A Fabulous Fall
Ahhh, what a difference a year makes! Last November, we were setting records for the coldest temperatures ever on a number of days, and we set the record for the most snow ever in the month of November, over 30 inches (76 cm).
This year, we’ve seen a few snowflakes, and had a couple of cool days, but overall, temperatures are running well above average. Best of all has been how many sunny days we’ve had! In a normal year, cool air coming across the relatively warm waters of Lake Michigan picks up moisture from the lake, and once the air makes it over Michigan, that moisture is turned to clouds, and often some of the moisture is dropped as rain or snow. That’s called lake effect here, and most years it clouds up early in November, and peaks at the sun are rare until the next spring. Not this year. Hardly a cloud in the sky looking west…
…and even fewer clouds to the east.
Those two were shot November 1st, before a storm packing winds over 50 MPH hit this area earlier this week, and blew most of the leaves off from the trees.
It was almost as nice yesterday for a trip to the Muskegon area to look for rare birds that may have been blown here during the storm earlier this week. I was greeted by several thousand very common Canada geese.
That was just a small portion of the flock, but some how, I had moved the switch that locks out any adjustments to the settings on my camera. So instead of getting a better shot of the geese, I was trying to figure out why I couldn’t make any adjustments, since I never use that switch. I figured it out before I came to a large flock of gulls. I was looking over the flock to see if there were any rarities but there were all herring gulls in that flock from what I could see. So, I decided that since I wasn’t seeing any special birds, I would attempt to take special photos of the common birds.
In a way, that turned out to be the theme for the day. I heard from a fellow birder that there was a red phalarope hanging out in the east lagoon, but when I arrived there, all I saw were mallards.
Here’s a cropped version of that same photo to show what tricks our eyes can play on us when watching ducks battling waves. You can see a female mallard in the left side of the image with a funny look on her face because she has the head of a male mallard growing out of her back. Towards the center, there’s a female mallard playing submarine, with just her head out of the water.
I did find an American black duck, which look almost like mallards, other than their bright yellow bill.
No visit to the wastewater facility would be complete without checking the “eagle trees” to see if an eagle or two are around, there were.
As I was swapping the 2 X extender for the 1.4 X one, the eagle on top flew off, leaving the one on the lower branch, so I shot a photo or two of it.
I know that these look identical to a few that I recently posted, but on this day, I had a cloudless sky for a background. These also show again that eagles are creatures of habit, find them perched in a tree once, and it’s a likely bet that you’ll find them in the same tree at a later date.
It was opening day of firearms deer season, which was one of the reasons I went to the places that I did on this day, to avoid any hunters. I guess that this buck had the same idea.
But, I was slow getting the camera on the buck, so that very poor photo will have to do.
I saw a male northern harrier several times as I searched for the phalarope, but usually off in the distance. I did shoot a few photos for the record, as it seems as though I see many more females than males.
The males are grey as you can see in the photos, while the females…
I did eventually find the red phalarope, which puts me at 216 species of birds photographed in Michigan. That means that I’m closing in on the two-thirds mark as I check species off the list from the Audubon Society.
I walked around my favorite woodlot on the wastewater property and saw very few birds at all, but it was mid-afternoon, so I wasn’t completely surprised by that. I sure miss my old work schedule that allowed me to be up before sunrise so that I could start my days of birding at sunrise. I saw many more birds when I got an earlier start.
I decided that it was time to head for the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve to see what I could find there. Unfortunately not very much. I did shoot a few of the brightly colored leaves that had survived the storm that I mentioned earlier.
This next series reminds me to mention something that I’ve learned from all the tutorial videos that I’ve been watching online, but first, a couple of photos.
I shot those with the camera pointed almost directly at the late afternoon sun, I was fortunate that the shade that the tree provided produced relatively even lighting. However, when I first viewed this images as they came out of the camera, they were too blue, due to the shade. That brings me to a point.
In watching the online tutorials, different experts have different ways of setting up their cameras to get the shots that they do, in this case, it has to do with white balance and color temperature. So, to illustrate this, I went back into Lightroom and made a virtual copy of one of the nuthatch images, and set the white balance back to where it was when I shot the photo.
And here’s the same image with the corrected white balance/color temperature.
That reminds me, I love using Lightroom, the ability to make virtual copies to use in experimentation is just one small reason. That feature is also great if you want to have both a color and black and white version of the same image(s). But, I digress.
We think of sunlight as white, when it really isn’t, it’s made up of different wavelengths of light which produce different colors, as seen in a rainbow when water drops act as a prism to separate the different wavelengths of light. I don’t want to get too technical, but differing weather conditions and the way that sunlight travels through the atmosphere at different times of the day shift the color of sunlight slightly. We don’t notice it so much, our brains do the corrections automatically, our cameras can’t, which is why there is the ability to change the white balance setting in cameras, or in this case, post-processing.
Some experts say that you should leave the white balance set to auto, let the camera determine and adjust for the color of the light, and then fix your images as needed during post-processing. That’s what I used to do, but that didn’t work out very well for me.
Other experts say that you should always adjust your light balance as the light changes. That may work if you are photographing landscapes or other subjects that don’t move, or for when photo ops don’t pop up quickly as the nuthatch did for me. Just a minute or two before, I had been photographing one of the leaves in full sun. I didn’t have time to fiddle with any more adjustments before the nuthatch flew off.
