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

Archive for August, 2015

Changing plans

I had intended that this post be of nothing but flowers, but my plans have changed. On Sunday, I went to the Muskegon wastewater facility as I often do, and shot a few photos there. However, the weather was so bad for bird photography that I switched gears and checked out a new to me park near Grand Haven, Michigan that was said to have a spot that offered spectacular views of Lake Michigan to the west, and up the Grand River valley to the east. I’ll add a few details about the park later, but since I promised a post with flowers, I’d better start with one.

Bindweed

Bindweed

Anyway, I arrived at the Muskegon County wastewater facility well before dawn, the dullest sunrise that I have seen in months, so no photos of that. The sandhill cranes are still using my favorite marsh as a place to spend the night, so I hung around there until they took off for the day. I thought that since I’ve been able to get very good photos at ISO 6400 with the 7D Mk II, I’d bump that up a bit to allow me to shoot at higher shutter speeds. That didn’t work out well.

Sandhill cranes in flight at dawn

Sandhill cranes in flight at dawn

Not even Lightroom would remove all the noise, or restore the colors that were lost at the higher ISO settings. But, I didn’t know that at the time, so I also shot this horned grebe with the higher settings.

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Another thing contributing to the poor quality of the few photos that I shot at the wastewater facility was that fog began to form after the sun rose, again. That’s the second time in a month when the day dawned clear, but fog formed after the sun had risen. I shot these critter photos before giving up on the idea of shooting wildlife.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

 

Whitetail fawn

Whitetail fawn

 

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

 

Turkey

Turkey

Even though there were plenty of shorebirds to be seen, some of them could have been new species for me, the light was so bad that I couldn’t get a decent photo of any of them. So, I decided to go for a short drive around the north end of the facility, to see if I could find anything else to shoot, which is where I found the turkey. I decided to try a few landscape photos while I waited for the fog to burn off.

Along the northern boundary of the wastewater facility

Along the northern boundary of the wastewater facility

 

IMG_0656_7_8

Pine plantation on the edge of the Muskegon State Game area

Instead of burning off, the fog grew thicker.

Green in the fog

Green in the fog

Because of the proximity to Lake Michigan, and its influence on local weather, one never knows exactly how the weather is going to be from one minute to the next, and it can also change dramatically in a very short time or distance.

I had just read about a new to me park, an Ottawa County Park, North Ottawa Dunes Park, online this past week. I knew that I wasn’t going to get any worthwhile photos where I was, and because that park is closer to the lake, I thought that the fog may not be present there. At the very least, it would be a chance to check the park out, and see if I should add it to the places that I go on a regular basis.

You may not believe this, after you see the photos that will come later, but North Ottawa Dunes Park is right on the border of Ferrysburg, Michigan. Ferrysburg is one of three small cities, Grand Haven, Spring Lake, along with Ferrysburg, that make up what is known as the tri-cities area along Lake Michigan. The park is 515 acres in a long, narrow strip, that runs from Ferrysburg to the P. J. Hoffmaster State Park to the north, along with butting up against North Beach Park to the west, and the Coast Guard Park to the east. Here’s a link if you’re interested.

http://www.naturenearby.org/visit/north-ottawa-dunes-county-park/

North Ottawa Dunes Park doesn’t have a parking area, you have to park in either the Coast Guard Park, North Beach Park, or the state park, and walk into it. So, I chose to start at the Coast Guard Park, which worked out well. The North Beach Park, being right on Lake Michigan, is a very busy park in the summer, and the walk from the state park to the scenic overlook area would have been too long for me to do carrying all my camera gear.

I saw lots of birds as I began my walk, they were either way up in the treetops, or in areas so shady that no photos were possible, as although the fog wasn’t as thick as it had been at the wastewater facility, it was still present, and it was still a dreary day. I also saw more squirrels than I’ve ever seen in such a small area, but no photos of them, for the same reason, no light.I did catch these two deer napping though.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

That was right after I stepped on a twig, alerting the deer of my approach. A split second later, and they were on their way.

Soon, I came to the stairway that leads to the scenic overlook, or I should say, the first of two stairways.

Beginning the climb

Beginning the climb

That’s not exactly the angle that I wanted to shoot the stairway at, but it’s the best of my images for showing how steep the dunes are there, and how long the first half of the climb was.

While climbing the stairs, I paused for a second to shoot this chipmunk.

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

After making it to the top of the first set of stairs, there was a short section of trail that led to another equally long set of stairs along the edge of a dune blow out.

A dune blow out occurs when the vegetation holding the sand that forms the dune in place dies or is killed, and the wind can then begin to blow the sand around again. Typically, dune blow outs occur because of human interference, either we trample the dune vegetation to death, or we remove the vegetation for one of many reasons, such as sand mining. The blow outs do occur naturally, when a wind storms blows over a number of trees at one time, or there is a landslide because the dunes are unstable.

I didn’t think to shoot a photo of the second stairway, I was too busy enjoying the view.

The Grand Haven Lighthouse

The Grand Haven Lighthouse

As you can see, there was some fog there, but it wasn’t as thick as it had been back at the wastewater facility.

Now then, if you can believe this, that photo, as well as this one…

North Ottawa Dunes Park looking south

North Ottawa Dunes Park looking south

…are from a position where you are looking over the city of Ferrysburg, as well as part of Grand Haven. You can see the stairs on the other side of the dune blow out, as well as the stairs that lead up the other side of it, but you can’t see any of the city.

More amazing, the view to the east, when you’re looking up the Grand River valley, you’re also looking over parts of Ferrysburg, Spring Lake, and Grand Haven.

Looking east, up the Grand River valley

Looking east, up the Grand River valley

That was shot at 50 mm, which is about equal to what the human eye see, here’s the same view at 15 mm…

Looking east, up the Grand River valley, 15 mm

Looking east, up the Grand River valley, 15 mm

…then, I switched to the 10-18 mm lens at 10 mm for an even wider view.

Looking east, up the Grand River valley, 10 mm

Looking east, up the Grand River valley, 10 mm

You can see the trees, you can see the rolling dunes and hills of the valley, but you can’t see anything that would tell you that you were looking across parts of three cities. There was a white water tower that I could just make out with the naked eye, but the fog and low clouds did a great job of hiding it in my photos.

That’s shows several of the things that I love about Michigan. Multiple parks right on the edge of a city, access to Lake Michigan, forests as far as the eye can see, even in the cities, and everything is still fairly green, even at the end of summer.

Here’s a few more of the photos that I shot from the top of the dune.

From the top of the dune 1

From the top of the dune 1

 

From the top of the dune 2

From the top of the dune 2

 

From the top of the dune 3

From the top of the dune 3

 

From the top of the dune 4

From the top of the dune 4

In my last post, I had a photo of a man-made nesting box for peregrine falcons. It’s on the smokestack of the coal-fired power plant that generates electricity for the near-by cities, and is quite tall. Yet it doesn’t appear in any of the photos that I shot from the top of the dune, which is just a short distance from the power plant. The dunes and forests hide everything man-made very well.

I have a few more images to share that I shot from on top the dune, looking down the dune, and out over Lake Michigan.

Looking down the dune 1

Looking down the dune 1

Not bad, but I needed something in the foreground to add depth, and to give every one a sense of how steep the dune is.

Looking down the dune 2

Looking down the dune 2

That’s better, and the polarizing filter helped make those a little better,

Looking down the dune 3

Looking down the dune 3

Looking down the dune 4

Looking down the dune 4

As you may have guessed from how much water we have here in Michigan, boating is very popular, so I shot that one, getting three boats at once. The black specks to the left center of the frame are a flock of ducks flying past.

I’m trying something new here, adding that last photo in a larger size, to see if I can do so and have it appear correctly in my blog. It doesn’t seem to have worked, but I’ll have to check this when it’s published, and also heck the setting for the theme that I’m using.

Anyway, I started back down the dune…

Going down the corkscrew stairway

Going down the corkscrew stairway

…through the cut between the dunes…

Between the dunes

Between the dunes

…starting down the straight stairway…

Down the straight stairway

Down the straight stairway

…and pausing halfway down for this shot.

The green straight stairway

The green straight stairway

I almost forgot, I shot some birds while on the top of the dune.

American crow

American crow

 

American crow in flight

American crow in flight

 

Blue-grey gnatcatcher with something larger than a gnat

Blue-grey gnatcatcher with something larger than a gnat

 

Blue-grey gnatcatcher with something larger than a gnat

Blue-grey gnatcatcher with something larger than a gnat

 

Blue-grey gnatcatcher with something larger than a gnat

Blue-grey gnatcatcher with something larger than a gnat

 

Blue-grey gnatcatcher with something larger than a gnat

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

 

Red-eyed vireo

Red-eyed vireo

 

Red-eyed vireo letting me know what it thought of me photographing it

Red-eyed vireo letting me know what it thought of me photographing it

Whew! I’m glad that I didn’t have to climb back to the top of the dune to be able to post those bird photos, it was a steep climb!

Once I got to the bottom of the dune, I shot two more photos of the woods there.

Mossy trees

Mossy trees

 

Woodland scene

Woodland scene

I also had some better light to catch a couple more of the chipmunks that I saw.

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

A few thoughts about Ottawa Dunes Park. I can see that I found a good spot to shoot sunrises at, if they’re going to be good ones. It would be okay for sunsets, but I suspect that the park becomes very crowded during the evening hours in summer, but maybe not so much in the closer months, we’ll see. I’ll try to stop there to get fall foliage photos also. I may even add it to my list of birding places to go, I saw and heard plenty of birds there, but was more interested in the scenery this time. No matter what, it’s great to live in an area with so many parks and nature preserves that I have to pick and choose which ones I like best.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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I’m so unbelievably lucky!

