My Week, New toys, new attitude
As has become my typical routine, I’m up before sunrise, drinking coffee, pondering the week ahead, and looking back, a little.
I ended last week’s post after I had purchased a Tamron 1.4 tele-converter, and I’m dying to try it out with some of my lenses in some better light than I had yesterday. I bought the extender mostly to use with the Tokina macro lens, and occasionally with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens), but I was pleasantly surprised by how much the extender increased the versatility of my 70-200 mm L series lens.
Since the extender doesn’t change the close focusing ability of the lenses it is used with, the L series lens becomes very close to being a 280 mm macro lens on the close-up end of the scale. That extra 80 mm also seemed to make more difference than I expected for longer shots. I suppose that I shouldn’t be that surprised, after all, I got by with only a 70-300 mm lens on my old Nikon.
I know that the photo quality will suffer a little when I use the extender, but, I can still get photos good enough to make me happy when I use it. hopefully I’ll get a chance to test it further today.
Okay, that brings us to today, and where I should go. My best chance of seeing sunshine would be to head east, away from Lake Michigan. But, it’s been a while since I’ve been to the big lake, and I’m also chomping at the bit, so to speak, to take some photos of birds.
Of the places that I go often, Palmer Park has been a complete bust for birds, or anything else since late summer for some reason. Aman Park has been better for birding this winter, which is somewhat unusual. Aman Park is much better known for the spring wildflowers than for birding.
Anyway, I’m thinking Lake Harbor Park today, even though it is on Lake Michigan. I know that I’ll find the widest variety of birds there, along with chances for some landscape photos as well. Another thing going for it is that it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump from the Muskegon Channel, so I can make a quick stop there after my hike at Lake Harbor Park.
Wish me luck!
Well, today was a huge learning experience for me, or should I say that I had to relearn the art of manually focusing, along with learning a few other things, which I’ll touch on as I go.
I went to Lake Harbor Park, and there were plenty of birds to practice on, but I have few photos to show for the time that I spent there. It’s not that I didn’t shoot many, but most of them are bad. There was little light, a 30 MPH wind blowing, and my ability to manually focus was off. I will share a few that surprised me however, I’ll get to those in a second.
Before that, one of the things that I learned today was that using the 1.4 extender works well with the Beast, when everything is right.
Those three were all taken later in the day at the Muskegon Channel, after the sun had come out, and the wind had died down a little. The photo of the scoter was cropped slightly, the grebe and merganser are just as they came out of the camera. Under very good conditions, there’s not a lot of fall off in quality from what the Beast produces without the extender. That makes me a very happy camper!
It was very cloudy when I arrived at Lake Harbor Park., with a 30 MPH wind blowing out of the south-southwest. I knew that the photos I was shooting at the time wouldn’t be great, but I didn’t know how bad they were until I got home and blew them up on the computer. By looking at the photos, I learned that the depth of field of a 700 mm lens wide open is infinitesimal, there were shots in which a duck’s bill was in focus, but the back of its head wasn’t. Of course part of that was because I was standing too close to the ducks. 😉
I also learned that a 30 MPH wind was enough to blow me around to the point where I couldn’t keep a subject in focus, nor could I hold steady enough for a sharp photo. In addition, I learned that I can’t manually focus quickly enough to keep up with smaller birds, such as nuthatches and chickadees, which never sit still for very long anyway.
Luckily, most of the birds that I photographed poorly weren’t very special, that is, until I got to the channel from Mona Lake to Lake Michigan. I saw two bald eagles in flight, but before I could get the camera up to my eye, they had dropped below a dune, out of sight. After I got closer, I could see them perched out on the ice on Lake Michigan, one was about 100 yards from me, the other, a little farther than that. I shot a few photos of each, no need for them here though. As I was standing there watching them doing nothing, an immature eagle flew past me, this time I was quick enough.
The young eagle landed next to one of the mature eagles.
That makes me wonder, how do eagles recognize each other at great distances, eyesight?
Anyway, I turned around to head back to my vehicle, and another mature eagle flew over me.
Not great, but handheld at 700 mm, manually focused, and very little light, I’ll take it!
