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

I’ve seen the Light(room), where do I go from here?

It’s hard to believe, but as I begin this post on March 13th, one week ago today, we had a low of 1 degree fahrenheit, and a high of 24, and that was after the warm-up began, it had been colder a few days before. Today, it’s in the mid-fifties, and I had to take my winter coat off while I was out walking. As good as that is, even better may be the amount of sunshine we have been receiving. That’s good on several counts, one, with all the snow that was on the ground, we’d be having problems with flooding if we had rain to go with the snow melt. Then, there are my photos, with more sunshine, I can shoot at lower ISO settings for better quality images before doing any post-processing.

Before I really get wound up in prattling on about photography, a couple of notes. Yes, I have plenty more photos from the Airzoo to put into a post, also, a post to do on my last trip to Muskegon. So, I really shouldn’t be starting this one now, but it’s what’s on my mind at the present time.

Seeing what I can do in Lightroom to improve my photos has definitely been an eye-opening experience. That holds true even for photos that I do little to no post-processing to in Lightroom.

Okay, before my last trip to Muskegon, I changed all the basic settings in both of my camera bodies as far as how they record the images that I shoot. Since I’m shooting everything in RAW now, and I have Lightroom to adjust my images, I didn’t need the camera trying to adjust the images the way that I did when I was shooting in jpeg. That’s working far better than I expected, apparently, Adobe has better software in Lightroom than Canon programs into their camera bodies, at least that seems to be true for my 60D bodies. In a way, I’m not surprised, if today’s cameras worked perfectly, there’d be no need for Lightroom, or any other photo editing software.

With good light, there’s really not very much that I have to do in Lightroom to improve the images produced by the 60D bodies when I shoot in RAW. That’s been perhaps the most surprising thing that I’ve learned, but maybe that shouldn’t have been. When a RAW image is converted to jpeg, whatever software is used to do so “discards” much of the digital information used to produce the images that we see on our computer screens, or on paper if we print the images. What information is “discarded” depends on the software used to do the conversion. That “discarded” information is why jpeg files are so much smaller than RAW files. We are at the mercy of software engineers to write software to do that RAW to jpeg conversion without discarding information needed to produce great images, and overall, they do fairly well. But, the software engineers aren’t perfect, and no loss of information is good when it comes to an image. Losing colors, tones, and details isn’t good if you’re trying for the best images possible.

What you see here are reduced quality jpeg images which I use Lightroom to produce from the original RAW images. In my last post, I speculated that Lightroom was much better at converting the RAW images to TIFF files to use in Photomatix to produce HDR images. Well, the same holds true for the way that Lightroom handles the conversion from RAW to jpeg, it does a much better job than what the software that came with my camera does.

You would think that the camera manufacturers would write software that does a better job of handling the images produced by their cameras, as they have a vested interest in having the images their equipment produces be look as good as possible. You could say that since it is given away free that the manufacturers don’t put much effort into their software, but that isn’t really true. The cost of the software is included in the camera price, we don’t see that, we just think that we’re paying for the camera, not the included software.

You’d also think that the camera manufacturers could do a better job with their software, as they have a leg up on outside companies such as Adobe, they programmed the camera to record the images in the first place, no matter which format is used. Well, enough of that for a while.

So, I was out walk the day before yesterday, and spotted a fox squirrel munching on sumac. I’ve seen many species of birds eating sumac, it seems to be something that most species of birds need, maybe it’s the vitamin C in sumac. But, I’m not sure if I’d ever seen a squirrel eating it before, probably, but I just don’t remember it. Anyway, the light was quartering from behind the squirrel, not the best scenario for great photos, but I gave it a shot.

Fox squirrel eating sumac

Fox squirrel eating sumac

They sure are messy eaters! The squirrel looked me over as you can see, then went back to feeding its face.

Fox squirrel eating sumac

Fox squirrel eating sumac

Fox squirrel eating sumac

Fox squirrel eating sumac

Yes, I probably could have toned down the background a little more, but that’s very close to what I saw when I shoot those photos, despite the light coming from behind the squirrel. I left a few of the highlights blown out a little as well, I kind of liked those photos that way. In the photos the way that they are, you can see that it was a bright, cheery day, and after 4 months of lake effects clouds, bright and cheery is something not seen around here lately.