So, in my last post I had photos of two of the three bald eagles I saw that day, and also two species of falcons, the merlin and peregrine falcon. What I didn’t get a photo of, and it really bothered me, was of one of three kestrels that I saw that same day. Then, there were at least eight red-tailed hawks, the sandhill cranes, several species of shorebirds, a quite a few ducks around also. I was thinking about that when it hit me just how spoiled I have become.

There are only three species of falcons seen regularly in Michigan, the peregrine…

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

…merlin…

Merlin

Merlin

 

…and kestrels, which I wasn’t able to get a usable photo of that day, even though I have in the past.

Kestrel

American Kestrel

There are five species of falcons that have been seen in Michigan in total, the three mentioned above, along with the Gyrfalcon, which is an occasional winter visitor to Michigan when some of them migrate south from their usual home on the Arctic tundra. Also, one report of a juvenile Prairie Falcon seen four years ago about 100 miles northwest of where I live. That one may have been blown here in a storm, or being a juvenile, it may have wandered several hundred miles outside of that specie’s normal range looking for a territory of its own.

Most people have never seen one species of falcons, I see three in one day, and get bummed out because I didn’t get a good photo of one of the three, just how spoiled am I? Of course the one that I missed is the cutest of the three.

I haven’t been posting any photos of ducks lately, it’s molting season for them, and they all look like female mallards right now, even the males.

Male mallard molting

Male mallard molting

I did a cropped version of that photo, but I like the full size version better, with the mallard on the tan rocks and the green water behind him.

Even the male wood ducks are looking a little drab this time of year, although you can see that this one is beginning to grow new brightly colored feathers.

Wood duck

Wood duck

But when he saw me shooting his picture, he hid the bright feathers and kicked it up to top gear.

Wood duck

Wood duck

I caught this blue winged teal showing some color as well.

Blue winged teal in flight

Blue winged teal in flight

What I haven’t posted many photos of from my trips along the lakeshore, including Muskegon, Grand Haven, and other spots, has been the more common songbirds. I have shot a few photos of them, but I usually tell myself not to bother, I can get photos of them around home. That hasn’t been true this year. For one thing, I don’t have time to walk everyday like I used to, but there’s something else going on as well.

This spring, all the usual songbirds that nest in the park where I walk showed up right on cue. However, very few of them remained to nest here, and I don’t know why that is. Last year, several pairs of Baltimore orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks, eastern kingbirds, and other songbirds nested and raised their young here. This year, they all moved on other than one pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks, which I was able to shoot photos of. As soon as the young fledged, they left also. I don’t know if it’s because of predators, particularly house cats running free, or some other reason the birds didn’t stick around.

Oh, while looking through my recent photos to see what to post, I found some of a kestrel from August 13th of this year.

American kestrel

American kestrel

American kestrel

American kestrel

Since I’m back to the falcons, here’s a photo from back during the Memorial Day weekend, shot at Grand Haven, Michigan.

Peregrine falcon in a man-made nesting box

Peregrine falcon in a man-made nesting box

I know that it isn’t a good photo, but it shows one reason that peregrine falcons are increasing in numbers. There are man-made nesting boxes like that built for them in several towns and cities, including Grand haven, Muskegon, and even Grand Rapids.

And yes, I have photos from all the way back in May that I haven’t gotten around to posting yet. Now is as good of time as any to begin catching up, so here goes.

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

 

Trumpeter swans

Trumpeter swans

 

Juvenile caspian tern

Juvenile caspian tern

 

Two great blue herons in flight

Two great blue herons in flight

 

White-throated sparrow

White-throated sparrow

 

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

 

White-crowned sparrow

White-crowned sparrow

 

Grey catbird collecting stuff to use in its nest

Grey catbird collecting stuff to use in its nest

 

Female yellow-dumped warbler

Female yellow-rumped warbler

 

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

 

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

 

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Rose-breasted grosbeak

 

Double crested cormorants in flight

Double crested cormorants in flight

 

Common tern in flight

Common tern in flight

 

Purple martins

Purple martins

 

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

 

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

 

Male common yellowthroat

Male common yellowthroat

 

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

 

Green heron

Green heron

 

Grasshopper sparrow

Grasshopper sparrow

 

Northern rough-winged swallow

Northern rough-winged swallow

 

Vesper sparrow

Vesper sparrow

 

Male orchard oriole

Male orchard oriole

 

Horned lark

Horned lark

 

Eastern meadowlark and red-winged blackbird

Eastern meadowlark and red-winged blackbird

 

Male Eastern towhee

Male Eastern towhee

 

Male Eastern towhee

Male Eastern towhee

Sorry about the poor quality of the towhee photos, it was the only time this year that I saw one in the open, and it was raining at the time. I had the wipe the lens several times just to get those photos.

That reminds me to say that you should always try to get the best possible image in the camera that you possibly can. But, it’s not always easy to do so. One thing that I have learned is that with digital photography, if you’re going to miss on the exposure settings, it is better to over-expose the image than to under-expose it. That’s the exact opposite of what I learned when shooting slide film, you never over-exposed an image, there was no way to save an over-exposed slide. In fact, with Kodachrome, it was recommended that you under-expose what your light meter called for by one-third to one-half stop.

Under-exposing a digital image and trying to brighten it in any software introduces noise that I can’t remove no matter how I try to remove it. On the other hand, software is able to bring down the exposure quite a bit without any adverse effects showing up in the images.

Adding these photos will put me over my self-imposed limit, but what the heck, I’m trying to get caught up here.

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

 

Ruby-throated hummingbird

Ruby-throated hummingbird

 

Ruby-throated hummingbird

Ruby-throated hummingbird

 

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Rose-breasted grosbeak

 

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

 

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

 

Great crested flycatcher

Great crested flycatcher

All birds, I’m sorry about that. No flowers, insects, or cute squirrels in this post, I’ll have to make up for it in my next one. That will be hard to do though, fall migration has begun in earnest. The red-winged blackbirds that spent the summer here are already gone, as one example. There will be more through here later on, as the ones that spent the summer farther north move through. It’s the same with some of the shorebirds also, more are being reported all the time.

Fall is coming, sooner than what I want, but you can’t change the progression of seasons. There are hints of color in the leaves of some trees already, and fall flowers are beginning to bloom.  I’m going to try to pack in as many photos this fall as I can, because after fall comes winter, and the endless dreary days under lake effect clouds here. I have been making a few plans for the fall, but so much depends on my work schedule that I’m never sure if those plans will come to fruition or not, we’ll see.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


They come in streaks

I have my good days as far as photography, then the are the not so good days. I should know that by now, and not let the bad photos ruin my mood as much as I do. One thing that I’ve done to remind myself that all my photos aren’t failures is to keep a smart collection in Lightroom of the best of the best of my photos. Currently, I have 77 images in that collection. Then, when I’m going through a time period when it seems as if I can’t get a good image for the life of me, I’ll view the smart collection as a slide show full screen on my computer. Or, I have had a few of those photos printed, and I’ll get out the prints and look at them again.

The remarkable thing about the photos in the collection is how I may add two or three photos from a single day to the collection, have several days in a row when I’m getting a couple of images a day, then go for weeks before adding any new images. As a matter of fact, in the past two days, I’ve added four photos to the collection of my best photos, bringing the total to 81 images. I decide that all of you were right, the photos of the solitary sandpiper and water-lily from the last post belonged there, and I shot these two today.

Red-tailed hawk in flight, impersonating an eagle

Red-tailed hawk in flight, impersonating an eagle

Despite the fact that Bruiser snuck up on me, coming out of nowhere as he likes to do to me, I got the image stabilization turned off so the photos of him were sharp, and I dialed in about the right amount of exposure compensation just from experience, without ever looking at the exposure compensation scale in the viewfinder.

The second one from today isn’t as dramatic, but I love it, and I can’t even tell you why I do, other than that they are pretty flowers.

Asters opening

Asters opening

I may add a few from yesterday at Muskegon, but the light wasn’t all that good then, even though I got a fairly good close-up of a juvenile peregrine falcon, both perched…

Juvenile peregrine falcon

Juvenile peregrine falcon, not cropped

…and in flight…

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

…a merlin…

Merlin

Merlin, slight crop

…but the ones that will probably draw the most comments are the ones I shot of the sandhill cranes taking off at dawn.

Sandhill cranes in flight at dawn

Sandhill cranes in flight at dawn

Sandhill cranes in flight at dawn

Sandhill cranes in flight at dawn

Sandhill cranes in flight at dawn

Sandhill cranes in flight at dawn

Sandhill cranes in flight at dawn

Sandhill cranes in flight at dawn

Being a perfectionist, those still aren’t exactly what I had in mind, so that while there’s a great sunrise behind the cranes, I’ll have to keep trying until I get it right.

So, just how large are sandhill cranes? Here’s a great blue heron in flight before dawn…

Great blue heron in flight before dawn

Great blue heron in flight before dawn

…that dropped in for a visit with the cranes before they left for the day.

Great blue heron and sandhill cranes

Great blue heron and sandhill cranes

You can see that even though the heron is a large bird, it’s dwarfed by the cranes.

Shortly after the cranes left the marsh, the heron did as well, although it’s a little hard to see in these photos, I was setting up the 70-200 mm lens when the heron flew off, so I had to shoot with what I had in my hand at the time. Besides, every one loves a good sunrise, right?

Great blue heron in flight at dawn

Great blue heron in flight at dawn

 

Great blue heron in flight at dawn

Great blue heron in flight at dawn

Speaking of the sunrise, it was okay, good enough for a photo or two.

Sunrise over my favorite marsh

Sunrise over my favorite marsh

 

Sunrise over my favorite marsh

Sunrise over my favorite marsh

I was hoping that the sun would cast the color onto the underside of the clouds, but that didn’t happen. I swung the camera around for this instead.