My plan had been to walk the length of the channel carrying only the Beast with the extender, then return to my vehicle, shed the extender, and grab the second body with the macro lens on it, then go for a walk in the woods there at Lake Harbor Park.
I had just removed the extender, when yet another eagle flew over the parking lot.
That eagle disappeared off to the east, but it was soon followed by another.
The last three were all shot at 500 mm, and cropped a little. As you can see, the sun was breaking through the clouds by then, I wish that I had the time to put the extender back on, but the eagles didn’t wait around.
My plan to walk the woods didn’t go well, the trails at the base of the dunes were drifted shut, and I didn’t feel like busting through drifts, some of which were taller than me. So, I walked one of the trails that runs along the top of a dune, then walked back via the beach. The only photo worth posting is this one.
That was shot with the Tokina macro lens, which also makes a fair landscape lens it turns out.
So, with that part of the day over with, I went to the Muskegon Channel to chase a few more waterfowl around. By then, the sun was out, the wind began to die down, and I started getting much better at manually focusing, so my photos from there are much better. But, I’m going to be a jerk and make you wait to see them.
The weather forecast for the next eight days looks much like it has all winter long, other than the brief warm up this weekend, cloudy, cold, and snow. I doubt if I will get many photos worth posting this week, so I’ll throw in a couple of the ones from today as needed this week, maybe even next week.
I’ve said it before, but it fits well here, I’m my own harshest critic when it comes to my photos. When I first looked through the photos from yesterday, I was convinced that they were all junk, maybe one or two good ones. That may be because I shot a much higher percentage of clinkers than I normally do, but that was part of the learning curve when using a new piece of photo equipment. My problem is that even though I may know that there will be things to learn using new equipment, I don’t allow myself the luxury of bad photos as I learn. I know, that makes no sense, but it is me. I set high standards for myself, even though I know that I won’t reach them right away.
One thing that I forgot from yesterday, the Canon 60 D, the Tamron extender, and the Beast performed very well together as a team. The Tamron extender transmitted the correct data back and forth between the camera and lens, the Canon body calculated great exposure settings based on the true focal length of the stack, and the Beast reacted accordingly. The Canon upped both the ISO and shutter speed as much as it could, while keeping the Beast stopped down as much as was possible to give me as much depth of field as could be gained.
I’ve read that some other combinations don’t work as well together, and that the user’s end up going to full manual because their camera bodies don’t communicate correctly with the extenders and lenses that those other users have chosen. It pays to do your homework before purchasing something.
Okay, on to today. A rare bit of good news weather wise around here, the front that was predicted to arrive here about the time that I’m typing this has slowed down, and won’t arrive until this evening. That means one more day of warm weather before we go back into the deep freeze. There’s some clouds, but they aren’t the heavy, dark clouds that we have most of the time around here in winter. Still, I won’t be trying the extender with the Beast today, I learned yesterday that they are best used on bright, sunny days. Instead, I’ll take the L series lens and extender for more testing with it.
Big, big news here from the humble abode today, while I was eating breakfast, I decided that there was enough sunlight to try the new Tokina macro lens, and the Tamron extender out on the British soldier lichens that I posted a photo of last week. I think that you’ll be able to see just how good of choices that I made in purchasing these items, when I get to the photos. But, to build suspense, I’m going to begin with the bird photos from today.
With the warmer weather, I saw more birds around here today than in the entire week last week. If I had taken the Beast with me, I could have gotten many more photos than I did, but I used the L series lens with the extender for these.
Nothing special, but it looks like the L series lens works well with the extender as a walking around lens.
Now then, for the good stuff. By the time that I entered the park, the clouds had thickened up, and the light wasn’t nearly as good as it had been when I started my walk. In fact, it sprinkled it bit off and on for the rest of the time that I was out there. But, I didn’t let that stop me, nor my cheesy tripod either.
To be fair to the tripod that I have, the snow piles and ice were part of the problem that I had, but not all. Nothing locks solidly on the Vanguard tripod. I also tried some test shots with the L series lens and extender using the tripod. I was all set up, used live view to focus manually, and as I had my finger on the shutter release, I could see movement caused by the pulse of my heartbeat on the screen. I should have turned on the mirror lock up and self timer for absolute steadiness, but it was sprinkling, and I didn’t want my camera gear exposed to the rain any longer than I had to. None of the shots using the L series came close to being as sharp as I was able to get handheld in worse light last week.