Actually, there are probably quite a few more edits that I could do to improve those images even more, I know that some people spend hours working on each image, but I have to consider the subject matter along with many other factors as I decide how much time to devote to working on a particular image. I’m very happy with these the way that they appear here, and it is only a fox squirrel in the photos, not something that’s going to win any awards or draw many comments other than cute squirrel.

There will be images that I do sweat over for hours as I edit them to make them the absolute best that they can be, although I haven’t shot any of those since I’ve had Lightroom to work with.

So, here are a few more photos that I did little to no editing on. With warmer weather, the geese are returning. That almost sounds strange, because in recent years, when we had milder winters, there were usually a few geese around all winter. Not this winter, it’s been months since I’ve seen a goose around home.

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

There’s nothing like bright white snow on a sunny day to act as a reflector to put more light under the wings of flying birds! In a way, I’ll almost miss the snow, just kidding. 😉

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

This next one was cropped slightly, but that’s about all that it required as far as editing.

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

The same holds true for this mourning dove, other than cropping, I didn’t do much to it.

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

In my last post, I had photos of lichens, and there were white fibers or hairs on the lichens. Allen and I have discussed what those could be, so I went back for a closer look. I put the Tamron 1.4 X extender behind the 100 mm Tokina macro lens, mounted them to my monopod, switched to manual focus, and got as close as I could to the lichens.

Lichens

Lichens

I thought that the fibers, or whatever they were, were gone, but when I blew that photo up on the computer, there was one left. So, even though that photo is life-size, I cropped to get even closer.

Lichens cropped, with white "filament"

Lichens cropped, with white “filament”

I still have no idea what the filament is, and I’m not sure if the one in this photo is the same as the ones in the earlier photos, this one is finer in size, it almost looks like a spider or other insect’s web. But, the spiders aren’t out yet, or are they?

Spider on snow

Spider on snow

I had to do some major work as far as exposure to get that spider to look as good as it does. It was just a black spider shaped blob in the image as it came from the camera. I also used the wrong lens for that photo, the 300 mm telephoto, so the image was cropped a good deal along with fixing the exposure. I wasn’t even sure that it was a spider when I shot that photo, I thought that it was just something that resembled a spider, or, I would have laid down in the cold, wet, sloppy snow to shoot it with the macro lens like I should have.

Back to the lichens, I went looking for more of the unknown fibers, but didn’t find any, but the photos are cool.

Tiny lichens

Tiny lichens

Tiny lichens

Tiny lichens

The Tokina macro lens will go to 1 to 1 on its own, and slightly larger than life-size when I use the extender, but I still had to crop that last photo quite a bit because what I saw was so tiny.

Anyway, I wonder if the white fibers in my earlier photos are related to this stuff.

Unknown web lookalike

Unknown web lookalike

I think that I used to know what that was, but have forgotten. It’s everywhere on the grass as the snow recedes, there’s no way insects made it, it has to be some type of plant life or something similar.

Since I have one macro photo left, here it is.

Ice

Ice

I tried converting that to black and white, but didn’t like the result. The pattern and contrast are there, but it didn’t have the slightly blue cast to it that the color version does, and I think that the blue makes this a better photo. Even if you can’t detect any blue tint to the ice, believe me, it’s there, until I converted to black and white, then the blue was converted to shades of grey.

Okay then, speaking of blue and Lightroom, here’s a photo of a bluebird straight out of the camera.

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

Here’s the same bird after a few clicks in Lightroom.

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

Still not great, but much better than straight from the camera, and, it’s so good to see and hear that the bluebirds are back. In fact, many species are returning. I saw robins in a tree ahead of me and was going to go for a photo of them, but as I got closer to them, they all began squawking and took off, with this right behind them.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Of the six photos of the hawk that I shot, that’s the only one worth posting, but much more on that later. After the hawk flew past me, I continued on to the tree where the robins had been, and I was surprised to find a few of these still in the tree.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Another first of the year. But, as you can see, it had clouded over by then, and it remained cloudy that day as I watched a large bird soaring overhead. At first, I just gave it a glance and assumed that it was the hawk circling in the distance, but when I checked again to see if it was getting closer to me, I got a better look at the way it held its wings, it wasn’t a hawk.

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

The easiest way to tell a vulture from a species of raptor at a distance, whether hawk or eagle, is by the way that they hold their wings while soaring. Raptors hold their wings flat, while vulture’s wings start-up from their body at an angle, then flatten out towards the tips of their wings. That’s hard to see when they are directly overhead though.