Trees at sunrise

Trees at sunrise

(Note: I know, you can see my shadow. I hid the shadow of the tripod in another shadow from the brush, as you can tell because it doesn’t show, but after releasing the shutter, I stepped away from the tripod. I’ll have to remember not to do that again)

Nothing special, other than for the first time, by doing that as a HDR image, I finally caught how the sun hits the bark of the trees and casts the orange color onto the trees.

Later, I shot another practice shot, here’s the non-HDR version…

Sunrise over the lagoon

Sunrise over the lagoon

…and the HDR version.

Sunrise over the lagoon, HDR

Sunrise over the lagoon, HDR

Again, nothing special, other than what I’m learning, it’s the same with this one from yesterday…

Cloudscape over a farm field

Cloudscape over a farm field

…or this one from this morning.

Creekside Park

Creekside Park

Each of those contain an element that was very hard for me to get right in my photos before, from the patterns of the sun on the water, to the clouds not being blown out over the farm field, to the backlit leaves in the last image. I’m putting pieces together that will hopefully work out when the time comes that I need those pieces.

In response to a couple of people who commented on my last post, I said that the beauty here in Michigan is subtle, it isn’t like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, or Yellowstone. In order to really capture the beauty of Michigan, I have to be able to get those little pieces right. I think that I’m making progress.

Now, I have to work on training young eagles not to perch on the side of the Muskegon County landfill!

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

This one’s training is coming along well, it has enough sense to pose somewhere at least a little more photogenic.

Juvenile bald eagle 2

Juvenile bald eagle 2

Even if it is on the rocks of the wastewater storage lagoon. 😉

Not very far away, these Bonaparte’s gulls were taunting the eagle.

Bonaparte's gulls

Bonaparte’s gulls

 

Bonaparte's gull

Bonaparte’s gull

The gulls didn’t seem to be bothered by the eagle’s presence at all. Earlier, I had seen the peregrine falcon make repeated dives at the shorebirds, but the shorebirds stayed put. The falcon’s antics did get the geese all upset, and they left. Peregrine falcons are fierce little birds, but I can’t picture one taking on a full-grown Canada goose though, a gull maybe, but not a goose.

Oh yeah, speaking of gulls, I put what I learned about the auto-focus system of the 7D to use for these.

Juvenile ring-billed gull in flight

Juvenile ring-billed gull in flight

Juvenile ring-billed gull in flight

Juvenile ring-billed gull in flight

Juvenile ring-billed gull in flight

Juvenile ring-billed gull in flight

It’s great being able to do my close-up portraits of gulls while they are flying now. 🙂

I took a break from the birds and landscapes to shoot a few flowers, some more very pretty flowers that I can’t ID, I just wish that the light had been better yesterday.

Unidentified purple flowers

Unidentified purple flowers

Unidentified purple flowers

Unidentified purple flowers

Unidentified purple flowers

Unidentified purple flowers

Unidentified purple flowers

Unidentified purple flowers

Sorry for so many of them, but if I remember correctly, these flowers don’t last long, they’ll probably be gone the next time I’m at Muskegon, and I won’t see them until next year. You maybe able to see the head of a hoverfly sneaking into the frame of the last photo, I tried for a shot of it.

Hoverfly

Hoverfly

But the light was just too poor for a good photo. I did a little better with these somewhat strange looking plants…

Unidentified plants

Unidentified plants

…I thought that they could be ferns, but no, they had obviously flowered, and ferns don’t have traditional flowers.

Dying flowers on the unidentified plants

Dying flowers on the unidentified plants

I did better with the flowers this morning.

Blue vervain

Blue vervain

Blue vervain

Blue vervain

 

Moth mullien

Moth mullein

???

???

Goldenrod

Goldenrod

I have two more photos from yesterday that I’d better stick in this post, a ruddy turnstone.

Ruddy turnstone

Ruddy turnstone

Ruddy turnstone

Ruddy turnstone

Like my good photos, they come in streaks as they migrate south for the winter, and I don’t see them very often.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Pushing the limits, learning what works, part II

I shot plenty of other subjects other than the sandhill cranes during my two latest trips to Muskegon, and the photos in this post will be a few of them.

But first, I was very disappointed with the image quality of the photos of the cranes that I shot on those two mornings. I did a very poor job of assessing the situation and preparing for what was going to happen on both days. Too often, I chalk that up to birds being somewhat unpredictable, but in the case of the cranes, it wasn’t as unpredictable as all that. I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen, but I allowed my prejudices about the gear that I have dictate what lens(es) I used, which is a big no-no.

I have a tendency to focus on my failures, rather than my successes, and I do have some successes from time to time.

Green heron in flight

Green heron in flight

But that’s enough of that already. The big news is that I found a B&H video on the art and craft of landscape photography with the speaker being Robert Rodriguez Jr.. There’s very little talk of camera gear, settings, or even composition, it’s him tracing his progress as a photographer, what motivates him, what he looks for in a scene, and so on. It hit me in a big way, for one of his main points was to start shooting what you love.

I’ve complained that the lower peninsula of Michigan has no mountains, no waterfalls, no rocky shorelines, etc. But, I do love Michigan, for other reasons. It’s funny, I had just read something that some one said about Michigan, that it was like a giant water purification machine, and that’s true. The sand and gravel that I’ve complained about does a great job of purifying any rainfall that lands here. Adding to that, in the lower peninsula, most mining is done for four things, sand, salt, limestone, and gypsum, all of which are water permeable, and work in conjunction with the sand and gravel above to help purify the water.

Good, clean water we have in abundance, not just the Great Lakes, but plenty of small inland lakes and streams, it’s the cold clear water in our streams that makes Michigan a great place for trout fishing.

Plenty of water means that plants thrive here, Michigan is the opposite of the more arid western states, here we can’t see the forest because the trees are in the way, blocking our view. In the summer, Michigan is all blue skies, green vegetation, and blue water, with a few other things thrown in for good measure. I just need to practice more to capture those things in a better way than this.

Lost Lake

Lost Lake

I knew that one wasn’t great, it was a practice shot, that I did even before I watched the video. What’s funny is that I also shot this one before watching the video…

Fern

Fern

…and it’s very similar to one that Robert Rodriguez Jr. showed in his presentation.

By the way, here’s a link to the video if you’re interested.

So what I need to do is to quit looking for places in Michigan that look like other parts of the world and instead, photograph what it is about Michigan that I love. That, and learn to see the world through my wide-angle lenses, as I have said before.

I also stumbled across several videos from Canon showing some of the features of the 7D Mk II and how to use them. Why Canon makes it so difficult to find these videos is beyond me, it was from watching some of them about the 60D that really helped me learn to use that camera. I’m not going to go into detail about the tips and tricks, other than to say that I’m going to begin putting them into use my next time out, which may be today if I finish this post in time.

In the meantime, here are the birds from the last two days at Muskegon.

Solitary sandpiper

Solitary sandpiper

 

Least sandpiper

Least sandpiper

 

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

 

Semi-palmated sandpiper

Semi-palmated sandpiper

 

Lesser yellowlegs, least sandpipers, and semi-palmated sandpipers in action

Lesser yellowlegs, least sandpipers, and semi-palmated sandpipers in action

 

American crow in flight

American crow in flight

 

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

 

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

 

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

 

Hen turkeys and poults

Hen turkeys and poults

 

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

I have a series of photos of the nuthatch, 10 images shot in 5 seconds showing how much the smaller birds move around as I’m attempting to get a sharp photo of them, but since most of you know full well how hard it is to catch a small bird perching perfectly still, I’m not going to upload all the rest, just that one when the nuthatch paused for a second. It’s the same with these.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

This one was a little chatterbox, but it took me a few tries to catch him talking to the rest of the flock.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

A tip for all the birders out there, when you find chickadees, you’ll usually find other birds in the same area. It’s well-known that our all year resident birds form loose flocks during the winter, but I’ve always found that except for when they are nesting, if you find chickadees, you’ll also find the other year-round residents, along with warblers, vireos, woodpeckers, and other families of birds. Not only that, but getting close to a few of the chickadees seems to make the other birds less fearful of me, and then they will allow me to approach them a little closer than they would otherwise. Maybe when they see that I posed no threat to the chickadees, they understand that.

By the way, that reminds me, I just read an article about the vision of birds. Science has known for some time that birds can see much better than humans, well, it turns out that they can also see more of the light spectrum than we can as well, including some of the UV light. That’s how they can tell each other apart. Some species, such as the chickadees all look-alike to us, and we can’t tell the males from the females. But, when researchers began checking what the two sexes looked like in UV light, it turns out that there are differences in the plumage of the sexes, and even some variations in individual birds, which is how they recognize each other.

I had decided not to post the photos of a bald eagle that I shot, since they were taken when the fog was very thick, but I changed my mind, and here’s the best of the lot.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

I shot another eagle in flight, it may have been either a bald or golden eagle, it looked too large to be a bald eagle, but since it’s a poor photo, even worse than the one above, I haven’t changed my mind about one. But, here are a few more birds, starting with a male cardinal looking for food…

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

…to feed to its offspring.

Juvenile female northern cardinal

Juvenile female northern cardinal

Sometimes, you stumble across situations that just don’t look right, such as a hawk on the ground…

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

…being watched by a great blue heron perched in a tree.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Honestly, those two were shot from the same spot, within seconds of each other. Normally, you see the hawks in trees and herons on the ground or in the water, but in this instance, the birds were reversed. However, it just hit me, maybe the heron was watching to see if the hawk had been successful in capturing a rodent, since herons will eat rodents as well. Could it have been that the heron was seeing if it was worth looking for rodents in the field that the hawk was in?

I shot other things than birds, like this young buck.

