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

Archive for December, 2015

The year in photos, Happy New Years!

Happy New Years every one! I thought that I’d take this occasion to look back at the last year as seen in my photos. Of course I’ll start with January 2015, in the middle of one of our coldest winters on record.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

We had a January thaw, although short-lived…

Grand Haven, Michigan lighthouse HDR

Grand Haven, Michigan lighthouse HDR

…as the waves breaking against the lighthouse soon froze so that it looked like this.

The lighthouse at Grand Haven

The lighthouse at Grand Haven

Moving on to February, the cold and snow continued. I spent a day at the Kalamazoo Air Zoo shooting photos of the warbirds there.

B 25 Mitchell

B 25 Mitchell

Mostly because it was too cold and snowy to spend a lot of time outdoors that month.

Snow fence

Snow fence

I did venture to Muskegon on occasion, since there were several snowy owls there.

Snowy owl landing

Snowy owl landing

March saw a little improvement in our weather.

Male redhead duck

Male redhead duck

 

Bald eagle sans twig

Bald eagle sans twig

 

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

 

Sunrise at the Grand Haven breakwater

Sunrise at the Grand Haven breakwater

Spring tried to break through in April.

Daffodil

Daffodil

 

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

But, spring didn’t really get here until May.

Raccoon, just hanging out

Raccoon, just hanging out

 

Green heron

Green heron

 

Bloodroot

Bloodroot

June was mild, some would call it cool, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Turkey gobbling

Turkey gobbling

 

Muskegon marsh sunrise

Muskegon marsh sunrise

 

Juvenile upland sandpiper

Juvenile upland sandpiper

 

Just hatched spotted sandpiper

Just hatched spotted sandpiper

The cool trend continued through July.

Piping plover, juvenile

Piping plover, juvenile

 

Double day lily

Double day lily

 

Rose pogonia orchid

Rose pogonia orchid

 

Michigan lily

Michigan lily

We didn’t have a heat wave until late in August.

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

 

Juvenile barn swallow

Juvenile barn swallow

 

Day lily

Day lily

The heat lasted through September.

Super sunrise

Super sunrise

 

Cloudscape at 15 mm

Cloudscape at 15 mm

 

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

 

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

October brought the first signs of fall.

Canopy of color

Canopy of color

 

Glowing maple

Glowing maple

 

Another sunset at Duck Lake

Another sunset at Duck Lake

 

Tree frog

Tree frog

It seems like November was just yesterday.

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

 

Yet another Duck Lake State Park sunset

Yet another Duck Lake State Park sunset

 

Pekin duck

Pekin duck

 

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Now then, here’s the boring stuff. The weather here took a dramatic turn for the worse the day after Christmas, it’s much more like a normal winter with near constant cloud cover now. I returned to Muskegon on the Sunday after Christmas, and I haven’t decided if I’ll post any photos from that trip, due to the bad lighting that day. Also, since a new year is about to begin, I’m thinking of deleting most, if not all of the photos that I still have leftover from last year that I had saved to blog at a later date.

It’s not that the photos are terrible, some of them are actually good, but they aren’t of anything that I won’t be shooting more photos of this year as the year progresses. I’m still mulling over whether I should do the out with the old, in with the new thing to begin the new year. While some of the photos that I have saved are okay, I’m sure that I’ll do better this coming year.

I do know that I’m going to revive the My Photo Life List series of posts, where I’ll do a post on one species of bird at a time as I attempt to get a photo of every species of bird regularly seen in Michigan, with the photos good enough that the species of bird is recognizable in my photos. I began that project in January of 2013, now, it’s three years later, and I’m well over 200 species of birds photographed. However, I’m still well below 200 posts in the series, since I was doing other posts all summer and fall of this year. Instead of posting crappy photos taken in the poor light of winter here, I’ll do some catching up in that series. Not that the photos that I have saved to use in that series are all great, they’re not, but that’s the way it goes when I’m chasing some of the rarer species that I don’t see very often.

However, as I’ve been saying recently, the average quality of my images continues to improve. Look at the snowy owl photos above, and then compare them to these that I shot on Christmas day, less than a year apart.

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

 

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

And, I throw in one more of the landscape photos from Christmas day to round out this year which also highlights the improvement in my photos.

Muskegon State Park dunes

Muskegon State Park dunes

By the way, I failed to mention in my last post that all the landscapes images, including the moonrise, were shot with the 7D Mk II, not the 60D that I normally use. I really don’t see very much difference between those two cameras for that purpose, so I see no reason to take the time to change all the settings on the 7D to use it for landscapes.

You know, I’m certainly an odd duck, as much as my photos have improved, it only drives me to try harder to continue improving them even more, and I can still see plenty of room for improvement.

So, then the question is as it always is, do I wait until I get an excellent photo to post, post just the better ones that I get, or continue on as I have, which has included some really crappy shots at times. The photo of the raccoon in this post is a good example of that. It’s a cute photo, of the raccoon taking over a nesting box to stay dry on a day when there was a light misty rain falling. In a recent post, I added photos of mallards flying in the fog, and while fog may make many landscape photos more interesting, it doesn’t work well when shooting birds in flight.

There’s my quandary, one of these days, the birds may not be mallards but something special, and I have to be ready that chance if it comes. Shooting those types of images require as much or more practice and learning than do photos taken in good light. The question remains, do I continue to post a few of my practice shots, or, do I take advantage of good lighting such as what there was on Christmas day, and post just those photos?

That question becomes harder to answer, as a couple of commenters here also have a Canon 7D Mk II, and have noted that they appreciate my passing along what I learn about it. I was talking to a fellow birder/photographer on Sunday, who asked me what camera I was using. When I told him the 7D, he replied that he was thinking of purchasing one himself. So, I explained a few of the things that I like most about it, including having the two rear buttons give me completely different settings instantly, and let him play with it for a while as we chatted. I think that Canon will be selling another 7D very soon. 😉

Even if some one isn’t using the same camera that I am, I hope that I’m able to pass on what I learn as I learn it.

Okay, who am I trying to kid? It dawned on me today while I was out for my walk that I’m not going to change, not very much any way. When I envisioned this post, it was going to be of my very best images of the past year, but as soon as I began selecting the actual photos that I’ve used, I often reverted back to using my favorites, even if they weren’t the best technically. I may as well come to grips with that and stop worrying about it, because as soon as I see a bird eating something that I’ve never seen them eat before, I’m going to shoot photos of that. Then, I’m probably going to use that photo here…

American goldfinch eating sycamore tree seeds

American goldfinch eating sycamore tree seeds

…even if the photo isn’t very good technically. That’s because what drives my photography is my interest in nature in the first place. It’s my love of nature that’s behind my desire to improve my images, to learn what I can through photographing birds and other critters, capturing moments like that which show me what and how a particular species of bird eats what it does. Then, there’s my desire to share what I learn with others, both in what I learn about nature, and the technical side of photography.

Now that I think of it, there’s a lot to be learned from that photo. One, to get close to birds, learn what they eat, and hang out where you find the foods that they prefer, and photograph them while they are preoccupied as they are filling their stomachs. That’s the nature side of it. The photography side is to learn Photoshop, so that you could change the dull, grey, overcast sky to a more pleasing blue sky, and also to remove the out of focus branches behind the bird. 😉

With all that said, there’s nothing else to say other than Happy New Years every one, and may 2016 be the best year ever for all of you!

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

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The turning points, time, patience, and places

We’re about to close out the year 2015, and begin a new year, 2016, and even though I know that dates are just arbitrary numbers on a calendar, a new year always seems to be a good time to take a look back, and also to look to the future.

