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

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.

Muskegon marsh sunrise

Muskegon marsh sunrise

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.

Muskegon marsh sunrise

Muskegon marsh sunrise

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…

Daylily

Day lily

….but, this is what I get in the final image.

Dayliy

Day lily

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…

Muskegon marsh sunrise, tone mapped

Muskegon marsh sunrise, tone mapped

…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.

Muskegon marsh sunrise, exposure fusion

Muskegon marsh sunrise, exposure fusion

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.

Cedar waxwing at sunrise

Cedar waxwing at sunrise

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.

Cedar waxwing at sunrise

Cedar waxwing at sunrise

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. šŸ˜‰

Anyway, back to the sunrise. I repositioned the camera and tripod, and shot this.

Muskegon marsh sunrise, wrong workflow

Muskegon marsh sunrise, wrong workflow

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.

Muskegon marsh sunrise

Muskegon marsh sunrise

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. šŸ˜‰

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.

Great blue heron taking flight

Great blue heron taking flight

I continued to shoot photos of the heron…

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

…the auto-focusing of the 7D had locked onto the heron, which gave me this as the heron circled me.

Great blue heron in flight

Misty morning heron in flight

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.

Egyptian geese

Egyptian geese

Egyptian goose

Egyptian goose

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.

Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan

Chicory and unidentified insect

Chicory and unidentified insect

Chicory and unidentified insect

Chicory and unidentified insect

Chicory

Chicory

Alfalfa flowers

Alfalfa flowers

Timothy grass flowers?

Timothy grass flowers?

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.

Very young unidentified gull

Very young unidentified gull

Very young unidentified gull

Very young unidentified gull

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. Ā 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.

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

And, I almost found a dickcissel singing, but he chose to stay mostly hidden on this day.

Dickcissel singing

Dickcissel singing

I didn’t have the same problem with this guy!

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

He hopped over to another branch and did some wing and leg stretches to warm up…

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

…then started belting out his favorite song again.

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

I’m going to post this one, just because I can.

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

One of his kids was hoping that dad would do less singing, and more looking for food.

Juvenile Indigo bunting

Juvenile Indigo bunting

It tried its best to convince dad that it was hungry.

Juvenile Indigo bunting begging for food

Juvenile Indigo bunting begging for food

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.

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

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…

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

…I tried sneaking up on it to get closer, that didn’t work…

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

…and as I was walking back to my car, eagle two took off from somewhere in the woods for this bad photo…

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

…to top it off, as I was getting back in my car, eagle three took off from even closer to where I had parked.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

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.

Female mallard, her young, and a gadwall

Female mallard, her young, and 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.

Gadwall nipping a female mallard in the butt

Gadwall nipping a female mallard in the butt

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.

Wood duck in open water

Wood duck in open water

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.

Grass

Grass

Then shot the spotted sandpiper.

Spotted sandpiper

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.

Male bobolink singing

Male bobolink singing

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…

Eastern wood pewee

Eastern wood pewee

…and getting a quick photo or two before they spot me.

Eastern wood pewee

Eastern wood pewee

Then, there are the birds that don’t seem to mind that I’m close when I shoot their portraits.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Eastern kingbird

Eastern kingbird

Even though I’m over my self-imposed limit for photos, I have one more left to share.

Milkweed flowers

Milkweed flowers

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. šŸ˜‰

That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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23 responses

  1. I do enjoy these posts when you talk us through what you have learnt. There are so many memorable shots here – the third heron photo, the hoverfly on the chickory flower, the indigo bunting and its fledgling, the Eastern Kingbird – all beautiful. Thanks Jerry!

    June 25, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    • Thank you Clare! I’m always afraid that my long discussions on how I got the photo will bore some people, but other readers appreciate them, so I don’t know if I’m striking the right balance.

      June 26, 2015 at 12:07 am

      • You’re fine! Your posts never bore me and the photographs are truly wonderful.

        June 26, 2015 at 5:51 pm

  2. The sunrise shot is beautiful Jerry. I think it’s one of the best photos I’ve seen on this blog, and you’re right to be proud of it.

    Not only that but the lighting in several of the other shots is really remarkable. I say whatever you’re doing keep doing it because you’re obviously on the right track!

    I wonder why your chicory always blooms so far ahead of ours.

    One of my favorites is the grass after the wood duck photo, but I don’t think your first shot of grass is Timothy. I’m not sure what it is but it doesn’t have that “fox tail” look.

    The indigo bunting is beautiful too. Excellent photos!

    June 25, 2015 at 6:06 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! I’m working towards getting my photography skills improved enough so that when I do finally get somewhere that’s worth photographing, I’ll be ready.

      I was thinking that it was strange that the chicory hadn’t begun to bloom here yet, those were the first of them that I’ve seen. Two days later, and it was everywhere.

      Unfortunately, the wind had come up by the time I saw the grass, so the photo isn’t quite what I wanted, but I’m glad that you liked it.