Whitetail buck in velvet

Whitetail buck in velvet

This chipmunk….

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

…and this red squirrel.

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

Then, there were the insects.

Unidentified colorful beetle

Unidentified colorful beetle

 

Fly

Fly

 

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

 

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

 

Cabbage white butterfly?

Cabbage white butterfly?

 

Unidentified butterfly

Unidentified butterfly

I had several requests for more spiderweb photos, so I looked for some…

Spiderweb with spider

Spiderweb with spider

…then moved closer to get this photo of the spiders underside…

Spider

Spider

…and here’s its topside.

Spider

Spider

I found a few frogs at Lost Lake.

Green frog

Green frog

 

 

Green frog

Green frog

As well as a few flowers.

Turtlehead flowers

Turtlehead flowers

 

 

Turtlehead flowers

Turtlehead flowers

 

 

Joe Pye weed

Joe Pye weed

 

 

Water lily

Water lily

 

 

Unidentified marsh flower

Unidentified marsh flower

 

 

Unidentified marsh flower

Unidentified marsh flower

There are times when I have a good idea…

Water lily

Water lily

…but my execution is wrong…

Water lily

Water lily

…and not even Lightroom can save it. Other times, I get it right, at least I think that I do.

Pastel morning

Pastel morning

Or, I find the humor in nature, like this dragonfly perched on a branch where the end of the branch looks like a dragon’s head.

Dragonfly and dragon

Dragonfly and dragon

Well, I think that it’s time for me to eat breakfast, then head on out to see what I can find to photograph today.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Pushing the limits, learning what works

Well, I said in my last post that I was no longer separating images from around home and those that I shot when I went to Muskegon. However, this post will be entirely of photos that I shot on a trip to Muskegon on August 15th. I fact, I may have to do two posts, as I went to Muskegon two days in a row. For one thing, I had an unexpected three-day weekend due to lack of freight at work, and also because the temperatures this weekend were approaching 90 degrees (32 C) with too much humidity for my tastes.

On both days, I arrived well before dawn, and was ready to get set-up to shoot sunrise landscapes over my favorite marsh if the situation looked good for doing so. It didn’t on either day, although on both days, shortly after sunrise, scenes appeared worth shooting, I’ll get to those later.

With both sunrises looking like complete busts, I turned my attention to the sandhill cranes that spend the nights standing in my favorite marsh. The flock is growing a little larger all the time, there is now over 20 cranes there in the morning when I arrive.

Sandhill cranes

Sandhill cranes

On the first morning, I turned my vehicle so that the headlights would shine towards where the cranes spend the night, and to my surprise, I frightened a number of deer that were hanging out with the cranes in the marsh. Later, some of the deer returned, and even though it was still well before sunrise, I tried to get a photo. Well, I did get a photo, albeit a very bad one, even though I had braced myself enough that I thought that I could hold steady at the very slow shutter speed this required.

Whitetail deer and sandhill cranes

Whitetail deer and sandhill cranes

As soon as I opened the car door to try to get the tripod set-up, that deer, and several others with her bolted, never to be seen again that day. Since it was still too dark for my style of photography, I hung around to watch the cranes. Just at sunrise, two cranes took flight to go off in search of breakfast.

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Soon, the rest of the members of the flock began stretching their wings in preparation for taking off.

Sandhill cranes stretching their wings

Sandhill cranes stretching their wings

What you can’t see in these stills is that one of the cranes stood in the background, as all the rest walked towards the right of the frame, as if marching on orders from the one that remained stationary.

Sandhill cranes stretching their wings

Sandhill cranes stretching their wings

Then, the entire flock took flight.

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

I was using the 300 mm lens with the 1.4 X tele-converter to get 420 mm, so I never got the entire flock in the frame, and the depth of field was so short, only one crane in each photo came out sharp. That set-up is much better for shooting just one or two cranes at a time, so I learned the hard way.

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

As soon as the cranes left, a great blue heron came flying in to begin looking for food.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

As soon as that one had landed, a second one came over to chase the first heron away, but I ended up with three terribly blurry shots of the chase, even worse than what I’ve posted here so far, so they were deleted.

Rather than continue on with the rest of the happenings from the first day, I’m going to skip ahead to the second morning when I first arrived, and my flubbing of another shot of the cranes. My only excuse for posting these is that they show, however poorly it is, the behavior of the cranes.

As on the first morning, the sunrise looked to be a complete waste of time, so I just sat in my car for a while, and I even nodded off getting in a short nap before it became light enough to see into the marsh. Soon, three cranes came winging their way towards the marsh, but only one landed.

Sandhill crane landing

Sandhill crane landing

I’m not sure what the relationships between the cranes are, but a couple of the other cranes spread their wings either to welcome the newcomer, attempt to threaten the newcomer away, or just got the idea that it was time to stretch their wings out in preparation for their morning flight to their feeding grounds.

Sandhill cranes in action

Sandhill cranes in action

I don’t think that the newcomer was signaling where food was, for soon, a few of the cranes began to leave, one or two at a time, and in different directions.

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Wouldn’t you know, the day before, I had been using the set-up to give me 420 mm of focal length, too much for the entire flock. So, I thought that I was being smart by switching to the 70-200 mm lens on the second day, to get the entire flock in the frame, and with more depth of field to keep them all in focus. But, nature had her way on this day, I had to crop those quite a bit since I used the shorter lens.

I should have switched to the longer set-up, although I’m not sure that the result would be any better for this next series. As I watched the cranes, one began doing the dance that they are known for.

Sandhill crane dancing

Sandhill crane dancing

Sandhill crane dancing

Sandhill crane dancing

Sandhill crane dancing

Sandhill crane dancing

Sandhill crane dancing

Sandhill crane dancing

Sandhill crane dancing

Sandhill crane dancing

Sandhill crane dancing

Sandhill crane dancing

Stills just don’t do justice to the crane dance, they hop around, twist, turn, and pluck their own feathers to use as props during the dance. So, I got this great idea to shoot a video, problem was, I was using the 7D for those, and I couldn’t remember how to shoot video with it. No problem, I had the second 60D body set-up with the beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) on it, and I know how to shoot video with the 60D. So, I grabbed that and I waited, and waited, and waited, so long that when one of the cranes began dancing again, 4 seconds into the video, the camera’s sensor was overheating from being held at the ready for so long in live view.

ARGGGGGGHHHHHHH!

So, I set that set-up aside, and shot landscapes with the 7 D and 70-200 mm lens, as suddenly, clouds were developing just as the sun rose.

Sunrise 4

Sunrise

Sunrise

Sunrise 2

Sunrise 2

Sunrise 3

Sunrise 3

Sunrise 4

Where the clouds suddenly came from, I have no idea, they hadn’t been there a few minutes before the sun broke over the horizon.

I was keeping an eye on the cranes, looking for the same signs that they had given me the previous morning that they were about to take off. No such signs were given this day, no fidgeting, no wings stretches by multiple birds, no talking between them, they just all took off.

I wish that I could shorten that video to cut off the end as I fumbled to turn the video capture off. I have iMovie on my iMac which is supposed to be able to edit videos, but there’s no instructions, so you’ll have to put up with another of my mistakes. I also wish that the cranes had been as vocal as they had been the day before, as hearing them is a major part of the experience of watching them.

I have decided that I had better get more practice shooting videos, as that’s really the best way to show some of the crane’s behaviors, and include the sounds that they make as well.

As I said earlier, on both days the sky was virtually cloud free when I arrived before sunrise. On both days, things changed dramatically after the sun had been up for a while.

Here’s what it looked like on the first day.

Sunrise 5

Sunrise 5

Geese flying into the fire

Geese flying into the fire

Also on the first day, after finishing with the cranes, I shot a killdeer in flight…

Killdeer in flight

Killdeer in flight

Killdeer in flight

Killdeer in flight

…then, I got a better shot of one of the Egyptian geese, just to prove to myself that I could shoot a good photo of a bird.

Egyptian goose

Egyptian goose

Soon after that, fog began to develop even as the sun rose in the sky, and the fog grew thicker with every passing minute for a while.

Foggy sunrise

Foggy sunrise

The obligatory lone tree in the fog

The obligatory lone tree in the fog

On the second day, fog also formed after sunrise, but it wasn’t as thick, and the best colors in the sky occurred well after sunrise.

Sunrise on the road

Sunrise on the road

Sunrise on the road 2

Sunrise on the road 2

I have some in between shots from the first day, but once again, I’m going to skip ahead.

I found an eastern phoebe willing to pose for me, so I shot a series of photos using the 300 mm lens and 1.4 X extender.

Eastern phoebe, 420 mm and cropped

Eastern phoebe, 420 mm and cropped

Eastern phoebe, 420 mm and cropped

Eastern phoebe, 420 mm and cropped

Since the phoebe wasn’t in a hurry to go anywhere soon, I switched over to the new 2 X extender, and shot another series. When I cropped these, I had Lightroom crop to the exact same physical dimensions as the series shot at 420 mm, a perfect way to test how sharp the 2 X extender really is.

Eastern phoebe, 600 mm and cropped the same as before

Eastern phoebe, 600 mm and cropped the same as before

Eastern phoebe, 600 mm and cropped the same as before

Eastern phoebe, 600 mm and cropped the same as before

Eastern phoebe, 600 mm and cropped the same as before

Eastern phoebe, 600 mm and cropped the same as before

Eastern phoebe, 600 mm and cropped the same as before

Eastern phoebe, 600 mm and cropped the same as before

Sorry for so many photos of the cranes and the phoebe, but they’re all part of my learning my equipment, and what it is capable of. The images of the cranes when they are stationary aren’t too bad for having been shot in predawn light, but I need to work on my action shots in low light yet.  I won’t post as many from now on, unless I catch something so interesting that I feel that I have to post it.

