I know that I promised, but….
In one of my most recent posts, I promised not to prattle on about photography, and that I was going to go back to my observations of the things that I saw in nature.
Several things have happened to change my mind about that, a few readers said that they’d miss my discussions of what I learned, although I suspect that they were only being kind. I’ve also got this brand new Canon 7D Mk II camera, and I’m having a ball learning how to get the best out of it. But, the topper was that I discovered something by accident in Lightroom that slapped me up side of the head and made me realize just how different digital photography is than film photography, and how important computer software is these days.
First, I have to preface this by saying that we’re having a very rainy stretch here in west Michigan, it’s rained at least a little almost every day for the past two weeks. It hasn’t mattered if it was a cool spell, or a warm one, the rain has been the one constant this month of May.
With all of the rain we’ve received, the humidity levels have also been very high, resulting in foggy mornings and hazy afternoons, neither of which are conducive to getting good, sharp photos. The almost constant cloud cover hasn’t helped either. But, I’m not making excuses, I’m setting the stage for what follows.
So, I went to the Lake Michigan shore last Sunday for a day of birding. The day started foggy and dreary, we had an hour or two of sun around noon, then, more clouds rolled in for the afternoon. One of the photos that I shot that day was a landscape of sorts, of one of the small channels that leads from the marshes that surround parts of Muskegon Lake, to Muskegon Lake proper, with a pretty sailboat at a marina where the channel meets the lake.
I was not at all happy with the way that the photo had turned out, or many of the others that I shot in the low light situations that day, they were all dull, flat, and lifeless.
So, I was reading Kerry Mark Leibowitz’s blog, LIGHTSCAPES NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY, his first post about a trip that he had just returned from along the Oregon coast. Along with his awesome photos, he mentioned how many hours he spends post-processing the images he shoots. I decided to have another crack at the landscape that I had just shot, and I fiddled with it for quite a while, but still wasn’t happy with it.
While taking a break, I noticed that the last tools in the development module of Lightroom are called camera calibration. Hmm, I wonder what that could be about?
With nothing to lose, I began playing. One of the drop down boxes is titled profiles, and it was set to Adobe Standard. When I clicked it, it offered me other choices, the settings that my cameras’ have for how they record images. On a lark, I clicked camera standard, and instantly, the photo in question was no longer dull, flat, or lifeless!
It may not have turned a sow’s ear into a silk purse, but that photos is much better than it was before. The colors are no longer washed out and muddy.
That got me to thinking, always a bad thing, so I tried several others that I wasn’t happy with, like a scarlet tanager.
Maybe not huge changes, but definitely noticeable, and definitely an improvement! And, the changes aren’t as apparent here in my blog as they are when I view the images full size on my computer.
“Okay,” I thought to myself, “I have to find out what these settings are, and what they can do for me”.
I didn’t get any documentation at all with the copy of Lightroom that I purchased, but I did learn a little about these profiles through the online help from Adobe. So, I did a Google search for online videos on the subject, and found several, one was very helpful in explaining these settings. The big thing that hit me though was this…
The sensor in a digital camera does not record an image, it records information about the nature of the light from each of the tiny receptors on the sensor, and records that information as a series of ones and zeros, which are meaningless to us. Software creates the image by interpreting the digital information stored in all those series of ones and zeros, software in the camera to produce the images we seen on the camera’s screen, or software on a computer, such as Lightroom, produces the images we see on our computer screens.
The different profiles are different interpretations of the information that the camera stored when an image was shot as far as color rendition and contrast.
Now I get it!! The camera sensor doesn’t record an image, it records information that software uses to create an image, which is why software is so critically important in digital photography. There would be no image if software didn’t create one from the data that the camera sensor recorded.
Software may not be everything when it comes to digital photography, but it is at least as equally important as the camera and lens you are using.
I knew all along that even the best camera can not produce good images if used with a poor quality lens. And, even the best lens won’t produce the best results if used on a poor quality camera. But, with digital photography, even if you have a good camera, and a good lens, if you have poor software, you’re going to get poor images!
Okay, I’m not saying that Lightroom is poor software, it’s anything but that.
After what I had learned thus far as far as camera profiles, I went back and checked some of the images I shot with the 60D bodies to see what difference the profiles made to those images. The results were mixed, I’d call it a tie between the Adobe standard and camera standard, it depended more on the individual image than the setting.
