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

Around home, in the deep freeze

To refresh every one’s memory, around here, November was very cold and snowy, we set several record low temperatures as well as the most snow ever for the month of November. December was slightly milder than average, with only a little over an inch of snow, but no sunshine to speak of. Well, with January came a return to the cold and snow.

We’ve set a couple of more records for low temperatures, one morning it got down to -13 degree Fahrenheit  (-25 degree Celsius), the coldest it’s been here in twenty years. Even with little snow in December, we’re still well above average for the season, almost on pace with last winter which was the second snowiest on record.

To put it different terms, this past Sunday I went to the Lake Michigan shore again, and the temperature was right around the freezing point, but it was forty degrees warmer than it had been a few mornings before.

Forty degrees warmer?

Forty degrees warmer?

So with the extreme cold, and the hours that I’ve been working, there was an entire week when I wasn’t able to get outside at all. That doesn’t mean that there will be a shortage of photos in this post though, as I’m still playing with my camera equipment, learning how to get better images out of the camera.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

And, I have been trying to learn Photomatix, the HDR software, along with the photo editing software that came with my camera in order to improve my images even more. That has been a real pain on my badly outdated computer, it takes around thirty seconds to convert a RAW image to a jpeg for use here in my blog. It takes over five minutes for Photomatix to process a single HDR image.

I came home from the lakeshore on Sunday with 165 images that I cut down to 85 possible for my blog, it took my computer over an hour to process those images from the after edited RAW format to jpeg format for my blog. I don’t have the time or patience to wait that long. However, the new iMac computer is still a few weeks to a month away.

Things have slowed down a little at my new employer, so while I’m still earning more money than at my last job, it hasn’t been as much more as I hoped it would be.  The new company is tied to the auto industry, which almost always slows down around the holidays. Signs are that things are starting to pick back up again though. Ha, as if right on cue, as I was typing that, dispatch at work called to see how soon I could make it there as they were swamped with loads. That was Wednesday morning, it’s now Thursday morning before I go into work, and I already have just over thirty hours in for the week. That’s more like it.

Anyway, maybe I’ve been foolish trying to do too much with too little computing power as far as processing my images up to this point, but I’m learning all the time, albeit slowly.

It’s funny, but I was opposed to any post-processing of images up until a few months ago. I can still recall when my opinion began to change, it was last summer. I was up at the Haymarsh State Game Area as a thunderstorm was moving in. I tried shooting photos, but either the approaching clouds were blown out (way overexposed), or all the shadow details in the wooded areas in the foreground were rendered as black (way underexposed).

That’s because the sensor in even the best digital cameras can not handle the dynamic range between very bright and very dark portions of a scene. It was shortly after that trip that I looked into HDR software, and purchased Photomatix software in an attempt to improve my images, that is, getting images that looked the same as the scene that I was trying to shoot.

Like everything else, the Photomatix software comes with a learning curve. The first step is to get images exposed correctly for the software to do its job properly. To assist me in that respect, I’m actually viewing the histograms of the images that I intend to load into Photomatix, and I have turned the “blinkies” on in the camera body that I use for landscapes and macros. The “blinkies” are another name for the highlight alert system in many cameras today. Any part of the image that is overexposed blinks on and off in different colors to alert you to the fact that parts of the images are overexposed.

I had tried that before, but for most bird or wildlife photos, I found the blinkies to be a distraction, especially since I knew that the background was overexposed even without using the blinkies. However, for landscapes, especially if I intend to merge several images into a HDR image, the blinkies are a great way of checking to see that I’m getting the exposure correct.

Maybe I should back up a step here, HDR software blends two or more images shot at different exposure settings into one image to capture the dynamic range in a scene better. Typically, I’ve been using three images, one shot at what the camera tells me is the correct exposure, one shot underexposed to capture the highlight detail (the brighter parts of a scene) and one shot overexposed to capture the shadow detail (the darker parts of a scene).