Still other experts say that you should always use the daylight setting for white balance, and fix your images as necessary during post processing. This is what I generally do with the birding/wildlife set-up, it’s one of the ways that I’ve improved my images.
Actually, I should say that I use a combination of the second and third recommendations. The birding set-up is normally set to daylight white balance, unless it’s a very cloudy day, with a solid deck of clouds. Then, I’ll switch to the cloudy setting. Since it was a sunny day when I shot the nuthatch, I had the 7D set to daylight, which is why the nuthatch photos were too blue out of the camera. It was easy to change the images in Lightroom by simply clicking the cloudy white balance setting, so the images look correct as I saw them as I shot them. The overall blue cast to everything is gone, and the colors in the image look like what we see under those conditions.
For landscape photos, I always manually set the white balance for the lighting at the moment that I’m shooting. As the light changes, I’ll change the white balance.
I’ve been learning a lot from the videos that I’ve been watching, sometimes it’s what not to do. One of the experts said that he often set the white balance manually to around 8,000K when shooting at sunrise or sunsets, to juice up the colors. So, I opened one of my sunrise images in Lightroom, and began dragging the color temperature slider to increase the temperature, planning on going to the 8,000K the expert recommended. I didn’t even get to 7,000K before I said “Whoa, too much, that looks so fake no one would believe that the image is a true representation of what I saw!”.
I ended up at around 6,500K, only a few hundred degrees K more than the image was originally shot at.
So, I thought that maybe 8,000K in Lightroom was different from shooting with the camera set at 8,000K, nope, it was still way too much when I set the 7D to 8,000K and tested the results. With the camera set to 8,000K, the images looked surreal, with the colors over-saturated and shifted way too far towards orange. Heck, I get photos that I think are over the top as it is with the camera set to daylight and shooting toward the setting sun, there’s no reason to juice up the colors even more by going that high with the color temperature.
But, that brings me to my main point. When listening to the experts, you will find that they differ on their settings, and it’s up to you to find out what works best for your equipment, and the subjects that you shoot. It also depends on what you find pleasing. I apparently prefer slightly cooler images than most people do, but that may be due to the way that my eyes perceive nature in the first place.
Anyway, while I was at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, I spent some time on one of the observation platforms watching the passing gulls in hopes of spotting a rare species. Besides, it was such a nice day, it felt good to stand there in the late afternoon sun. Still, just standing there was a bit boring, so I had to shoot a few photos of any gulls that came close to me.
Here’s a gull impersonating an eagle.
Using the polarizing filter on the 300 mm lens with the 1.4X extender slows the auto-focusing of the 7D down a little, but when that set-up works, it really works!
My next stop was the channel where Bear Lake enters Muskegon Lake. All that I found there were more gulls, mallards and some escaped Pekin ducks. Still, with good light, I thought that I’d shoot a few photos.
And, who knew that either the inside of their beak or their tongue was orange?
With mallards around, I had to shoot a couple of them.
I also shot a few photos of the Pekin ducks.
I knew that they had orange feet…
…but I didn’t know what pretty blue-grey eyes they have.
I tried for a similar shot of a male mallard, but the darn drake duck ducked…
…just as I pressed the shutter release.
I considered going to Duck Lake for the sunset, but things didn’t look very promising for a good sunset, not a cloud in the sky. I had noticed some nice opportunities for photos on the road that leads to Duck Lake on previous trips, so I thought that I’d shoot them this evening. However, the storm this week had blown all the leaves off from the trees, so that photos that I should have shot earlier this month would have been junk this day. I turned around at what’s known as the blockhouse, sorry, no photo of it this time. I did shoot a few Juncos there.
And, a bird of a different kind.
I hadn’t been able to tell where a strange buzzing sound was coming from until I looked up and spotted the drone over my head. They will be something to watch for in the future as they become more popular.
I also shot a spotted knapweed flower in the late afternoon sun.
With no clouds in the sky, I didn’t think that the sunset would be worth shooting, but I still didn’t want to leave until I was sure, so my last stop of the day was the Muskegon Lake channel where it empties into Lake Michigan. No sunset, but I did shoot these.
I think that I worked as hard for this next photo as for any that I have ever shot as far as camera settings.
The light was so poor that I couldn’t get a photo without the flash. But, since the fastest shutter speed the camera will synchronize with the flash is 1/250 second, and Canon cameras default to ISO 400 when using the flash, that entails setting the shutter, ISO, and aperture all manually to get a good photo when shooting at 420 mm of focal length. That, and a steady hand as I leaned over a fence to get the composition the best that I could.
My last photo of the day, just dune grass in the sun.
I just love the way that the dune grasses light up in the late afternoon sun, even though it makes for a very busy photo.
So, overall it was a day for practicing my photography skills more so than finding rare birds, although I did get the red phalarope. I should apologize for so many photos of the gulls and ducks, but I won’t. They are some of the best photos of those species that I have ever shot, which is my goal, continuing to improve the images that I shoot. They may be common, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to get great photos of them, and the practice of photographing them is always good, as they say, practice makes perfect. I still have a long way to go to even approach perfect, but I do like the progress that I’m making.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!