So, I wonder, is that because the 60D has been around for a few years, and Adobe has fine tuned its profile for that body? The 7D Mk II is a relatively new body, and it took Adobe several months to release an update to Lightroom that would even read the camera RAW images from the 7D Mk II. Since this is all new to me, I assume that as time goes on, Adobe will tweak the algorithms it has programmed for the 7D Mk II?
I do know this, I could live with the Adobe standard profile for the images that come from my 60D bodies, however, for low light, high ISO images from the 7D, the Adobe standard profile creates images that are dull, and look flat as far as color and contrast. Now that I know what’s going on, I could make adjustments in Lightroom to increase color saturation and contrast to get the results that I want, but I may not have to. I can set the default camera profile for Lightroom to use the camera standard profile, for just that body, as Lightroom will allow one to set it up to make different adjustments to images as they are imported into Lightroom based on the camera’s serial number. Then, I won’t have to adjust each image individually in Lightroom. I’m not sure about doing that yet, more testing is required.
It’s funny in a way, one of the things that I did to improve the quality of the images coming from the 60D bodies was to turn off all of the extra features in those bodies, and let Lightroom handle everything. Now, with the 7D, I think that I’m going to have to use Canon’s software to form the images initially, then adjust as needed in Lightroom.
Before I forget, I should note that everything that I’ve said about the camera calibration tools only applies to Canon and Nikon cameras and RAW images. If you use another brand of camera, or shoot in JPEG, then the camera profile is locked, and can not be changed.
Now then, on to some other things that I’ve learned to do to increase the quality of the images I get.
One is that even mid-priced UV filters are junk. Since I purchased mid-range quality lenses for the most part, I assumed that top of the line UV filters costing several hundred dollars each wouldn’t make a difference, but I was wrong. I noticed that first in using the Tokina macro lens. One day when I went to use it, I noticed that the filter was very dusty, and rather than take the time to clean the filter, I simply removed it. The difference in the sharpness of the images from that day convinced me to remove the filter whenever I use that lens, and rely on the lens cover for protection instead.
I’ve surprised myself by keeping the lens covers on all my lenses all the time when I haven’t been using them, other than the birding set-up that I’m using on any given day. I don’t keep a lens cover on that lens, as it would slow me down too much to get the photos that I do.
UV filters are a bit of a joke to begin with, they really don’t do much, but their main selling point has been that they offer a layer of protection for the front element of the lens that they are on. That may be true, I’ve heard and read stories where some one dropped or bumped their camera lens, and the UV filter was ruined, but not the lens that the filter was on, but luckily, I haven’t tested that theory yet, and hope that I never do. 🙂
I do know this, I purchased UV filters ranging in price from about $50 to $100 for my lenses, and from reputable brands, but removing these filters when I shoot photos is one way that I’ve improved the quality of the images that I get. I also know that if I purchase any filters of any type in the future, they will be the top of the line, expensive ones, as every little bit counts from what I’m finding out.
Okay then, on to the 7D Mk II and what I’ve been learning about it.
The auto-focus system is incredible!
A few posts back, I listed all the different arrangements of focus points that were available to me, but the next thing that I learned is that the 7D has two different auto-focusing modes, depending on how many focus points you have selected to use. I don’t want to get too technical, but after I select to use twelve or more focus points, the camera switches to what’s called zone mode, and the camera tries to focus on the objects in a scene that are the closest to the camera. This is meant as a way to capture subjects in motion, and it works!
Sometimes, it works too well as you can see. 😉 The gulls wingtip is in focus, but its head and body are out of focus.
It was a bit trippy to look through the viewfinder the first time that I tried the zone mode of auto-focus, the subject was a bird perched on a branch swaying in the wind. I pressed the button on the rear of the camera to start the auto-focus, and the focus points that covered the birds and branch lit up to tell me that those parts of the scene were in focus. But, as the branch and bird moved in the wind, the focus points that lit up changed, blinking on and off as they detected the movement in the scene, it was so fascinating to watch that I never tripped the shutter. But, I learned how well the system worked.
A few days later, after I had played with the zone mode a few times…
…as I was walking in the park, I noticed a chickadee gathering mosses and lichens to use to line her nest. Since this was near the picnic shelter in the park, and I needed a break from walking anyway, I sat down and began testing to see if I could catch her in flight.
I even went to the manual exposure mode for that, setting the aperture and shutter speed, and letting the ISO “float” trying to freeze the motion, but there wasn’t enough light that day to completely freeze the motion of the chickadee’s wings.
Yes, the zone mode of auto-focusing works very well for catching birds in flight!
