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

Muskegon, December 6th, am I spoiled? Part II

This post is a continuation about a trip that I made to Muskegon on December 6th, in which I asked myself if I’m spoiled by all the wildlife that I’m able to photograph. My answer was, yes I am spoiled.

That plays into some of the reasons that I’m not able to get the quality of images that I would like to be shooting.

That may need some explanation. I went to Muskegon, and I was up to at least 14 eagles when I stopped counting eagles. It’s too easy not to work very hard at getting good photos when good subjects are so abundant, even if I seldom see those subjects in situations that would lead to great images. I assume that great photos will just fall into my lap if I go there often enough, but it doesn’t happen that way. Relying on luck is not the way to success, it’s like playing the lottery in hopes of getting rich.

Another easy way to excuse my poor images is to blame the equipment, thinking that if only I could afford the best of camera gear, that my images would become that much better. Yes, and no.

When I research how the good wildlife photographers get the photos they do, I see that they are often using a camera and lens combination that cost nearly four times what I have invested in all my photo gear combined. That is, if they’re not photographing captive subjects. 😉

Even some of the people who I bump into in the Muskegon area have lenses that I can only dream of owning someday. On the day when I was able to get fairly good images of a peregrine falcon…

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

…a person I was talking to was using a Canon 600 mm L series lens, which retails for $12,000! That lens alone cost twice what all the gear that I have combined has cost me. Even if I could afford that lens, I probably wouldn’t buy it, I’d rather spend the money taking extended vacations to shoot more photos. Besides, what good is the best equipment if I don’t know how to use it, or I forget to prepare for the photo opportunities that it’s a safe bet will come my way?

That’s where being spoiled by being able to see birds and animals that most people never see becomes a handicap in a way, like I said earlier, I assume if I go to Muskegon often enough, great photos will just happen, and I don’t think of the ways that I could improve my photos as I’m shooting them.  And, because of how often I’m able to see rare birds, and my desire to add to the list of rare birds that I’m able to photograph, I lack the patience to sit and capture the moment that would result in a spectacular image.

The snowy owl is a perfect example of that. Due to the circumstances, I couldn’t get as close to the owl as I would have liked, so I knew that I would be cropping the images that you see here. I sat there watching the owl, and occasionally shot a few more photos if it looked as if it was going to do something besides sit and soak up the sunshine.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

These may look like repeats of the same photos as in the last post from Muskegon, but they’re not. Wanting to make sure that I had good photos, whenever the owl moved at all, even if it was just fluffing its feathers, I shot more photos.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

After about twenty minutes of watching the owl, this is the way that I was beginning to feel about sitting there.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

I did sit up and take notice when the owl turned into the wind to check out something that it had heard.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

I was getting bored sitting there, I wanted to go searching for something new to photograph, and I shouldn’t have been.

I should have been thinking of ways to get even better images of the owl, such as trying the 1.4 X tele-converter behind the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens), but I didn’t. I should have gotten the other camera body that had the 300 mm prime lens and tele-converter on it ready for action photos, but I didn’t. So when the owl did take flight, I was totally unprepared, and not even paying much attention to the owl by then, so I missed the shots that could have been the great ones. I lack the patience to sit in one place for very long, watching one perched bird, even if it is a snowy owl, for me to capture the special shots.

Well, that and who knows what I’ll find next to photograph, especially in the Muskegon area. The lure of seeing something new to photograph limits how long I am willing to sit in one place hoping to shoot a great photo. In some ways, starting the My Photo Life List project has been a mistake of sorts as far as my ability to sit and watch one bird is concerned.

I’m more concerned with seeing and photographing new to me species of birds for that project, and less concerned with sitting in one spot photographing a species that I have already gotten reasonably good photos of for that project. I need to strike a better balance between finding new species, and getting better photos of species I’ve already done.

I’ve considered either making or purchasing hides, or as we used to call them, blinds, and try staying hidden in one to get the great images, but I doubt that I could sit still for very long.