That’s the only reason for all the crane photos, few people get to watch them close-up as I do, and fewer people have seen them dance, which is one of the truly fascinating things to see in nature. I just hope that the next time, my skills have improved to where I can get better images. 😉

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Sometimes, it’s just dumb luck, or is it?

One of the things that I’ve always wanted to capture was a reasonably good photo of a hummingbird in flight. While the photos that will follow shortly aren’t great, they are far better than any that I have shot up to this point. One thing that I should mention early on is that the caveat I have set for myself regarding the hummingbird photos is that they not be taken of a hummer at a feeder, but in their natural habitat. Of course, I could “cheat” as some photographers do and use an eye dropper to add a few drops of sugar-water to a flower, then wait for hummers to find it, but I won’t do that either.

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

So, you could say that these photos were just dumb luck, but there’s more to it than just luck, and how I got these is how I get many of the photos of rarer species of birds that I’m able to find and photograph.

To start with, the photos of the flying hummer were shot in the park that I walk every chance that I get, it used to be daily, but with my new job, I don’t make it out as often as I would like. The photos of the male perched on the dead snag came from along the trail to Lost Lake in Muskegon State Park. The main thing though is that I’m very familiar with the park, and know that there is one small patch of wildflowers where I’m likely to find hummers. Usually, it’s one of them perched in the top of a short, dead tree, looking for insects to eat.

Male ruby-throated hummingbird

Male ruby-throated hummingbird

When most people think of hummingbirds, they think that the main food for them is the nectar from flowers, and that is the source of energy that fuels their extremely high metabolism, but they also consume great quantities of insects as a source of other nutrients that they need to survive. Just how high is a hummer’s metabolism? Their hearts beat at 1200 beats per minute, and they beat their wings over 50 times per second when they are hovering. If you’ve ever seen a hummer, you’d see that they are one of the quickest creatures in nature, which is what makes photographing them in the wild so difficult.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds fly straight and fast, but can stop instantly, hover, and adjust their position up, down, or backwards with exquisite control. Then, shoot off in search of their next meal so quickly that if you blink, they are gone.

Anyway, getting back to what I was writing about, I know from experience the areas where I’m most likely to see a hummer, not only around home, but in other locations as well. They are very territorial, both the males and the females, find one in an area once, and you’re likely to see them there often. That’s another reason that they like to perch up high in dead trees, to watch for other hummers intruding into their territory. Yet another reason is that they like to catch the early morning sunshine to help warm them up after cool nights.

Male ruby-throated hummingbird warming up

Male ruby-throated hummingbird warming up

Male ruby-throated hummingbird warming up

Male ruby-throated hummingbird warming up

So, the first item that helped me get the photos that I’m excited about is knowledge of both the bird, and the area that I was looking for the birds in. An ideal place to find hummers has flowers that provide the nectar that they need, with different flowers that provide the nectar over the course of the summer, with one or two places out in the open where they can perch to watch their territory and to look for insects to eat.

I make it a point to stop and spend a few minutes watching for the hummers whenever I’m near a place where I’ve seen them before. So, I suppose that you could add patience and persistence, as well as knowledge to the list of things that helped me get these photos.

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

I also pay attention to the slightest clues to help me find hummers, or any critter for that matter. Sometimes I hear either the hummers chirping before I see them, sometimes I hear their wings beating before I see them, most of the time it’s seeing a tiny grey blur shooting across a patch of wildflowers. That’s what led me to these images, catching a glimpse of something too large to be an insect zooming over the wildflowers. I focused on the area where I thought that the grey blur had gone, and spotted the hummer back behind a clump of cardinal flowers. I moved a few steps to my left to find the clearest shooting lane to the flowers, and the hummer behind them. Then, even though I didn’t have a clear view of the hummer, I took this shot to get the camera and lens focused at the correct distance ahead time so that if the hummer did come into view, I’d be ready.

Getting ready in case the hummer came out in the open

Getting ready in case the hummer came out in the open

Then, it was a matter of keeping the camera on the hummer, even when I couldn’t see it clearly, but as soon as it came out in the open, I pressed the shutter release, and let the Canon 7D do the rest.

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

Then, the hummer backed up, turned toward me…

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

…and I have one more blurry photo from that series as the hummer kicked it into overdrive and sped off, too quickly for the camera and lens to keep it in focus. But, since this is about good photos, no need for the blurry one to appear here.

Not only did I get better photos of the hummer in flight than I ever have before, I got an added bonus as well. In one of the photos, you can see how the cardinal flowers have evolved over time so that hummers pollinate them when the hummers sip the flower’s nectar. Here’s a close-up photo of a cardinal flower from my last post.

Cardinal flower

Cardinal flower

You can see that the flower’s reproductive parts are on the end of the long stalk towards the top of the flower, and here’s the hummer’s head contacting the flower’s reproductive parts as the hummer goes for the nectar.

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

That’s what has been driving me to improve my photography, being able to capture moments such as that which shows every one how nature works, much better than I could say it in words. You can see that over time, the cardinal flower has developed so that it is a perfect fit for the head of a hummingbird. The hummer gets much-needed flower nectar, and in return, the flowers get pollinated, a perfect example of a symbiotic relationship.

So, how can I match that? How about a good photo of a flying barn swallow’s butt?

Barn swallow in flight

Barn swallow in flight

Or, a not so good photo of another swallow in flight?

Barn swallow in flight

Barn swallow in flight

Maybe these will do, even though they are quite bad, they show that swallows turn their heads 180 degrees while in flight. I don’t now if they are looking for food, or on the lookout for predators from above, but since I captured it twice in a short time, it must be somethings swallows do very often.

Barn swallow in flight

Barn swallow in flight

Barn swallow in flight

Barn swallow in flight

I never knew that swallows did this before I saw those photos. They fly way too fast for me to see that with the naked eye, but I can see it clearly in the photos, another reason to continue to improve my skills, to catch the things in nature that we’re not able to see unaided.

Since I’m on swallows, I may as well include these two as well, since they are slightly better quality.

Barn swallow with lunch, in flight

Barn swallow with lunch, in flight

Barn swallow in flight

Barn swallow in flight

You may be able to see that the swallow has a small crane fly in its bill in the first photo, unfortunately, I missed the swallow’s swallow. 😉

It doesn’t have to be behavior or action that I want to capture, sometimes just catching the natural beauty of something is enough, as with this yellow-collared scape moth.

Yellow-collared scape moth

Yellow-collared scape moth

Yellow-collared scape moth

Yellow-collared scape moth

I’d like to be able to strike a better balance between portrait shots…

Lesser yellowlegs, not cropped

Lesser yellowlegs, not cropped

Lesser yellowlegs, not cropped

Lesser yellowlegs, not cropped

…and action photos.

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

What it all boils down to is that I want to be able to share all the things that I’m able to see, but many people don’t have the opportunity and that means that I can’t forget the flowers.

Blue vervain?

Blue vervain?

Grey coneflower

Grey coneflower

Bee balm

Bee balm

Unidentified

Unidentified

Woodland sunflower

Woodland sunflower

Milkweed

Milkweed

Milkweed

Milkweed

Unidentified sunflower

Unidentified sunflower shot using polarizing filer to darken the sky

Or, the insects that the flowers attract.

Unidentified grasshopper

Unidentified grasshopper

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Ladybug on milkweed

Ladybug on milkweed

Ladybug on milkweed

Ladybug on milkweed

Unidentified bug on butterfly weed

Unidentified bug on butterfly weed

Unidentified bug on butterfly weed

Unidentified bug on butterfly weed

I’d also like to branch out to shoot other genres of photos, and with that in mind, I attempted, and failed, to get photos of the Perseid Meteor shower. Since I work nights, and I get paid by the mile, and my return load is often late and I have to wait for it, I decided to stop on my way to the Detroit area and try for a couple of long exposure shots. My first attempt was ruined when another truck drove into the frame, parked for a few minutes, then went on its way.

Star and truck trails

Star and truck trails

I still kind of like that one because of the appearance of the trails left by the lights on the truck. Still, that wasn’t what I was after, so I tried another 15 minute shot.

Faint star trails

Faint star trails

No meteors, darn. I know what I did wrong though, I stopped the lens down and had the ISO set very low, so that I could keep the shutter open long enough to catch several of the meteors. I know that three of them crossed the frame while the shutter was open in the second image, but they didn’t leave a trace in the image because they are so short-lived. I should have set the aperture wide open, the ISO up a lot higher, and taken many shots with the shutter open for 30 seconds to a minute at a time, to catch the brief glow that the meteors create. So, it was a learning experience, and what I learned will help when I’m in a better location to shoot either star trails or a meteor shower. The parking lot of the weigh station just 20 miles from the outer suburbs of Detroit isn’t a good place for those types of photos, but it was the best that I could do without missing work.

Starting with this post, I was going to do a paragraph or two at the end explaining what camera, lens, and any other accessories that I used to get the images in this post and future ones, but I decided against it. Most of you don’t care, and I’m also beginning to experiment with combinations of gear that the manufacturers recommend not using together. So, I’d better keep the things to myself, although I have posted a link or two to videos that also suggest doing what the manufacturers (and others) say that you shouldn’t.

You may have noticed that I’m no longer separating my photos into posts from around home, and from the Muskegon area. I see no reason to continue that, as I’ve written as much as I can for the time being about the Muskegon area, but when I go somewhere that I usually don’t, or someplace new, like Loda Lake for example, then I will write those trips up as a separate post.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


It’s the light, the little things, and practice

I know that I haven’t reached expert status yet when it comes to photography, but I do believe that I’m making steady progress in that direction. I’ve also attempted to pass on what I’ve been learning, it seems so simple when you hear a true expert tell you how he or she was able to capture such great photos as they are displayed in the videos that I’ve been watching. I’d like to continue passing on tips or other things that I learn, but I’m finding that what works for one person may not work for another. Some of that is gear related, not every one uses the same camera(s) and lens(es) as I do.