That’s when I have the time to switch modes. My default setting so far has been to use just the five focus points at the center of the viewfinder, to lock onto birds that are perched. The reason that I use five and not just one, as I do with the 60D, is that the 7D MK II looks for motion since all the focus points are cross-type that are very good at detecting motion. Small birds seldom hold completely still, even when the perch somewhere, they using flick their tail, or are twisting and turning their heads as they look around. The 7D detects that motion, and focuses on it, rather than the branches or leaves in a scene that are closer to the camera than the bird. With the 60D, I hoped that the birds would remain motionless, so that I’d have time to work with the focusing system of the camera to get a lock on the birds. With the 7D, I hope that the birds continue to twitch around, as the 7D finds the birds by their motion.
In a way, all the rain and gloomy weather has been a good thing, as I’ve been carrying the 300 mm L series lens most of the time, rather than the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) due to the 300 mm lens being better sealed against the weather, and easier to keep covered in the rain between uses. Being much lighter than the Beast, I can move the 300 mm lens around to capture things that I couldn’t with the Beast. Sometimes, those things are humorous, like these robins chasing a squirrel that had gotten too close to the robin’s nest.
That brings up something else, the faster memory cards that I ordered arrived, and they really make a difference in how fast the 7D writes the images to the cards. I can shoot longer bursts of images now, and not have to wait several minutes for the camera to write all the images to the memory cards.
But, back to action shots, sometimes what I see isn’t pretty. One rainy day, I stopped to take a break under the picnic shelter in the park to get out of the rain for a while. I noticed a pair of robins going crazy about something, and spotted a Cooper’s hawk in a small tree, the robins were giving the hawk what for. The hawk took off, quartering towards me as I was trying to decide what settings to use, so I shot as quickly as I could.
But, as that photo shows, not even a great camera can make up for my poor timing, or bad luck, I’ll let you decide which is to blame. 😉
Because I was moving the camera to keep up with the birds, the 7D thought that the signpost was a moving subject, and locked on it. As soon as the signpost disappeared from the viewfinder, I shot again, but before the 7D had locked unto the birds.
An instant later, the 7D locked onto the hawk, and I got an entire series of the hawk flying away from me.
That’s why the robins were going crazy, the hawk had raided their nest and taken one of their young. Even worse, now the hawk knew where a few more easy meals were to be found. I watched the parents go back to caring for their remaining young, the mother on the nest protecting the young from the rain, and the father bringing food to the nest for the young. But, I knew that the hawk would return again and again until all the young had been eaten, probably by the Cooper’s hawk’s young. Sure enough, the next day the nest was empty and abandoned.
That makes me wonder, the robin had built her nest in a very small oak tree that hadn’t begun to leaf out yet, it was right out in the open for any one, or any thing, to see. Most birds build their nests in hidden places, in pines, or thickets someplace where it’s harder for predators to find the nests. Is that something that birds learn over time? Was the robin that built the nest in the open a first time mother that didn’t know any better, and would she learn from her mistake?
I said that the mother robin returned to the nest to protect her young from the rain, as that how robins do it, I think. But with some species of birds, both parents spend time on the nest, taking turns keeping the eggs or young birds warm.
And, that’s more typical of where birds build their nests, in a protected area where only sharp-eyed photographers can see them.
After the sad story of the robins, I need to tell a story with a happy ending. Seeing a few turtles basking in the sun, I tried getting a photo of them, but all slid off the log that they were on, except one.
That one soon followed the rest into the water. Since the spot was a good one for birding, I decided to sit for a while to see if I could catch any birds, or the turtles if they returned. One turtle returned, and began climbing up on the log again…
…and I shot a series of photos to answer the question of how the turtles get on top of logs.
The answer to how they climb is easy, they sink their formidable claws into the wood and pull themselves up. However, as you can see, the turtle’s shell was deformed, probably by the turtle having been trapped in one of the plastic ring things that hold six packs of soft drinks. I have no idea if some one rescued the turtle, or if the ring eventually broke as the turtle grew, but one way or another, the turtle had survived and grown a great deal since it had been freed from the plastic ring.
This should serve as a reminder to every one, THROW YOUR TRASH IN THE PROPER RECEPTACLE! Don’t just leave it in the woods where it can harm wildlife.
To lighten this post up even more, how about a laughing mallard?
That was actually meant as an example of what not to do using the radial filter in Lightroom, but it’s good for comic relief.
I see that I’m up to close to 3,400 words, way too many, so here’s a few more photos, with no words.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!