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

Going short and going crazy Part I

Okay, I’ve been writing short blurbs about learning to use my shorter lenses more effectively, it’s time to go into detail on that subject. I could have titled this post “Learning to see” or “I knew the words, but I didn’t know what they meant”.

First, a little about me, specifically, my eyesight. This is not to brag, it’s an explanation of what I have to work around when I’m trying to photograph landscapes. Every time that I’ve had my eyesight tested, two things stand out. One, I have much better than average eyesight at distances, and two, I have much better than average depth perception. While those attributes are some of the reasons that I’m able to spot wildlife as well as I do, I think that the latter is what causes many of the problems I have when shooting landscapes. I see the world in enhanced 3D when compared to most people. Photography is a two-dimensional art form however. So, it is hard for me to relate what I see in “enhanced three dimensions” when the result is only in two dimensions.

Oops, I forgot the third aspect of my vision that affects my photography, I have poorer than average peripheral vision. I don’t have tunnel vision, but it’s close. When you add up all the aspects of my vision, it’s as if I’m walking around looking through a telephoto lens. That’s probably not good for shooting landscapes, but I wouldn’t know, because this is the only eyesight that I’ve ever had. 😉

A little more background, when I shot film, the shortest lens that I owned was a 28 mm lens, and not a very good one, so I seldom used it. I shot most off my landscape photos with either a 55 mm or 135 mm lens.

So, fast forward to the present, I’ve always wanted a good wide-angle lens, and now I have two, the 10-18 mm and 15-85 mm EF S lenses from Canon. I also have the 70-200 mm lens, which, while it isn’t a wide-angle lens, it’s still shorter than the 300 mm prime or the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) that I use for the majority of my photography, since I shoot birds and wildlife the majority of the time.

I’ve read a great deal about photography, and the way that lenses of varying lengths can change a scene. Telephoto lenses bring things closer, but they also change the apparent distance between objects in an image, “moving” things closer together. Wide-angle lenses do the opposite, they make things appear to be farther away, and also increase the distance between objects in an image. But, since I’ve never really used a wide-angle lens very much, I couldn’t related to what the things that I’ve read apply to the images I was trying to capture. Certainly not to the degree of change that the 10-18 mm lens makes at 10 mm, it’s been a whole new world for me.

My problems begin as soon as I bring the camera up to my eye, my first instinct is to zoom in on a subject, the same way that I would if it was a bird, deer, or other critter. I have to remind myself that I want a wide view. The second problem relates to my tunnel vision, I only look at the center portion of the scene in the viewfinder, and pay little attention to the rest of the scene that I’m about to capture.

However, my biggest problem is not slowing down to think about what I’m trying to capture in a scene. That hit me when I was up north on the color tour earlier in October, and is what has prompted me to spend more time using my shorter lenses. But, even slowing down and thinking about a scene doesn’t help a great deal if I don’t know how the final image is going to look if I don’t know how to relate what I see in the viewfinder when using my shorter lenses to what that final image will look like.

I can be walking along, look over and think “Oooo, pretty trees!” and slap one of the short lenses on the camera and begin composing the shot. I see several brightly colored trees standing together, with several more nearby, and think that I can get them all in one shot, which I can. But, then the two individual stands of trees “get lost” in the overall image. That’s because the wide-angle lenses increase the apparent distance between the stands of trees. Even though it runs counter to the title of this post, I would have been better off shooting each stand of colorful trees separately, so that they are the prominent part of the image, without “dead space” between the trees.

You may think that I would see that when I look through the viewfinder, but I don’t, because I look at each stand of trees independently as I’m looking through the viewfinder. Because of my eyesight, each stand looks great through the viewfinder, not so good in the final image.

The progression this month has been as follows, I went up north, shot many fall foliage images that I’m not completely happy with. That’s even though they are head and shoulders above the images I shot a few years ago, which I shot in the middle of the afternoon, an absolute no-no for landscape photography.

With cooler weather, I began carrying four lenses each day on my walk, a long lens for birding, my macro lens, and the two short lenses. Then came a day when it was raining, so I took only the 300 mm prime lens, which was a huge mistake. It was one of those magical days when the leaves seemed to create light themselves, and practically glow from within. I wasn’t able to take advantage of that, since I had just the long lens with me. For a few days after that, I carried the 70-200 mm lens with the Tamron 1.4 X extender behind it for birding, and at least my two short lenses on my daily walks. I haven’t been able to bring myself to carrying the 70-200 mm lens on weekends, as I may miss shot like this.

