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.
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.
A few minutes later, the color of the horizon faded, but the color in the clouds began to show.
Next, Old Sol made his appearance.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
…until I noticed the even smaller ones in the background…
…and then I remembered a trick that Allen does, placing something near the subject of a photo for a size reference.
My most recent “find” has been this flower, I think.
The sign at 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.
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.
And, I can even catch an occasional flying bird while using it.
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.
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.
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.
I seldom venture into the world of black and white images, I’m more of a color kind of guy.
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!