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

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!

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29 responses

  1. I think you are master of all you survey, your pictures are varied and well photographed. I loved the squirrel sniffing the mulberry.

    August 2, 2015 at 4:08 am

    • Thank you Susan! The squirrel and what was left of the mulberry will appear in a future post.

      August 2, 2015 at 6:38 pm

  2. Wow, Jerry, your time spent learning more about photography has certainly not been wasted. You get better and better each time. I didn’t think that was possible. I am certainly not sick of photos of your favourite marsh. It’s amazing how the light can change so quickly. I love that aspect of watching a sunrise or sunset. But of course as you said it makes landscape photography an endeavour of patience! Wildlife photography is about patience too but I think it has the added interest of you being able to enjoy tracking and enjoying the behaviour. Staring at a landscape for an hour to get the best light is not the same. Your comments made me ponder landscape artists from the past who didn’t have photographs to work with. Imagine painting a scene and trying to get the light just right when it changes so quickly. I guess they would try and revisit the scene again at a similar time? But then the clouds would be different. I guess that’s where their observational memory and experience comes into play. Excellent collection of landscapes, macros and other critters, Jerry. I agree, photography is a great hobby to take one into old age. I’ve had to slow down a lot just in the last couple of years, but I can still take photographs! We are very fortunate to have good eyesight though. 🙂

    August 2, 2015 at 5:21 am

    • Thank you very much Jane! Yes, it takes a lot of patience to photograph sunrises or sunsets, I keep one camera on the tripod and an eye to the sky, and walk over and trip the shutter from time to time. In between, I’m chasing critters with the other camera.It’s funny that you mentioned artists, several of the people who have done the videos that I’ve watched recently said that the way to improve your photography was to study the master artists, and I see how that would help.

      I treasure my eyesight, I’ve come to realize how much better mine is than average, and don’t want to take any chances.

      August 2, 2015 at 6:44 pm

  3. Hi, Jerry. Man, there’s a lot to like once again in this post. Everyone takes sunset photos in West Michigan, so I especially appreciate your sunrise shots. The variety of colors you captured in that hour is spectacular.

    Love the Michigan lily. So many vivid colors all in one shot. A large print would be stunning.

    It’s nice to get a chance to see insects up close. I’m usually swatting or chasing them off before getting a chance to examine their unusual construction. I do hope that you smashed those mating Japañese beetles after taking the photo of their private moment. They are a scourge – wreaking havoc with my lawn and flower beds. Hate ’em!

    Love the hoverfly photo – think its my favorite. Perfectly cropped, too.

    One last thing….there’s LOTS of 60 year old dirt bikers around. Look beneath the helmet – we are everywhere. 😉

    Great post. Thanks.

    August 2, 2015 at 8:47 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! Sunrises are typically better on average than sunsets, but great sunsets are something special. I hope to capture one soon.

      I hope that you’re right about the lily, I think that I’m going to have some of my better recent images blown up, and that will be one of them.

      Insects are cool, as long as they stay where they belong, which isn’t on me! 😉

      When I was talking about dirt bikes, I meant the ones with motors, big motors! The ones that can kill you. 😉

      August 2, 2015 at 6:48 pm

  4. The photos are always stunning, and enjoyable. And now I know about the different kinds of twilight! Never heard of those before.

    August 2, 2015 at 1:24 pm

    • Thank you Lavinia! I didn’t know about the three stages or types of twilight either, until I found a website where I could check the exact sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and moonset times. They explained the naming of the twilight, better than I.

      August 2, 2015 at 6:50 pm

  5. I like very much that orange Michigan lily on that blue sky;
    and that Skipper butterfly;
    those first two portraits of Ring-billed gull at 600 mm are so beautiful!!;
    that portrait of Fox squirrel is very nice;
    I prefer B&W version of Misty morning;

    Hope you had a lovely Sunday.

    August 2, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    • Thank you very much Cornel! I’m glad that you enjoyed the photos. I did have a lovely Sunday, starting with a pretty sunrise, and ending with a close up of one of my favorite birds, a barn swallow.

      August 2, 2015 at 6:52 pm

      • I like barn swallows very much. They so beautiful! Maybe I will see in your next post this close up.

        August 3, 2015 at 3:37 am

  6. I had to laugh at your description of trying to get the shot of the lily, mostly because it’s true and I have done the same things myself many times. But willingness to go through all that to get the shot is what makes the end result so much better than just a point and shoot snapshot. The colors in that shot are excellent.