On Christmas Eve, I took delivery of the last package in that I’ll be getting from the company I have been purchasing my camera gear through lately for the foreseeable future. The package contained a 4 Tb hard drive, so now I can fully back-up all of my photos, and a better quality polarizing filter to fit the 300 mm L series lens that I use for birding most of the time these days.

Everything else on my camera wish list relates to the Canon 5DS R in one way or another, and that camera is at least two years away unless things change drastically in my life, and I doubt that they will. Besides, my skill level as a photographer still doesn’t warrant a camera that good, yet.

Over the past few months, I’ve felt that I’m reaching yet another turning point in my photography, my images have shown a great deal of improvement over the past year, but I feel that I still have a long road ahead of me.

The first big turning point took place towards the end of 2012, and the first few months of 2013, when I decided that I was going to get serious about photography, and that it required much better equipment than what I had at the time, a Nikon D50 camera, and one of the worst lenses that Nikon ever put the Nikkor name on, a 70-300 mm lens. In addition to those items, I also carried a Canon Powershot point and shoot that I used for landscapes and close-up photography. I’ll admit that my back and my knees still look back fondly at those days, when the entirety of my camera gear at that time weighed less than just the birding set-up that I carry these days does. 🙂

April 4th, 2013 is when I made the switch to a Canon 60D camera, along with the Beast, a Sigma 150-500 mm lens. There was an immediate increase in the quality of the photos that I shot, right from day one. Over the next two years, there were many small turning points as I learned new skills and how to get the best out of the 60D camera and each of the lenses that I’ve added to my collection since then.

It was during the summer of 2014 that I finally realized that almost every one else was right, and that I was wrong, you do have to do at least some post-processing to most of the images from even the best digital cameras. I began experimenting with HDR photography, and eventually added Lightroom to the software that I use earlier this year.

The next big turning point was the acquisition of the Canon 7D Mk II camera in the spring of 2015, which I’ve raved about enough here since I got it. It makes getting photos such as this…

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

…so much easier than what it would be if I were still trying to use the 60D for bird in flight photos.

That photo brings me to where I am right now, that was shot on Christmas day, and it leads to what I think this next turning point will be, and it has nothing to do with cameras or lenses, but how I approach photography and the subjects that I shoot, and where I go to photograph them.

The owl serves as a great example of what I’m going to try to explain, I spent most of the morning with the owl, shooting several hundred photos of him to get one good one.

In the past, I would have shot a few images of the owl as it perched on a power line pole. By the way, I know that the sky is too dark in most of these images, I was trying out the new polarizing filter, and I was too tired when I got home after a very long day to lighten the sky in these. That’s a bit surprising, as I’m getting much pickier about my images than I would have imagined a year ago. I find myself using the healing brush in Lightroom to “paint” the correct color temperature onto waterfowl when the blue from the water reflects on the waterfowl to the point where they are too blue. I could warm the image up overall, but that turns the water to a muddy blue when it shouldn’t be. However, since the owl was perched where it was, none of these are going to be winners unless I master software editing to the point where I exchange the power pole for something natural, like a dead tree. Then, I could always go back and lighten the sky. 😉

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

In the past, when I was sure that I had gotten a good photo of the owl, I would have moved on in search of other subjects to shoot. For one thing, with the owl on top of the pole, I’d never get a great photo of it, he was a bit too far away, and with him perched on a man-made object, a truly great photo was impossible. But, I hung around anyway, trying different things, for example, that was shot with the 300 mm lens and 2X extender mounted on my tripod and with the ISO set to 100 for the very best resolution that I could get. However, that resulted in a shutter speed of 1/100 second, which would have been too slow if the owl had even twitched while I shot that series of photos with the effective focal length of 600 mm.

While I had the set-up on the tripod, I shot a video, which taught me another lesson, turn off the IS when shooting a video when the camera is on a tripod.

Another reason that I couldn’t get a great photo of the owl is because the darned thing refused to fully open its eyes, so I have several hundred images of him squinting in the sunshine.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

 

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

 

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

As you may have been able to tell, I walked around the owl, I even climbed the hill that he was near, hoping to get a better photo of him. When he did open his eyes completely…

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

…it was because he was about to poop.

Snowy owl pooping

Snowy owl pooping

Hey, many of the people who read my blog say that they like the action shots, I can’t wait to hear the comments on that one. 😉 That’s what happens when I have the 7D set to high-speed burst shooting and I think that the subject that I’m watching is about to do something, he did.

A little later, I saw the owl perk-up, as if it had heard or spotted something to eat.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

He had, but as he took flight, I had to wait for him to clear the power-lines, so I got two shots of him coming at me, neither of which are very good. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to use the second rear focus button, which would have been better as far as focusing, but the way I have it set, it also adds two stops of exposure compensation, which I thought would have been too much for an all white bird. So, here’s the best one of him flying directly over my head.

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

I have a few good photos of its butt as it flew away from me, but I deleted those. I was lucky in a way, the owl flew just a short distance, apparently what it thought would be a tasty meal either wasn’t, or had taken cover before the owl got to it. The owl turned around, coming back towards me, so I did switch to the second focus button to get the first photo in this post, along with a few more like this.

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

The owl came back to the same spot from where it had started, so my photos of him landing were ruined by the power-lines.

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

It was only then that the owl looked at me with its eyes wide open.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Isn’t that the way that it goes, I spend well over an hour standing in the cold, waiting to get a good shot of the owl, and I come up with just a couple of so-so shots of him in flight. I waited for a while longer, but eventually the owl flew off away from me, and I never did see him again. But, that does bring me to the title of this post, and the turning point that I think that I’ve reached now.

I can’t afford one of the super long telephoto lenses on the market, at around $10,000 they are way out of my price range. On top of the lens, I’d need an entirely new tripod set-up to hold it, which would cost another $2,000 to $3,000 or more. So, in order to improve my photos, I’m going to have to work harder to get closer to my subjects, spend more time with each one instead of rushing about trying to get as many species of birds in a day that I can.

This new philosophy paid off in these three photos of a kestrel, my best ever, but still not great.

American kestrel

American kestrel

 

American kestrel

American kestrel

 

American kestrel

American kestrel

Kestrels are our smallest, and I think, most beautiful members of the falcon family. I’ve tried for years to get a good photo of one, and have always failed in the past. These aren’t great, but they’re much better than my past efforts have been. Spending more time, and having the patience to do so paid off. Those were also shot on Christmas day, and I spent close to an hour to get those three images.

So, if I can’t afford a longer lens to get closer, then I guess that I’m going to have to do a couple of other things instead. One of those is to break down and begin wearing camouflaged clothing. I’ve avoided that, mainly because I don’t want to look like some redneck yahoo running around out in the woods. Back in the late 1960’s and 70’s I wore came when hunting, before it became some kind of fashion statement that too many people use it as these days. Since I’ll need a few different season’s worth to cover the year here, with green, brown, and white being the principle colors, that won’t be cheap, but it will still be a lot less than a 600 mm lens. 😉

I should also come up with some kind of portable blind, or hide as they are called on the other side of the Pond. There are many on the market to choose from, but I think that they are over-priced, and also quite heavy, for a bit of camouflaged cloth stretched over a couple of cheap poles like a tent. It wouldn’t take too much, if you watch birds or any other critters, as long as something doesn’t move, they get used to it quite quickly, and will come very close to man-made or new objects in their range. The Muskegon wastewater facility is a perfect example, there are pipes, structures, and equipment everywhere, and that place attracts more birds than any other that I’ve ever been to. It’s nothing to see a bird such as a peregrine falcon which I saw a few months ago…

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

…perched on the plumbing there. One day, I waited in vain for one of the kestrels to return to the crane that it had been using regularly as a perch as it looked for prey. My car being close by bothered it, but a crane that hadn’t been used and had just sat for a month became a favorite perch for the kestrel, until the crane was moved.

