Jumping ahead, Muskegon June 21st, making progress
Even though I still have many photos from previous trips to the Muskegon and Grand Haven areas, I’m going to jump ahead and do a post with photos from just my last trip. That’s because I learned some new things, and other things that I knew were really driven home to me. So, be prepared for some of my babbling on about photography as I start this post, and here’s the reason why. And by the way, you can click on any photo for a larger view.
It had rained overnight, but for once, the weather forecast was correct, and the skies were just beginning to clear when I arrive at the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility. I like to make that my first stop when I’m getting there at sunrise, because it’s open there, and enough light to shoot wildlife just after sunrise, since there’s no trees or hills to cast shadows.
Seeing that there could be a good sunrise, I shot a couple of test photos handheld to check exposures and which lens to use, then set-up my tripod with one of the 60D bodies and the EF-S 15-85 mm lens on it. I actually remembered to get everything set correctly, I got the focus where I wanted it, then switched off the auto-focus so that there’d be no changes as I shot series of photos to create a HDR image, which is what you see above. I shut off the image stabilization, since the camera was on the tripod. I set the mirror lock-up to reduce camera shake, and even got out my flash unit, which doubles as a remote shutter release, so that I wouldn’t have to touch the camera to fire the shutter. I even remembered to use the camera’s electronic level to make sure that my horizon would be straight.
However, that still wasn’t enough to get that image, for I messed up the composition at first.
That’s an earlier shot, and you can see that I got one of the buildings in the frame, which I didn’t want. In my defense, it was rather dark yet, as you can tell, and the viewfinder of the 60D doesn’t show 100% of what will end up in the photo. Canon claims that it shows 96%, I think that they are pushing it. The difference has burned me before, both in macros, when I think that I have filled the frame with the subject, and in landscapes, when things that I thought were just outside the frame ended up in my photos. This is what I see when I look through the viewfinder…
….but, this is what I get in the final image.
Okay, enough of that, back to the sunrise photos. The second one isn’t a HDR image, it’s one that I processed in Lightroom just to see if I could get the desired results. Since the building being in the frame ruined the photo, it was time to play. Yes, Lightroom certainly made a big difference, but at a cost. You can’t see it in the smaller size as it appears here, but there’s tons of noise in the shadows, too much to be removed. If I were to print that second photo, it would look horrible because of the noise. You can only raise the shadow detail so much in Lightroom before that happens.
The next step was to load the images into Photomatix to create a HDR image, I tried tone mapping…
…but that looks fake, as the shadows are almost completely gone, the green of the grass is over saturated, and tone mapping destroyed the special lighting that only occurs around sunrises and sunsets. They are called the golden hours for a reason, because of the way the light is bent as it passes through the atmosphere, it takes on a golden glow, which is gone in the tone mapped version.
Here’s the exposure fusion version of the same image as above.
Much better, the golden glow is there, but the building is also still there. I finally noticed that, but I got sidetracked for a little bit, when a cedar waxwing flew out in front of me, and perched in front of the sunrise. I cautiously grabbed the 7D with the 300 mm L series lens on it for this shot.
There’s some real advantages to having more than one camera, and there’s one of them! Also, the 300 mm lens is much better than the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) in low light, so I had even prepared in advance, and had the right lens on the camera for the time of day that I’d be starting out at. I was lucky, the waxwing stuck around long enough for me to select the right focus points to get that shot. Even more amazing, it hung around, giving me time to move slightly, change the camera position to portrait, and select the correct focus points, to get this shot.
If I would have had to remove the camera from the tripod, switch lenses, and change almost every camera setting, I would have missed that photo. I suppose that I could try to remove the insects that look like spots in the lower part of the frame, maybe when I have more time, I’ll give it a try. And, I wish that the upper branch didn’t obstruct the view of the waxwing’s crest, but it would be a miracle if things went perfectly for me. 😉
Anyway, back to the sunrise. I repositioned the camera and tripod, and shot this.
I captioned that “wrong workflow, for not only do you need the right camera equipment, set correctly, and the right software to process digital images, you need to do the processing of images in the correct order to get the best results.
The very first image in this post, and that last one, are the HDR versions of the same three images, the difference between the two is the difference in the order that I did things. In that last photo, actually done first, I did the exposure fusion in Photomatix first, then went in and removed chromatic aberration, allowed the lens profile correction in Lightroom, and adjusted the color balance, to name a few things. Then, I remembered that you’re supposed to do all those things to the RAW images first, before loading them into Photomatix. So, that’s what I did, I cleaned up the RAW images in Lightroom first, then did the exposure fusion in Photomatix, and finally, did a bit of tweaking to the resulting image in Lightroom to get the best results, which I will add here again so that the difference is more apparent.
The differences may be subtle, but they’re enough to make a big difference in the overall appearance of the image. And that reminds me, a few months ago I said that the HDR images I produced looked better since I was loading the RAW images from Lightroom into Photomatix (The HDR software) in 16 bit Tiff format, rather than sending the RAW images directly to Photomatix. It turns out that I wasn’t imagining things, Kerry Mark Leibowitz, who shoots some of the best landscape photos I have ever seen, confirmed that while Photomatix can handle RAW images, it can’t handle them well. The only way to get really good HDR images in Photomatix is to use other software to do the RAW conversion first, as I’m doing now with Lightroom, then let Photomatix create the HDR images.