I’m finding that getting the correct amount of over and under exposure for a scene is one of the keys to getting good results out of the Photomatix software, and those settings are different for different scenes, depending on the amount of dynamic range in the scene. Sometimes, it’s only 2/3 of a stop, other times it can be 2 full stops, or even more. For some extreme scenes, three images may not be enough, it may take 5, 7, or even more exposures to get the final image correct. I haven’t run into one of those situations yet though, three images are usually enough if exposed correctly.

Okay then, with the explanation almost out of the way, here’s an example of what Photomatix can do, starting with the before, an image shot with what the camera told me was the best exposure for this scene.

Creek scene non-HDR

Creek scene non-HDR

Now, here’s the HDR version of the same scene.

Creek scene, HDR version

Creek scene, HDR version

In the HDR version, you can see down into the water and the broken slabs of concrete that are there, while the creek looks basically black in the first image. That’s what I like about HDR photography, it puts the color that was in a scene, but lost by the limitations of the camera sensor, back into the scene. Here’s another example of that.

Pathway non-HDR

Pathway non-HDR

Pathway in HDR

Pathway in HDR

In the HDR version, you can see that the pine needles are green, and the tree trunks brown, not almost black as they are in the non-HDR version.

These were shot the day after a storm moved through the area. It started as snow, changed to freezing rain, then rain, back to freezing rain, and ended as snow. So, most of the trees had ice and snow clinging to them, it was a beautiful day, even if there was no sunlight to speak of. I had switched to the 15-85 mm lens early on, knowing that I’d be trying to capture the scenes presented to me by nature.

Sometimes, I didn’t need to resort to HDR images.

Snow scene 1

Snow scene 1

Snow scene 2

Snow scene 2

However, I set-up to shoot three images of everything with the expectation of loading the images into Photomatix if needed. And, here’s the best example of why from the day. I loved this scene, I don’t know why, but I did.

Snowy day, non-HDR

Snowy day, non-HDR

Of course, I was disappointed in that photo, the evergreens look black for one thing. So, here’s the HDR image of the same scene.

Snowy day, HDR

Snowy day, HDR

The color is back! The evergreens look green, you can see the snowflakes in the air, just as I saw the scene when I shot it!

However, Photomatix is not without its faults, some of those are actually related to my computer, but not all.

For one thing, the adjustments available in Photomatix after you have done the basic merge of the images don’t make much sense as the adjustments relate to what you’d like to do to the image to improve it as far as the way that the adjustments are labeled. As I wrote before, I have watched several tutorials on how to use the Photomatix software, and the person doing the tutorial tells you to just play with the adjustments until you get the photo the way that you want it.

Well, I’ve been playing, but Photomatix has several different modes, and in each mode, the adjustments are different. It also seems that the adjustments have different effects in different images, so I’ve been doing a great deal of playing. That’s one area where my old computer really limits what I do.

Due to how slow my computer does the processing, I don’t have the patience to wait while Photomatix does its thing. I also don’t have the patience to dump the image if it doesn’t come out the way that I’d like, and start over.

Another thing related to my computer is the small view that I get of the processed image. I may think that I have it right, but after I save it, and then view the image full size, I found that I missed, usually by getting the image too bright.

Another creek non-HDR

Another creek non-HDR

Another creek HDR

Another creek HDR

And, there are times when I like both the HDR and non-HDR version of a scene.

Creekside Park, non-HDR

Creekside Park, non-HDR

Creekside Park, HDR

Creekside Park, HDR

Reflections, non-HDR

Reflections, non-HDR

Reflections, HDR

Reflections, HDR

Switching gears here for a while, I’ve also been using the Canon Digital Professional Photo editing software that came with my camera. That software is modeled after Lightroom, and intended to be Canon’s version of Lightroom, but it falls far short of Lightroom. It will however, allow me to tweak RAW images at least to some degree.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

That’s Bruiser, the male red-tailed hawk doing a fly by for me. I used the Canon DPP software to brighten up the shadows under his wings a little. That software is better than nothing, but it is lacking many of the features of Lightroom, and doesn’t do a very good job of what it can do.

