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

Trying to remember it all

In many ways, photography was much easier back in the days of film, and everything on the camera had to be set manually, not that there were many settings to change back then. With digital photography, it’s a whole new ballgame.

I have six lenses, and I’ve been learning the strengths and weaknesses of each one of them, which I’ll touch on later. I have several ways of adding light to a scene, the built-in flash on the camera, a LED panel light, and an EX 320 speedlite. The speedlite has a built-in LED light, the flash, and I can fire the flash from the hotshoe of the camera, wirelessly off the camera, or off the camera using a cable that I purchased. So, I’ve been trying to learn which method of adding light to a scene works best under different conditions. Of course, that changes somewhat depending on which lens I’m using, and I can combine several of the sources of light at one time also. Throw in all the different camera settings available to me depending on a scene, and I’m having problems remembering all the possibilities. But, I am getting better at it, the more that I practice.

It would be a lot easier if I didn’t try to shoot such a wide variety of subjects, and in all-weather conditions, from cloudless sunny days, to shooting in the rain in the early morning hours. I’m jumping way ahead here, but here’s an example from Sunday, Sept. 21st at Muskegon. It’s an image of two Wilson’s snipe, a lifer for me, shot just after dawn, while it was raining and there was a 30 MPH wind blowing.

Wilson's snipe

Wilson’s snipe

The snipe had taken shelter from the wind-driven rain in the lee of the reeds, and I caught them just as the rain let up. Not too shabby if I do say so myself, but, it may have been better had I used the flash for that photo.

I wish that I could carry all my photo gear everywhere that I go, but I’m too much of a wimp to do so. The Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens), the Canon 60 D body, and the EX 320 flash unit weigh in at over 8 pounds (3.6 kg) combined. There have been a few times when my mind said that I should shoot a subject that probably would have yielded a so-so photo, but the muscles in my arm rebelled and refused to lift the camera up to my eye.

I did carry the EX 320 on the camera all the time for a few days, so that I’d always be ready, but that was too much weight, so now I carry the flash in my pocket and hope that I have the time to get it out and on the camera when needed. I carry the LED panel light in another pocket. I have the holster style camera bag that holds the second camera body, the Tokina macro lens, one of my wide-angle lenses, a spare battery for the camera, filters, and a few other odds and ends as well. My body tells me that’s all the gear that I need on my three-mile long daily walk, and more than enough for the longer hikes on weekends. My mind tells me otherwise, but my body has to do the work, so it wins out.

I really wish that I could bring my tripod along all the time, even though I wouldn’t use it that often. It’s one of those things that my body says I can do without, even though when I need it, I really need it. I did purchase a light weight carbon fiber tripod, it’s light enough. But, I purchased a lower priced, relatively heavy head to go on it, the macro focusing rail that my brother gave me weighs more than the tripod legs do, and the nifty carrying bag for the tripod all add up to too much weight.

I know that I said that this year I was going to bring the tripod all the time, and for a while this spring, I did. But, I made some huge mistakes. I’d set the tripod up, mount the camera to it, then set the camera to ISO 100 with the lens stopped all or nearly all the way down, and shoot dozens of fuzzy photos. The shutter speeds that I was shooting at allowed any breath of wind to move most subjects around so much that I never got sharp photos. But, that was all before I had the external sources of light that I have now, and I’ve realized the mistakes that I made in camera set-up. Still, more weight is not something that I want to carry all the time.

Photography is a constant learning experience. The more that I learn, I realize that there is much more to learn than I thought.

Okay, I’ve been extolling how great the Beast is as a birding lens, and for smaller songbirds in the brush, it’s hard to beat the Beast. That is, up to a distance of about 100 feet or so, then the Beast begins producing soft images.

On the other hand, the 300 mm Canon L series lens is great from 5 feet to around 30 feet, then it goes soft for some reason, until the subject is 100 feet or more from the camera. From that distance on, it is sharp again. I had forgotten that last part.

