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

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.

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

That was shot and edited on Saturday, and I’ve learned some new tricks since, and it’s only Monday.

Tree swallow 2

Tree swallow 2

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.

Song sparrow singing

Song sparrow singing

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…

Red-winged blackbird "singing"

Red-winged blackbird “singing”

…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.

Epic fail, bee in a crocus

Epic fail, bee in a 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.

Yellow crocus

Yellow crocus

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.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

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.

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

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.

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

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….

Lucky lighting

Lucky lighting

…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.

Geometry

Geometry

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.

Maple buds

Maple buds

Maple buds

Maple buds

Lichen

Lichen

Lichen

Lichen

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

Female mallard

Female mallard

Moss or plant?

Moss or plant?

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

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.

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

And this series, of a goldfish who became annoyed when I’d shoot photos of him as he was singing.

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

He heard my camera and shot me a dirty look or two….

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

…then went back to singing….

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

….until he heard my camera again…

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

…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?

Garter snake

Garter 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.

Which witch hazel?

Which witch hazel?

Which witch hazel?

Which witch hazel?

Which witch hazel?

Which witch hazel?

And, I’ll finish this post off with three photos of the first field sparrow of the year.

Field sparrow posing for the camera

Field sparrow posing for the camera

Field sparrow posing for the camera

Field sparrow posing for the camera

Field sparrow posing for the camera

Field sparrow posing for the camera

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!

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31 responses

  1. All in all a selection of very nice shots despite the absence of the new body.

    April 7, 2015 at 7:12 pm

    • Thanks Bob! The new body won’t improve my images, it will better my chances of capturing an image in the first place.

      April 7, 2015 at 7:18 pm

  2. great bird shots! looking forward to seeing more with the new camera body : )

    April 7, 2015 at 8:25 pm

    • Thank you very much! They’ll be lots of birds whether I buy the new body or not.

      April 8, 2015 at 12:52 pm

  3. Song sparrow looks very similar to Corn Buntings, or at least is what I suppose after seeing your photo of it.

    Your photo called ‘Geometry’ is very interesting. I like it. Since these photos are part of your ‘adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan’, maybe you should post more, or at least from time to time.

    You said: “I’ve learned that equipment isn’t everything, it’s just part of the whole. ” and I think it is a very important part of the whole. You have many possibilities with all you gear you have you just need time and patience.

    April 8, 2015 at 2:23 am

    • Thank you Cornel!

      I do plan to shoot more like the photo that I captioned “Geometry”, when I get a chance. Right now the birds are migrating, so it’s hard to ignore them.

      You’re right, I need more time and patience, but having purchased better gear over the last two years, I can say that it only helps so much, the rest is up to the person using it.

      April 8, 2015 at 1:01 pm

  4. Loved all the pictures, especially the fox squirrel, so cute. Your photographs get better and better.

    April 8, 2015 at 4:25 am

    • Thank you Susan! You’ll be seeing a lot of squirrels here, soon, they make good models to test camera gear and techniques out on, and with a new camera, I’ll be doing a lot of testing.

      April 8, 2015 at 1:02 pm

  5. Oh, lots of treats for us again. The maple buds are very pretty and I like the geometry shot. Very interesting! The sheen on the swallow is gorgeous. The simple field sparrows look so chubby and sweet in your pics. I always wondered what witch hazel looked like. Lovely reflection shot! I wish someone would “croak” and carry on like that over me! Actually, maybe not. It’s pretty loud! I enjoy the videos. Makes it seem even more like I am experiencing your surroundings so thank you, Jerry. Once again a great collection. 🙂

    April 8, 2015 at 6:26 am

    • Thanks Jane! All I need is some more time off from work, and good weather, and then I’d be able to show you even more of the nature from around here.

      April 8, 2015 at 1:04 pm

  6. Great post and photos. Good luck with the new body. Spend some time with the radial dial in lightroom, know that you can invert it and effect only your subject.

    April 8, 2015 at 6:27 am

    • Thank you very much Victor. I have played with the radial daily in Lightroom, but that’s an “advanced” adjustment in a way, right now I’m going for getting the best images that I can, the artsy stuff will come later.

      April 8, 2015 at 1:06 pm

      • I appreciate that all editing software takes time to master. Like most modern inventions we end using only parts. That said at least one of your concerns mentioned in your post could be addressed by that tool. The photos are excellent and how far you take them in post is a choice best made by you. Enjoy the journey.

        April 8, 2015 at 1:11 pm

      • Thank you for your input and advice, I’ve only been using Lightroom for a little more than a month, it will take me a while to develop my post-processing style.

        April 8, 2015 at 8:30 pm

  7. Don’t get a 2X extender as image quality with it really suffers. Save your money and buy a longer lens instead.

    April 8, 2015 at 7:44 am

    • Thanks for your input, would yu convince my boss to double my wages? 😉 That’s what it would take for me to ever be able to afford a longer lens, so I’ll have to make do with what I can afford.