Here’s an example of what I’m learning, you may remember that I wrote at length about the difficulty that I had getting a good, sharp focus when using the 300 mm L series lens on my 60D bodies, with one of the bodies being slightly better with that lens than the other. No need for me to repeat all of that now. Since then, I purchased the 7D Mk II camera, and all those focusing problems have gone away, the 300 mm lens performs like a champ on that body. I had similar, but less severe problems with the 70-200 mm L series lens as well.

Continuing that theme, how I get a good, sharp focus with the 7D body is completely different from how I do it with either of the 60D bodies, no matter which lens I’m using. There are even slight differences between the two 60D bodies.

The lens that I own that needs the least help in getting great photos is the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) as far as my longer lenses. The wide-angle lenses perform well enough that I’ve noticed few problems with any of the bodies, but that may be due to the increased depth of field with them. I haven’t tried the new Canon 100 mm macro lens on the 7D yet, but by looking at my photos with that lens on the 60D body, it performs very well when I use the same tricks to get a sharp focus with it as I do with the other L series lenses.

The same applies to every aspect of photography, different camera and lens combinations can change how I set exposures as another example.

So, the best advice that I can give any one is to learn their equipment, it may be that you haven’t hit the right combination of doing what it takes to get really good photos from the gear that you’re using.

I find that watching the online tutorials is helping me a great deal as well, not so much with technique as learning composition and other more creative aspects of photography, but you have to take things the presenters say with a grain of salt. Most are sponsored by a manufacturer of some type of gear, and they may shade the truth slightly from time to time in order to push you towards their sponsor’s gear or make you believe that only the most expensive items will work well.

The other reason for what I believe to be major improvements to my images is having begun to use Lightroom, and as I said before, not so much for editing, although that helps, but by enabling me to see what the how image I’m looking at through the viewfinder will appear when I press the shutter release. Before I started using Lightroom, I went with what looked best to me as I saw it in the viewfinder at that moment, and I’m finding that it may not produce the best final image. For that, I may need to move slightly in one direction or another, or compose the shot differently by using different focus points available to me in the camera. Cameras see things slightly different from what our eyes do, at least my eyes, so I’m learning to see what the camera sees, and not to try to force the camera to record exactly what I see, which the camera may not be able to do.

I watched several videos where Nat Geo photographer Michael Melford discussed some of his best photos, and one of the tips he offered to improve your photography is to study artwork of the great painters to learn how to use the light, and for composition. I would say that studying the works of great photographers is much the same. The nice thing about the videos from B&H that Michael Melford did is that he often included his first image of a scene or subject, then he explains what he did to get to the image that was finally published. I could attempt to repeat what he said, but here’s the link to the video if you’re interested.

Well, I think that it’s about time to get to some photos. I’m certainly not another Michael Melford, but I’m going to do a series of photos to show what can happen if you’re patient, and not willing to settle. I had photographed these day lilys before, they are near the picnic shelter at the park that I walk in around home, and the shelter makes a nice place to take a break. It was cloudy when I got there, so I broke out my flash unit for this one, just for practice.

Day lily

Day lily

A few minutes later, the sun broke through the clouds for this one.

Day lily

Day lily

And then, a miracle of sorts happened, the sun was lined up just right to shine straight down into the lilys!

Day lily

Day lily

Day lily

Day lily

Day lily

Day lily

As you can see, I tried several different views and flowers before I got that last one, which is my favorite of the lot.

On an earlier day, I happened into some great lighting as the sun broke through the clouds to illuminate the leftover low fog that had formed overnight.

Sun on fog

Sun on fog

Sadly, I blew it on that day, I was running around like a madman looking for something to shoot in the magical light of that moment. Some of these are okay, but some of them I’m not very happy with, even though I converted a few to black and white.

Boneset in the sun

Boneset in the sun

Boneset in the sun2

Boneset in the sun 2

Boneset in the sun3

Boneset in the sun 3

Thistle seeds in the sun

Thistle seeds in the sun

JVIS0407

spider web in the sun

JVIS0432

spider web in the sun

JVIS0426

spider web in the shade

JVIS0418

Queen Anne’s lace in the sun

JVIS0419

Queen Anne’s lace in the sun

JVIS0437

Abstract 1

JVIS0439

Abstract 2

Artsy chicory

Artsy chicory

I know that I’ve said this before, but I’m much better at photographing wildlife. So much so, that while I was in the middle of shooting those, I let myself get distracted by shooting these.

Female American goldfinch

Female American goldfinch

Female American goldfinch

Female American goldfinch

Female American goldfinch

Female American goldfinch

I just can’t help myself, when I see a bird that close to me, I just have to shoot it. Here are a few others from later that same day.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Grey catbird, do they always sit where they have a shadow across them?

Grey catbird, do they always sit where they have a shadow across them?

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

And, here’s how squirrels eat mulberries, first they sniff them…

Fox squirrel sniffing mulberries

Fox squirrel sniffing mulberries

…then they taste test them…

Fox squirrel tasting a mulberry

Fox squirrel tasting a mulberry

…and if it tastes good, they wolf the berries down as quickly as they can.

Fox squirrel eating mulberries

Fox squirrel eating mulberries

Fox squirrel eating mulberries

Fox squirrel eating mulberries

Fox squirrel eating mulberries

Fox squirrel eating mulberries

Fox squirrel eating mulberries

Fox squirrel eating mulberries

Finally, they pose to make sure that their photo appears here in my blog.

Fox squirrel posing for the camera

Fox squirrel posing for the camera

On the other hand, red squirrels prefer to dine without a camera sticking in their face.

Red squirrel eating mulberries

Red squirrel eating mulberries

Red squirrel eating mulberries

Red squirrel eating mulberries

While I’m at it, I may as well include the rest of the photos that I shot that day and saved to post in my blog.

Cardinal flower

Cardinal flower

Cardinal flower

Cardinal flower

Cottontail rabbit

Cottontail rabbit

Spotted knapweed

Spotted knapweed

First signs of fall's approach

First signs of fall’s approach

Great lobelia

Great lobelia

Bee balm

Bee balm

Caterpilar

Caterpillar

I have this problem, most of the time, the latest photos that I’ve shot are my favorites. There are exceptions, yesterday I went to Muskegon, and while I came home with quite a few photos, none of them really struck me as very good. On the other hand, I went out today, and brought back more good images than I thought that I would. But, you’ll have to wait to see how well the new Canon 7D Mk II can track a flying hummingbird until I used up some of my earlier photos. 😉

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


I’m loving it!

It was a pretty good weekend, all things considered. We didn’t get the storms on Sunday morning, they fell apart out over Lake Michigan. Instead, we had a very hot, humid, and hazy day, so I packed it in early to enjoy the air conditioning for once. There was a very stiff wind blowing as well, which made photography difficult particularly the few times that I tried to shoot flowers.

The storms arrived in the evening, and I managed to sleep through them, despite the fact that they did some damage around here, and a lot of damage to the north and east of here. About the time that I got home from the grocery store, and was getting ready for my walk, the clouds left this morning from the storms last night began to clear out.

So, even though I still have many photos from earlier this summer still saved, I’m going to post daily photos from yesterday and today, with a few older ones thrown in. I should start with the sunrise from yesterday, because it was quite good, but instead, I’m going to begin with a series of photos from towards the end of my day yesterday. I was at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, the observation deck along the Muskegon River to be precise, when I saw a family of barn swallows. The juveniles would line up on the railing of the deck…

Juvenile barn swallows

Juvenile barn swallows

…and when one of the parents would head their way, the young swallows would let the parents know which one of them was most deserving of the food.

Juvenile barn swallow

Juvenile barn swallow

As strong as the wind was, this one was nearly blown away by a wind gust, but managed to hold on after it being touch and go for a few seconds.

Juvenile barn swallow

Juvenile barn swallow

The juveniles could fly, but I think because of the high winds, they preferred not to fly unless they had to. I was shooting from one level down on the deck, there was just enough room for me to stick the 300 mm lens under the deck railing and shoot up at the swallows on the other side of the upper level. I started out using the 300 mm lens with the 1.4 X extender, then it hit me, this is the perfect place to do some more testing with the new Canon 2X tele-converter, so I made the switch. All the photos so far were cropped quite a bit, the next one wasn’t cropped at all.

Juvenile barn swallow

Juvenile barn swallow

Juvenile barn swallow

Juvenile barn swallow

I’m happy with those, but I just had to crop one to see just how sharp the image was.

Juvenile barn swallow, slight crop

Juvenile barn swallow, slight crop

Who says the 2X extender isn’t sharp? It was the perfect situation to put it to use in the way that it is best used, getting that little bit closer to stationary birds when I have plenty of time to get it on the camera, and to get focused on the subject.

I did attempt to get photos of the adults feeding their young, but missed every time. It happens quickly, and I had to stretch and stand on my tip toes to get high enough to stick the lens under the railing of the next level of the deck.

Anyway, going back to the beginning of the day, here’s three of the series of photos that I shot of the sunrise.

Sunrise over Muskegon

Sunrise over Muskegon

Sunrise over Muskegon

Sunrise over Muskegon

Sunrise over Muskegon

Sunrise over Muskegon

After having climbed one of the dunes for those photos, I decided to wait a few minutes and shoot this one looking across the dunes when there was enough light to see.

The sand dunes of Muskegon State Park

The sand dunes of Muskegon State Park

The clouds were moving at a high rate of speed, driven by the winds, so after climbing down off the dune, I stopped to shoot this one, looking down the channel towards Lake Michigan.