It also has another serious short-coming, it will only edit RAW images, not jpeg or tiff images. I save the output from Photomatix in 16 bit tiff format to preserve as much image quality as possible. I tried doing what most people who use Photomatix do, doing the final tweaking of a HDR image in Lightroom, but the Canon software that I have doesn’t allow that. But, the Canon software was free, and it’s all that I have to work with right now.

I may find that once I have a computer that can handle Lightroom, that I won’t need to use the Photomatix HDR software as often, but only time will tell about that. I do know that some scenes call for a HDR image, no matter how good Lightroom may be for basic editing.

Anyway, here’s the remainder of the photos that I shot after the mixed precipitation storm, some are HDR images, some aren’t.

Snow covered evergreens

Snow covered evergreens

After the storm

After the storm

With a bench

With a bench

Patterns

Patterns

In the corner

In the corner

So, on to other things, how about a few male cardinal photos to brighten up the winter.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal eating grapes

Male northern cardinal eating grapes

Male northern cardinal eating grapes

Male northern cardinal eating grapes

Male northern cardinal eating grapes

Male northern cardinal eating grapes

And, for all of you squirrel lovers out there, a big, fat fox squirrel.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

After the extremely cold air retreated back to the north for a few days, I found this.

Winter stonefly

Winter stonefly

There are a few species of stoneflies that hatch during the winter, I don’t know which species that one is, but it isn’t unusual to find them along rivers and creeks on a slightly warmer winter day.

Oh, that reminds me, I’ve forgotten a few things. One, I did some really dumb things in the past. In preparation for my new computer, I went back and looked at a few of the photos that I had shot with my old Nikon to see if I should import them into Lightroom once I have it. No, there’s no need, not only are most of the photos poor quality, but I saved them the same size and quality as they appeared in my blog. There’s really no reason to import them into Lightroom, as there’s nothing worth trying to improve in the state that I saved them in.

It was an eye-opening experience though, seeing how much the quality of my photos have improved since I made the switch from the old Nikon to my current Canon gear. That’s not to bash Nikon, but better lenses on a better camera equals better photos.

Not all of my editing of images has been done on the computer, sometimes it happens in the camera. Here’s the color version of some ice on the creek….

Ice along the creek

Ice along the creek

…then, I switched the camera to high contrast black and white for this one.

Ice along the creek B&W

Ice along the creek B&W

How about another cardinal to brighten things up again?

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Do you remember the “selfie” that I had in a recent post? Here are the ornaments that decorated one of the small trees here.

Decorations

Decorations

And here’s another selfie, this one has the Death Star in it.

Reflected selfie

Reflected selfie

Here’s another image shot during the few minutes of sunshine that we had this past few weeks.

A rare sighting, color other than grey in sunshine

A rare sighting, color other than grey in sunshine

I suppose a few more birds are called for.

Bluejay

Bluejay

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

IMG_2740A

Bald eagle statuette

I threw in the eagle as I was playing with the new ball head that I recently purchased and mounted on my monopod. Since I didn’t find any subjects outside worth shooting, I played around indoors to see how well that set-up worked for macros. So far, so good!

The last two photos for this post are of the same thing, shot at slightly different settings. I can’t decide which one I like best, so here’s both of them.

Curved ice 2

Curved ice 2

Curved ice 1

Curved ice 1

It’s now Friday morning as I type this part before I go into work today. I have 42 hours in already this week, and I haven’t had to do a Chicago run this week either, so I’m a happy camper. My paycheck should be a good one, which will get me that new iMac soon.

I think that I’ll stay home this weekend, and just walk around here. As I said earlier, I went to the Lake Michigan shoreline last Sunday with the promise of some sunshine that never materialized, so most of my photos were shot in very poor light.

Female common goldeneye in flight

Female common goldeneye in flight

It doesn’t make much sense to drive that far when the weather forecast is calling for clouds and snow, I can stay home and shoot poor photos and save the money that I’d spend on gas towards the new computer.