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Not a bad week, the robins, bluebirds, cedar waxwings, and turkey vultures have all returned with the arrival of spring!

Spring runoff

Spring runoff

Oh, by the way, I did get a shot of a robin, albeit not a very good one.

American robin in flight

American robin in flight

So, now it’s Sunday afternoon, and I’ve been out for my hike today. A few things occurred which reinforced where I was going to go with this post anyway. To begin the day, I caught a robin in good light, but had one chance for a quick shot before it flew away.

American Robin

American Robin

That one looks better here than it does on my computer, as I used the 300 mm prime telephoto lens, and it missed the focus slightly. It did better with this house finch.

Female house finch

Female house finch

There were a couple of males hanging around her, but she wanted nothing to do with them, and eventually chased them both away.

Looking over at the roof of a nearby building, you could see that it had been a frosty morning, but that the sun was making short work of the frost except in the shade of a tree.

Frosty roof

Frosty roof

This seed pod hadn’t been in the sun for very long.

Frosty seeds

Frosty seeds

Since I’m out of practice shooting birds in flight, I shot a couple more geese as they flew overhead.

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

Yes, a layer of bright snow on the ground does make a great reflector!

I got to the park, and a red-tailed hawk was trying its best to stay hidden…

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

…so that the bunny….

Cottontail rabbit

Cottontail rabbit

…nor robins would see it.

American robin

American robin

I think that these next photos are my personal best as far as robins.

American robin in landscape

American robin in landscape

Getting closer, I switched to shoot portraits.

American robin portrait

American robin portrait

And, I found one that was hungry.

American robin eating crab apples

American robin eating crab apples

Although that particular crab apple didn’t taste good to the robin.

American robin eating crab apples

American robin eating crab apples

It soon found a few to its liking.

American robin eating crab apples

American robin eating crab apples

American robin eating crab apples

American robin eating crab apples

American robin eating crab apples

American robin eating crab apples

American robin eating crab apples

American robin eating crab apples

Okay then, yes, I’m doing better than ever with the 60D body that I have, as long as help the auto-focus out, and the subjects are stationary.  Those weren’t cropped at all, and I did very little to them in Lightroom, other than to fix the color balance. I have heard that you can shoot with the camera set to auto white balance all the time, and fix the images that need fixing in Lightroom, so I tried that, and didn’t like it. Maybe the robin’s orange breast threw the camera off? No, I had to fix the white balance on almost every photo from today. So, I’ll be back to setting it manually in the camera again as the lighting changes.

Other than that, I don’t think that I could have gotten much better photos with any camera and lens combination, they’re sharp, clear, and the color after fixing the white balance is excellent, or at least I think so.

The weakness of the 60D body, at least the two I have, has always been the focusing system, in both auto and manual. You may remember that shortly after I purchased the first 60D, I purchased a Canon 70-200 mm L series lens, but exchanged that first lens for another, as I couldn’t get a sharp photo from it. The second lens was better, but not great.

When I purchased the second camera body, I found that the 70-200 lens performed much better on the second one than the first.

Since I purchased the 300 mm L series telephoto lens last summer, I’ve had poor results many times as that lens doesn’t focus accurately with either body. I even talked to the tech rep from Canon about it, and learned a few tricks to make that lens work better, and those tricks help me get sharper images from all my lenses.

But, getting the focus dead on takes me a few seconds each time, and I find myself missing photos as the birds fly away before I can get a sharp focus. I even looked into replacing the focusing screen of the camera, as the one that comes standard makes it hard for me to see when a sharp focus has been achieved, but the only better screen Canon makes will only work with f/2.8 or faster lenses, and only my macro lens fits that criteria.

My reasons for rehashing all this? Like I said, I’ve been missing chances for photos during the time it takes to get a sharp focus, and most of the bird in flight photos I shoot with the 300 mm prime lens stink. One of the reasons that I bought that lens was for bird in flight photos.

Well, today what may be a once in a lifetime event happened, I saw a pair of Cooper’s hawks flying together.

Cooper's hawks in flight

Cooper’s hawks in flight

I thought that they were up to something, they sure were!

Cooper's hawks in flight

Cooper’s hawks in flight

Cooper's hawks in flight

Cooper’s hawks in flight

Cooper's hawks in flight

Cooper’s hawks in flight

I shot those one at a time when the hawks got close to each other. Then, when they began “pair bonding”, I let the camera go in high-speed burst mode and full auto-focus.