      I had a few photos of other buntings, but the individual in the photos that I did post was like a model for buntings when compared to the others. The thought just occurred to me that I should have posted the other photos too, to show the differences between individuals of the same species.

      June 26, 2015 at 12:17 am

  3. An awesome eyeful and an education at the same time. I’m with Clare, I liked the third heron shot and the unidentified insect.

    June 25, 2015 at 6:31 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom!

      June 26, 2015 at 12:18 am

  4. It’s great hearing about all the stuff you’re learning and seeing the improvement. I think my brain is getting too tired and old to deal with HDR, but there are times when I wish I could. One thing I’m very much enjoying is sneaking up on birds in the kayak. This last trip taught me that being down at water level really messed up the water level, but it pushed me into doing some manual focusing. It hasn’t helped that the eyes are aging along with the rest of me. Having said all that, I am totally enjoying the opportunities that kayaking are presenting. Can’t remember the last time I had so much fun!

    June 25, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    • Thank you very much Gunta! Shooting the images for a HDR is quite easy, and the software makes it equally as easy to produce the image, as long as you do things in the right order.

      Yes, kayaking is a ton of fun, and it’s a good way to get close to wildlife, they don’t seem to be as bothered by a person in one.

      June 26, 2015 at 12:21 am

  5. Those coppery sunrise photos are really striking, all of them.

    Never seen an Egyptian Goose! Interesting coloration.

    Poor Mrs. Mallard! That Gadwall sounds more like a gadfly.

    June 26, 2015 at 12:45 am

    • Thank you very much Lavinia!

      Egyptian geese are from Africa, so unless some escape captivity near you, you’ll probably never see them.

      Hmm, now that you mention it, maybe the gadwall is a cad?

      June 26, 2015 at 4:30 pm

  6. Some truly amazing photos…The great blue heron and the sunrise photos are amazing, they are all really quite amazing.

    June 26, 2015 at 1:38 am

    • Thank you very much Charlie!

      June 26, 2015 at 4:30 pm

  7. The waste water treatment facility area actually looks very natural. Without the buildings you could mistake it for something out in the wild. The sunrises are just beautiful, Jerry! I also love the shades of colour in the waxwing and field sparrow shots. The flower and insect shots are wonderful too. And all the other birds. How can I comment on all of them! šŸ™‚ I thought your photographs were great when I first found your blog but I can see how you have improved. It encourages me to learn more. I’d comment more but I lose track of want I want to say by the time I get to the bottom of the post. My old brain is a bit slower these days! Thanks again for another wonderful at Michigan nature. šŸ™‚

    June 26, 2015 at 5:39 am

    • Thank you very much Jane! The Muskegon County wastewater facility was one of the first of its kind in the United States, and it has won awards for being both environmentally responsible, and for providing habitat for wildlife. It’s over 11,000 acres (4,451 hectare) in size, and very little of that is taken up by the machinery and equipment. Most of the land is marsh, farm fields, or wooded, so it attracts just about every species of bird that passes through Michigan, or lives here.

      They say that practice makes perfect, I get a lot of practice shooting photos, but haven’t seen perfection yet. šŸ˜‰

      June 26, 2015 at 4:45 pm

  8. That first photograph blew me away!

    June 26, 2015 at 11:36 am

    • Thank you Susan! It surprised me that the photo turned out as well as it did.

      June 26, 2015 at 4:32 pm

  9. However you arrived at it, that sunrise shot is impressive and you have a right to be proud of it! I also loved the sunrise waxwing shots. That “Misty morning heron in flight” shot is also fantastic. Loved seeing the Egyptian geese, how interesting! So many wonderful photos, too many to mention them all! šŸ™‚

    Hard to believe how quickly the exciting time of spring migration and breeding time flew past. I don’t even want to think about “fall” migration yet!

    June 27, 2015 at 9:12 am

    • Thank you very much Amy! The sunrise photo is technically the best that I’ve ever shot, but I need to find a more photogenic area close to home.

      I can’t believe that I’m already preparing for the fall migration, but the female shorebirds start arriving here in August. I wish that time had a brake lever we could pull to slow time down.

      June 27, 2015 at 10:29 am

      • Yes, I do, too! It seems like every day passes in a blink. All too soon I will be preparing to return to work for the new school year! GAH!! :O

        June 27, 2015 at 11:02 am

  10. Yes, waterfowl can lack for manners, it’s true! Having to referee a number of duck “brawls”, I can attest to their surliness under certain conditions. Love that Indigo Bunting! Another in a series of cool birds I have yet to meet!!!

    June 28, 2015 at 10:56 am

    • Thank you Lori! I knew mallards could be ornery, I didn’t know that all ducks were.

      June 28, 2015 at 6:55 pm

      • Apparently! šŸ™‚

        June 29, 2015 at 1:45 pm