Last week, there were reports of a pair of white pelicans near where I live. So, I loaded some of my camera gear in my car, and headed over to where the pelicans were hanging out. White pelicans are very rare around here, so I wanted to be sure that I got usable photos of them. I took the Beast on one camera body, and as a back-up, I mounted the 300 mm prime lens with the Tamron extender on the other body. I shot way too many photos, most of them with the Beast, but to make sure, I shot a few with the 300 mm prime/1.4 X extender set-up. When I got home, I found that the 300 mm prime set-up….

American white pelicans

American white pelicans

…had produced much better images than the Beast….

American white pelicans

American white pelicans

…and here’s one more from the 300 mm prime.

American white pelicans

American white pelicans

That was exactly the opposite results of what I got this summer when I went chasing the sedge wrens near Grand Haven, Michigan. Then, I started out with the 300 mm prime/1.4 X extender, and couldn’t get a sharp photo of any of the wrens. So, I had gone back to my vehicle and switched over to the Beast.

The differences were that the wrens were small birds bobbing in the wind, which was also blowing thick vegetation around. The 300 mm prime set-up couldn’t handle those conditions, but those conditions played to the strengths of the Beast.

Part of the Beast’s downfall on the pelicans was the low light, but that was a good thing really. If it had been a sunny day, I would have been shooting into the sun, and neither lens would have done well. But, low light isn’t the entire answer…

Mute swan

Mute swan

Mute swan

Mute swan

…for those two were shot with the Beast under the same light, it was all about the distance, and which lens worked the best at the distance the pelicans and the swan were from me. With the swan being much closer, the Beast did a good job with it.

I’m getting ahead of myself again, but I had the chance to test the two set-ups out again on Sunday, on a bald eagle. First, the 300 mm prime/ 1.4 X extender…

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

…then, with the Beast.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

It just so happened that the eagle was perched at a distance from me where the performance of the Beast was just starting to fall off, and the performance of the 300 mm prime was coming back again. The nod goes to the 300 mm prime, which is one reason that I’d love to be able to carry both lenses with me all the time. But, the thought of carrying both of those heavy lenses all the time is not something that I care to do, even if it would mean better photos a times.

Then, there are camera settings, and on a digital camera, there are many to play with.

For birding, I shoot in aperture priority 99% of the time, using partial spot metering, ISO set to auto, and only the center focusing point enabled. Since there’s often little time to make many, if any, adjustments, I’ve found that those settings do well under a variety of lighting conditions. I’ll start with a hummer on a very cloudy day…

Juvenile ruby-throated hummingbird

Juvenile ruby-throated hummingbird

Juvenile ruby-throated hummingbird

Juvenile ruby-throated hummingbird

…A molting male goldfinch in full sun…

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

…that saw me photographing it, and moved to a better position…

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

….to pose for me.

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

I do have to adjust the exposure compensation up and down quite a bit, depending on the light and background. Against the blue sky, I had to go up 1/3 stop for the goldfinch, I went down 2/3 stop for this song sparrow.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

This goldfinch is one of the few birds that I’ve shot at zero compensation lately.

Female American goldfinch

Female American goldfinch

By using the partial spot metering, I can get usable, although not great, photos of birds even when the light is coming from behind them, as with this grosbeak.

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Or this goldfinch.

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

But, great lighting produces the best images…

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

…especially when I find a bird that will let me get very close to it.

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

I had just shot those two of the goldfinch, having gone down a full stop in exposure compensation, and hadn’t had time to adjust back to my starting point, when a red-tailed hawk zoomed past me.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

This is what I can do when the hawks give me time to get ready.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

The second one was shot at one full stop up in exposure compensation, although I think that +2/3 would have been better.

When it comes to the second body, that I use for most subjects other than birds, I’m all over the place as far as settings. In fact, I have a hard time believing all the changes that I make to the camera. Some of that has to do with the fact that I use the second body for macros, like this…

Milkweed beetle

Milkweed beetle

…to wide but fairly close shots…

Petunias

Petunias

…to landscapes.

Landscape, using Photomatix

Landscape, using Photomatix

Three different completely different subjects, three different lenses, and three different camera set-ups.