Maybe the most amazing thing about the sunrise photos is how proud of them I am, for what they are. A sunrise over a man-made marsh designed to remove contaminants from water at a wastewater treatment facility. 😉
One of these days though, it will be of something really special, and I think that I’m much better prepared for when that happens. I’m getting very close to having the camera settings down for those types of photos, and I’m learning the software end of it by shooting these types of photos.
Being prepared is everything, for as I said earlier, I had the 300 mm lens on the 7D and all set to go when this great blue heron decided that I had gotten too close to it.
I continued to shoot photos of the heron…
…the auto-focusing of the 7D had locked onto the heron, which gave me this as the heron circled me.
Since I purchased the 7D Mk II, I’ve had lots of good things to say about it, and it’s difficult not to fill every post with praise for the 7D. I said some time ago that I wanted to begin exploring more artistic photos, and the 7D is the camera to do that with. Not only is the auto-focus great for birding, but the other features of the camera lend themselves to the more artistic images, as I hope that you’ll see in later posts.
However, the rare birds on this trip were shot with my “old standbys”, one of the 60D bodies with the Beast attached.
I don’t get to count those in the My Photo Life List project, as they’re not on the list from the Audubon Society, they’re probably escapees from some one’s farm, or some one’s pets that got away, and are taking up residence at the wastewater plant.
One of the 60D bodies was also responsible for these, shot with the macro lens.
Whether you find these cute or not is a matter of personal taste I suppose, but they are newly hatched birds, in this case, gulls.
This was the first nice, sunny day when I’ve gotten out in some time, and between how late in the year it is already, and the nice weather, finding wildlife was harder than usual. I’ve always said that bad weather is the best time to see wildlife, up to a point, and it held true on this day.
I did find an assortment of sparrows to photograph.
And, I almost found a dickcissel singing, but he chose to stay mostly hidden on this day.
I didn’t have the same problem with this guy!
He hopped over to another branch and did some wing and leg stretches to warm up…
…then started belting out his favorite song again.
I’m going to post this one, just because I can.
One of his kids was hoping that dad would do less singing, and more looking for food.
It tried its best to convince dad that it was hungry.
I think dad thought that the youngster was old enough to find some of its own food, for while dad did feed the youngster, dad ignored the young bird for much of the time that I watched the two of them together.
This year is flying past me, there’s already plenty of young birds around, and some of the birds are beginning to molt into their fall colors, or I should say, lack of colors. I had plenty of chances to shoot mallards, but didn’t bother, as they are already molting, as is this guy.
He was really too far away for a good photo, and on that note, I’ll add a few more not so good photos, just for the record of what I saw this day, starting with three different juvenile bald eagles that I found on the northern edge of the wastewater property. I spotted the first as it perched on one of the irrigation sprayers…
…I tried sneaking up on it to get closer, that didn’t work…
…and as I was walking back to my car, eagle two took off from somewhere in the woods for this bad photo…
…to top it off, as I was getting back in my car, eagle three took off from even closer to where I had parked.
It looks as though it has been a great year for a bumper crop of eagles! I still can’t believe that I didn’t spot the other two eagles earlier though, they’re huge and hard to miss.
A couple of more for the record shots, I don’t remember why I had pointed the camera at these, a female mallard and her brood, along with a gadwall.
Maybe it was because I thought it odd that the gadwall was hanging out with the mallards, but the gadwall was a rude one, for I guess it thought that the mallards weren’t moving quickly enough, it nipped the female mallard in the butt to get her to move faster.
There are jerks in the bird world too, for how could the gadwall nip a poor mallard mother positioning herself to protect her young? It’s not as if the gadwall moved any quicker once the mallards were out of its way.
Another slightly unusual occurrence, a wood duck in the east storage lagoon, which is like a man-made lake nearly one mile square.
I do see wood ducks there at the wastewater facility, but never out in open water like that, they typically stick to the smaller ponds and canals, closer to cover. In the wild, I never see them in the open, they are always close to, or in cover.
I’m not sure about this next photo, I don’t think that I took enough time to get it right when I shot it. I was going for a spotted sandpiper, but as I was looking for it through the camera, I saw this, and shot the photo.
Then shot the spotted sandpiper.
One thing that I haven’t learned how to do is sneak up on birds that live in open fields, like this bobolink.
That’s as close as I could get using the Beast and cropping quite a bit.
I’m much better at sneaking up on birds in the woods…
…and getting a quick photo or two before they spot me.
Then, there are the birds that don’t seem to mind that I’m close when I shoot their portraits.
Even though I’m over my self-imposed limit for photos, I have one more left to share.
I probably won’t be returning to the wastewater facility until the fall bird migration begins in August, which isn’t that far away. There are too many other places that I like that I haven’t visited this year, one of them being Lost Lake in Muskegon State Park. If we get a few hours of good light this weekend, Lost Lake, and the plants, flowers, and insects there, may be my destination.
I’m sorry for so many of the sunrise/landscapes in the beginning, but I’m still coming to grips with the idea that $200 worth of software, and using it correctly, is as important as any piece of actual photo gear to getting good landscape images. Now, if I could convince the birds to hold perfectly still long enough to get three shots of them, I’d try a HDR image of a bird. 😉
That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!