There have been a few days each of the last two summers when I’ve gone to Lost Lake in Muskegon State Park and hiked back to the observation deck there by the lake to use it as a hide. About half an hour is all I can sit before I start wandering around the area chasing dragonflies or looking for wildflowers. That is, unless I nap there, and I’m not going to shoot many great photos while sleeping, other than the ones in my dreams. 😉

It’s much more interesting to me to chase the smaller birds around in hopes of getting a good photo of them. It’s the “thrill of the hunt” as it is in progress that keeps me focused on one bird at that time. I can hold the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) up and heave it around following the smaller birds around as they flit from place to place in search of food for as long as it takes for the bird to make a mistake and allow me a clear photo of it.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

But photos of small birds seldom make people “oooo” and “aah” over them.

If there are action shots to shoot, I can sit in one spot and shoot away for as long as the action continues.

Female mallard in flight

Female mallard in flight

Northern shoveler landing

Northern shoveler landing

Northern shoveler landing

Northern shoveler landing

Northern shovelers landing

Northern shovelers landing

Male northern shovelers in flight

Male northern shovelers in flight

Male northern shovelers in flight

Male northern shovelers in flight

Female northern shoveler in flight

Female northern shoveler in flight

You may be thinking that these are pretty good, what’s this guy complaining about? Well, I tend to remember my failures more so than my successes. I had two major failures on this trip, one because of my forgetting to switch off the Optical Stabilization of the Beast, one because my 60D body with the Beast on it doesn’t auto-focus fast enough for what I was trying to shoot.

First, my failure, I saw a rough-legged hawk flying almost straight at me.

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

The hawk began hovering nearly directly over my head, so I got the camera body all set as far as exposure and switched to the high-speed burst mode of shooting, but since I had the lens pointed nearly vertical, the OS of the Beast caused ghosting in every one of the nearly 100 photos that I shot before the hawk moved off.

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

When the hawk did move off, it wasn’t very far, and it landed, but the heat waves coming off from the bare ground spoiled this image.

Rough-legged hawk

Rough-legged hawk

Now then, for the camera failure, I saw a red-tailed hawk being mobbed by crows, and the hawk flew right past me in an attempt to shake the crows off from its tail. I started shooting, but the auto-focus system of my camera couldn’t keep up with the hawk, notice that each of these photos gets a little sharper as the hawk slowed down to land.

Red-tailed hawk landing

Red-tailed hawk landing

Red-tailed hawk landing

Red-tailed hawk landing

Red-tailed hawk landing

Red-tailed hawk landing

I zoomed out a little for these, as one of the crows made one last pass at the hawk.

Red-tailed hawk attacked by a crow

Red-tailed hawk attacked by a crow

Red-tailed hawk attacked by a crow

Red-tailed hawk attacked by a crow

Red-tailed hawk attacked by a crow

Red-tailed hawk attacked by a crow

Then I zoomed back in to catch the hawk looking at me as if to ask why the crows were picking on him.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

One good thing is that if I have some good light to work with, my portraits of birds are getting better most of the time.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Canada goose

Canada goose

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

Now then, we interrupt this post for a news flash! I did a dumb thing this afternoon, I went to the camera store to check out a new Canon 7D Mk II and also a 400 mm prime lens with doubler behind it, now I can’t stop drooling. What a camera and what a lens!

To begin with, the 7D Mk II will auto-focus if I use the Beast and the 1.4 X tele-converter, giving me an effective focal length of 700 mm. With my 60D bodies, I have to manually focus, and the images were only sharp if they were shot at close range. Here’s what the 7D, the Beast, and the Tamron extender can do together, shot through a dirty window.

700 mm, 1/320, ISO 6400

700 mm, 1/320, ISO 6400

The 7D will also auto-focus if I use a 2 X tele-converter behind the 300 mm prime lens I already own.

600 mm, 1/1600 sec., ISO 400

600 mm, 1/1600 sec., ISO 400

The 7D won’t auto-focus if I use the 400 mm prime lens and a 2 X tele-converter behind it, but here’s what I got manually focusing.

800 mm, 1/800 sec., ISO 400

800 mm, 1/800 sec., ISO 4000

And, I got this shot inside, handheld at 800 mm and a shutter speed of only 1/100th!