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Okay, with that one out of the way, shot near Muskegon last weekend, back to the subject at hand.

I’ve shot way too many poor images, some of which will end up here as what not to do, unless you like to delete poor photos. 😉 But, I’ve been learning, or at least I hope that I have.

Where do I start?

One of the first things that’s really hitting home is why excellent landscape photographers start before sunrise, quit shooting when the sun gets very high, then shoot in the evening to after sunset. You can shoot at almost any angle when there’s no harsh sunlight, no harsh shadows, and the most even lighting. Cloudy days work well also, I find the darker the clouds, the better they appear in photos.

Related to that, unless there are interesting clouds that add something to an image, there’s no reason to include much, if any of the sky in a photo. Not getting the sky in an image makes getting the exposure correct much easier, especially if there’s a milky white haze overhead, which I find to be the worst possible lighting for landscapes. I’m better off shooting insects….

Grasshopper

Grasshopper

…or flowers on those days.

White aster?

White aster or daisy?

Okay then, I shot this next scene several days in a row, with the camera in both landscape and portrait orientation, and wasn’t happy with any of them. Then, I used the 70-200 mm lens for this one.

Unnamed creek

Unnamed creek

I loved it, except, I didn’t get very much of the leaves above the creek in the image. So, I shot that same scene again and again over several days, but wasn’t happy with any of them, until this one.

Unnamed creek

Unnamed creek

The second one was shot with the 15-85 mm lens, I think it was around 50 mm that I used for that. If I went wider, the leaves in the creek tended to disappear, and the leaves overhead took over the scene. I think that the second one struck the best balance overall. The first image has the better lighting though, that’s what I get for not knowing how to capture a scene when I see it.

Here’s another very important lesson I am learning, I may not be able to move things around within a scene, but there’s nothing stopping me from moving to change a scene.

Sumac

Sumac

Nicely colored sumac, but the wide-angle lens at the angle I shot that one at increased the distance between the fronds of the sumac, resulting in too much blank space. By moving off to the side, zooming in a little, I was able to turn the scene above into this one.

Sumac take two

Sumac take two

These next two show how moving a few feet can change a scene also, but instead of zooming in to decrease the distances between objects, I went wider to increase the distances.

Woodlot

Woodlot

Not bad, I shot that with the 15-85 mm lens at 15 mm. As I started to walk away, I decided to try the 10-18 mm lens for this one.

Woodlot number two

Woodlot number two

Moving just a few feet to the edge of the trail changed the image a lot, and going shorter with the focal length opened up the woods a bit more, or at least I think so. I much prefer the second image.

You may have noticed that there’s little to no sky in any of those. One day I went to Pickerel Lake Nature preserve and I came to a spot that I really wanted to shoot, even though I knew that I’d end up with a blown out sky in the image, and deep shadows in the bottom of the image as well. I did, but, I used Photomatix HDR software to come up with this.

Pickerel Lake, first try

Pickerel Lake, second try

Two things about that one that I liked, I got the exposure correct for one. The second thing was that in the first HDR version, the small branches in the top of the image were severely ghosted because they moved with the wind between the images that I shot to compile into the HDR image. I used the Photomatix selective de-ghosting to get the small branches sharp in the image. But, what I didn’t like is that the image had no “zing” it looks dead. So, I tried again, this time playing with the sliders to edit the image before I saved it.

Pickerel Lake, take three

Pickerel Lake, take three

That’s extremely close to what I saw when I decided to shoot that scene. And it brings up something I’ve been meaning to say about the Photomatix software. It works well, but I need more practice with it. That I’ve said before, however, I have been watching online tutorials about how to get better at using the software, and there are not any good tutorials that really explain the adjustments you can make using the sliders that control various aspects of the image. In every tutorial I’ve watched, the person doing it says to just play with the sliders until you get what you want. That’s not a lot of help! Most of the people doing the tutorials don’t even know what the sliders do, they just slide them back and forth in the trial and error method of editing the images they are working with. Oh well, I’m getting better at playing with Photomatix, I suppose that’s all that counts. 😉

A couple of more things I have to say. I don’t think that any of the images so far, or those to follow are anything great, some aren’t very good at all, but I am seeing improvements in my images. Also, there are no large sweeping vistas around here to photograph, so I’ve been limited to just how much I can play around. That all said, here’s a few more of the results of my playing.