    I’ve never seen a whorled milkwort so I don’t know anything about that but I do know that the white puff balls with the slimy looking stuff in the background is a slime mold. And a dead sharp photo of it, too. Not easy.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen the tiny white things in the shot with the penny but I wonder if they might be immature puffballs. You’ll have to go back in a week and see what they look like if you can find them again.

    Great shots of the insects and the sunrises, but I like the foggy beach too.

    August 2, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    • Thanks Allen! It was a lot of work for one photo, I’m going to have it blown up to see if it was worth the work. 😉

      After it dawned on me that the tiny flower I was shooting looked like the drawing on the sign, I did a Google search, and I’m almost positive the whirled milkwort is what that flower is. The new Canon macro lens with the faster auto-focusing and IS makes those photos of the slime mold quite easy, I’m almost glad that the Tokina lens died.

      I could go back and look for the very tiny possible puff balls, but I doubt that I would find them again. The light is terrible on that trail, it’s almost pitch black much of the time, with just little patches of sunlight here and there. If the sun doesn’t hit the same spot, you can’t see anything.

      August 2, 2015 at 7:00 pm

  7. In spite of the contortions in getting the lily shot, I like the first gull picture the best in another spectacular menu of delights. I will treasure my mental image of you doing your keep fit while covered with bugs, sweat and pollen though almost as much as your actual pictures..

    August 2, 2015 at 5:52 pm

    • Thank you Tom! I should have set up one of the other cameras to shoot a video of myself, complete with lots of grunting and groaning as I tried for the lily shot. I’m sure that many people would have found it humorous.

      August 2, 2015 at 6:54 pm

      • Or mightily impressive perhaps.

        August 3, 2015 at 6:04 pm

  8. Fabulous post! The gull shots, the hoverfly, the dragonfly and the whorled milkeed shots are all brilliant. I was fascinated by what you had to say about sun-rise and sun-set photos and I enjoyed the series of shots of the blue-grey gnatcatcher. Thank-you Jerry!

    August 2, 2015 at 7:01 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! Despite my complaining from time to time, I’m having a ball capturing the photos that I’ve been getting recently.

      August 3, 2015 at 2:41 am

      • I’m sure you are! They are beautiful photos and getting better and better all the time.

        August 3, 2015 at 7:41 pm

      • Thank you Clare! It helps when nature cooperates and provides good subjects willing to be photographed. 😉

        August 4, 2015 at 12:23 am

  9. Milkweed!

    August 2, 2015 at 7:02 pm

  10. Such lovely photos. My favourites are the twilight over your favourite marsh.

    August 4, 2015 at 11:05 am

    • Thank you very much Cynthia! Who knew that a man-made marsh could look so good?

      August 4, 2015 at 2:33 pm

  11. Your description of getting the lily photos cracked me up! 😀

    I loved all the macros of the insects, they are all terrific, but the one of the hoverfly was especially impressive!

    Even though I am just at the beginning of my photographic journey, I can relate to what you wrote at the beginning of your post. When I started blogging, I didn’t know a thing about photography, except the most basic things of pointing at an object and pressing the shutter. As I found what worked for my blog, and what interested me and others, my interest in getting good photos has grown. I’ll never have the equipment or skill you have, but it has been a good challenge learning to use what I have in a smarter, better way and to see improvements. As I see those improvements, I want to get better and better. I have to say that you and your blog have been one of my biggest inspirations and I thank you for that!

    August 4, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    • Thank you very much Amy! I worked harder for that shot of the lily than I have for any other photo that I’ve ever taken, I expected better. 😉

      The overfly was a bit of luck, I was setting up to shoot the flower when it flew into the scene. The camera focused on the overfly at the same time as I pressed the shutter. Then I tried just the overfly, but couldn’t get it then.

      That’s what has driven me to improve my photography skills, I do seem to be very lucky and see things that other miss, and I’d like to capture those things as best I can. All of the learning and practice I do helps keep my mind sharp, and it’s also a good excuse to slow down and not push as hard as I used to.

      August 5, 2015 at 12:37 am

  12. Loved your photo series of the marsh sunrise, great post of photos and info!

    August 5, 2015 at 8:43 pm

    • Thank you again, I hope that all is going well for you!

      August 6, 2015 at 12:25 am

  13. I enjoy the full range but my faves are generally the wildlife pix with so much personality! That’s a specialty that not every photographer can boast of mastering–keep those fun pix coming! 🙂

    August 9, 2015 at 11:04 am

    • Thank you very much Lori1 I’ll try, but on days like today when the weather doesn’t cooperate, it makes things difficult.

      August 9, 2015 at 4:00 pm