Well, I was going to click the publish button yesterday morning before I left for work, but changed my mind, thinking that I’d read through this post again first after I got home that night. That didn’t happen, as I had my load changed at work, from a local run to an expedited run to Honda of America near Columbus, Ohio. So, I picked up and delivered the load on time, but had to spend the night at a motel since I didn’t have enough driving time left under DOT regulations to make it home last night.

The upshot of this is that I made some really big money this week, and it shows that the dispatchers trust me to run a load that absolutely has to be delivered on time. Not only that, but I was thanked to the point of embarrassment for taking such a run on no notice, and getting it done correctly. Like any job, there are things about this one that I dislike, but the way that management treats their employees more than makes up for the dislikes.

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

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33 responses

  1. That’s a lot of information there! I think your attention to detail is remarkable. A lot of your information about HDR and raw images is over my head but I can see how it does improve the image. I was glad to see you bemoaning poor light as well, not just me.

    The cardinal did brighten things up ( your birds can be brighter than those around here). Although your Black-capped chickadee looks just like our coal tit and I loved the colours in the fox squirrel.

    Well done on the driving job, that new iMac computer is looking closer 🙂

    January 24, 2015 at 7:55 pm

    • Thank you Brandy! The HDR software is actually quite easy to use, the hard part is learning how to expose images correct to load into the software, and tweaking the merged image. Doing the tweaking will become much easier once I have the new computer and Lightroom.

      I’ve noticed that your coal tits look like our chickadees, it’s too bad that cardinals don’t live there, as they really do brighten up a dreary winter day.

      January 25, 2015 at 7:44 am

  2. It hit 70 degrees here today. It won’t stay there, but it was nice while it lasted. 🙂 Love the photos, as always.

    January 24, 2015 at 8:36 pm

    • Thank you Lavinia! If it hit 70 here, I’d be dying of the heat, as it would be too much of a change. But, I hope that you were able to get out and enjoy it!

      January 25, 2015 at 7:46 am

  3. So many stunning images in this post (not unusual though really for you)! Thank you for explaining the whole post-shot processing thing. I’m often disappointed that my pictures don’t show what I see through my camera, in particular the colours. To see something so vibrant in real life turned into something quite dull is frustrating as I want to share my experiences with others. I’m not so much after a perfect photo, just an accurate representation of what I actually see on my hikes. So I fully understand your change of mind about post- processing. If you can make some changes to make up for the deficiencies of camera equipment (such as sensors) in order to show us the beauty that you saw on the day, then why not! If these images are a result of you just starting to learn photomax and you haven’t got your new computer yet, then I can’t imagine what they will be like in months to come. They are superb.
    As for your record temps, we also had a few record high temps this spring and summer. It seems we are sharing the extreme conditions but in the other direction of course. A shame that you had to spend your time off stuck indoors but as you say, there was plenty to do with your photography.
    I’m glad you made some good money and your employers are more considerate. I don’t know how you can drive for such long hours though. I have trouble staying awake after just a few. I find it exhausting. Stay safe out there.

    January 24, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    • Thank you very much Jane! I don’t think that any of the images are stunning, although some approach being very good. Before you began following my blog, I used a Nikon camera that was full of bugs that prevented me from fully exploring the capabilities and short comings of a digital camera. Now that I have a better camera, the limitations of what it can handle are becoming more apparent, before, I chalked them up to the camera I had. So, now I’m into post-processing, which I never thought that I would do, but as you say, it’s in order to show the beauty that I saw on the day.

      I couldn’t live in the heat that you have there, I’d melt. I don’t like the extreme cold here that we get for a few days each winter, but our other seasons are quite mild.

      January 25, 2015 at 8:00 am

  4. That is just cold…The photos are so amazing. I especially liked you photos that show the snow on the branches.

    January 25, 2015 at 2:53 am

    • Thank you Charlie!

      January 25, 2015 at 8:00 am

  5. Not a camera buff myself but I do enjoy your pictures, I picked out the fox squirrel, the black-capped chickadee and the tree with a bench, very artistic I thought. Glad you made a decent sum of money and that the management show their appreciation of your work.