Then, I’m going to have to come up with a way to carry everything. The backpack(s) that I have are good, however, I hate to admit it, but strapping 20 pounds of camera gear to my back and hiking 5 miles is not my idea of fun. If I add even more weight to what I carry, then I’ll start leaving things behind, even more often than I do already.

That’s a bad thing, for macro photography not only requires time and patience, but also a lot of gear. Even on a bright sunny day, getting enough light to get a good shot with enough depth of field to get the subject in focus requires extra light most of the time. Here’s one way that I do it, a LED panel light mounted on a Gorillapod.

LED light mounted on a Gorillapod

LED light mounted on a Gorillapod

I like that set-up because it’s so versatile, not only can the Gorillapod function as a regular tripod with the legs resting on the ground, I can wrap the legs around things like branches, as you can see in the photo, and get the light right where I need it.

These are the tiny fungi that I photographed at the time. I saw these first…

Tiny shelf fungi?

Tiny shelf fungi?

…they were about a half an inch wide. As I was setting up to shoot that image, I saw these nearby…

Tiny jelly fungi?

Tiny jelly fungi?

…which were about an eighth of an inch in diameter. Even with the 100 mm macro lens and Tamron 1.4X extender, I still had to crop an image to really show what the fungi looked like.

Tiny jelly fungi(?) cropped

Tiny jelly fungi(?) cropped

Just a short time later, I was shooting landscapes.

Muskegon State Park dunes

Muskegon State Park dunes

Then, it was a sunset…

Muskegon Lake channel sunset

Muskegon Lake channel sunset

…and as if I didn’t already try to photograph enough subjects as it is already, I’d like to branch out and try my hand at night photography.

Use Silversides submarine and other boats at the docks

Use Silversides submarine and other boats at the docks

 

The Muskegon Lake channel at night

The Muskegon Lake channel at night

I shot those in the last vestiges of twilight, as I was waiting for the full Christmas moon to rise.

Full moon on Christmas over Muskegon Lake

Full moon on Christmas over Muskegon Lake

And although I didn’t shoot these next ones on Christmas, I have to throw them into the mix because I shoot flowers…

Teasel in bloom

Teasel in bloom

…as well as insects when I have the opportunity.

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

I know that I should specialize more, rather than shooting everything that I see, but I can’t help myself. It wouldn’t be so much of a problem if each genre of photography didn’t need its own lens(es) and other accessories.

Of course I could rely less on the camera gear and use software instead. For example, there’s specialized focus stacking software that many people use to get the really great macro images that you see. Instead of using a tiny aperture to get the required depth of field, and therefore need less light, you can use that software to stack multiple images taken with the focus set slightly differently with each shot to produce one image that has everything in it sharp and in focus.  The problem with that is that it doesn’t work when shooting live things that move.

There’s specialized software that can be used to create star-trails, which gets around the noise issue when taking long exposures with a digital camera, and so it goes. There’s specialized software for nearly every genre of photography, but that’s not cheap either.

I’m getting sidetracked again, back to the subject at hand. I’ve considered going on excursions to shoot specific subjects, such as landscapes, and ignoring anything else that I see on one of those excursions. That way, I could cut back on the amount of gear that I need to carry with me at any one time. That would also give me more time to work on a specific genre of photography, say spend a day chasing birds. Or, I could devote an entire day to landscapes, etc. The problem with that is getting the best lighting for each genre. You don’t want to shoot landscapes in the middle of the afternoon, and while I can make mid-day light work some of the time for critters, the golden hours just after sunrise, and just before sunset are also the best light for them.

Juvenile ring-billed gull

Juvenile ring-billed gull

 

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

 

Pekin duck

Pekin duck

 

Female mallard

Female mallard

 

Male mallard

Male mallard

 

Female mallard

Female mallard

But as I’m trying to get the perfect photos of those species, I’m wasting good light for landscapes.

Muskegon State Park dunes

Muskegon State Park dunes

Instead of spending an entire day on one type of photography, I’m breaking up my days into segments, spending some time birding, then allocating the afternoons and evenings for landscapes. The problem with that is whatever I leave in my car is what I need for something that I see but wasn’t thinking that I would see, such as insects on the beach while I’m shooting landscapes. Or, a pretty scene in the woods while I’m chasing critters.

My brother took my suggestion and uses a large wheeled baby stroller to carry all of his camera gear with him, I should do that also. That does bring up other problems though, how to keep some one else from taking off with all my stuff while I’m off in the brush chasing birds for example. Many of the places I go can be very crowded, especially in good weather over the summer months. And, I wouldn’t want to try pushing or pulling any wheeled cart of any kind through the beach sand or dunes along Lake Michigan.

If I were to spell out the ideal situation for myself, it would be that I could devote myself to photography full-time, so I wouldn’t have to worry about how long I spent photographing one particular bird, or how long it took me to set-up for a macro shot, or landscapes, and so on. I’d also have sole access to land that attracted almost every species of birds, with the ability to set-up permanent hides in spots where I knew that I’d be close to birds and able to get good images from those hides depending on the time of day and weather. But, that isn’t going to happen, so I should stop dreaming about it.

Still, it was great having the entire day, from just after sunrise to well after sunset on Christmas Day to spend outside in all of the various locations that I went that day, and having the time to get the photos that you’ve seen in this post so far, and to also have the time to spend working on my camera settings and techniques for birds in flight.

Juvenile ring-billed gull in flight

Juvenile ring-billed gull in flight

 

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

 

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

Even if I did forget to set the range limiter on the 300 mm lens back to the full range so that I wasn’t able to get as close to these lichens as I would have liked.

Unidentified lichen

Unidentified lichen

But, how I allocate my limited time being outdoors, as well as the places that I spend that time is still a big issue for me right now. So, as the sunsets on another day…

Sunset over the Muskegon Lake channel 2

Sunset over the Muskegon Lake channel 2

…and the moon is rising…

Christmas Day full moon rising over Muskegon Lake 2

Christmas Day full moon rising over Muskegon Lake 2

…I’ll post one more image of the snowy owl, with him waving goodbye to every one.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

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


Another day to play, and a Merry Christmas to all!

I went to the Muskegon County wastewater facility again on Sunday, hoping to track down a snowy owl, a few of which have been seen there recently. I had no luck finding an owl, and it was a relatively boring day there. Yes, there were thousands of geese, but all Canada geese, and thousands of ducks, including the largest flock of northern shovelers that I’ve ever seen. However, I couldn’t get close enough to most of the waterfowl there to get good photos of them. I suppose that this is the best of the lot, only because I seldom get close to canvasbacks.

Male canvasback ducks

Male canvasback ducks

Since I prattled on at length about my camera and the way that I can set-it up to suit what and how I shoot, I won’t say much about that in this post other than to say that I did have a chance to test those settings…

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

…but the hawk would come no closer than that…

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

…my aperture is a touch too wide to get the depth of field needed for a large bird up close as the gull’s wingtip is in focus, but the eye and body is a bit soft in that one…

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

…I need to train the female mallards not to cut in front of the male that I’m tracking…

Mallards landing

Mallards landing

…but overall, the settings work well for flocks of birds at a distance…

Canada geese and mallards in flight

Canada geese and mallards in flight

…whether a mixed flock like that, or all geese like this one…

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

…and I can see that I’m going to have to fine tune the instant bird in flight settings that I have programmed into the second rear focusing button, also that I really should program one of the three available program modes for the ultimate in bird in flight settings.

I suppose that the really big news from the day was this guy.