800 mm, 1/100 sec., ISO 6400

800 mm, 1/100 sec., ISO 6400

You’re probably thinking that these images aren’t that great, but I was giving the camera and lenses the torture tests, much higher ISO settings than I can get good photos with currently using my 60D bodies at extreme focal lengths and very slow shutter speeds for the most part.

The first thing that I noticed is that both the Beast and the 300 mm prime lenses I have were sharp at all distances when using them on the 7D body. The differences that they show when used on my 60D bodies has to be due to the body, and not the lenses. I shot quite a few photos close, mid-distances, and far away, and the Beast didn’t go blurry past 100 feet as it does on my bodies, nor did the 300 mm prime go soft at mid-distances. I had stopped trying the 1.4 extender behind the Beast, the results were too poor. Not with what I saw from the 7D today, I’d have no qualms using that set-up for birds like the snowy owl in good light at any distance.

Even with the 2X extender behind the 300 mm prime lens, it was sharp at every distance, and I didn’t have to play games with the focus to get the images sharp as I do now. With the 1.4 X extender, it was also sharp at every distance that I tried.

But the real shocker was how much better the 400 mm prime lens that I tried out is than either the Beast or the 300 mm prime lens. If you remember, I flipped back and forth between the 300 mm and 400 mm prime lenses for months, and purchased the 300 mm because of how close it can focus. I hate to admit it, but I should have purchased the 400 mm prime instead, maybe I will some day.

First, I have to save up for the 7D body first, maybe I’ll find out once I get it dialed in for my existing lenses that I’ll have no need for the 400 mm lens.

I see that I’ve been prattling on again, not making much sense. What my trip today all boils down to is this, the auto-focusing system of the 7D is head and shoulders above my 60D as is its high ISO/lower noise capabilities. Just what I need for shots like these.

Northern shovelers frolicking

Northern shovelers frolicking

Northern shovelers frolicking

Northern shovelers frolicking

Northern shovelers and a male mallard frolicking

Northern shovelers and a male mallard frolicking

Northern shovelers and a male mallard frolicking

Northern shovelers and a male mallard frolicking

Northern shovelers and a male mallard frolicking

Northern shovelers and a male mallard frolicking

Northern shovelers and a male mallard frolicking

Northern shovelers and a male mallard frolicking

Or this one.

Northern shovelers in flight

Northern shovelers in flight

I’m really geeked at the idea of using a 7D Mk II next spring, so much so that it would be all that I could write about right now, so for now, this is the end.

Mallard rear ends in flight

Mallard rear ends in flight

That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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27 responses

  1. gorgeous creatures~

    December 20, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    • Thank you Cindy!

      December 20, 2014 at 6:24 pm

  2. I wonder if you could sell or trade in one of the 60D bodies to make some money towards the 7D? That would be one way to speed things up.
    I used to be able to sit at heron rookeries all day waiting for “the shot” but I don’t have patience for that these days either. When you get right down to it, it’s a pretty boring way to spend a day.
    I like seeing the smaller birds as well as the big ones. In fact I think my favorite shot from this post is the cardinal, but he just beat out the snowy owl by a nose. Or a beak.

    December 20, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    • Thanks Allen! I thought about selling one of the 60D bodies, but wouldn’t feel right about selling the one that doesn’t auto-focus well, and I don’t want to sell the good one. Besides, the 60D isn’t a popular camera, they don’t sell for very much, especially when there are so many of the original 7D bodies flooding the market as people want to move up to the Mark II.

      The smaller birds are much more difficult to photograph, you have to be close and quick. Any one could get good photos of snowy owls if they saw one, they sit for hours in one place, usually in the open.

      December 20, 2014 at 10:07 pm

  3. It would be good to be able to hire/borrow a piece of equipment for a month and really experiment with it because that would help you make informed decisions on what you should purchase. When you have limited resources it is very difficult deciding what lens/body etc would help you the most. I think one of your ‘problems’ is the fact that you have two (or maybe more?) sides to your character. You are a true nature lover and are fascinated by all that you see and wish to record it all and at the same time you are a perfectionist and an artist and want to create the perfect shot. Those two sides don’t always work well together! The artist/perfectionist will always be disappointed by the shots of something you spotted and quickly photographed and the nature-lover will always be impatient to move on somewhere else in case you are missing something really exciting and new round the corner!

