Anything, anywhere, anytime
In this post, I’m going dwell on a few things having to do with photography and gear, my efforts at photographing every species of bird seen regularly in Michigan, and I’m even going to do some bragging. This will end up being a long post, but with plenty of photos to keep every one interested.
I’m going to start with the My Photo Life List project that I began just over two years ago, I got another lifer last weekend, moving me closer to 250 of 350 species of birds seen regularly in Michigan. I never dreamed that I would be this far so soon, but maybe I underestimated myself. I know critters, I may not know each individual species of bird, but I know animal behavior, including that of birds, it is something that I’ve been observing my entire life. I have great eyesight, and excellent depth perception, which helps me to find birds. I know the State of Michigan, and where I can find the correct habitats to find the species of birds that I’m looking for. The skills that I learned and honed when I hunted serve me well for getting close enough to birds to get reasonable good photos of them. So, is it any wonder that this past weekend I “bagged” a species of bird on both the Federal and State endangered species list?
Unfortunately, I didn’t see either of its parents, but I will one of these days, it’s only a matter of time. By the way, isn’t that about the cutest bird that you’ve ever seen?
It stands out well in that photo, but here’s one of my very first shots of it, as seen through the 300 mm lens with the Tamron 1.4X tele-converter behind it, for an effective focal length of 420 mm, and cropped quite a bit.
You can see that it’s a tiny little thing, able to hide in the footprints that people left on the beach. Luckily, like most species of small birds, the piping plovers are hyper-active, running up and down the beach in search of food. If that one had held still, I never would have picked it out of the background. I’ll tell you, those plovers can really run when they spot food!
That was shot with the same set-up as the previous photos, the 300 mm L series lens, Tamron 1.4X tele-converter, on the Canon 7D Mk II camera. So, here’s where I start a discussion on camera gear that some may find boring, but others may find it helpful.
The two things that stand out most about the 7D Mk II are its incredible auto-focusing system, and the superb metering and exposure system, which I have commented on before. I seldom have to adjust the exposure when using the 7D, as compared to the 60D bodies that I have. Well, all that changes when I add the Tamron tele-converter, then, the 7D gets finicky, even erratic, when it comes to getting the exposure correct. I have to shoot, check the exposure, adjust, and keep shooting all the time, when I’ve gotten used to concentrating on other aspects of photography, and let the 7D handle exposure on its own. I believe that there’s a reason that the 7D doesn’t perform as well with the Tamron extender as it does without it, but his is mostly speculation on my part.
You see, when a company other than Canon builds a lens for a Canon camera, they don’t do it under a license from Canon, which is meaningless at first. But, that means that Canon doesn’t share any information with other lens manufacturers, Canon would prefer that you purchase Canon lenses for your Canon camera, the same holds true for Nikon, Sony, and any other camera manufacturer.
In order for companies such as Tamron, Tokina, or Sigma, to name a few, to build a lens for a Canon camera, they have to reverse engineer the lens. In the past, when everything was mechanical, that was relatively easy and straight forward, they would get a Canon camera and lens and take measurements of the components to make sure that their product would fit a Canon camera.
All that changed when cameras and lenses went digital. Now, not only do the other manufacturers have to get the physical dimensions correct, but they have to “hack” the software programmed into the Canon cameras and lenses to write software into their lenses that will communicate properly with the Canon camera. Since the Tamron tele-converter that I own was built long before Canon released the 7D Mk II, the tele-converter may not communicate with the 7D as well as it should. As you can see by how sharp the photos of the plover are, the optics in the Tamron are very good, but in the digital age, optics alone are no longer enough.
So, you may remember that I was planning to purchase a Canon 400 mm L series lens the first week of July, but those plans were changed when the Tokina macro lens died. I spent part of the money I had saved towards the 400 mm lens on a Canon 100 mm macro lens instead. Well, with the money that I had left over, I just purchased a Canon 2 X tele-converter, in part, to see if I really wanted the 400 mm Lens. I can put the 2 X extender behind my 70-200 mm lens to turn it into a 140-400 mm lens, which could be very good for flying birds, we’ll see. The extender will also turn the 300 mm lens that I have into a 600 mm lens, for critter portraits or longer range shots.