I may just have to postpone the purchase of the 400 mm prime lens that I would like, and work on getting a better tripod and accessories for macro photos. I’ve lugged the Beast around for nearly a year, and it hasn’t killed me, I suppose I could go another year with it as my main birding lens.
But I digress, it’s time for the big unveiling!
The first is the Tokina macro alone.
This next one is the Tokina and the Tamron extender together.
Neither of those were cropped at all, they are straight out of the camera! I may be overly proud of those, but I don’t think so. If I am, please correct me.
For the record, these were shot at ISO 100 and f/14, using manual focus through the viewfinder.
The photo where I used the extender looks sharper, but I think that’s because I did a better job of setting the exposure, and was probably lighter on the shutter release, so there was less camera shake for that one. But, in any event, the Tokina Lens and Tamron extender make a great combination for getting close. And, I could have gotten even closer if I hadn’t been thwarted by a snow pile and a poor tripod. I’m a happy camper!
Now I’ll have to be patient, and hope that spring comes early this year.
We’re still waiting for the storm that refuses to arrive. It’s colder today, about average for this time of year, and there was sunshine when I first woke up. That’s fading as I type this, as the clouds try once again to invade the area.
After the successful trial using the Tokina macro lens and the Tamron extender together, I have decided that the time has come to spend some time with the manual for my camera, and lock in saved settings for use when shooting using the tripod. That means using the mirror lock-up function, and the self timer, among other settings. The settings that I used for the macro photos were virtually identical to the settings that I’ve used for the very good landscape photos that I have gotten so far.
I have a saved set-up for flying birds in the wildlife body, which saves a lot of time and fooling around. Now it’s time to do the same with the landscape body. I’m much more likely to photograph subjects the “right” way if I don’t have to fool around changing half a dozen, or more, camera settings to get the shot. So, I’ll take care of that problem this week.
One other thing before breakfast, and it’s a repeat of something that I said yesterday. I have to quit being so critical of my own photos. I shot some excellent ones on Sunday, I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but some of my photos are almost as good as any that I’ve seen. I may not have the very best equipment, so I can see that my photos may not be quite as sharp as those taken by people who do have the finest lenses and cameras, but I’m coming very, very close.
Time for a walk.
Now what do I do? I have 30 photos left over from Sunday to use up, but I came home from my walk today with a good crop of photos to go with them. Well, let me rephrase that, I came home with a few very good photos, a few of a blue jay battling a red-bellied woodpecker, and a few that are so-so, but I saved them because I was able to get photos of most of our common winter resident birds today.
I guess I’ll use up the photos from today now, and save the waterfowl for bad days.
The next few are the series of photos that I shot of the blue jay trying to chase a red-bellied woodpecker away from the sumac, it didn’t go well for the jay.
The woodpecker tried telling the jay not to try that again.
But the jay was dumb enough to try again.
The blue jay thought that imitating a vulture for a while before an attack may work better.
That didn’t work either.
The woodpecker eventually flew off, the jay ate a little of the sumac, and then it left as well. I’m not sure what prompted the jay to attempt to drive the woodpecker away, other than both species are bullies in the bird world. I’ve seen red-bellied woodpeckers following downy woodpeckers, wait for the downy to drill a hole to food, then the red-bellied would drive the downy away to steal the food.
Here’s the rest of the photos from today, captions will be enough for these.
It was nice to see so many birds today, both species and the number of each species, even better was hearing them chatter away. I even heard both a titmouse and a goldfinch warming up for their respective spring songs.
If you’re thinking that my photos from today look a little washed out, you’d be right. You see, while I was at the camera store on Saturday, I bought some screen protectors for the LCD display of my camera, and I applied the protector Sunday night after I got home from Muskegon. Apparently, the screen protector darkens the display slightly, for when I checked my early photos, they all looked a bit dark as viewed on the display. Today was also my first day of seriously photographing birds using the new extender on the L series lens, so I assumed that the display was telling me the truth, and that I needed to go up a little in EV when using the extender, the display lied.
