get from it. I should try that today, as with the clouds, it would be a good day for it.
I’ve also added four very good lenses to my kit, the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm) has gotten the most use so far, because it is such an excellent lens for birding. Matched to the 60 D, it has pulled off some photos that would have been impossible with my old gear, there are many examples that come to mind. I can remember the horrid photos of a barred owl taken with the old Nikon that I posted, you could barely tell that the bird was an owl, and all the branches surrounding it were off-color due to the chromatic aberration in the Nikkor lens that I had. Then I contrast that to both the peregrine falcon and golden eagle photos that I got on recent trips to Muskegon, and the difference is astounding, even though the weather conditions were very similar, cloudy with occasional rain and snow.
The EF 70-200 mm is even better than the Beast as far the quality of photos that it produces, with one caveat, it does not auto-focus precisely as I get down towards the limits of its ability to focus on subject at the close end of its range. I’ve found that I have to mount the camera and that lens on my tripod and use live view to get the incredibly sharp photos the lens is capable of.
The EF S 15-85 mm lens has been the most fun for me to learn so far, it comes very close to matching the L series lens as far as photo quality, I need to find excuses to use that lens more often, hopefully this spring while I’m on vacation again. All my lenses except for the new Tokina macro lens are zoom lenses, but I find that I tend to use the Beast and the L series lenses at either full zoom in or out, seldom in between. Not so with this lens, I use its full range of focal length, and it does well through its entire range. This is the lens that I have used for many of my close-ups up until now, as its auto-focus works better at close range than the L series lens.
The jury is still out on the new Tokina Macro lens. I have shot about two dozen photos with it so far, not enough for a true picture of what this lens can do. I do love the way it functions so far, and that’s a big step towards good photos.
Well, I’m back from my rather boring walk today. I shot only a few photos, and most of them were testing the Canon body at higher ISO settings. I’ll get to the photos from today in a minute. But, since it is a time to look back at the old year, and forward to the new year, I think that I’ll go back and use a good photo now and then for this post. I’m going to start with this one from early May, right after I purchased my new camera gear.
I didn’t go looking for that photo, or any particular photo, I went back into my archives to early May, and picked one that I liked. I think that I will continue to go back in time to get some of my older photos, as my options for current photos are extremely limited due to the weather.
With that one out of the way, here’s the test photo from today at ISO 3200.
That’s far better than I had expected it to be, I think that further testing is in order. When I bought the Canon 60 D, I had been used to the Nikon D50 that I had been using. With it, photo quality began to degrade at ISO 400, by ISO 1600, the photos had so much sensor noise that I never shot with the ISO set that high. So, when I did buy the Canon, I set it to go up to ISO 1600, and that’s where the setting had stayed until today. I don’t see that much noise in the photo above, if I have to, I think that I can easily go that high. But, like I said, further testing would be a good thing.
Here are the rest of the photos from yesterday and today.
As you can see, nothing special at all. I may have to fall back on older photos quite a bit this winter. As cold as it was today, the forecast is for even colder for the rest of the week, with slightly warmer temperatures for the weekend, and lake effect snow for everyday. It’s going to be a long cold winter!
Cloudy, very cold, with light snow falling, what a wonderful way to end a year, not.
I’m in no hurry to face the weather today, so I’ll take a short look back at one of the other big things as far as my blog this past year. I just posted the 139th species to the My Photo Life List project that I undertook about this time last year. With the photos that I have saved, I can make it to 170 species, just short of halfway through the list from the Audubon Society that I am working from. One good day at Muskegon could put me over the halfway mark, but it doesn’t look as if that’s going to happen any time soon.
I knew that trying to get a photo of every species of bird frequently seen in Michigan was going to be a very big challenge, that’s one of the reasons that I decided to try it. But what I didn’t know was how much I would learn in the process. Trying to get usable photos for the project in all-weather conditions has taught me to be a better photographer, but that’s just the beginning. I never knew that there were such species as phalaropes, as just one example. With every species that I post, I learn new things about even the more common species that I’ve watched my entire life. I learn from both the information that I post with each species, and by watching the species closer while I am photographing them. Along with that, I am learning habitat, plants, and the way that species interact.
I know that many people find the posts that I do in the project boring, as well as when I ramble on about it here, sorry, it has become a huge part of my life right now. I’m paying even more attention to everything in nature, even if my posts don’t reflect that right now. There will come a time when this blog will expand its horizon’s again, trust me on that.
On a somewhat related note, I received the year-end stats for my blog from WordPress, and the posts from my blog that have been viewed most often are the older ones that I have done on places to hike and kayak. I will get back to doing more of those in the future, maybe even this year, I hope.