Male belted kingfisher

Male belted kingfisher

It’s a testament to how warm it’s been so far this fall that there’s still a kingfisher around here. I just wish that I had happened upon it where the branches weren’t in the way. I wasn’t going to let the chance to get an up close and personal photo, even with the branches, slip away though. As soon as I moved to the right to get a clear view of the kingfisher, it took off as they always do.

I went back to the same spot later in the day, but couldn’t find him again, which is normal. I snuck up through the woods with the 2X extender behind the 300 mm lens all set if he had been there. Since I was in the woods with that set-up, I shot a few photos of the upland birds that I saw as I returned to my vehicle.

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

I had seen quite a few brown creepers the last time I was at Duck Lake, but hadn’t gotten any photos of them then. This one isn’t very good, since the creeper insisted on staying on the shady side of the tree.

It was much the same for the nuthatches as well, they stayed in the shade most of the time.

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

 

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

Shooting in low light with the 300 mm lens and 2X extender doesn’t produce great images, but they’re not terrible either. That set-up does need good light for it to produce good images.

White-breasted nuthatch not cropped

White-breasted nuthatch not cropped

I call it playing, but the hour or so that I spent chasing the smaller birds with the combination of the 300 mm lens and the 2X extender was invaluable to me as far as learning how to get the best out of it. By the time I got back to my car, I had that combination tracking birds as they hopped from branch to branch, when from my first tests, I never would have thought it possible to do so. In fact, the brown creeper shot was one of a series of photos shot in burst mode as it hopped its way up the trunk of the tree. It may not be a great photo, but it’s all part of the learning process that never seems to end.

Speaking of the learning process, I returned to shoot the lichens that so many people commented on from an earlier post, this time with some better light. I started out wide, because I like the rock almost as much as the lichens on it.

Lichens on a pretty rock

Lichens on a pretty rock

The 100 mm macro lens I have has three range limiting functions, so I went as close as the first allowed.

Lichens

Lichens

Then, it was as close as I could get at 100 mm.

Lichens

Lichens

I wanted to get closer, so I put the Tamron 1.4X extender behind the macro lens.

Lichens

Lichens

I wanted to show the tiny grey-blue lichens which appear to be just starting to grow on the rock towards the lower left of the image, as well as the other small segments? of the orangish lichens. I tried to go even closer by installing all three of the extension tubes that I have for the purpose of extreme close-up photography, but for some reason, the 60D camera didn’t record a single one of the images that I shot with that set-up, and I’m not sure why that is. I could see an image in the viewfinder, and it sounded as though the camera had shot the photos, but there’s no images and not even a record of my having shot any of the attempts that I made with all three extension tubes. Oh well, another lesson learned. That was a bit ridiculous anyway, as the hood of the lens was almost touching the rock to get the lichen in focus, and I had an extremely difficult time not casting a shadow on what I was trying to photograph.

I probably should have tried a few of the other combinations of lenses, extenders, and extension tubes, but I have limited patience when it comes to shooting the same inanimate subject repeatedly. Perhaps I would have had more patience if the temperature wasn’t just above freezing, and if I hadn’t been kneeling in mud as I shot those. The lichen will be there the next time, so when I take a break from the birds, I can go back and play some more.

The lichens do bring up one other thing though. When I first viewed those photos, I was disappointed in the way that the rock that the lichen was growing on looked in my images. The rock had a slightly pink cast to it, and I could tell that it contained quartz from how sparkly it was when I was shooting the photos. The pink cast and the sparkles weren’t there when I viewed the images, and those are missing from the photos as they appear here.

One of the things that I do in Lightroom is go through my photos and flag all of the ones that I may want to export to use here in my blog. Then, before I export the photos, I view them all full screen to choose the best of very similar photos. So, as I was going through the lichen photos full screen, I could see the pink cast of the rock as well as the sparkles, but when I went back to the regular view in Lightroom, they were gone again. I’m not sure why that is, but it’s something that I notice more often all the time. As my images improve, they now look better viewed full screen than they do in even slightly reduced size within Lightroom, that is, unless the images were cropped quite a bit. Of course you have no way of knowing if that’s true, 😉 but I have to wonder why that is. I’d say that it was a quirk in Lightroom, or if it was just in the images after I exported them in the Jpeg format, then the details were lost in the conversion. Just an observation that probably means nothing.

I have a few other photos from Sunday, starting with a female bufflehead taking flight.

Female bufflehead

Female bufflehead

 

Female bufflehead taking flight

Female bufflehead taking flight

 

Female bufflehead taking flight

Female bufflehead taking flight

 

Female bufflehead taking flight

Female bufflehead taking flight

I also shot a few more photos of a crow.

American crow

American crow

 

American crow

American crow

And, these next three photos are nothing special either, other than they demonstrate why it can be hard to identify ducks at times, it’s all the fault of mallards, who aren’t choosy when it comes to mating.

Female mallard hybrids

Female mallard hybrids

You may have noticed two different colorations of the bills of those ducks, along with a difference in size. They were all hanging out with the mallards.

Mallards

Mallards

And, here’s a close-up of the smallest of the ducks in the flock. She’s part mallard, but I have no idea what the other species was that the mallard had mated with to produce her. You can see by the patterns of her feathers along with her size that she’s not a “pure-blood” mallard. I’m reasonably sure that the larger ducks with the bright yellow bills in the first of these photos were black duck/mallard hybrids.

Female mallard hybrid

Female mallard hybrid

I swear, mallards are going to take over the world eventually. 🙂

Anyway, those are the only photos that I saved for blogging from my trip on Sunday. So, since Christmas is later this week, I’m going to go back in time and post a couple of photos that have a Christmas look to them.

Fox squirrel leaping

Fox squirrel leaping

 

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel begging for the snow to stop

 

Playground #2

Playground #2

 

Snow scene

Snow scene

I’ll admit, I’ll be disappointed that we won’t have a white Christmas here this year. However, looking back at those photos from last winter, I’m not missing the cold or snow measured in feet rather than inches!

Also, the next few images will be my Christmas present to all of you who put up with my long-winded posts and poor photos, a few of my better images from this past year.

Asters

Asters

 

The Muskegon channel at dawn

The Muskegon channel at dawn

 

Killdeer

Killdeer

 

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

Also, as the sun is about to rise over a new year, I think that this one is fitting.

Sunrise

Sunrise

And with that, it’s time to say Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good year!

Park decoration

Park decoration

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


Making use of limited time and light

According to the local meteorologist, we’ve only received 8% of the possible sunshine over the past two weeks. It was so dark and gloomy this past weekend that I stayed home for my walk on both days. On Saturday, I didn’t save a single photo that I had shot, and there were very few to begin with. I did save a few from Sunday, although I’m not sure why, as they aren’t very noteworthy. I would have shot many more photos if I had gone somewhere else, but the images that I would have gotten wouldn’t have been very good because of the weather, so it made sense to stay home.

My work schedule this week hasn’t helped much either, I’ve been putting in long hours just sitting waiting for loads and very little time driving. That wouldn’t matter that much, except I’ve been getting home just before daybreak, then sleeping through most of the few daylight hours this time of year until it’s time to go to work again.

So, with a little time to kill, I’ve been playing with some of the settings on the 7D Mk II. What an amazing camera it is! Sorry for repeating that so often, but the more that I learn about it, the more amazing things I find that it’s capable of. But before I start prattling on about camera settings, a look back at last summer.

Woodland sunflower?

Woodland sunflower?

In my last post, I mentioned that I had two of the buttons on the rear of the camera programmed to give me two completely different auto-focusing set-ups, one for wildlife portraits, and one for birds in flight. In watching a few more of the videos about the 7D, I learned that I can take that a step or two, possible three, farther. Now, one rear button gives me the settings that I normally use for shooting stationary subjects, and I learned how to program the second button to not only change the auto-focusing settings, but also many of the exposure settings as well.