Cooper's hawks mating

Cooper’s hawks mating

Cooper's hawks mating

Cooper’s hawks mating

Cooper's hawks mating

Cooper’s hawks mating

Cooper's hawks mating

Cooper’s hawks mating

Cooper's hawks mating

Cooper’s hawks after mating

You can see the falloff in image quality as the series progressed, I couldn’t crop the last few images as much because of how much the focus was off, argh!

I’m almost positive that I would have been better off using the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) for those shots. That lens presents its own problems when trying to capture action shots, its size and weight mostly, and also its optical stabilization produces ghosting in images if the lens is tilted much above horizontal.

It’s because the Beast isn’t well suited for action shots that I purchased the 300 mm L series lens in the first place, but that is beginning to look like a poor decision on my part. I had changed my mind back and forth between the 300 and 400 mm L series lenses from Canon, and finally decided on the 300 mm based on its close focusing ability.

Yes, it does do extremely well up close, but I found that I’d rather lug the Beast around during the summer rather than the much lighter 300 mm lens, because the Beast seldom misses a shot. I use the 300 mm lens during the winter, because it’s weather sealed, and the Beast isn’t.

Anyway, I had convinced myself that I was in no hurry to run out and purchase another lens, or camera body, but that may change soon. I could afford the 400 mm L series lens today, but would I have the same problem with it that I do the other two L series lenses, that it won’t focus accurately on the 60D body?

At the rate that I’m raking in the bucks at my new job, I may be able to afford the Canon 7D Mk II next month, or early May if not. It has a much better and faster auto-focus system, and it can be calibrated to each lens, a feature that my current 60D bodies lack.

However, I’m afraid that the 300 mm lens won’t perform very well on the 7D body either, I think that the problem lies in the way that the lens is programmed. I can see it missing the focus on a bird in a tree, but there are so many times that it can’t even find the tree.

I suppose I could be content to shoot bird portraits for a while longer.

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

That’s all that I have time for right now, aren’t you lucky! 😉

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

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29 responses

  1. Love your American robin portrait but the Cooper’s Hawks mating carries the day!

    March 15, 2015 at 5:17 pm

    • Thanks Bob! Mating hawks isn’t something you see every day, or even every year.

      March 15, 2015 at 6:27 pm

  2. So happy to see the bright background in your shots again. The first nice days after a dreary winter are always the best to me. You certainly put the sun to good use. Hope the nice weather sticks around.

    Love the Cooper’s hawk sequence. There would be many fewer humans running around if we had to complete such complicated maneuvers to reproduce. Amazing capture – you have a knack for that.

    March 15, 2015 at 5:17 pm

    • Thanks Judy! It was if some one threw a switch, it went from cold to warm in three days, and we had a gloriously sunny week. It will cool down again, but at least most of the snow is gone.

      Maybe if humans did have to complete such complicated maneuvers to reproduce, our species would be better off;) I’m lucky, and it helps that I pay attention to what’s going on around me. When I see something out of the ordinary in any way, I try to be ready to shoot photos, which is how I caught the hawks.

      March 15, 2015 at 6:31 pm

  3. Glad the weather is so much better, what a feast of good pictures you gave us. I liked the fox squirrel and the American robin the best.

    March 15, 2015 at 5:19 pm

    • Thank you Susan! I hope that the nice weather sticks around, but there will be plenty of robins and squirrels for a while until other birds arrive.

      March 15, 2015 at 6:33 pm

  4. I never knew that squirrels ate sumac berries either. They’re supposed to taste like lemon and I wouldn’t think that would be a big draw for a squirrel, but what do I know-I’m not a squirrel.
    That white fiber looks quite long. I wonder if it could be a piece of a fall web worm nest. They hang in the trees and blow around all winter.
    I’ve seen winter stone flies here but no spiders yet.
    No geese yet either. No geese in its right mind would have stayed here this winter. It would have frozen solid.
    I think that seed pod is from a black locust tree. They have some mean thorns on them-I just tangled with one a while ago.
    Interesting that the hawks mate while flying. It seems like there would be better places to accomplish that but if it works for them it’s okay with me.
    I think my favorite shots are of the robin eating crab apples!

    March 15, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    • Thank you Allen! I read that sumac is still used as a spice in some parts of the world. It seems to be something nearly all wildlife eats, but in limited quantities.

      I have no idea what those white filaments are, you can’t see in the small photo, but one of them branches into three on the right side of the photo from today.