Creekside Park 1

Creekside Park 1

Creekside Park 2

Creekside Park 2

Creekside Park 3

Creekside Park 3

Creekside Park 4

Creekside Park 4

Creekside Park 5

Creekside Park 5

Creekside Park 6

Creekside Park 6

Creekside Park 7

Creekside Park 7

Creekside Park 8

Creekside Park 8

Creekside Park 9

Creekside Park 9

Creekside Park 10

Creekside Park 10

Creekside Park 11

Creekside Park 11

Creekside Park 12

Creekside Park 12

Creekside Park 13

Creekside Park 13

Creekside Park 14

Creekside Park 14

Creekside Park 15

Creekside Park 15

Creekside Park 16

Creekside Park 16

Creekside Park 17

Creekside Park 17

Creekside Park 18

Creekside Park 18

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, I have many more to go, but I’ve prattled on enough for one post, and fall foliage isn’t the only subject that I’ve been shooting. So, here’s a few birds for your viewing enjoyment.

Goofy female northern cardinal

Goofy female northern cardinal

Goofy female northern cardinal being bashful

Goofy female northern cardinal being bashful

Unidentified sparrow

Unidentified sparrow

Male House finch

Male House finch

Male red-bellied woodpecker

Male red-bellied woodpecker

The next two are of a lifer for me, an orange crowned warbler, which don’t have orange crowns. I don’t name them, I just shoot them. 😉

Orange crowned warbler

Orange crowned warbler

Orange crowned warbler

Orange crowned warbler

Finally, one of the last day lilies of the year.

Day lily

Day lily

I’ll have a lot more fall colors in the next few posts, along with more to say about what I’ve been learning while shooting them.

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

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20 responses

  1. I was sorry to read that you have some problems with your vision but it doesn’t stop you taking wonderful pictures. I loved all those shots of autumn colour, you are fortunate to live where you can see such magnificence.

    October 28, 2014 at 4:37 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! I don’t really have a problem with my vision, other than how it relates to photography. My vision is at the extreme end of normal, best suited for seeing things in the distance, while other people see more of a scene, and see better closer than I do.

      October 28, 2014 at 2:09 pm

  2. Like your Creekside Park 16 and Woodlot shots. Of the Woodlot shots can’t decide which I like best. I’d never heard of a Orange Crowned Warbler till today.

    October 28, 2014 at 4:47 am

    • Thanks Bob! I’d heard of the orange-crowned warblers before, and may have even seen them, but I never got any photos of them before to be sure.

      October 28, 2014 at 2:10 pm

  3. So interesting to read how you are learning more about photography and about your own vision and how you are then able to use that knowledge to adapt and improve your skills. All the shots look wonderful to me but I am also seeing, with your help, the differences between the type of shots too. Thank-you for such an informative and beautiful post.

    October 28, 2014 at 5:09 am

    • Thank you very much for the nice comment! I’m trying to pass on what I learn, much of it, like the strengths and weaknesses of equipment or a person’s vision never is discussed in photography books or articles.

      October 28, 2014 at 2:21 pm

  4. Love the personalities that come through in the wildlife photos! I could not guess that was a Peregrine at first but was captivated by its gaze. Now I know how it feels to be a small rodent! *gulp*

    October 28, 2014 at 7:01 am

    • Thanks Lori! I’ve been eyeball to eyeball with several species of hawks, owls, and both golden and bald eagles, but that little falcon spooked me the way he stared at me in a way no other raptor has. The little photographer’s voice in the back of my head had to tell me to press the shutter, because I was a bit unnerved by the falcon’s stare.

      October 28, 2014 at 2:25 pm

  5. Such an interesting post, I learned a lot from it. Thank you!

    October 28, 2014 at 8:04 am

    • Thank you very much!