But, that’s for tomorrow and the rest of the week, when I’ll switch from looking back to looking forward. In fact, one of the things that I am going to do in the next week is to start making plans for the coming year. I have two weeks of vacation to use up, I think that I’ll take one in May, the other in October. Then there are the extended holiday weekends as well. I have the new tent/cot to use, I think that it will be just the thing for quick trips once the weather gets better.
I’m back from my walk, and it was another of those days where I asked myself what was I doing out there. Unlike a couple of weeks ago, today I had two answers. One was to keep my pathway somewhat cleared to make walking easier. That’s not just for me either, I see that the critters use my path when they can to get around without having to go through the deeper snow. The other reason is to keep my legs in shape for when the weather gets better. Although, I am beginning to wonder if a day off now and then may not be a good thing for my legs.
Anyway, there could have been flocks of flamingos or herds of elephants not far off from the trail today, and I may not have seen them. Much of the time I was pulling the hood of my parka down over my face as far I could and still see where I was going, to keep the wind-blown snow out of my eyes.
How cold was it out there today? So cold that the bottle of water that I carried in the pocket of my parka turned to slush, that’s never happened before.
I did see a few birds, very few actually, a couple of blue jays and cardinals, I think that most of the birds were either hunkered down somewhere, or raiding neighborhood bird feeders.
I did find one subject willing to have its picture taken.
Seeing a squirrel covered in snow struck me as funny, until I noticed that I was as covered in the white stuff as the squirrel was. The difference between us was that my beard hasn’t had a chance to get long enough to keep all the snow in it from melting yet.
Well, that’s about it for my walk. I had to work late last night and didn’t get home until almost 3 AM, so I need a nap. Once I have finished my deep relaxation as Mr. Tootlepedal calls it, I’m going to start working on plans for the coming year. I’ll start with going back through my blog to help me decide on when to go where. I knew that there was a reason I started this. But first, another look back at a photo from May.
Photos like that are the reason that I purchased the macro lens. I had to crop that one more than I would have liked, with the new Tokina, that won’t be the case any longer.
From our local meteorologist….In December, “There were 14 days with no sun, 21 days with less than 10% sun and only 4 days with more than 40% sunshine.” Just peachy.
Well, it’s 2014, a new year, so it’s time to start looking ahead, although I’m still going to post a few older photos for at least the rest of this week.
As far as looking ahead at the weather, they are using words like extreme and brutal to describe the cold air coming our way for next week. Of course those terms are relative, for while it will be very much below normal for West Michigan, the temperatures they are forecasting would be balmy to people living in Minnesota or the Dakotas.
My plan to start planning trips for the new year did not go well yesterday, turns out that I had to work. You have to love working at a company where every one forgets that you even exist, and never tells you anything, not even the work schedule.
I guess that I’m still looking back, aren’t I?
Anyway, as far as looking forward when it comes to purchasing photo gear, I have one big-ticket item to go, a 400 mm L series prime telephoto lens. I hope to have saved enough money to make that purchase by the time that summer gets here. I should add a better tripod to the big-ticket items, but I can get by with the cheap tripod that I have for now.
I also hope to add a teleconverter, or extender, to my kit soon, along with a light source for macro photos. I’m thinking of going with an LED panel rather than a flash, we’ll see when the time comes. But, the things I like about an LED panel is that you can see how the light plays on a subject before you shoot the photo. They are also adjustable, as far as how much light that they emit, which would be a good thing. Flash units can be adjusted, but they are much more difficult, and I’m into easy. Turn a knob as you look at a subject to judge the light is my way of doing things. Best of all, the LED panels are less expensive than a good flash unit.
I’m back from my somewhat shortened walk today. It was cold, painfully cold, and since I had done my long walk yesterday, then worked last night, I decided to do the 4 1/2 mile version of my walk today. I know, I wimped out, what can I say. It was so cold that any exposed skin and my fingers ached in the cold, then ached even more when I stepped back inside into warm air.
Looking at the photo of the leaping squirrel yesterday gave me an idea. That photo is blurry because the shutter speed wasn’t high enough to stop the squirrel’s motion. Well, I’ve been wanting to check the performance of the Canon body at higher ISO settings, so today I set the ISO to 3200 and left it there, with mixed results.
Under what were about the worst possible conditions, these are what I got.
But with a little better light, the results surprised me again.