For macros of insects, my set-up is about the same as I use for birds. I use the center focus point, partial spot metering, and auto ISO as a starting point. That way, I get the bug in focus, exposed correctly, and can keep the lens stopped down for the depth of field needed to get at least most of the bug sharp. If I have the time before the insect disappears, I may tweak those settings.

For the petunias, I used the 10-18 mm lens at 10 mm, evaluative metering, ISO at 100, and I enabled all nine focus points. I used evaluative metering because the Canon 60 D is very good at protecting the highlights, that is, it typically doesn’t blow out the lightest things in the frame, and I had no idea where to start with the exposure for the vibrant colors of the flowers. Using all nine focus points, I could tell that everything that I wanted to be in focus was in focus.

For the landscape, I switched to shooting RAW, since I knew that I would be using Photomatix to post-process the images. I shot a few test shots, which told me that -1/3 EV was the best my camera could do with the scene on its own. I then went to auto-bracketing at plus and minus 1 2/3 EV, also based on my test shots. I set the camera to low-speed burst shooting to get my bracketed images. I manually focused on what I judged to be 1/3 of the way into the scene. The ISO was set to 100, and I used center weighted exposure control, since the center of the frame contained the part of the image I was most concerned with getting right.

If all that sounds like a lot to remember, it is, and I didn’t cover all the changes that I made to the settings. But, I didn’t start out making that many adjustments to the camera between subjects.

What I have done from the time that I purchased the Canon camera is to tackle one control at a time, until I was comfortable in knowing that I had at least an idea of what I was doing and why. Then I would move on to another setting, and learn that one. Eventually, I got to the point where I was changing more than one thing at a time, and learning how the combined setting changes worked together.

Another thing that helps me remember what to change is the quick menu on my 60 D. To tell you the truth, the first time that I pressed the “Q” button to call up that menu, it scared me a little. I had no idea what all those icons meant, or what changing any of them would do. Now, I press that button and I’ll make changes to half a dozen or more setting through that menu system. It also helps me to remember to return settings to what I use as my default settings.

Anyway, I’ll bet that most people have found all of this so far boring, but there are a few novice photographers who read my blog who may find this helpful. Right now, it’s time for a few more photos.

Soapwort

Soapwort

Hen turkey

Hen turkey

Asters?

Asters?

Spider web and dewy grass

Spider web and dewy grass

Spider web

Spider web

???

???

???

???

I need more practice shooting birds in flight, I’ve lost my timing. That brings up a point about my Canon 60 D bodies, they have quite a bit of shutter lag. That’s the time between when you press the shutter release and the time when the camera actually fires to record the image. I had gotten my timing of the shutter lag down fairly well, but I didn’t shoot many flying birds the past two months, so I’m a bit slow.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

I shot a number of photos of this doe and her fawn, but the light was so poor that I’m only including one.

Whitetail doe and fawn

Whitetail doe and fawn

That is, until the fawn passed me later on.

Whitetail fawn

Whitetail fawn

I’ve given up trying to identify which species in the lobelia family these flowers are.

??? Lobelia

??? Lobelia

Now, for a little humor. This is actually the last photo of the series, I shot it with the Tokina macro lens just for the heck of it, and it does set the scene. A great blue heron had purloined a couple of kiddie fishing poles, and was taking life easy on the bank while waiting for a bite.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

This was the first photo, taken with the Beast at 400 mm.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

The heron was not happy that I was capturing its method of fishing “on film”.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

I zoomed all the way to 500 mm for these next two.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

I was hoping to watch the heron reel in a fish, but fishing was poor that morning.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

In good light, there’s very little fall off in image quality between 400 and 500 mm with the Beast. But, the lower the light is, the more apparent the loss of quality becomes. But, I’ve already prattled on long enough for now.

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

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17 responses

  1. The heron humor gave me a good laugh! 😀 Congrats on the white pelicans and the Wilson’s snipes. Also, that red-tailed hawk in flight is really good.