The Muskegon Lake channel to Lake Michigan

The Muskegon Lake channel to Lake Michigan

 

Then I stopped at the beach to get this shot before the thousands of people showed for the day, since the park was still officially closed.

The beach at Muskegon State Park

The beach at Muskegon State Park

That’s where I learned to swim as a kid, and you may find it hard to believe, but that beach is considered to be second-rate here In Michigan. While it isn’t as popular as Holland or Grand Haven, it’s still elbow to elbow on a warm day.

Here are the photos that I shot with the second camera as I played around between sunrise photos.

Sunrise over Muskegon Lake

Sunrise over Muskegon Lake

Sunrise over Muskegon Lake

Sunrise over Muskegon Lake

Hardly a trophy

Hardly a trophy

Coast Guard ship at dock

Coast Guard ship at dock

Double-crested cormorant in flight

Double-crested cormorant in flight

On a lark, I drove up to the “blockhouse”, which is a little over a mile north of where the beach photo was shot. The blockhouse was built by the Civilian Conservation Corp back in the 1930’s, as a scenic look-out over Lake Michigan. Since the park was still officially closed, the blockhouse wasn’t open, not that it mattered. The trees between there and the big lake have grown so much over the decades, there’s not much of a view of the lake any more. But, I did find birds to shoot.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

I looked over my shoulder to see this monarch resting.

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Then, I shot this series of a juvenile tufted titmouse checking out a walking stick.

Juvenile tufted titmouse and walking stick

Juvenile tufted titmouse and walking stick

Juvenile tufted titmouse and walking stick

Juvenile tufted titmouse and walking stick

Juvenile tufted titmouse and walking stick

Juvenile tufted titmouse and walking stick

I never saw the walking stick under the titmouse until I blew those images up on my computer, but I did see something fall, which turned out to be the walking stick. The titmouse seemed very interested in where it had gone, I thought that it had been just a piece of bark that the bird had knocked loose.

Juvenile tufted titmouse looking for the walking stick

Juvenile tufted titmouse looking for the walking stick

Juvenile tufted titmouse looking for the walking stick

Juvenile tufted titmouse looking for the walking stick

I looked to my left to see three monarchs resting.

Three monarch butterflies resting

Three monarch butterflies resting

Then, I got a better shot of a chickadee…

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

…and a chipmunk.

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

There were other birds around, but I missed them all, other than this bad photo of a downy woodpecker.

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

From there, I returned to the Snug Harbor area in Muskegon State Park, to see what I could find there, and because I had planned on hiking back to Lost Lake. All I found were grey squirrels.

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

I was all set to shoot one of the black morph grey squirrels, when another one chased the one I was going to photograph up a tree.

Grey morph grey squirrel chasing a black morph grey squirrel

Grey morph grey squirrel chasing a black morph grey squirrel

Grey morph grey squirrel chasing a black morph grey squirrel

Grey morph grey squirrel chasing a black morph grey squirrel

They’re both the same species, just different color variations. Later, I caught two of the grey ones feeding together.

Grey morph grey squirrel

Grey morph grey squirrel

Instead of hiking back to Lost Lake for the fourth week in a row, I decided to go to the Muskegon Lake Nature preserve instead, since I haven’t been there since spring.

I learned a new trick, if the sky isn’t what you’d like it to be when shooting birds that are above you, try a polarizing filer.

Northern flicker, no filter

Northern flicker, no filter

Northern flicker using polarizing filter

Northern flicker using polarizing filter

Northern flicker using polarizing filter

Northern flicker using polarizing filter

Northern flicker using polarizing filter

Northern flicker using polarizing filter

Of course the bird has to be at the correct angle to the sun for the polarizing filter to work, but I can see that it’s another tick to add to my bag.

I shot a few macros there also.

Buttonbush flower opening

Buttonbush flower opening

Buttonbush flower open

Buttonbush flower open

Buttonbush flower after the individual small flowers die

Buttonbush flower after the individual small flowers die

I think that I’ll save the rest for later. In the meantime, two more birds from the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve.

Red-eyed vireo

Red-eyed vireo

Grey Catbird

Grey Catbird

I see that I’m already over my self-imposed limits for photos, but to finish this post, here’s a photo from this morning.

Day lily

Day lily

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Jack of all trades, master of none

That’s the old saying, isn’t it? I’ve probably bitten off more than I can chew, thinking that I could be proficient in wildlife, landscape, and macro photography, all at the same time. You’d think that photography is photography, no matter what the subject is, and to a large degree, that’s true. However, there are differences between photographing landscapes on a grand scale with a wider lens, shooting wildlife that moves with a long lens, and photographing tiny subjects with a macro lens.

So, where should I start this time? Maybe I should begin with trying to understand how deeply committed I’ve become to being a better photographer. I’ve always been interested in it, but now, the bug has bitten me hard, and I see it as something that I can do, and better myself at, for the rest of my life. Many of the things that I used to do as hobbies aren’t really suitable for some one of my age, you don’t see many 60-year-old people riding dirt bikes, for example. Nor are there many people my age running whitewater rapids in a canoe or kayak. So, this former adrenaline junky needed to find something more fitting for a person of my age to do.

Most of you know the story, I began blogging as a way of sharing my knowledge of outdoor places in Michigan where I hiked or kayaked, and I shot a few photos on each trip to illustrate my blog. Those first photos weren’t very good, but I saw things that many people miss or had never seen before. Over the years that I’ve been blogging, my desire to improve my skills as a photographer to illustrate my blog has morphed into a full-blown passion for photography.

I’m fortunate in that my eyesight has not faded much over the years, I can still spot wildlife and insects a good distance away, now, I wonder if I can train my eyes to see what makes a good photograph as I look through the viewfinder of my camera. I also wonder if I can change the way I approach photography, and by extension, who I am.

I’ve always been a fast and loose kind of person, and my early attempts at photography were shot on the fly without much thought, other than that looks pretty or interesting, I should shoot it. That does not yield good photos though. I have to slow down and think about what I’m doing, and how to capture the subject as best I can. When it comes to wildlife, that isn’t as much of a problem, as I enjoy the challenge of not only getting a photo of a subject, but a good photo of the subject. Trying to sneak up on a bird close enough to get a photo is tough enough, trying to sneak up on it to get in a position where the both light and the background are good is even tougher. I don’t mind failures then, it’s all part of the game. There’ll be another bird in a minute or two, and I can try again.

I find it even harder to sit still for as long as it takes to get good landscape photos, and to do all that it entails to get the best photo though. You’d think that failing to get good landscape photos would be no big deal, the landscape doesn’t move, and in a way, that’s true. However, lighting is everything when it comes to getting good landscapes, and that can change a great deal in a short time. Lose the light, and you’ve lost the shot, maybe forever.

Sunrises and sunsets are a bit more forgiving, there’s one of each everyday. However, the really good ones that produce great photos are few and far between. I haven’t gotten any great ones yet, but I’ve been practicing, as you will soon see. But first, did you know that there are three different types or stages of twilight? From darkest to lightest they are astronomical twilight, nautical twilight, and civil twilight.

Astronomical Twilight occurs well before the sun rises, or well after it has set. Civil Twilight is the time right around sunrise and sunset, with Nautical Twilight happening between those two. The thing about sunrises and sunsets is that you never know which is going to result in the best photos on any given day, but most of the professionals say that the best photos of sunrises are shot about 30 minutes before the sun actually rises, and the best sunset photos are taken 30 minutes after sunset. That’s why they recommend being in place an hour before the sun rises, or staying an hour after it sets.

I didn’t plan on using all of these photos in this series, but they illustrate what I’m talking about. This is from about an hour before sunrise, rather bland. But, it let me get my composition, focusing and expose settings while there was still time to do so.

Astronomical Twilight over my favorite marsh

Astronomical Twilight over my favorite marsh

Then, a short time later, the entire horizon lit up as if  it were on fire, but only the horizon, so I zoomed in a bit.

IMG_9569_70_71

Nautical Twilight over my favorite marsh

A few minutes later, the color of the horizon faded, but the color in the clouds began to show.

Nautical Twilight over my favorite marsh

Nautical Twilight over my favorite marsh

Nautical Twilight over my favorite marsh

Nautical Twilight over my favorite marsh

Next, Old Sol made his appearance.

Civil Twilight over my favorite marsh

Civil Twilight over my favorite marsh

Civil Twilight over my favorite marsh

Civil Twilight over my favorite marsh

Civil Twilight over my favorite marsh

Sunrise over my favorite marsh

According to the metadata from my camera, just over 50 minutes elapsed between the first image and the last, so you can see how much the light changed over time, and why it pays to get there early, and in the case of a sunset, stay late. You never can tell the exact moment that will produce the best image, or in this case, I got a number of images, none spectacular, but all pleasing, at least to me.

Let me guess, you’re all tired of seeing my favorite marsh. Well, I did attempt to photograph the beach at Muskegon State Park at sunrise, but that didn’t go well.

Muskegon State Park beach at dawn

Muskegon State Park beach at dawn

As you can see, it was very foggy, too foggy for me to get the entire beach. I wanted to swing the camera around more to the left to show more of the beach, but it was socked in by the fog and not visible. I also set up in the wrong spot, I thought that I was being smart at the time. The trees and the low dune to the left-center of the frame are blocking your view of the beach pavilion and the lights from it before dawn. I also thought that the rocks from the breakwater in the foreground would be an added bonus, but that didn’t work either. However, what really messed up most of the other photos from that morning were the waves, they were moving of course. Moving objects, no matter what, do not lend themselves to HDR images, which is what all of these so far have been.