    January 25, 2015 at 3:14 am

    • Thank you Susan! It’s funny, I had seen some one do a similar shot of first, just a tree, then zoom out to include a nearby bench to add interest to the photo. I wasn’t that happy with my similar test, I almost didn’t include that photo.

      It’s very good to work some where and have the management appreciate it and tell you so when you go out of your way to help them out.

      January 25, 2015 at 8:04 am

  6. Thank you for showing these beautiful photos. Slow computer: may be some addional RAM could accelerate the process,? but I read, that you’ll buy a new one anyway. Lately I had the idea to take my camera with me when driving my tour. (Since my company’s driver has quit, that’s my job now.)
    Have a good week, hopefully it’ll be a bit warmer 🙂

    January 25, 2015 at 7:45 am

    • Thank you Michel! My computer is so old that it wouldn’t make sense to attempt to add RAM or a larger hard drive, both of which it would take to speed up processing photos. I’ve considered bringing my camera along while I drive for work, but then I wouldn’t get much done, I’d be stopping all the time to shoot photos. 😉

      January 25, 2015 at 8:08 am

      • I’ll give it a try and will ceratinly end up with a nice collection of red lights 🙂

        January 25, 2015 at 8:42 am

  7. I have used Photomatix occasionally. Most of the time the results have been disappointing, even when I use three images (over, under, and normal).

    January 25, 2015 at 8:49 am

    • Thanks for the comment! In theory, Photomatix is easy to use, but I find that getting the three exposure correct is one of the keys to getting good results. I was disappointed at first also, but the more that I work with it, the better the results have become.

      January 25, 2015 at 9:21 am

  8. So many things in this post! What I was so surprised about, though, was the overall difference in tone between your HDR and non-HDR shots. I spent a bit of time trying to remember snow, and it is an overall grayish sight, of the more brownish HDR view. Spoke of the differences were really quite sharp. The clarity of your HDR shots is spectacular. Love all the tiny details.

    Overall, I liked Reflections 2 best. But never count out a cardinal in the winter.

    Always nice to hear that you have good news on the job front. Getting your new computer will be such a huge reward. Don’t know how you have the patience to wait thru all the long processing times you put up with. I would have forgotten what ip was trying to accomplish.

    Keep it coming.

    January 25, 2015 at 9:47 am

    • Thanks Judy! The reason that the snow looks a little brown in the HDR photos is that I let the software correct the white balance, and it went a little too far in “warming” up the tones in the photos. I didn’t have the patience to correct that though. You have hit upon the reason that I’m dabbling with that software, it brings out the details that our eyes see, but that the camera misses.

      I’m hoping for the new computer in February, we’ll see. Right now, I load three photos into the HDR software, click merge, then do dishes while the software does its thing. When converting a batch of RAW files to jpeg, I click to start, then take a nap. 😉

      January 25, 2015 at 6:02 pm

      • Naps are underrated. Maybe you should re-think your computer purchase!

        January 25, 2015 at 11:09 pm

  9. I’m glad the job is going so well Jerry. I thought maybe you had already bought the new computer and were playing around with it. It’s going to be surprising to see the difference in speed when you do.

    I haven’t been interested in HDR at all because the examples that I’ve seen were over processed and looked sharp edged and unreal, but you were smart enough to show some restraint and not overdo it. These photos look natural as they should, instead of garish like many HDR examples I’ve seen. For a while I wondered if it was just me but as I’ve said before, the hardest part of post processing is not overdoing it.

    I love the landscapes and the ice shots, and the shockingly colorful cardinal. What a hard time such a colorful bird must have hiding from predators.

    If that squirrel gets any fatter he’s going to be snapping off all the limbs he tries to sit on!

    January 25, 2015 at 10:28 am

    • Thanks Allen! It’s good to work for a company that treats employees well, and make more money at the same time. How’s your job search going?