    September 23, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    • Tanks again! I’ll have some good images of a hawk in flight coming soon, much better than this one.

      September 24, 2014 at 3:12 am

  2. I like all of these shots for different reasons and the snipe photo looks fine to me. You got some good depth in the shots of the petunias and landscape. I hadn’t thought of it before but if you have to shoot in raw to use photomatix that lets me out, because my cameras don’t do raw.
    I think all of your unknown daisy like flowers are asters, and I still think that lobelia is the great blue. I can’t think of another one with such intense blue color.
    Yesterday a woman told me that her daughter regularly fishes at the river and every time she does a GB heron lands near her, because she gives it all of the fish she catches, It looks like your two pole heron is even smarter than that one!

    September 23, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    • Thanks Allen! I thought that the flowers that looked like asters were, but I wasn’t sure. The flowers on the lobelia are only an inch across, too small for a great lobeliea, at least from what I read. Photomatix will work with Jpegs, but the results won’t be quite as good as if you start with RAW. I thought that your Powershot could shoot RAW, but I could be mistaken about that. You could download the trial version of Photomatix to see if the results with Jpegs were worth it or not.

      September 24, 2014 at 3:21 am

  3. Prattle on. There is something for me to learn all the time. The pictures are quite good too!

    September 23, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    • Thank you Tom! Let me guess, you look at my photos to see how not to do it. 😉

      September 24, 2014 at 3:16 am

      • I am one of those who even reads the words.

        September 25, 2014 at 1:59 pm

  4. Wow great shot of the snipe! Still haven’t seen one in the wild.

    September 23, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    • Thank you! I have learned that the snipe sleep most of the day, your best chances of seeing one are at dawn or dusk.

      September 24, 2014 at 3:15 am

  5. You take such wonderful pictures, I expect you win lots of prizes. I love looking at your shots especially the birds in motion.

    September 24, 2014 at 1:34 am

    • Thanks Susan! I’ve never won a photo contest, the best I’ve ever done is second. But, that’s okay, since I don’t doctor my photos or shoot animals in a zoo.

      September 24, 2014 at 3:14 am

  6. Two things, 1) you’ve made me want to go back and re-read my camera manual and finally get serious about playing with settings and 2) love those action shots (& the eagles–magnificent bird!) As you say, so hard to tell because there are so many parameters to play with but it does seem like the prime lens creates a brighter, cleaner image. Then again, it could be that day, that shot, that distance, etc. At least, you’re outside doing something enjoyable while figuring it out! 🙂 ! Happy Autumn, btw!

    September 24, 2014 at 6:46 am

    • Thank you Lori! Camera manuals tell you how to make adjustments, but they are generally poor at telling you why you’d want to adjust something. The manuals assume that you already know the why.

      The 300 mm prime is clearer, Canon used a higher quality (more expensive) glass than what Sigma did with the Beast. Brightness was a chance thing, it just so happened that the best exposure for the prime lens was slightly better than the best for the beast, due to the aperture of each lens. Most of the difference in sharpness was due to distance, if I were to chart the performance of both lenses on the same graph, it would be a better visual representation of how the two lenses perform.

      September 24, 2014 at 10:25 am

  7. Showing my age here, but every time I hear snipe, I think of a Mousekeeters episode of Spin and Marty, where they enticed a couple of rubes to go snipe hunting in the middle of the night. Thanks for the reminder that they are indeed real. They look tiny. True?

    Nice collection.

    September 24, 2014 at 10:26 am

    • Thanks Judy!

      You don’t hear much about sending people on a snipe hunt these days, I don’t think that too many people remember that old gag. The snipe are a little larger than a blue jay, but built more compactly.

      September 24, 2014 at 3:00 pm

  8. Beautiful shots as usual. I am always amazed at the range of subjects you photograph so well. You work so hard at it.

    September 27, 2014 at 6:05 am

    • Thank you Clare! I make it out to be much more work than it really is, what could be more enjoyable than seeing the subjects that I photograph in real life?

      September 27, 2014 at 9:11 am