I was going to do a blurb about theory, and how many reviews say that the 2 X extender degrades image quality too much, as did two commenters to my blog when I mentioned purchasing one in the past.
On the other hand, professional wildlife and sports photographers use 2 X tele-converters, and get images that can be sold, so there must be a trick to them.
Again, this is speculation on my part, but I believe that using the 2 X extenders behind a great lens, and in front of a higher end camera is the secret to how the professionals get by using the extenders, and many hobby photographers don’t.
I haven’t had very much time to play with mine yet, but I can already tell that it was a worthwhile purchase. The first thing that I noticed about the 2 X extender is that it slowed down the auto-focusing of the 300 mm lens to the pace of a sedated snail, it’s really slow. So slow that I didn’t think that it was ever going to find a focus, but it eventually did.
The second thing that I noticed when using the extender is that it gets me close, really close!
The third thing that I noticed is that the metering of the 7D was just as accurate with the extender as it is without, unlike the Tamron extender. It has to be that the software in the Canon tele-converter is up to date and the 7D Mk II communicates with it properly, while to older Tamron tele-converter doesn’t.
Okay, it isn’t quite as sharp as my lenses are without the extender, but the difference isn’t that much. I’d lose more in image quality if I cropped down from an image taken at 300 mm than I lose with the extender to get this close.
The auto-focusing with the 300 mm lens is too slow for action shots though.
So, the next step was to try the extender with the 70-200 mm lens, now a 140-400 mm lens.
Did you notice the second goose surfacing as the first one passed it? Here it is as it breaks into a run to race the goose in the foreground. I wish that their positions had been reversed so that you’d have a better view.
I don’t know the reason for the game, but many of the geese would all dive at the same time, then, pop up above the water to gain speed, and finally hit the water as if to see who could create the biggest splash.
But, none of my splash photos were timed right, I got the splashes, but not the goose that made it.
In good light, that set-up had no trouble tracking the geese as they played around in the pond. It can even track a slow flying large bird well.
I do get more bad images while using the 2 X extender that what I do without it, but that’s to be expected. It didn’t help that it was a very cloudy day with very little light today, but I can see that it was a good purchase despite some short-comings.
That was shot from about 12 feet (3.6 meters) away from the monarch, I didn’t crop that image at all, and it’s not bad. It isn’t as sharp as I could get using the Canon 100 mm macro lens, but I couldn’t have gotten close enough to the butterfly to use that lens.
Speaking of that, you may ask how the new Canon macro lens is working out, well, very well!
Switching gears yet again, I continue to practice my landscape photography, both at sunrise…
…and during the sunnier parts of the day.
You may be able to tell that I’ve been watching more instructional videos in what little spare time that I have. 😉 One thing that I’m learning is that each expert has his or her own way of doing things, that may be in direct opposition to what other experts say to do. For example, I watched one video, that I picked up a few pointers while watching, where the presenter said to always use just the center focusing point no matter what. If you didn’t like to composition that using just the center point gave you, you should focus on what you want to be in focus, lock the focus, then recompose. His logic behind that was that you may forget to switch back to the correct focus point later.
By that logic, should we ever change any setting? We could forget to change it for the next subject that we would like to photograph.
I will say that his way may work for some types of photography, but not for small birds that move all the time, and certainly not for macro photography, where precise focusing is extremely critical!
One of the things that made the most improvement to my landscape photos was following a tip from Tim Cooper in one of the videos that B&H camera has online. That is, focus one-third of the way into the scene that you’re trying to photograph. The reason that it works so well is that you use the entire depth of field that your camera and lens can give you. If you let the camera focus on the background, as it usually does when shooting landscapes, then much of the foreground will be out of focus. Being focused on infinity and beyond “wastes” depth of field. So, what I do is to focus, either manually or in auto-focus, on something that I judge to be one-third of the way into the scene, then turn the lens to manual focus so that it can’t re-focus when I set the camera and lens up on the tripod. I’ve also been using a tripod religiously for my landscape photos, it really does make a difference.