Photography is a great way to learn about wildlife. While I was shooting those photos, I noticed that the tree sparrows would land on weeds that couldn’t support their weight, and they would continue flapping their wings, as you can see in the last photo. Then the sparrows would drop to the ground to eat the seeds that they had dislodged from the weeds, as you can see in the middle photo. The seeds on the snow don’t show, but I witnessed the same behavior several times. At first I thought that the sparrows were wasting a lot of energy, flapping around on plants that couldn’t hold their weight, until I saw every one of them drop to the snow to eat seeds from the weeds after they had flapped around near the top of the weeds.
On my return past where the sparrows were feeding on my way out, I saw many of them near the creek that has a little open water left, getting a drink. Then they would find clumps of grass that the snow hasn’t completely covered, and they would “burrow” back into the grass, out of sight, and out of the wind. And we call them birdbrains.
Here’s two more photos from the high ISO testing.
Oh, the only noise reduction that I used for any of those photos is that which is built into the camera, no post processing was done to any of them, other than cropping. The amount of noise in these photos is about the same as what I used to get with the Nikon at ISO 800, and much less than at ISO 1600. The few photos that I tried at ISO 1600 with the Nikon were unusable because of the noise.
So, I learned something else today, while I would like to keep the ISO set as low as I can for the best photo quality, in a pinch, ISO 3200 will produce good photos with the Canon.
Now, for a little look back at two photos from June of 2013.
I probably shouldn’t be posting these older photos, they make me wish that winter was over with!
After the cold today, I think that I’ll not only be giving the Beast a vacation, but I’ll be giving all my new camera gear at least a few days off. There’s no reason to subject it to these temperatures just for a few lousy photos. I’ll take my Powershot camera with me, it fits into a pocket, and does a pretty good job for a compact digital. I slipped a few from it into both of my recent posts of photos from the snow and ice storm, and as they appear in my blog here, it’s hard to tell which ones they were.
I didn’t write anything this morning before going for my walk today, for one thing, I’m tired of typing cold, cloudy, and windy. The other thing is that my Smart Wool brand hiking socks that have served me so well over the years are wearing out, so I took the time this morning to order some new hiking socks for the rest of the winter.
I took just the Powershot compact digital camera with me today, and never got it out of my pocket, so no photos from today. That may be the case for some time to come, as not only do I have to worry about subjecting my camera gear to extreme weather, I’m more concerned for the wildlife than my camera.
This has already been a hard winter for wildlife, and even though the ice that covered much of the food for critters melted last weekend, now they have to deal with deep snow and temperatures around 0 degrees Farenheit (-18 C), lower than that at night, slightly higher during the day. There’s no real relief from the frigid temps in sight, so I’m not going to stress any wildlife just to get a photo for my blog.
This winter may turn out to be a blessing in disguise, as it gives me a little bit of a break from blogging. It’s not that I have come to dislike blogging, just the opposite, I love it more now than when I first began, but it does have a habit of getting in the way of other things that I should be doing. Since I don’t have much to write about right now, and the foreseeable future, these posts are going to become very short for a while. This will give me a chance to recharge and refresh as far as blogging when the weather improves.
Speaking of the weather, it’s very cold, -7 degrees Fahrenheit (-22 C) when I got up this morning. The good news is that there’s not much wind, and it is sunny outside. The thought crossed my mind to bring the new Tokina macro lens with me this morning when I go for my walk, but I have rejected that idea. There’s no reason to subject my gear to this cold for a few photos and a little bit of practice. There will be plenty of time for that when the weather does get warmer. Besides, the Powershot does a good enough job if I do see something worth taking a photo of.
The forecast calls for a slight warm up tomorrow, ahead of the next storm which will bring blizzard like conditions beginning on Sunday, followed by temperatures even colder than today for the first part of next week. I may take a day or two off from walking if it really does get as nasty as they are predicting. But, for the time being, I’ll bundle up and trudge through the snow another day, be back later.
I’m back, and I even brought home a couple of photos taken with the Powershot. You can almost tell that the bird in this first photo is a blue jay.
The creek is freezing over in this cold weather.
The most remarkable thing about my walk today was that as I stepped out of the door, I heard a goldfinch calling as if it were spring, now that was one confused bird! It’s amazing what a little sun around here will do, even though it was the coldest day in several years.
As luck would have it, not long after I began my walk, the clouds rolled in, and the birds all disappeared. Just as I was coming home, the sun came out again, and so did the birds, but I didn’t chase them for photos.
I managed to stay comfortable despite the cold temperatures, except for my toes. The New Balance boots I bought last month are very good, but they are lacking the insulation that the old pair that I wore out had. I think that I’ll be able to make it through this winter OK with them, the new socks I have on order will help. But, next year I’m going to spring for a pair of L L Bean pac-boots, no matter what. The only drawback to the Bean boots is that they are heavier than some of the newer boots, but I’ll live with that for warm, dry feet.