That brings up something else that I mentioned before. When I first began using the 7D, I set it up much the same way as I had found worked best with the 60D that I had been using. That’s worked well enough, but the 7D is an entirely different camera, with the one of the biggest differences being the much better metering system that the 7D has over the 60D.

I use partial spot metering almost exclusively for wildlife portraits, because I want the subject exposed correctly, and that’s the setting that worked best with the 60D. By the way, partial spot metering or spot metering means that the camera sets the exposure on what’s in the center of the frame, and ignores very bright or dark backgrounds around the edges of the frame. That’s the way that I get the subject exposed correctly when shooting against a bright sky for example. That is, if the subject is in or very near the center of the frame.

However, as I switch which focus point that the 7D uses when I compose my photos, I have to be careful to keep at least some of the subject in the center of the frame, as the spot metering stays centered in the frame, even if I’m using a focus point on the edge of the frame. That’s not usually a problem, but there have been a few times when it has.

Eastern garter snake

Eastern garter snake

So, after having set-up the second rear button for a different auto-focus set-up, and then after I watched another video on the metering system of the 7D, it occurred to me that partial spot metering is the only one of the four metering choices that I’ve ever used with it. I’ve made do with the camera set-up the way for birds in flight, but it’s not the best possible way to get the correct exposure.

For most of my birds in flight photos, the birds are overhead, meaning that there’s either a bright blue background if it’s a sunny day, or what appears to us as a dull grey background if it’s cloudy. However, what we see as a dull grey sky, the camera renders as a bright white background, and the bird is severely underexposed. Normally, I go way up with my exposure compensation on cloudy days, and up slightly on sunny days.

Trying to make an already long story short, I’ve taken advantage of what Canon calls the register/recall function available on the 7D. Now, one of the rear focus start buttons has the camera set the way that I normally have the camera set-up for stationary subjects, and the second button on the rear of the camera not only changes the all of the auto-focus settings, but also switches the metering mode to evaluative, with two stops of added exposure compensation, along with switching the white balance setting to auto. The only thing that I would have liked to have been able to change but wasn’t, is the ability to switch the drive mode from low-speed burst to high-speed, but 5 frames per second should be fast enough anyway.

If not, I learned another really cool feature of the 7D, being able to change most of the camera settings while looking through the viewfinder. I can accomplish that through the use of a button that I didn’t know what its function was until I saw it in one of the videos that I watched. It’s the M-fn button near the shutter release, and when I press it, I can cycle through almost all of the options for almost all the camera settings, while looking through the viewfinder and pressing the button until the settings that I want to change are highlighted in the viewfinder. Since drive mode is the setting that I’m most likely going to want to change quickly, I have the camera set to default to drive mode as the first option for me when I press the M-fn button. Once I press the button, all I have to do is turn the top control dial one click, and I go from low-speed burst to high-speed burst mode. I press the button again, turn the dial one click back, and I’m back in low-speed burst mode again. Now how cool is that!

This all may be very boring to all of you reading this, but I’m as giddy as a school girl! I now have the camera set-up so that I get completely different settings instantly by selecting which button to push to start the auto-focusing, other than drive mode, and it takes me less than a second to switch that if I need to.

I haven’t had a chance to test out the entirely new settings yet, but I was able to test out switching between the auto-focus set-ups last week. I shot a few Canada geese and gulls in flight that I won’t bore you with. However, I will bore you with these. There were three crows perched in a tree, and I tried to get a good photo of all three of them at once, using my regular set-up.

American crows

American crows

When one of the crows took flight, I simply slid my thumb over to the other rear focus button to change all the auto-focus settings, and got these.

American crow in flight

American crow in flight

 

American crow in flight

American crow in flight

I had to work on those two in Lightroom, since they were underexposed quite a bit as far as the shadows under the crow’s wings. I shouldn’t have to do that any longer, now that the camera will also change metering modes and add two stops of compensation automatically. Woo hoo, every photographer’s dream come true, instant access to different settings to fit changing situations!

What I have the camera set to right now is a starting point, I can tweak any and all of the settings as I work with the camera set-up this way more often. I have also chosen some of the settings as a way of testing them out, since I’ve never tried them with the 7D yet, such as auto white balance. That setting didn’t perform well with the 60D, but as I keep saying, the 7D is an entirely different animal with a completely different metering system. I can always fix white balance issues in Lightroom for now, and change the saved camera settings as needed.

As good as all of what I’ve been talking about so far is, there’s still a lot more that the 7D can do. There’s three available programmable shooting modes that I haven’t touched yet, I’ve been holding off until I learned more about the camera. I made a mistake when I first began using the 60D, I set-up the one programmable mode that it has well before I knew what I truly needed the setting to be. Now that I use the 60D for landscapes and macros only, I should go back and completely reprogram that camera. I will at some point this winter when I have the time. In the meantime, I’ll work on getting the 7D set-up.

For example, I can set the 7D to keep the shutter speeds within a range that I define. It would be great to be able to tell the camera to never let the shutter speed drop below 1/1250 second when I’m shooting flying birds, and to raise the ISO instead of dropping the shutter speed. Since I’m often alternating between portraits and action shots, I haven’t made use of that option yet.

The opposite of that is the portrait shots of critters standing still. Right now, the camera is set to keep the shutter speed at 1 over the focal length of the lens as the minimum shutter speed. For example, with the 300 mm lens and 1.4X extender, the camera won’t drop the shutter speed below 1/400 second until the ISO reaches the maximum I allow it to go, 6400. I could get better portraits if I set the shutter speed lower for stationary subjects, and brought down the ISO for better resolution. To tell you how great the 7D is once again, I could go into the menu, and tell the camera to do just that, lower the shutter speed and ISO, but that wouldn’t work if the bird took flight, or the critter that had been sitting still…

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

…suddenly took off running.

Red squirrel on the run

Red squirrel on the run

As you can see, I could have used a faster shutter speed to freeze the squirrel as it ran as it was already. The important thing about that last photo is that the auto-focusing of the 7D kept up with one of the quickest critters that there is, they go from zero to top speed as quickly as any critter can, other than possibly a hummingbird.

Anyway, I still have more decisions to make before I take the time to program the three available modes that the 7D has. Changing just about every setting that the 7D has would take some time, since I can adjust just about everything that the camera does and save those settings as one of the customized modes. But, I could see setting one up for the lowest possible ISO, and therefore the highest possible resolution, by using the image stabilization to overcome a slower shutter speed, and using that setting for just portraits. Then, I could set the second mode for the very best birds in flight, with a much higher minimum shutter speed for birds in flight or other action shots.

This is probably boring all of you, but I have one more example of how customizable the 7D Mk II is. The camera has a setting to prioritize getting the shot, even if it’s slightly out of focus, versus the camera waiting for the auto-focus to lock on to a subject. That’s best explained by using an example. Let’s say that a small bird lands close to me, I get the bird in the viewfinder and as the camera is still working on getting an auto-focus lock on the bird, I press the shutter release. I have the camera set to go ahead and shoot the image then, as I never know how long that a bird is going to stay in one spot. That often results in a slightly soft image, but by changing that setting a bit, the images I get are useable most of the time.

But, the Canon engineers didn’t stop there, there’s a second setting that applies to images shot in either of the burst modes that changes the bias in either direction after the camera has shot the first image in a burst. So, going back to my example of the bird that landed next to me, I have the first bias setting set towards getting the first shot quickly, but I have the bias for any subsequent images shot in a burst set to wait for the camera and lens to get the best possible auto-focus lock on the bird, so those images will be as sharp as possible. I often notice that the camera pauses while shooting a burst when a bird moves, as they so often do, twisting and turning as they look around. That pause that I notice is the camera getting the focus as sharp as possible again because the bird moved, even a little bit.