    December 20, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    • Thanks Clare! There are places that you can rent camera gear from, but a week’s rental is nearly the same cost as purchasing the same item. I took my lenses and a memory card to the store, and tested the camera that I want that way. It’s not quite the same as shooting birds, but I think that it showed me what I wanted to know.

      You’ve stated how I feel about photographing nature much better than I did in my long-winded convoluted way. I love photographing wildlife as a record of what they do, but I still hope for excellent photos, and it doesn’t always work out that way. 😉

      December 21, 2014 at 8:39 am

      • Yes, it’s unfortunate that you can’t do both at the same time!

        December 21, 2014 at 9:21 am

      • Thanks again, today I put a little more thought and effort into getting very good shots of a snowy owl in action, and I think that it helped. You’ll see the photos in a week or so.

        December 21, 2014 at 7:31 pm

  4. It’s all relative isn’t it? At the moment I am looking at buying my very first DSLR, a basic Canon for around $700! 🙂 I’ve been using a borrowed camera for a few years now for my blog pictures and am very frustrated that I have to be quite close to birds to get good pics! It takes nice macro shots of insects though. I would actually love some advice about a good starting camera really as I know that I will be stuck with it for a long time and I don’t want to get a dud! I know that once I have a better one, I will probably be admiring the more expensive ones then. The perfectionist in me compares my shots to others and I see the glaring faults in mine. But this is more so when I get back home. At the time I take them I just feel joy. Taking photos is one of the few activities that enables me to get in the happy zone and forget the sadness/worries of life. 🙂 I am a pretty patient person but at the same time I love new discoveries. I’m very curious and always wondering what’s around the corner…what new thing I may come across. That’s exciting! It’s the adventurer in me. So photography is a compromise between the patient side of me willing to wait for something to happen and the desire to explore, move on and find something new. So I do understand your dilemma there. 🙂 Hiking and photography is a good combination that satisfies my need for adventure and my desire to capture memories. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I hope you are able to satisfy your desire for a new camera. I do understand the frustration, even though I think your albums are wonderful already. 🙂

    December 21, 2014 at 2:52 am

    • Thank you very much Jane!

      About a new camera, are you sure that you want to go with a DSLR? The camera bodies themselves are quite expensive, but that’s just the beginning, you have to have lenses for them. That’s where the real money starts. If you’re going to try to photograph birds, you’ll need at least a 300 mm lens, and they don’t come cheap, unless you don’t care about image quality. I know, I went that route once, a cheap Nikon 70-300 mm zoom lens, and I hated it.

      Most people are better off with what’s known as a “bridge” camera, a higher end compact digital all in one camera such as the Canon Powershot SX 50. It’s lighter for hiking, zooms in on small birds, and will shoot reasonable macros as well. Unless you plan on printing your photos to large print sizes and you have several thousand dollars for lenses, that’s the way to go. The bridge cameras have an added benefit of a much larger depth of field due to their small sensors and the physics of light, which makes it easier to get your subjects in focus. As you’ve read on my blog, the 60D bodies that I use won’t cut it for what I try to photograph when it comes to some birds. I use a Sigma 150-500 mm lens, and together, they cost $1,800 dollars US and weigh just over 6 pounds. Imagine lugging that around on a long hike in the heat there in Australia.

      December 22, 2014 at 6:42 am

      • Actually the Canon Powershot SX 50 was an option I was interested in but wondered how versatile it would be! Thanks so much for your advice as now I think I will buy it after all as my main desire is better bird shots, decent macro shots and also the ease of being able to take it hiking. I’m only a tiny person and the weight of other gear would be challenging for me. Plus I just can’t afford it the expensive professional gear. As it is my relatives are chipping in for this as a Christmas/birthday present.

        Thank you very much for all this information. I’ve been frustrated/nervous about making a decision for a long while and now I feel much more confident! I appreciate the time you took to post the clear advice for me. It has really helped! Best wishes for 2015. 🙂

        December 22, 2014 at 7:22 am

      • I hope that you’re not just taking my word for it. I do recommend a Powershot camera to many people, however, you should do some looking for other brands and options that may be better for you.

