From around home, more learning everyday
Well, it’s time, beyond time really, for a post of the photos and things that I’ve seen around home, when I’ve had a chance to get out. The long hours that I’ve been working, and the flood in my apartment from the burst pipe in the building have curtailed my walks this last week, but I had a long Easter weekend to make up for it.
I’ve been singing the praises for Lightroom lately, and using it has improved my photos, at least I think so, but still it isn’t so much the editing capabilities of Lightroom that’s responsible for much of the improvements that I see. Every time that I do edit an image, what I have to do to it sticks in my mind, and the next time a similar situation occurs when I’m shoot a photo, I try to adjust the camera to minimize what editing I have to do to the photo.
It helps that we’ve had some relatively nice weather, cold, but sunny for much of the time when I have made it out. The snow is finally about gone here, other than a few large drifts or piles left from plowing. I say that even though I was thoroughly chilled after a five-mile long hike around Pickerel Lake on Saturday, but it was worth it, I got my best photo ever of a tree swallow.
That was shot and edited on Saturday, and I’ve learned some new tricks since, and it’s only Monday.
Same basic image, but I increased the saturation of blue of the sky in the second image to make up for what was lost when I worked to get the exposure of the swallow correct, and the second version is much closer to what I saw while shooting that photo. Just a subtle increase in the blue was all that was required, which is what I find works best in Lightroom most of the time, subtle.
Every day I learn something new, most days, several things. As rapidly as I’m learning new skills in Lightroom, I’m learning new tricks when I shoot the photos in the first place. As silly as it may sound, it’s becoming more difficult every day to go back and view the photos that I shot just a month ago, and was very happy with then.
I’ve tried to stay away from any of the color saturation adjustments in Lightroom, as I see so many photos where some one has pushed the saturation well above anything ever seen in nature, and I see no reason to do that. But, one trick that I learned recently had to do with times when I shot photos of birds against a grey sky.
When I first saw that photo, I thought that the sky had been blown out, but the histogram said otherwise. I did try to tone down the highlights, but that negatively affected the white breast feathers of the sparrow. So, I took a different approach and played with the luminance and color saturation of the background colors to produce a more pleasing image, at least in my opinion. At least the background no longer overpowers the bird.
By the way, I shot that one to remind myself to say how great it is to walk outside and hear birds singing everywhere! If it wasn’t so noisy around here, I would have shot a video of the sparrow.
Anyway, I shot some photos of a red-winged blackbird today…
…but when I increased the exposure so that the bird looked right, I lost most of the blue from the sky, so I thought, “Well, I have been toning down backgrounds, maybe I can reverse that and bring the bright blue sky back”, and I could! Now that looks like what I saw when I tripped the shutter! So, I went back and touched up the second swallow photo as well.
I still have some epic fails, but that’s okay, I know that it’s still going to happen, but overall, things, and my photos, are looking better.
One of my epic fails from lately was trying to photograph a bee in a bright yellow crocus.
My camera always has trouble rendering bright yellow correctly, I often underexposed by a full stop or more to get yellow flowers to appear right in my photos. So, with Lightroom, I tried lowering the color saturation instead of under exposing in the first place, with limited success.
The problem when the bee landed in the flower is that parts of it were the same color as the flower in that the bee was yellow and black, when I lowered the saturation of the flower so that it looked good, I took all the yellow out of the bee, not good.
My problems with the bee may have been compounded by the fact that I was using three sources of light to shoot those. It was a great day for macro photography, bright but diffused light, and little wind. But, one thing that I’ve learned is that it takes a ton of light to get enough depth of field for the photos that I’d like to shoot. So, I set the LED panel light up on the Gorillapod to shine on the flowers, as that light also produces diffused light. It worked for the flower, but I could tell that it wasn’t enough for the bee, so I also used my flash on the bee. Three different light sources, at three different color temperatures probably wasn’t a good idea.
Or, it could be that I still have much to learn.
Anyway, that brings me to some other thoughts that I’ve had. I’ve made a list of the camera kit that I want to have with me all the time, and it won’t all fit in the holster bag that I’ve been using. I’ve been good at carrying my monopod with me for extra camera support when needed, but it’s too tall and not steady enough for many subjects, so I’d prefer to carry my tripod, at least more often than I do. Besides, the way that I’ve been carrying the monopod leaves it swinging around, bumping into my camera, the lens, or my knees, all of which I’d like to get away from.