If you remember, early on after I purchased the Canon 60 D I had a similar problem, when I brightened the display slightly so that I could see it better. I shot a number of photos that were too dark after that because of what I saw in the display when I checked. It took me a while to adjust to the brighter display. It may take me a day or two to adjust to the display with a protector on it.
Funny how little things can throw me off.
The snowstorm first forecast to arrive Sunday night is just now reaching the area, and there’s light snow falling as I type this.
Winter has returned, the brief January thaw was very welcome though. It’s much more winter like this morning, with lake effect snow falling, driven by the last of the wind from the storm that came through last night.
I have decided to stop following a number of blogs that I had been following, several people have taken to posting multiple times per day, I assume in an effort to make their stats look better. That’s their privilege of course, but it’s been taking me too long to view them all, and as much as I may have liked their blogs, I don’t have the time to read two, three, or even four posts per day from the same person. That’s bordering on spamming people in my opinion.
Anyway, it’s time for food and a walk.
Well, I’m back. We didn’t get very much snow overnight from this storm, and most of what did fall got blown around until it became part of existing snow drifts. I was deep in thought for most of my walk, as I wasn’t seeing very much wildlife of any type, it was a ho-hum kind of day. I did look up once to see a pair of mourning doves flying past me, out of camera range, and with the sun behind them as they passed me. A second or two later, a Cooper’s hawk flew past me as if following in the tracks of the doves, but I didn’t get a photo of it.
I did shoot a photo of a fox squirrel, as I’m still testing the capabilities of the Tamron extender, here it is, in the slightly cropped version.
That photo plays into things that I have been thinking about over the past two weeks, and also goes along with what I said about being my own harshest critic. I am beginning to rethink a few things, mainly purchasing the 400 mm prime telephoto lens.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been going back through the photos that I have taken this past summer, and posting one or two now and then as a way of looking back at the past year. Here’s another example, from last August.
Also, the photos that I shot at Muskegon on Sunday that I thought were junk when I first viewed them.
But the photo that has hit me the most was the second one of the British soldier lichens that I inserted earlier into this post.
With a lot of careful research, I’ve managed to put together a very good kit of photo gear, and under reasonable weather conditions, my photos reflect just how good my current photo gear is. Of course, it isn’t just the gear that’s responsible for the quality of my photos improving.
I have allowed myself to go on a quest for the “Holy Grail” as it pertains to photography, looking for the magical lens which will improve my photos dramatically.
There’s no doubt that the 400 mm prime telephoto lens that I’ve been drooling over is superior to the Beast when it comes to optics, and it’s much easier to carry and handle as well. I’m sure that I will purchase one eventually, but I’m no longer in any hurry. I look at the photos that I have taken with the Tokina 100 mm prime macro lens and know that I would just love to have a long prime telephoto lens equally as sharp as the Tokina is.
While the prime telephoto can produce better photos than the Beast, there’s still room for me to improve the photos that I get while using the Beast, as well as all of my lenses, and especially the camera bodies. I’ve been taking a slow, methodical approach to learning my new gear, and I believe that I still have a lot to learn. I think that I can extract more quality from my current gear than I would see if I were to purchase an even sharper lens. I could be wrong about that, but it doesn’t matter, I won’t know until I try, and even if the increases in quality aren’t as large as I think that they will be, there will still be improvement, and that’s what counts.
I think that if I continue to fine tune the camera settings, that I will continue to see the quality of my photos improve, and I hate to sound like I’m bragging, but many of them are darned good already.
It’s funny, I inserted the photos of the bunting and long-tailed duck, and the first thing that I wanted to do was apologize for the poor quality of those photos because I’ve reduced both the physical size of those photos, and the quality of them before posting them here.
One thing that I have begun to do this week is to make two categories for my photos that I post here. One is of “throw away” shots, the photos of the birds from yesterday are an example of that category. With the poor light, I knew that none of the photos from yesterday would be wallhangers. I reduced the size and quality of those photos a little more than I have in the past, as they were just fair to begin with.