I know that my description of what the camera can do aren’t very good, so perhaps a few images will help me explain it better. I deleted the first image in this series, as it was slightly out of focus, but I held the shutter release down and let the 7D do what it does so well, track this nuthatch…

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

…as it found a seed that either it, or some other bird had stashed under a vine…

White-breasted nuthatch finding a seed

White-breasted nuthatch finding a seed

…the 7D continued to track the nuthatch…

White-breasted nuthatch with a sunflower seed

White-breasted nuthatch with a sunflower seed

…with the camera pausing the shutter from time to time as the nuthatch moved, so that the auto-focus could track the nuthatch and all the images other than the first one were good and sharp…

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

…even as the nuthatch hopped its way down the tree trunk.

So, the techno-geek in me that loves the 7D Mk II may be boring to most of you, but as you can see, having the camera set-up the way that I do helps me to get the shots that show the behavior of the wildlife that I see. In this case, it was the nuthatch finding a seed under a vine.

That brings me to another series of photos, this time, of a blue jay.

Blue jay finding a kernel of corn

Blue jay finding a kernel of corn

 

Blue jay finding a kernel of corn

Blue jay finding a kernel of corn

 

Blue jay swallowing a kernel of corn

Blue jay swallowing a kernel of corn

 

Blue jay

Blue jay

In a recent post, I said that most of the winter resident species of birds here in Michigan are known to cache food when food is plentiful, and retrieve the food that they have cached at a later date, when food may not be as plentiful. However, I can’t help but wonder how many times that the food cached by one bird is found and eaten by another.

It’s now Saturday afternoon, and I went out for a walk today. There were actually a few rays of sunlight for a change. To update how cloudy it has been, the stat from the local meteorologist from his blog yesterday said that we had just 6.8% of the available sunshine over the past 12 days. The trade-off was that it was cold, with what seemed to be a bitter wind blowing today, only because the past few weeks have been so mild here. It was actually a fairly typical winter day today, but it felt colder than it really was because it has been so mild. Oh, and about that 6.8% of sunshine, I must have blinked at the wrong time, because I don’t remember seeing that much sunshine recently. I knew that I shouldn’t have gloated when we had over double our average sunshine back in November. 😉

I thought that it was going to be one of those days when I didn’t shoot a single photo, but a house finch decided to pose for me.

Male House finch

Male House finch

He was soon joined by a friend, but I couldn’t get enough depth of field to get them both in focus.

Male house finches

Male house finches

And, I also shot this photo, although the jury is still out on it as far as whether it’s any good or not.

Testing the composition

Testing the composition

I had lost the best light by the time that I shot that version of it, still, I kind of like the lines formed by the paved road and trail with the snow-covered grass in between them. Like a dummy, I had carried only the 7D with the 300 mm lens and 1.4X extender. More on that in a second. I tried shooting the scene at 420 mm, but that was too tight. So, I removed the extender to get down to 300 mm, but by the time that I had, the sun was behind a cloud again. At 300 mm, the image was too wide, so I cropped to somewhere in between the 300 and 420 mm versions just to see how the lines in the image appeared.

I had taken only the one camera and lens because I didn’t want to subject the rest of my gear to the elements today. The 7D, 300 mm lens, and both Canon extenders are weather sealed against dust and moisture, still, I find myself being much more protective of all my photo gear than I used to be. If there’s even a hint of mist outside, I carry the birding set-up in a dry bag meant for kayaking even though the birding set-up is built to handle a little mist. It’s a bit ironic, don’t you think, that I spent a lot of money for weather sealed photo equipment, then, I’m more protective of it than what I was of the stuff that wasn’t weather sealed. That’s because I did spend so much on it, and because I love it so much.

Another thing that struck me as ironic today, I don’t hang a bird feeder up somewhere so I could get really close to the birds, as I want to catch the birds in their natural setting, acting naturally. Yet, in the two series of photos above, both the nuthatch and blue jay were eating seeds that obviously came from a bird feeder originally.

I’m in a good mood and feeling humorous, so I guess that it’s time to post these two photos, of mallards taunting a cat.

Female mallards taunting a house cat

Female mallards taunting a house cat

 

Female mallards taunting a house cat

Female mallards taunting a house cat

The mallards could have hung out towards the center of the pond, well away from the cat, but they chose to swim around in front of the cat, just out of its reach.

I may as well post this one now as well, even though it isn’t at all related to anything so far.

Model A Ford

Model A Ford

I knew that I’d been saving photos for a reason, this time of the year, the birds are all hiding. I know that because I watched this woodpecker making a place for it to hide.

Male downy woodpecker excavating a hole in a tree

Male downy woodpecker excavating a hole in a tree

 

Male downy woodpecker excavating a hole in a tree

Male downy woodpecker excavating a hole in a tree

 

Male downy woodpecker excavating a hole in a tree

Male downy woodpecker excavating a hole in a tree

It took me a number of tries to get that series showing the woodpecker tossing out the wood chips from its work inside the tree and the chips blowing away in the wind. I missed a few times before I got that one.

Male downy woodpecker excavating a hole in a tree

Male downy woodpecker excavating a hole in a tree

 

Male downy woodpecker excavating a hole in a tree

Male downy woodpecker excavating a hole in a tree

I’m sure that on a cold, windy day as it was today, that the woodpecker was staying snug and warm in one of many holes that they make just for that reason. The holes that they aren’t using at the time, as well as old nesting cavities, are used by other species of small birds over the winter also. So, when you’re out in the woods and you can’t seem to find any bird anywhere, it could very well be that they are all snoozing inside of a tree someplace.

On one of my walks earlier this month, I spotted this.

Slime mold or fungi?

Slime mold or fungi?

But, I hadn’t taken the macro lens with me that day, I returned with it the next day for this one.

Slime mold or fungi?

Slime mold or fungi?

And, since I was already down on the ground, I shot these two also.

Lichens

Lichens

 

Lichens

Lichens

I seldom know what I’m shooting, but it always amazes me how much life fits into a small spot, and the wide variety of forms that the life comes in.

The park that I walk in around home has been decorated nicely by some of the other people who also walk there, here’s a very small sample, just because it was so cheerful.

Early Christmas cheer

Early Christmas cheer

I’m so easily amused, all it takes is sparkly bright colors. 😉 Or, it could be playing hide and seek with a bird that refuses to allow me to shoot its picture.

Blue jay hiding

Blue jay hiding

I did much better with this red-bellied woodpecker.

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

Including another shot where you can see its tongue if you look closely.

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

I hope that this woolly bear caterpillar is wrong as far as the weather prediction!

Whoolly bear caterpillar

Woolley bear caterpillar

According to folklore, if the woolly bear caterpillar has more black area than orangish-brown then the winter is going to be long, snowy and cold. If the caterpillar possesses more orangish-brown area then the winter is going to be mild. I much prefer this forecast model instead. 🙂

Woolly bear caterpillar

Woolly bear caterpillar

After the past two harsh winters, it’s hard to believe that until today, I was still finding flowers to shoot.

Dandelion flower

Dandelion flower

 

Dandelion flower

Dandelion flower

It’s also hard to believe that I shot this in December in Michigan.