That, and I’m going to be adding to my kit soon, possibly this coming weekend.
I’m happier than ever with the image quality produced by the Canon 60D bodies that I currently have, when I can get the shot. I no longer rely on the auto-focus to get the focus correct, I have to play games to get this kind of sharp photo.
The problem is, that the small birds don’t often sit still long enough for me to get the super sharp focus that I’d like. That was hammered home again this weekend while trying to shoot several species of small birds that have just returned for the summer, none more than golden-crowned kinglets.
Those three were shot as quickly as I could shoot, all three in just over a second, which didn’t give me the time to play the focus game. I had given up, because the kinglets never sit still long enough for me to play the game.
So, I’m going to spring for the 7D Mark II, like I said, possibly this weekend, I’ll know for sure tomorrow evening, when I see how large my next paycheck will be on Friday. This time, I’m under no delusions that “better” gear will guarantee better images, but the faster, more accurate auto-focusing of the 7D has to help in situations when I have to settle for what the camera can do without any extra time spent getting the focus exact. I assume that even the 7D will need help getting super-sharp images when I have the time to play.
I’m also leaning on making my next purchase after the new body to be the Canon 400 mm f/5.6 L series lens, but that will depend on how well the 300 mm L series lens works on the 7D with or without the 1.4 X tele-converter behind it. The 300 mm L series lens produces excellent images of subjects close to me, but it’s never been the birding lens that I hoped it would be. I bought it to carry instead of the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) when carrying more gear on longer hikes, but I ended up carry the Beast instead, as it’s a much better lens for birding in good light, like the tree swallow shows. I may find that on a better camera body, one that can be tuned to the lens, that the 300 mm lens works much better than on my 60D bodies, we’ll see. No matter what, I’ll probably end up with that 400 mm lens sooner or later anyway.
I’d dearly love a lens longer than the Beast at 500 mm, but even at this new job, I’ll never be able to afford them since their cost is in the 5 figure range. After I purchase the 7D Mk II, I’ll see how the 300 mm lens performs while using the tele-converter, and go from there. I may get a 2 X tele-converter, which would make the 300 mm lens a 600 mm lens.
Yes, I know that there are now several good 150-600 mm lenses out there, but they cost a lot more, and are even bigger and heavier than the Beast is. The size and weight of the Beast is too much for good shots of flying birds, other than the large slow birds such as turkey vultures.
The 400 mm lens with a 1.4 X tele-converter is sharper than any of the 150-600 mm lenses currently available, and cheaper as well. That makes the 400 mm lens a 560 mm lens, and if I go to a doubler, it would become a 800 mm lens. That wouldn’t be an everyday set-up that I’d use while walking around, but I’d use it on those trips to the Muskegon area and other places to get a little more reach when trying to photograph rarer birds that I can’t get close to. I can use my tripod, or rest the camera and lens on the window of my vehicle during those times.
Anyway, getting back to my list of “must have” gear that I want with me. I currently carry both camera bodies, one long lens for birding, the macro lens, and one of my wide-angle lens with me, as that’s all that there’s room for in the holster bag that I use. I love the holster bag, as it is belted along with a shoulder strap to keep it snug to my hip. It’s also very quick and easy to pull the second body out of when I need it. However, it puts all the weight on one shoulder, which gets to be a bit much after a few miles. And, there’s no room in it for any of the smaller items I’d like to carry, such as my light sources or all the filters for my lenses.
So, I have decided that I’ll try one of the backpack type bags, so I can carry both wide-angle lenses, the macro lens and the 70-200 mm lens with me, along with the filters, lights, and other small things, like spare batteries for the flash. That won’t be too much heavier than I currently carry, and being a backpack with two shoulder straps, it may actually be easier to carry than the holster bag is to wear and carry. There are reasons that I purchased those lenses, and they do me no good sitting in my apartment when I need them.
My main reason to not trying a backpack before was convenience, having to take the backpack off to get to anything in it. However, carrying extra gear in the pockets of my coat is no better, if I get down on the ground for macro photos, I have to empty my pockets first in fear of laying on something that may damage what I carry in my pockets. I’d rather not have the things that I carry in my pockets now fall out and get damaged or lost either, or to forget to pick something up after I’ve set it on the ground to take photos.