The other category will be the “trophies”, really good photos and/or of species that I seldom if ever post photos of. I’ll still reduce the size and quality of the trophies, but not as much as I do to the throw aways. That will help me conserve space as far as the WordPress limits on uploads, and besides, I don’t see any reason to try to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
I’ll post slightly better versions of trophy photos, however I still won’t post the full versions, not only because of space limits, but I don’t want any one stealing my photos either.
As much as I would like to post nothing but trophies, that isn’t going to happen, as this is still a record of my daily walks.
But, and this is hard for me to say in a way, I’m getting some excellent photos, and it’s time for that to make its way into my thought process. There is no such thing as the perfect photo, so it’s time for me to stop knocking myself because I’m not getting perfect photos every time that I press the shutter release.
Cold, windy, and snow, we’re back to full blown winter again around here. However, last night at work, I noticed that as I backed up to the dock at the Lansing branch that it was still light out, even though I had stopped for fuel on the way there. The days have already gotten longer, I’ll have to remember that as the next arctic blast hits next week. Spring is on its way, it’s just a matter of time, and gutting out the cold spells until it arrives.
Yeah, right, spring is right around the corner he says. It was cold and windy today, and so gloomy that there seemed to be no color at all in anything.
I shot two photos of a wreath that some one placed on the gate to the park, but neither turned out well. That wreath is giving me fits, and I don’t know why. Today isn’t the first time that I’ve tried to photograph it, but I have yet to get a properly exposed photo. It gives me something to practice on even if I never do get a good photo of it.
That gives me an excuse to post three photos of a male common goldeneye that I shot on Sunday.
I’ll add those to the post that I’ve already done on them in the My Photo Life List project, just as I have added some photos of redhead ducks to the previous post on them.
And since I have already uploaded the redhead photos, I may as well insert them here as well.
Along with this one which is also a redhead, but I was photo-bombed by a swan as I shot the photo.
The darned swan swimming into the frame ruined my best photo of the redhead. That photo also gives you some idea how much of a difference in exposure is needed for the two species. I was dead on for the duck, but the swan is way overexposed.
The weather forecast is looking grim, not just for next week, but into the month of February. It may be so cold that I won’t be taking a camera with me as I go for my walks, there may even be a few days when I don’t go for a walk at all, if it gets as cold as they are saying now.
Today, it’s about average around here, cold, cloudy, with some occasional snow flurries, brrr.
So, before I go out to not take many, if any photos, here’s another from Sunday at Muskegon. This one is cropped a little just for insertion here.
The full size photo as seen on my computer didn’t need to be cropped, but I decided to add this version here to show you how well that my photo gear and I are doing.
The question that I have for myself, and that only I can answer, is, why is it that I can’t see how good my own photos are?
I can remember that after shooting the fall colors in Palmer Park, I nearly deleted all the photos that I shot when I first viewed them, but they were actually quite good in retrospect.
It was the same with the snow landscapes that I shot a few weeks ago, I wasn’t happy with them, either.
Two thoughts come to mind, one is that my initial assessment of my photos is correct, but after viewing them a few times, I begin to overlook the flaws that they have.
The other is that you may think that I’m fishing for compliments, I’m not. I think that what I really could use is a completely unbiased opinion, and go from there.
I know that at least some of the problem that I have in assessing my own photos is that I compare mine to those that have been taken by professional photographers using top of the line equipment, then edited extensively during post processing. As good as my cameras and lenses are, they can’t quite compete with equipment costing ten times as much. Nor can my unedited photos compete with those that have been edited by experts using Lightroom, or some other software.
To make things worse, I take so many photos of common subjects from too far away and in poor light, such as the blue jay trying to drive off the woodpecker from earlier this week, or these two from today.
I consider these two to be throw aways, as I have far better photos of both species. The only reason I shot these two is that I have tweaked my camera to compensate for the Tamron extender, and wanted to see how well the tweaks worked. I would say that they worked quite well.
However, as I said earlier today, I think that the time has come for me to find a source where I can get unbiased opinions on some of my photos. I could use some constructive criticism from some one who knows photography. I have several options in mind, but there’s no need to list them here, now.