        December 22, 2014 at 12:08 pm

      • Don’t worry. 🙂 I know a few Australian wildlife photographers who use the Powershot on walks as it’s convenient. I’ve seen some great pictures they’ve taken using it and one had suggested it to me, but I still wasn’t sure. You just added to my initial interest in it. I won’t be blaming you if it doesn’t work out! I’ve been looking at options for about a year now and was confused. Thanks. 🙂

        December 22, 2014 at 3:30 pm

  5. All the stuff about cameras and lenses is too technical for me but i love your photographs even if you don’t think that they are very good. The first picture was a winner for me as was the Cardinal.

    December 21, 2014 at 3:05 am

    • Thank you Susan, sorry for all the technical talk, but it helps me to improve my skills and some other readers learn from my mistakes, hopefully.

      December 21, 2014 at 8:40 am

  6. Your shots of landing birds are always fascinating. Feet extended, flaps down….I just love the physics of those shots. When I want to see improvement in your shots, I close my laptop, and open up my Android tablet to read your blog. There’s a huge difference in the screen quality. When you get the new Canon 7D, it will probably be an Imax experience!

    (Merry Christmas).

    December 21, 2014 at 7:53 am

    • Thanks Judy! I need more practice on flying birds, so I’ll try to get a few more landing and take-off shots soon. 😉

      Now you have me wondering, I’m using a 10 year old laptop computer, maybe I’ll see a huge improvement in my images when I buy a new Mac in a couple of months? In good light, there’ll be little difference in image quality between a new 7D and my current 60D, it’s in poor light or when something is moving that the 7D will really outperform my current camera.

      Merry Christmas!

      December 21, 2014 at 8:45 am

      • Go ahead and wonder. 😉 Happy to help you spend your money!

        December 21, 2014 at 10:58 am

      • Too late, I’ve already been planning on a new computer first, so that I can run Lightroom and have space to store my photos. Then comes the 7D, late next spring. 🙂

        December 21, 2014 at 7:32 pm

  7. I am glad to find that you don’t have a great deal of patience as that is my besetting fault. I am certainly not one who could come back to the same spot several days running in the hope of getting a perfect shot. I would rather be off somewhere else getting several imperfect shots. Still, if I could get my imperfect shots up to the standard of those of yours that you complain about I would be pretty happy.

    Mind you……that perfect shot would be nice.

    Good luck and have a happy Christmas.

    December 21, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    • Thanks Tom! Apparently I have the patience when I force myself, that’s what I did today. Iwas able to get much better photos of the snowy owls, but it helped that they were about the only birds around today.

      December 21, 2014 at 7:38 pm

      • I look forward to seeing them.

        December 22, 2014 at 12:09 pm

  8. You had me thinking about upgrading the camera for awhile, but then a new kayak pushed everything else off the list. At the moment, the last accessory to be purchased is a Poodle Flotation Device for the pooch! Should be in the mail this coming week! Now, if we’d just get a break in the weather between storms, I’ll be out there paddling! 😀

    December 21, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    • You’ll have more fun with the kayak than you would with a new camera. 😉 I hope that the weather is better soon so that you can go paddling again.

      December 21, 2014 at 9:54 pm

  9. First of all, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an owl yawning–certainly not a snowy owl–how adorable! Also, seeing all those raptors definitely gave me the shivers. My ducks are still leery of going outside of their pen and its been weeks since the attack! Tells you something about birds’ brains, right? But your post has given me an idea–invite some crows to the backyard. They’ll take care of the Cooper’s! Then eat all the cracked corn, probably. Oh, nevahmind. 🙂

    December 23, 2014 at 10:57 am

    • Thanks Lori! You have to watch the owls, it could be a yawn, or it could be that they are about to hack up a “pellet” since they swallow their prey whole and regurgitate the undigested parts as a pellet. Maybe you should get one of the great horned owl decoys to keep the cooper’s hawk away? Or would that scare the ducks?

      December 23, 2014 at 2:31 pm

      • It would scare me!!! 😉

        December 25, 2014 at 10:09 am