      October 28, 2014 at 2:25 pm

  6. I’ve gone through much of the same things Jerry, if that’s any comfort. One day recently I was so intent on moving to just the right spot that I almost ended up going for a swim. I think, as I always have, that if we shoot what really grabs us then it will grab others too, so I look for those landscape shots that really make me stop and say wow. Unfortunately they seem to be few and far between.
    I’d say to keep doing whatever it is you’re doing because the colors really pop in these photos! I think my favorites are the shots of the creek with the light colored by the foliage. It’s not easy to record that-I know because I’ve tried many, many times. A lot of the time the light has such a strange color to it that it looks unnatural, but in these it looks great-just what I see in nature.
    I wonder if that female cardinal was drunk?

    October 28, 2014 at 8:21 am

    • Wow. The shot of the Peregrine was a stunner. Then, to follow it up with the grasshopper? Nice….

      I understand totally your instinct to zoom in on a particular subject, eliminating the context. Hard to strike the right balance. Loved the Creekside photos with the lines of trees and lines of paths.

      On Tue, Oct 28, 2014 at 8:21 AM, Quiet Solo Pursuits wrote:

      > New Hampshire Garden Solutions commented: “I’ve gone through much of > the same things Jerry, if that’s any comfort. One day recently I was so > intent on moving to just the right spot that I almost ended up going for a > swim. I think, as I always have, that if we shoot what really grabs us then > it wil”

      October 28, 2014 at 8:59 am

      • Thank you Judy! Like I told another person who commented on the falcon, I’ve been eyeball to eyeball with several species of hawks, owls, and both golden and bald eagles, but that little falcon spooked me the way he stared at me in a way no other raptor has. The little photographer’s voice in the back of my head had to tell me to press the shutter, because I was a bit unnerved by the falcon’s stare. The grasshopper was a piece of cake.;)

        October 28, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    • Thank you Allen! I have tripped and fallen, while looking through the viewfinder chasing birds around, luckily, there wasn’t any water for me to fall into. The colors really pop because I’ve been trying to shoot in lower light, even light rain. When I get the camera set-up for those conditions, it does very well.It’s also because I’m trying to keep just the leaves in the photos, so the camera doesn’t have to deal with light sky, or dark shadows, which allows it to record the colors better than otherwise. That’s also why the “unnatural” natural light came through so well, no sunlight to overpower it.

      I don’t think the cardinal was drunk, just busy feeding her face that day.

      October 28, 2014 at 2:38 pm

  7. One of the things to think about in landscape photography is where the viewer’s eye will go. When you shoot a bird or a flower, the viewer looks at the bird or the flower. When you shoot a landscape however, the viewer may not be looking at the same thing that you were when you took the shot. His/her eye may follow a tree trunk, fence or a path right out of the side of the shot and never see that beautiful thing that you were concentrating on. Finding a composition that draws the eye into the picture is often the key to getting a good landscape and to that end, a simple shot will often work better than one with lots of interest in. One colourful tree in an ocean of green may be more effective that a thousand colourful leaves spread higgledy piggledy across a frame.

    All this is a lot easier to say than to do. Apologies for talking too much.

    October 28, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    • Talk away! I really appreciate your input! Since you enter contests, talk to judges, and are a member of a camera club or clubs, you know far more about the subject than I do.

      October 29, 2014 at 2:31 am

      • I don’t think that that is true at all.

        October 29, 2014 at 7:20 pm

  8. Pingback: Going short and going crazy Part II | Quiet Solo Pursuits

  9. Great information here, Jerry. Thanks for explaining about the wide-angle lens and how/why things look farther away. I have found this to be true – even though I don’t have a “wide angle lens” per-say, my camera is wide angle when the lens is all the way in and I have to say I’ve been pretty disappointed when I’ve done wide angle landscapes because everything looks like it’s miles further away than it did when I took the photo! Now I understand why.

    Congrats on the lifer, that’s awesome! And I thought your photos were great in this post, lots of lovely fall color.

    You really should be a teacher, you are so good at imparting information and educating people.

    November 9, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    • Thank you Amy! I’m learning to try to balance how wide I want to go to get everything in one photo vs. how far away that makes everything look. It’s tough to do, and practice is the only way I know to learn it.

      November 9, 2014 at 7:39 pm