Daddy longlegs

Daddy longlegs

Okay, time for a confession, I was wrong, daddy longlegs are indeed members of the arachnid family, meaning that they are spiders. I used to think that they were, but shortly after I started blogging, I read on many other blogs that they weren’t spiders, that’s what I get for not checking that information out myself. They are part of one of the oldest families of spiders, and not as well-developed as other spiders, but they are spiders. For example, daddy longlegs have only one pair of eyes, when many of the later to develop species have up to four pairs of eyes. Other differences are that Opinions (the family of spiders that daddy longlegs are in) have no venom glands and therefore pose no danger to humans. They also have no silk glands and therefore do not build webs. Also, the feeding apparatus (stomotheca) differs from most arachnids in that Opiliones can swallow chunks of solid food, not only liquids.

With that settled, it’s time to wrap this one up, and I’ll do so with one of my attempts at a more artsy type of photo, even though it’s another one that I don’t know if I got it right or not.

Autumn colors in the winter

Autumn colors in the winter

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


I can only be some what serious

I had a little spare time one day this week, so I spent that time with the manual for my 7D Mk II camera. In several of the videos from Canon about how to set the camera, it was mentioned that you can have two completely different auto-focus set-ups available by how you program the customizable buttons on the rear of the camera. So, it was that section of the manual that I went looking for. In my search, I stumbled across a few of the other amazing things that this camera is capable of, such as being able to set the exposure bracketing to take 2, 3, 5 or 7 shots, with the added ability of being able to set the spacing of the exposure adjustments. Wow! That would be perfect for creating HDR images, if I could ever bring myself to use the 7D for landscapes, when it is so good for wildlife.

Anyway, after shooting the gulls in flight at the Bear Lake channel last Sunday…

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

…and seeing how well that the 7D can do when set properly for flying birds, I really wanted to get the camera set-up so that one of the buttons was for portrait shots…

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

 

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

…and the other for birds in flight. I was successful at doing what I set out to accomplish. One button will now activate the auto-focus in the single auto-focus point mode with the tracking set for the twitchy little birds that I have trouble getting in focus otherwise, and the second button activates the auto-focus in the area mode with the tracking set to stick with birds as they fly.

I should also apologize again for posting so many photos of the gulls and mallards lately…

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

…especially when I shot the last photo in dense fog. However, as I’ve said so many times, they make great practice subjects because they are so common. I can concentrate on camera settings and my technique as I shoot more photos of the gulls and mallards in a few minutes than I could in a month of shooting other subjects and therefore, learn a great deal more about what works and what doesn’t in a shorter period of time.

Besides, I’m a complete idiot anyway. Who goes out birding in a dense fog and expects to get good bird in flight photos, even if the birds are just mallards?

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Male mallards in flight

Male mallards in flight

In my defense, I didn’t know that it was going to be that foggy. There was some sunshine early in the day, but as soon as the temperature climbed above the freezing point, the water from the evaporating frost turned into fog…

A frosty start to the day

A frosty start to the day

…and less than half an hour later, the fog was so thick that you could cut it with a knife…

The cliched lone tree on a foggy day

The clichéd lone tree on a foggy day

…but not with a camera lens.

Male bufflehead

Male bufflehead

 

Male bufflehead diving

Male bufflehead diving

I’ve never been that close to an adult male bufflehead before, and the fog was too thick for a good photo of it. I did a little better with a female or juvenile bufflehead that I got even closer to.

Juvenile bufflehead

Female or juvenile bufflehead

But, that’s the way it goes at times, I can’t control the weather or the wildlife, so I have to learn how to shoot in any conditions, just in case. The weather can change on a dime here, it’s hard to believe that I shot this photo…

Mallards

Mallards

…less than an hour before the fog began forming. The fog became so thick that I didn’t want to drive in it, so I was more or less stuck at the wastewater facility until it began to lift at least a little.

However, back to the fog. As I was shooting the photos above, I could hear gulls and geese flying overhead, and I wondered how they could navigate in the thick fog. How birds are able to navigate during migration is a question that the answer to still eludes scientists, but I think that Allen who does the New Hampshire Garden Solutions blog had the answer to how the birds navigated in the fog, they flew above it. While I was stuck in the thick fog hugging the ground, and with my limited point of view, I could see only a few hundred feet, but I’m sure that birds could easily fly above the fog and still find enough landmarks for them to know where they were.

I spent a little time checking out the lichens that grow on the rocks used to stabilize the banks of the man-made ponds there at the wastewater facility while waiting for the fog to lift.

Unidentified lichen

Unidentified lichen

 

Unidentified lichen

Unidentified lichen

One of the things I’ve been doing this week is looking back at many of the photos that I’ve shot this past year. As you may know, Lightroom allows you to rate each image with a star rating of one to five stars. As I said in my last post, the average quality of my images has improved a great deal over this past year. Many of the photos that I gave a high rating to right after I shot them earlier this year are now just average, or even below average. That, and I often assigned a high rating to an image just because I had mastered a new technique or set-up, when the image itself wasn’t all that good.

One of the things that makes it easy to review just the images that I think are my best is the ability to create “Smart collections” in Lightroom. I have created a few, like Raptors, Waterfowl, Landscapes, etc. The images that appear in the smart collections the way that I set them up are added automatically, based on keywords, the star rating that I give the images, and the cropped image size. So, let’s say that I shoot a photo of an eagle, I didn’t crop it, and I gave it a four star rating, it automatically goes into the raptor smart collection. Lightroom doesn’t move the image or copy it, it stores the information in the database so that the image appears in both the folder where I originally put it and the smart collection, which conserves disk space. You can always go back and change the rating that you give to an image, as well as edit the criteria used to create the smart collections, making it easy to find the photos that you’re looking for.

So, back to the photos from last weekend. After the fog lifted, I headed up to Duck Lake State Park to hike the trail system there, and I found a few things other than critters to photograph.

One of the trails at Duck Lake State Park

One of the trails at Duck Lake State Park

It was a nice day, although clouds rolled in less than an hour after the fog lifted, so I stopped to play a little, first shooting these mushrooms with a short lens…

Fungi at 85 mm

Fungi at 85 mm

…then with the birding set-up, to see which I prefer, as I was traveling light and hadn’t brought the macro lens with me.

Fungi at 420 mm

Fungi at 420 mm

After all, it’s December, and I didn’t expect to be shooting fungi this time of the year.

Sidenote, it’s early Sunday morning as I type this, and there’s a thunderstorm passing over here, in the middle of December. It’s warm but with the rain and fog, outside, I think that I’ll be staying inside for a while yet today.

Anyway, I also spotted these, and couldn’t tell if some one had trimmed branches or possibly burls off from the tree, or if there had been fungi growing on the tree.

Harvested fungi?

Harvested fungi?

I moved much closer to shoot this.

Harvested fungi?

Harvested fungi?

I’m certainly not an expert on fungi, but it looks to me as if some one cut what were very large growths of fungi from the side of the tree. I’m more of the fungi as art sort of person, as this next photo shows.

Fungi as art

Fungi as art

The land that makes up Duck Lake State Park used to be a Boy Scout camp before the state purchased it, I guess that the troop that sold the land to the state was a bit despondent to lose their camp, but I still think that a gravestone to mark the passing of the camp is a bit strange.

Just a bit weird

Just a bit weird

I’m a bit strange myself, I’m fascinated by the patterns left in wood as it decays, as well as the decaying process itself.

How wood rots

How wood rots from the inside

I am easily amused as well, I thought that the colors on this old stump were worth a photo as well.

Just a pretty stump

Just a pretty stump

And, I like the way that light plays on the needles of a pine tree.

The light in the pines

The light in the pines

One of the many questions to which I have no answer is what this type of moss is, and why wildlife would tear tufts of it out of the ground.

Pincushion moss?

Pincushion moss?

All along the trail, I could see where something had been digging in clumps of the moss as shown above, but whatever it was that dug the moss up, left the moss it dug up, there must be something in the roots that the critter(s) like to get to.