      I’m sure that you’re correct about the black locust seeds, now that you mentioned it, I remember the flowers last summer on the trees that dropped the seeds.

      Many raptors mate, or at least do their courtship in the air, not being a bird, I can’t tell you if there are advantages to that or not.

      I’m proud of the robin photos, I almost gave a couple of them five stars, but I’ll try to do even better.

      March 15, 2015 at 6:39 pm

  5. Great series of robin shots but they were probably topped by the hawk action shots.

    March 15, 2015 at 6:09 pm

    • Thanks Tom! It helps to be in the right place at the right time.

      March 15, 2015 at 6:33 pm

      • That takes a lot of skill.

        March 16, 2015 at 6:34 pm

      • Or dumb luck, there are times that I think that’s the only thing that I have going for me.

        March 17, 2015 at 2:22 am

      • I think we know better than that having read of your serious weighing up of cameras and lenses.

        March 17, 2015 at 7:26 pm

  6. Your technical skills and the awareness to catch stuff like the hawks mating is phenomenal. I won’t call it luck, because I think it very rarely is a matter of luck. Eric is very, very good at spotting birds and I’m learning a whole bunch from him in that respect. Today, we were driving down the road and he spotted a White Kite. I would have written it off as just another gull. Wish I’d had the camera with me. Can’t explain why I’ve been leaving it at home lately.

    March 15, 2015 at 9:04 pm

    • Thank you Gunta! It’s true, sometimes you make your own luck. Since it was a fine early spring day on a weekend, I did hang out in the park much longer than I normally do, and that’s when I caught the hawks. But, it was still luck that they came out of the woods and over a field as their chosen place to mate, or I’d have never seen it.

      March 16, 2015 at 1:38 am

  7. I like the robin with the crabapple going down the throat. Good catch!

    March 15, 2015 at 11:41 pm

    • Thanks Lavinia! I’ve caught robins and cedar waxwings swallowing berries many times, but never in such good light before.

      March 16, 2015 at 1:31 am

  8. Great photos !! Thank you for showing them. They have a great look, in spite of the fact that they don’t have a heavy data footprint. For example img_6659.jpg (showing the American robin, eating crab apples) comes along with 78,12 KB at a size of 533 x 800 px. Nevertheless, every detail is clearly visible in its natural colour.
    Cheers,
    Michel 🙂

    March 16, 2015 at 3:47 am

    • Thank you Michel! Lightroom does a much better job of converting the RAW images from my camera to jpeg for blogging, as you pointed out.

      March 17, 2015 at 2:20 am

  9. I love Canada geese, in fact since I was a kid I love all geese.
    So I enjoyed your photos.

    March 16, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    • Thank you Cornel! I’ll keep your love of geese in mind as I decide what photos to share, as I love geese also.

      March 17, 2015 at 2:21 am

      • When I was a kid, I received as a gift a goose. Not a wild one, but a domestic goose. Since then I love then. Sometimes I remember that day when it took off and stopped somewhere near the village. I was so scared by the thought I might loose it but this never happened.
        Thank you for posting these photos. 🙂

        March 18, 2015 at 6:08 am

  10. Oh wow! So many great captures here. The pics of the robin, the hawks mating, the squirrels…so many treats for us! The frosty seeds one is beautiful too. I had to look carefully at that one. You are very versatile in your photography. Thanks for sharing a lovely diverse collection. Spring has reached you at last! Looking forward to more delights. 🙂

    March 16, 2015 at 7:04 pm

    • Thank you Jane! With the return of warmer weather, you’ll be seeing that what I lack in photography skills, I make up for in the wide range of subjects that I shoot.

      March 17, 2015 at 2:24 am

  11. Those Robin shots are fabulous and to be able to photograph the mating hawks was very fortunate. I am glad you have had a little warmth and sunshine! They make such a lot of difference!

    March 16, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    • Thank you Clare! We had a glorious week of fine weather, now it’s back to normal around here. Still, there are more species of bird returning everyday, but my work schedule hasn’t allowed me to get out yet this week.

      March 17, 2015 at 2:27 am

      • I hope you are able to get out soon and the birds and weather co-operate!

        March 17, 2015 at 11:41 am

      • I may not make it out this week until the weekend. The birds and weather are co-operating, my work schedule isn’t. 😦

        March 17, 2015 at 4:50 pm

      • How unfortunate! 😦

        March 17, 2015 at 5:59 pm