I think that along with that, it’s time for me to have a few of what I consider to be my best photos printed, as I haven’t had any of the photos that I’ve taken with the Canon bodies printed yet. I’m going by what I see on the computer screen when I analyze my photos, and that may be misleading.
I do know this, I have agonized over this post far more than any that I have done up until this point. I am afraid that people reading this will think that I’m fishing for compliments, but I’m not. I’m thinking of turning the comments off for this post.
Or, they could think that I’m a nut case for not being able to tell a good photo from a bad one. Only when it comes to my own.
Cloudy, cold, and snow, we’re back to the same old rut around here. The forecast for the next three weeks is depressing. The bitter cold is predicted to return early this week, and stick around into February, with just a few “warm” days, when our temperatures will be around, or a little below average. There’ll be no chasing birds by me if that holds true.
There’s been no real sunshine this week other than a few hours last Sunday, it was less gloomy than normal on Monday, but other than that, we’ve had constant cloud cover the entire week. There’s more talk of Lake Michigan freezing over, if that happens, it will be even colder here, but at least there would be some sunshine now and then. I think that I would trade the cold for a bright day once in a while.
Okay, I had some 8 X 10 prints made from some of my photos, and they seemed to wow the people who saw them, including myself. I may have made a mistake though, most of the prints were landscapes, all taken with the 15-85 mm lens while I was on vacation last fall. I did include one photo of an eagle using just the Beast, two taken with the Beast and the Tamron extender together, and the photo of the lichens using the Tokina lens and Tamron extender.
All the prints were very sharp, although the colors were off slightly in a couple of them. That was due to the printing process, and not my fault.
I’m just going to have to face it, I’m a better photographer than I thought. 😉
I know that I have written about that in the past, but it really hit me this week when I saw the photo of the lichens earlier this week. The question remains though, why do I have such a hard time admitting it to myself, or seeing it when I first view photos that I have taken?
I also don’t know how to explain the strange dichotomy about my photography, I am quite proud of the equipment that I have purchased, yet when I see the photos that I’ve taken while using that equipment, I’m disappointed at first.
Anyway, I have come to realize that I don’t need the 400 mm prime lens to take excellent photos, the Beast, the Tamron extender, and the 70-200 mm lens all produce excellent photos, even with me using them. 😉
Going back to what I said earlier this week, it’s time for me to fine tune my settings, and work at improving my techniques.
Well, time for a walk so I can think on this some more.
I’m back. I suppose that I should chalk this post up as another in tracking my evolution into being a good digital photographer, even though I feel that I still have some distance yet to go. Evidence of that is that I see my digital results on the computer, and I’m not happy at first. Yet when I picked up the prints that I had made last night, I knew right away that they were very good. I would even go so far as to say that they are much better than anything that I was able to do back in the days when I shot film. I’m still much better at judging printed results than digital results.
I saw a huge leap in the quality of my photos when I made the switch from my old Nikon to my current Canon camera. Since then, there have been several Aha! moments along the way, but mostly it has been a slow, step by step process to get to where I am today. I hadn’t realized how good my photos have become until I looked back at some of my earlier efforts. I’m making progress, so it isn’t any wonder that I need to take time, look back, and then rethink the course that I’m on, and make any needed adjustments to that course.
So I’m sorry if this has seemed to be another repeat of what I have said in the past, it has been, but with some differences as I have been assessing my progress, and deciding which way I need to go next. My goal hasn’t changed, I still want to become the very best nature photographer that I can be, but I have had to alter my course slightly in order to get to where I want to be.
I’ll have more about that new course next week, right now it’s time to wrap this up fairly soon.
My photos from today were nothing special, but I think that this one is worth posting.
That’s the only color I could find with the weather the way it was. I shot a blue jay and a small flock of tree sparrows, but they all look grey, since that’s the only color that shows up this time of year, so I’m not going to post them. My final photo of this week will be this one of a mute swan that I shot at 700 mm on Sunday.
The weather tomorrow is about as good as it will be for the foreseeable future, but windy. So, I’ll return to Aman Park, being down in a valley, I usually find some respite from the wind.
That’s it for this one, as always, thanks for stopping by!