I have a feeling that it will be the smaller items in my kit that will make the biggest increases in image quality in the future, filters, tele-converters, and possibly extension tubes. Well, that and having more of my stuff with me when an opportunity arises. For example, one morning as I was walking toward the park, one shaft of sunlight shone down through some dark storm clouds….
…as it happened, I had put the 10-18 mm lens in my bag that morning, and seeing the clouds and reflections, I quickly set-up to shoot the three images required to produce that HDR image you see. The subject is nothing special, just a rainwater retention pond close to the road. Maybe I like it too much for what it really is, because for once, I had the correct gear with me and set it up to get that image in time to capture the moment. In addition, I’ve begun post-processing my images, or that opportunity would have been another failure. I could post the best single image to show you how much the HDR process added to the quality of that one, but it’s the same old story, the clouds were overexposed, the trees and reflections underexposed, so it looks dull and lifeless, and not at all as my eyes saw that scene.
That gets me back to why I want to continue to improve the gear that I use, and carry more of it with me as I’m out and about. I’m fortunate, in that I live in a good area for nature photography to begin with, and over the years, learned the places to go to get good photos. I get to spend more time outside than most people, so I’m presented with many more opportunities to see things that most people never do. I think back on a few of those things, and in the past few months, I’ve seen one of a flock of eagles slip and fall on the ice. I’ve seen a peregrine falcon chasing gulls, and gulls chasing the falcon. I missed shots of an eagle chasing gulls, but I did get photos of a gull chasing an eagle out of the area. I’ve seen the mating behavior of Cooper’s hawks, and the mating displays of hooded mergansers.
That reminds me, it’s a bit out-of-place in this post, but here’s a video that I shot of two male mergansers attempting to woo a female.
Yes, I shot still photos, but they don’t quite capture the scene the way that the video does. By the way, the “croaking” sound that you can barely hear over the geese, red-winged blackbirds, and other sounds are the “song” the mergansers sing.
And, I’m still interested in shooting more photos that aren’t really nature photos, like this one.
Sorry, I liked the lines and geometric patterns, and just had to shoot that one.
And, these as well, although I’m back to nature with these.
And then, there are my series of photos, like this flicker doing its best to hide while singing and then looking for a suitable spot for its future mate to raise his offspring.
And this series, of a goldfish who became annoyed when I’d shoot photos of him as he was singing.
He heard my camera and shot me a dirty look or two….
…then went back to singing….
….until he heard my camera again…
…that last one just shouts, “Do you mind?”. 😉
It’s now Tuesday afternoon, and I’ve been able to check out how large my next paycheck will be, and I will be able to purchase a 7D Mk II this weekend. I thought that the news would have me delirious, but not so much. I’ve learned that equipment isn’t everything, it’s just part of the whole. The 7D will bring a huge learning curve with it, just mastering the auto-focusing system is huge learning experience from what I’ve read. On one hand, I’d rather not be starting over right now, learning a new camera body. On the other hand, the longer I wait, the less time that I’ll have while the weather is good and there are plenty of subjects to practice on.
Canon has lowered the price by $100, and they are throwing in a spare battery and a SD card, although I know that if I wait, I could probably get an even better deal. The weather forecast for this weekend is for two great days, so now is as good of time as any to make the plunge.
Back to some recent photos, ever seen a macro shot of a snake?
Yes, I got down in the mud and shot that one with my 100 mm macro lens, it hasn’t been cropped at all.
Here’s three that I think that Allen will appreciate.
And, I’ll finish this post off with three photos of the first field sparrow of the year.
One last thought on purchasing the 7D Mk II, I still have several days to think about it. One thing putting me off is that I don’t want to waste a good day of weather inside reading the manual for it. Then it dawned on me, run to the store as soon as they open and pick up the camera. Go home, unpack it, and get the battery charging while I go for my regular walk. Then, I can take the camera and manual to the park and try it out as I’m reading the manual. That sounds like a plan, and then, I should be ready to bring the new camera along on Sunday if I go someplace other than around here, and I should be close to being set to go with it.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!