Even with the lens stopped down all the way, to the point of causing diffraction, and the ISO set to 100, as low as it will go, I couldn’t get a long enough shutter time to blur the waves completely. If I opened the aperture a little, and went up with the ISO, I couldn’t completely freeze the wave action, and still get the depth of field and image quality I wanted. So most of my photos from that day look like bad wave photos. But, it was a learning experience, and I learned that I’m going to have to invest in a few neutral density filters if I’m going to shoot photos that include moving water. 😉

I was hoping that purchasing HDR software and learning how to use it would mean that I didn’t need neutral density filters, but I was wrong, as usual. Who would have thought that one needed a neutral density filter to block some of the light when it was still so dark that it was hard to see?

Anyway, I have some other photos of the beach, none of them good, and I have some photos from both mornings as I shot other subjects with the other camera body to keep myself occupied while waiting to see if there would be a good sunrise each day. That doesn’t work out too badly, I can keep one camera set-up on the tripod and shoot the sunrise, and play with the other camera so that I don’t go stir crazy standing in one place. I’ll share those photos at another time.

I changed my mind, I’m going to throw in one of the photos that I shot with the second body as I was waiting to see how the sunrise would turn out. It’s of the rocks of the breakwater.

On the rocks

On the rocks

That was shot with the 10-18 mm lens as I crawled around between the rocks that make up the breakwater there at Muskegon. That’s to remind me that I really need to play with both of my wider angle lenses more so that I can learn to use them more effectively. I’m so used to looking through my longer lenses while photographing birds and other wildlife that I have trouble visualizing how a scene will look as seen through the wide lenses.

Wide-angle lenses exaggerate the space between objects in a photograph, and also make distant objects look smaller than they are, while making objects in the foreground look larger than they are. Telephoto lenses compress the space between objects, and make distant objects appear larger in photographs. Since I seldom use my wider-angle lens, I still have a difficult time visualizing how something will appear in a photo if I use them. So, I seldom use them, because it isn’t often that I’m pleased with the results that I get, meaning that I never improve in using them. It’s a vicious circle that I need to break.

That was made clear to me when I tried to photograph the Michigan lilys that have bloomed close to home.

Michigan lily

Michigan lily

That’s not bad, but it isn’t the shot that I wanted. I did want the color of the lily to stand out against the blue sky and green foliage, that I got. I wanted to emphasis the length of the stamen and to also get some depth to the photo, which I almost got right. To be fair to myself, that photo looks much better the larger that it is blown up, like full screen on my 27″ iMac. It may be time to have a few more of my images printed, with that being one of them.

But, what I wanted is a tough shot to get. The flowers hang down, facing the ground. That meant that I was laying on my back under the flowers, but just laying there didn’t get me as close as I wanted to be while using a wider lens. I had to do a partial sit-up to get as close to the flower as I wanted to be. On top of that, since the flowers face the ground, they shade themselves, meaning I need some way of lighting the face of the flower.

I tried using the LED light that I have, but that proved to be too difficult, holding the camera with one hand and the light with the other while in the position that I was in was impossible, and it didn’t add enough light either. The Gorillapod tripod that I use sometimes to hold the LED light wasn’t tall enough to get the light where I needed it to be. I tried the camera’s built-in flash, but it was too harsh. So, I ended up using the speedlite, which I can better control, and produces a more diffuse light when I set it correctly. However, the speedlite added more weight to the camera, making it harder for me to be steady while lifting myself up off from the ground and shooting nearly straight up and getting the exact angle that I wanted.

I won’t tell you how many bad photos that I shot that day, nor will I post a few of them to show you how not to shoot a photo of a Michigan lily. 😉 I will say that this one is close to what I wanted, but I got the angle off just a bit from what I had in mind. I’ll tell you, it was one of those times when I wished that I wasn’t such a stickler for photographing what I see where I see it. I wanted to pluck one of the flowers and stick it someplace where it would have been much easier to get the exact photo that I wanted, but no, not me. I lay on my back in the weeds with bugs crawling on me as I do partial sit-ups while holding a heavy camera with a speedlite attached to it trying to get the precise angle from the exact distance while not damaging any of the other flowers that grow close to the one I’m shooting.

Speaking of the other flowers, here’s a photo of some of them.

Phlox

Phlox

Good light makes good photos, there’s no doubt about that. I love that one, it’s very sharp, yet at the same time, the flowers themselves look soft to the touch. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it. I spent a lot of time trying to get the lily shot that I wanted, I ended up covered in sweat, bugs, and the pollen from the lilys. As I was putting the macro lens back on the second body, I looked over at the phlox and thought “Oooo, pretty flowers, I should shoot them” and so I did. One shot, no work at all.

Photography is all about the light, something that I’m getting better at seeing as far as getting the best light that I can. That holds true for my macro photos, they continue to improve.

Japanese beetles mating

Japanese beetles mating

Grasshopper

Grasshopper

Milkweed beetle

Milkweed beetle

Hoverfly

Hoverfly

Skipper butterfly

Skipper butterfly

Skipper butterfly

Skipper butterfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

I have found that rather than trying to sneak up from behind insects, it works best if I come straight at them, starting back away from them, and work slowly towards them, sort of like a snake charmer. I don’t know why, but every once in a while, one will allow me to get as close to it as the macro lens can focus.

I’m really getting into macro photography, it reveals a world that can’t be seen with the naked eye.

Slime mold or fungi?

Slime mold or fungi?

Slime mold or fungi?

Slime mold or fungi?

As small as whatever the white stuff was, you can see a very tiny red insect in the first of those two.

I thought that these fungi were small…

Small fungi

Small fungi

…until I noticed the even smaller ones in the background…

Even smaller fungi

Even smaller fungi

…and then I remembered a trick that Allen does, placing something near the subject of a photo for a size reference.

 Even smaller fungi with penny for scale

Even smaller fungi with penny for scale

My most recent “find” has been this flower, I think.

Whorled milkwort?

Whorled milkwort?

The sign at the Lost Lake observation platform…

The Lost Lake observation platform

The Lost Lake observation platform

…shows that flower as being quite large, it wasn’t until I viewed the flowers through the macro lens that I thought that the tiny flowers I saw were the same as the flower on the sign. Here’s two photos with an ant for size.

Whorled milkwort? and ant

Whorled milkwort? and ant

Whorled milkwort? and ant

Whorled milkwort? and ant

Changing the subject, I only had one day so far to play with the new Canon 2 X Tele-converter, but I can see that it’s going to work out well in certain circumstances. It can produce good sharp images in the right light.

Ring-billed gull at 600 mm

Ring-billed gull at 600 mm

Ring-billed gull at 600 mm

Ring-billed gull at 600 mm

And, I can even catch an occasional flying bird while using it.

Ring-billed gull in flight at 600 mm

Ring-billed gull in flight at 600 mm

Ring-billed gull in flight at 600 mm

Ring-billed gull in flight at 600 mm

Juvenile bald eagle in flight at 600 mm

Juvenile bald eagle in flight at 600 mm

Juvenile bald eagle in flight at 600 mm

Juvenile bald eagle in flight at 600 mm

Juvenile bald eagle in flight at 600 mm

Juvenile bald eagle in flight at 600 mm

I included several images so that you can see that the 7D was able to track flying birds, even though the tele-converter slows down the lens’ auto-focusing, and I can only use the center focusing points due to the light loss when using the extender.

I thought that by having the 2 X tele-converter that I wouldn’t need the 400 mm L series lens. Well, that was wishful thinking. As I said, the tele-converter turns both of my f/4 aperture lenses into f/8 aperture lenses. The 7D can auto-focus with them, but only using the center focus point, and the 7D won’t go into the zone mode of auto-focus while using the extender, and that’s what would work best for birds in flight. I have plenty of time to save up enough money again to purchase the 400 mm lens, it’s not something that I need right away.

One other thing that I need to think about is also purchasing a Canon 1.4X tele-converter. That may sound really silly, since I already have a Tamron 1.4X extender, but as I told you earlier, using it on the 7D screws up the fantastic metering and exposure system of that camera. I can reserve the Tamron extender for use behind the macro lens on the 60D body, as that camera isn’t thrown off by that extender. Also, the Canon extenders are weather sealed, the Tamron isn’t.

Why does all this matter?

That’s a fair question, but the better that my equipment is as it relates to capturing the moment, the better that I can show you photos such as this series of a blue-grey gnatcatcher finding and eating a spider.

Blue-grey gnatcatcher finding a snack

Blue-grey gnatcatcher finding a snack

Blue-grey gnatcatcher finding a snack

Blue-grey gnatcatcher finding a snack

Blue-grey gnatcatcher finding a snack

Blue-grey gnatcatcher finding a snack

Blue-grey gnatcatcher eating a snack

Blue-grey gnatcatcher eating a snack

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

I swear that the gnatcatcher was posing for me at times which made it easier to get those photos. In the last photo, it looks as if it was asking me if I had gotten the shots that I wanted.

I also have a series of photos showing that fox squirrels sniff mulberries before taste testing the berries.

Fox squirrel sniffing a mulberry to see if it is ripe

Fox squirrel sniffing a mulberry to see if it is ripe

But, I’m going to save that series for another post, along with some of the artsy types of photos that I shot one morning around home.

Misty morning

Misty morning

I seldom venture into the world of black and white images, I’m more of a color kind of guy.

Misty morning in color

Misty morning in color

As you can see, I need to do more to develop my artistic eye, but that’s okay, I have plenty of time to do so. In the meantime, I’ll continue to play with more subjects and set-ups, to see what works for me, and what doesn’t. That’s the great thing about digital photography, it costs nothing to fail, you just analyze why the image is a failure, move on, and try to do better the next time.

Right now, I’m going to eat breakfast, then head to Muskegon again. There are storms headed this way from Wisconsin, and I may get some lightning photos, or perhaps some dramatic sunrise and storm photos, you never know. That’s what keeps me going, the venturing into the unknown.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!