By the way, almost all my landscapes and macro photos are still shot with one of the 60D bodies, they are more than enough camera for those types of photography. The 7D Mk II is a specialized camera designed with the avid wildlife or sports photographer in mind. Most people don’t need its auto-focusing system, or the improved metering system. Unless I want to use the 7D features such as the bulb timer or ability to do time-lapse photography, I’ll continue to use the 60D for landscapes and macros.
Anyway, back to the videos that I’ve been watching. I’ve found them to be very helpful to me in my quest to improve my skills. Sometimes the tips that I pick up are what help, but just seeing the work of other photographers, and hearing how and why they shot a particular photo is enlightening. I’m also learning that my wildlife photos aren’t all that bad either. I may not be shooting exotic species from Africa or Alaska where the critters are baited to get the photographers close and with the light right, I’m just shooting what I see in West Michigan, where and when I see it. I know that this is an unreasonable goal, but I’m working towards being able to get a good photo of anything, anywhere, at any time.
My life would be so much easier if I could train birds to perch out in the open, in good light, with nothing in the background to distract the viewer’s eyes.
Even if I do catch a bird out in the open, I don’t crop that photo to remove the background, because I liked the color combination, even though the green leaves are a distraction.
But, that’s not the way that I see most birds, most of the time, I’m shooting up at them from under the canopy of trees.
This has to be the ultimate in foolhardiness, shooting through a leaf to get a poor shot of a house wren. 🙂 Even though I would like all my photos to be perfect, I still like to have fun trying things that I shouldn’t.
Who knows, one of these days it may be a rare bird, not a female oriole, that I catch feeding on mulberries while hanging upside down.
Or maybe, it will be something like a pine marten that I catch peering at me through the leaves, and not a red squirrel.
I haven’t found many videos that discuss getting better wildlife photos, and that’s probably just as well. With one exception, most of them are of some renowned wildlife photographer showing photos of exotic critters that they photographed on a very expensive wildlife tour where the guides bait the critters to get the perfect set-ups, and the photographers have an itinerary of what they are going to shoot and when. The photographers arrive at the site or hide well in advance, and already know which lens to select and set their camera up to get the best photos. Then, it’s a matter of waiting for the polar bear, lion, zebra, or what have you to arrive, and begin shooting photos.
If I sound a little jealous, maybe I am, but to me, that’s not wildlife photography, at least not how I think it is. To me, it’s spotting something that I’d like to photograph, then using my outdoor skills to get myself into position to get the best photo that I can. Otherwise, you may as well go to the zoo and shoot wildlife there, to me, there’s not much difference if you’re shooting baited or trained wildlife. Sometimes my way works, as with the piping plover, sometimes it doesn’t, as you can see from my other photos.
I will say this though, a zoo is a great place for a beginner to go to practice their skills as a photographer, then, they can concentrate on photography and not have to worry about finding things to photograph.
Anyway, enough of that, you’d think that flowers would be easier subjects to photograph, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Getting the right light isn’t easy.
And I suppose that I could do as some photographers do, carry a spray bottle with water or glycerin to spray the flowers to catch them with water drops on them.
But, as with my bird and wildlife photos, I shoot what I see when I see it, and that also applies to insects.
I really should stop watching the videos from wildlife photographers, I always go on a rant about how baiting isn’t real wildlife photography to me. But, I do learn from the videos, and that’s what counts. So, I keep on shooting what I see when I see it, and hope for the best.
Now, I’m going to eat breakfast, then go to Muskegon to practice my sunrise photos at first, then try for some bird and dragonfly photos using the 2 X tele-converter to see how well it works.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!