In looking back to look forward, during both of the longer trips that I took in 2013, I ran myself into the ground trying to do too much, while eating too little. So this year, I am going to slow down, a little anyway, and bring enough food to fuel my body. Trying to hike 6 to 10 miles a day while shooting photos and only eating a little bit of junk food while on the go, and a sub sandwich for supper doesn’t cut it.
But, I know me, and I’m not going to take the time to cook, then clean up after, not when I’m by myself anyway. Now if there were some one else along with me, then I would cook, since there would be some one else to handle the other chores while I did the cooking and cleaning.
I have come up with a menu as far as food for my trips that I think I’ll be able to stick to, and won’t take up much time or space, we’ll see, but it has to be better than what I did last year.
As for the trips, I’m going to take one week of vacation in May to go to the Pigeon River Country to do some trout fishing, and some birding on the side. I never went there at all last year, I miss that area, as I consider it my second home. I may spend a few nights on the Manistee River as well, and fish during all the days but one, as I’ll hike the Mason Tract one of those days.
For the Memorial Day weekend, I’ll head up to Alpena to the Ossineke State Forest Campground, just as I did last year to do some serious birding for the entire weekend.
Before May gets here though, I’m planning on at least one weekend at each Ludington State Park and the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge for birding, as early as the weather permits me to camp out, even if it is in the back of my Forester at Shiawassee.
As much as I would like to plan out all my trips for the year, I think that I should stop here until I see how the weather is going to be, and how well my wallet holds up. 😉
Yippee! I get to type something other than cloudy and cold this morning, it is sunny and very cold, so cold that the heating system in my apartment is not really keeping up very well. It seems to be holding at about 64 degrees F, which isn’t bad, yet, as long as it doesn’t get any worse. Part of the reason for that is because of the strong wind blowing outside, right at my apartment.
It is forecast to get a little warmer today, and the wind will pick up in intensity, but swing around so that it’s coming from the opposite direction, which means my apartment will end up being somewhat sheltered from the wind. Of course they are also predicting over a foot of snow in total, starting this afternoon and continuing for several days.
With the wind, today would be a good day to stay indoors, but it’s only going to get worse for a while. Temperatures are going to start falling when the snow arrives, and continue dropping until Monday, yuck!
So, in a few minutes, I’ll bundle up with an extra layer, and head on out into the cold.
Okay, that was weird. It was exactly as I described it before I left for my walk, cold, sunny, and with a stiff wind, but for some reason, it felt comfortable out there, for most of my walk. I did the full extended version that I do on weekends, and I even brought the good camera with the Tokina lens to play with it more. I was glad that I did, even though none of the photos that I got are anything special, other than they show me what a great purchase that lens was.
Given that I shot that one handheld while trying to overcome the wind blowing the stalk of grass around, I think that one is pretty good.
I tried birding, but 100 mm just doesn’t get me close enough to the birds.
But the color rendition and sharpness of the Tokina lens is exceptional in my opinion, which was reinforced by these next two photos. I had planned to crop down on the squirrel, but after seeing the full size versions, I have decided to post the photos that way.
The only thing special about those two is how closely they match what I saw with my eyes before shooting the photos, they are as close to real life as I have ever gotten in photos before. The subject matter may not be special, but the sharpness and color are.
I tried a few true macro shoots as well.
Again, I shot those two hand-held, but I braced myself well against the tree for them. If I had been using a tripod, as I should have, and stopped the aperture down more, those would have been really good.
Instead, I went back to birding again.
Considering how much I had to crop that one, it is remarkably sharp.
As you may be able to tell in that last photo, the clouds had rolled in by that time, and it had begun to snow at a moderate pace. It was as if some one had flipped a switch, or a quick-moving summer thunderstorm, the weather went from pleasant to miserable in less than 10 minutes. I was glad that I was already on my way home by the time that it happened. But, I still can’t get over how nice that it felt for most of my walk given the conditions being what they were. The wind was sustained out of the south at 22 MPH (35 K.P.H.) with higher gusts, and the temperature was at 20 degrees F (-7 C)., but I took my gloves and hood off to keep from overheating. Maybe I’m getting used to the cold, that couldn’t come at a better time considering the forecast!
The temperature in my apartment has climbed a couple of degrees as well, and I’m going to see if I can help it out by doing a little baking. Some cornbread sounds really good, so I throw that in the oven right after I finish this.
And this one is finished I suppose, unless I prattle on about camera gear for a little longer.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!