      Like you, I didn’t like most of the HDR images that I saw online, people didn’t know when to stop. Then, I found out that one of the landscape photographers whose photos I love processed almost all his images in Photomatix, so I began looking into it. I have to admit, when I get an image that I don’t care for after it has been made into a HDR, I have played and gone overboard, but you’ll never see one of those images unless it is meant to be a joke.

      Yes, you’d think that bright red cardinals would be prime targets for predators, but the cardinals stay in or near the thickest brush most of the time, making them poor targets for hawks.

      January 25, 2015 at 6:11 pm

  10. I love the monstrous fat squirrel and the shots of the birds very much. I found your post really interesting especially as you show the before and after shots to illustrate what you are talking about. So pleased you are still happy with your new employer and that you’ll be able to afford a new computer soon!

    January 25, 2015 at 11:04 am

    • Thank you Clare! I was afraid that I’d bore every one with my discussion about the software, other than the hardcore photographers out there. Yes, the new job is going well, and I hope to order the new computer soon!

      January 25, 2015 at 6:15 pm

  11. beautiful

    January 25, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    • Thank you!

      January 25, 2015 at 6:12 pm

  12. I can see quite an improvement in the texture of light in the tweaked images! I’ve never used Photomatix or Lightroom but I’ve seen a lot of folks on WordPress showing off some impressive stuff. Makes me want to reconsider! Which Mac are you getting, btw? I like the desktops better than laptops for graphics work. A big beautiful screen and lots more real estate for less money. Whatever you choose, you will be so happy with a faster system! Enjoy! 🙂

    January 25, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    • Thanks Lori! I’m getting a 21.5 inch iMac loaded with 16 Gigs of ram, and a 1 gig video card. I’d love one of the larger screes, but anything would be an improvement over the 11 inch display of my current laptop.

      January 25, 2015 at 6:17 pm

  13. I like the restraint of your HDR work. Like Allen I have seen some very ugly results of overuse of the technique and have been guilty of the same sin myslef from time to time.

    After reading your post, I am resolved to use RAW more as there is no doubt that it gives you the chance of better images in many cases. I must stop being lazy. You are an example to us all.

    January 25, 2015 at 5:10 pm

    • Thanks Tom! In a way, I’m lucky, my old computer will barely process an image, let alone over-process one. 😉 Actually, I’m going for realism, so it isn’t that hard not to go too far.

      I don’t think that I’d want to sort through the number of RAW images you must shoot of the flying birds, but I would shoot all the rest in RAW. But, you probably have a faster computer than mine as well.

      January 25, 2015 at 6:21 pm

      • I probably have until you get your new one but I don;t have much patience.

        January 26, 2015 at 8:42 am

  14. I wondered why the Photomatix shots went to brown, then read your reply to someone that it messed with the white balance. I’ll also add to the chorus that likes the restraint you’re using with HDR. I hated the way folks overdid the HDR when it first became available. I’ve very much noticed the improvement in your images since I first started following you. Don’t know exactly when you switched to the Canon, though. Can’t wait to see the difference a better screen and computer and new software will make. I look forward to watching more progress!

    I like ‘curved ice 2’ much better than 1 because the reflections at the left edge are more subtle and don’t distract as much from the overall effect. It’s a lovely abstract either way.

    It’s good to hear that the job continues on a positive note. Just hoping you manage to stay safe through all the storms that seem to be piling up east of here.

    January 26, 2015 at 12:04 am

    • Thank you! Photomatix messed with the white balance because I let it, thinking the original images were too blue. I believe that you began following my blog shortly after I made the switch to Canon gear, April of 2013.

      If there’s a positive about the extreme cold we’re having, it’s that it means that the storm track is well south of here, so we get little snow.

      January 26, 2015 at 6:22 am

  15. Loved, loved, loved the frozen lighthouse! Spectacular! Also enjoyed all the male cardinals. They do brighten up the winter gloom! So glad your new job is going well. I hope you get your new computer soon!!

    January 27, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    • Thanks Amy! There’s a few more photos of the ice covered lighthouse coming, and of course, cardinals as well.

      January 28, 2015 at 3:04 am