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.
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.
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.
Soon, the rest of the members of the flock began stretching their wings in preparation for taking off.
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.
Then, the entire flock took 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.
As soon as the cranes left, a great blue heron came flying in to begin looking for food.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Also on the first day, after finishing with the cranes, I shot a 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!