      April 8, 2015 at 1:07 pm

  8. Those tree swallow shots are amazing! And I actually liked the macro of the bee, mostly because you can really see the pollen all over it, which was cool. And I totally enjoyed the video of the hooded mergansers!

    Have fun with your new camera this weekend! Can’t wait to see what you produce with it.

    April 8, 2015 at 8:42 am

    • Thanks Amy! I have some more shots of the bee to post, it looks like an alien beast in those photos. 😉

      I don’t think that you’ll see much if any improvement in the photos from the new camera over what I have now, the new camera will help me to get the shots that my current camera is too slow for.

      April 8, 2015 at 1:10 pm

  9. Yellow flowers-one of the thorns in the side of a nature photographer. I always under expose them but even so the light has to be right or they don’t work for me.
    The shot before the squirrel is moss. Haircap moss, I think. It’s spore capsules will give that macro lens a good workout!
    The orange witch hazel is most likely a cultivated variety. The natives can also be orangey sometimes, but I’ve never seen one.
    The female merganser didn’t seem at all impressed by all the attention.
    I like that shot of the snake. Nice of him to pose. Maybe it was a cool day and he was feeling sluggish.
    It’ll be interesting (and fun) to see what the new body does. Have a great weekend!

    April 8, 2015 at 9:54 am

    • Thanks Allen! I had high hopes for the yellow crocus, with or without the bee. It was a partially cloudy day, but just high clouds to diffuse the light. I did start out underexposing them, then the bee showed up, and I had to go back up with the exposure. Any color but yellow, and I’d have some great shots of the bee.

      I’ve got some more mosses and their spore capsules coming up, I think I did OK, but I started getting artsy with them. 😉

      I figure the witch hazel were non-native, they’re planted along the entrance to the park.

      The female merganser was just playing hard to get so that the males would continue to do their displays, just like human females. 😉

      It wasn’t cool when I found the snake, it was cold! The snake barely moved for the entire time I watched it.

      April 8, 2015 at 1:24 pm

  10. An interesting variety if shots. I liked the walkway a lot among the splendid nature shots. The snake show was very impressive too.

    April 8, 2015 at 6:33 pm

    • Thanks Tom! We don’t have slow worms here, so a common garter snake had to do.

      April 8, 2015 at 8:34 pm

  11. I love the expression on the American Goldfinch’s face! The female Merganser was having none of it, wasn’t she?! I loved all the shots and enjoyed reading your notes. I hope you have an enjoyable weekend ahead!

    April 8, 2015 at 9:00 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I hope that you have a fine week and weekend as well!

      April 8, 2015 at 9:19 pm

      • Thank-you very much, Jerry!

        April 8, 2015 at 9:21 pm

  12. TPJ

    Be sure to download the manual for the 7d mark II. There is much more info in the download version. Also go to YouTube and watch the Tony Northrup guide to using the body. Will save you time. Enjoy 😊

    April 9, 2015 at 8:27 pm

    • Thank you! I have already downloaded the manual, and have been reading through it. I’ve also watched a few of Tony Northrup’s videos of gear tests, but in the last one I watched, he and Chelsea were both drunk and still drinking. They were slurring their speech and not making much sense, so I dropped their channel.

      April 9, 2015 at 11:33 pm

  13. Love the Merganser video. What female would not fall for that act? I’ve learned a lot about bird behavior from your blog. You always find something interesting to share.

    I know where your Geometry shot was taken, but I’ve never really seen it in that way. May have to ride over and take another look.

    Wear your deep waders if you’re going out with a new camera this weekend! Jezzy and Lola (neighbor’s poodle we are caring for, for a few days) have both been snugged into their Thundershirts for days!

    April 10, 2015 at 7:48 am

    • Thanks Judy! I have to remember to shoot more videos, they do a much better job than still images when it comes to things like the mating display of the mergansers. That female wasn’t impressed at all by her suitors.

      We did get some rain last night, that’s for sure. I was surprised to see so much flooding when I got back from Chicago this morning.

      April 10, 2015 at 6:36 pm

  14. The video of the Mergansers was really interesting and funny. The female didn’t seem the least bit impressed and the boys were putting on such a great show!

    I am so very impressed to see the continuing improvement in your images. It’s truly wonderful. I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to catch the sheen on the Tree Swallows. They don’t exactly sit still and the light has to be perfect. I don’t think I’d crawl around catching a shot of a snake. You’re far more likely to see me jumping in the air and heading in the opposite direction! 😉

    April 11, 2015 at 11:46 pm

    • Thank you very much Gunta!

      Watching the male mergansers make fools of themselves showing off for an uninterested female really reminded me of human behavior. 😉

      I have Lightroom to thank for the recent improvements in my photos, like I said, as I edit photos, I see what needs to be done, and that is teaching me to see the light in a whole new way as I’m shooting photos in the first place.

      All the snakes that we have in Michigan are harmless, we do have one species of rattlesnake that’s very small, and to my knowledge, no one has ever died if bitten by one. It helps that the snake in the photo was close to being frozen since it was so could, it barely moved at all.

      April 12, 2015 at 7:47 am