Pincushion moss?

Pincushion moss?

As I said, I didn’t take the macro lens with me, as I didn’t think that I’d be shooting flowers in December, but I was wrong, so I had to make do as best I could when I spotted some witch hazel in bloom. At least I think that it’s witch hazel?

Witch hazel flowers

Witch hazel flowers

The same holds true in a way for this next photo as well, it never occurred to me that I’d be shooting macro photos this time of year.

Indian pipe seed pods?

Indian pipe seed pods?

My intentions where to shoot photos of birds, which I did find in abundance there at Duck Lake, very large numbers of all of our winter resident upland bird species, I just wish that I could have gotten better photos than these.

JVIS0308

White-Breasted nuthatch

 

White-Breasted nuthatch

White-Breasted nuthatch

 

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

However, all the birds were actively foraging for food, and didn’t sit still long enough for me to shoot any good photos of them.

In a way, it’s strange how the species of birds that I shoot the most photos of runs in streaks. I may try for photos of a particular species all year round, and fail most of the time. Then, for a few weeks, it seems that the only species that I can get good photos of is one of them that normally eludes me. Case in point, the only species of bird that I was able to photograph well during my time at Duck Lake was a tufted titmouse, as seen in my last post. Well, this past week around home, it was another tufted titmouse that posed for me.

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

That’s the last of a series of it that I shot, here are a couple of the other earlier photos.

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

 

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

 

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

 

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

I tried to catch it in flight as it flitted from branch to branch…

Tufted titmouse in flight

Tufted titmouse in flight

…but I need to take some lessons from Mr. Tootlepedal on how to get good photos of small birds in flight.

As I said, I’ve been reviewing the photos that I’ve shot over the past year, and I’m happy to see that the overall average quality of my photos is improving. The shots of the birds in this post shot in the thick fog won’t win any awards, that’s for sure, but by the same token, they are far better than I would have come up with last year. And, since I never know what I’ll see or when I’ll see it, those photos are a good indication of what I can come up with in some of the worst possible weather for photography. Some of the most dramatic wildlife photos that I’ve seen were shot during periods of inclement weather. As one of my goals is to be able to photograph anything in any type of weather, the fact that you can tell that the mallards are mallards and the bufflehead are bufflehead is important to me.

Given some great light, as when I shot the gulls in this post, I hate to brag, but I’ve seen very few images that are much better than mine. Up until the past few months, I never would have said that, for I always found my images lacking in one way or another. I still shoot plenty of crappy “for the record” photos though, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. It goes with the territory, as you don’t get great light all day every day.

My landscape photos have shown the most improvement, as I’m learning how to compose the images to get the depth in them that a good landscape photos require.

Duck Lake Dune

Duck Lake Dune

However, I need to stop relying on the sky as a major element in my landscapes, that will come with more practice, I hope.

I also need to work on my macro photography as well.

Unidentified sunflower

Unidentified sunflower

Shooting good macro photos is the most time-consuming of all the different types of photos that I shoot. Getting the tripod set takes some time, as well as setting up the additional lighting many macro photos require. You’d think that since I spend almost the entire day outside shooting photos when I have a day off from work that time wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but it always seems to be. The sunflower photo isn’t even a true macro, but it still benefitted from an extra light source, even though the sun was shining almost straight at the flower.

Unidentified sunflower

Unidentified sunflower

The number of gadgets, gizmos, and widgets that they sell for use in macro photography is beyond my wallet’s ability to pay for them, and my back’s ability to carry any more than it does already, so I suppose that I’m not as serious as I claim to be about trying to improve my photos. 😉

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


It’s been a big year!

If I were a true hardcore birder, the title of this post would refer to the number of species of birds that I’ve seen this year, and I suppose that I could go back and by looking at my photos for the year, I could come up with an approximation of what that number would be. I’ve done well this year as far as adding more species to My Life List. However, that’s not really what this post is about.

I went to the Muskegon area again on Saturday, no surprise there. The day began under a layer of fog which didn’t burn off until early in the afternoon, so the first half of my day was a bust more or less, since I had started out birding, and it’s hard to get good bird photos in heavy fog. It didn’t really matter that much, I wasn’t seeing anything special as far as birds anyway. So, I decided to head to Duck Lake, which is where I probably should have gone to begin with, and work on my landscape photography.

I spent some time wandering around the small area where Duck Lake empties into Lake Michigan working on my composition skills and this is one of the images that I came up with.

Duck Lake Dune

Duck Lake late afternoon

That’s a HDR image from three images shot at different three different exposure settings, then blended in Photomatix Pro and tweaked in Lightroom, shot with the 60D body and 15-85 mm lens with a polarizing filter on it. However, that’s a far cry from what the camera came up with straight out of it.

Dull and flat

Dull and flat

To be fair to the camera, that’s a tough scene to expose correctly, with the white sands of the beach, partially cloudy sky, and water. The first image is what I saw with my eyes, and what prompted me to shoot that scene, and the second image is what I would have settled for last year, dull, flat, and lifeless, despite the late afternoon sun bathing the scene with some fantastic light. Well, that’s not quite totally true, last year I had the camera set to add more “zing” to the images it produced, whereas now it is set to record the scene  in what Canon calls the Standard Mode, with no additional color, contrast or other enhancements from what the sensor “sees”.

It’s hard to believe that two years ago, I was one of these idiots who thought that doing any post-processing of an image was cheating, and that if you had a good camera and lens, you didn’t need to do any post-processing at all. Yes, I was wrong, and I fully admit it. A year and a half ago, I was finally convinced that even the best camera sensors couldn’t handle the dynamic range of light that many scenes in nature present to us as photographers.

Most of you know the story from there, early this year I purchased a new iMac computer with a 4 Tb external hard drive to store my images on, which I now shoot in RAW, rather than Jpeg. I had already purchased Photomatix Pro, the software that creates HDR images, but it didn’t work that well on Jpeg images. I also learned that while you can use RAW images in Photomatix, it doesn’t do the RAW conversion very well. That chore is much better handled by Adobe Lightroom, which I installed on the new iMac as soon as I had it up and running.

I think that I’ve shown a lot of restraint while using Lightroom, I will admit that I’ve pushed some images beyond what I saw when I shot them, just playing around learning what the different tools in Lightroom do. My goal is still to produce images that look exactly the way that my eyes saw the scene when I snapped the shutter.

Waiting for sunset

Waiting for sunset

Several months ago, I said that I’d do a post about how I use Lightroom, and how I edit my photos. I have it set so that when I import the images from the camera, Lightroom automatically removes any chromatic aberrations and corrects any lens distortion as well. Doing those two things helps Photomatix align images to be blended into a HDR image if I do make HDR images, and improve the look of the images overall as well. In reality, the only two lenses that I have that really need the distortion correction are the two EF S wide-angle lenses. I see very little changes made to the images shot with any of the L series lenses I own, and surprisingly, very little changes to images shot with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens). But, every little bit helps.

Once I have the images loaded into Lightroom, I correct the exposure if required, then add a little Clarity and Vibrance to them. Clarity increase the contrast in the mid-tones, making the images appear sharper, and of course, clearer. My personal belief is that’s enough to make up for the softness of images caused by the low pass filter in the camera. Vibrance doesn’t increase the color saturation, it makes the colors pop more without increasing the saturation, which I do to make up for having my cameras set the way that they are, rather than using Canon’s settings within the camera to get the colors accurate. Lightroom does a much better job.

For the first photo in this post, I also corrected the white balance to accurately reproduce the warmer tones of the late afternoon sun, since I had the camera set for daylight when I shot that image.

I’ll also reduce the noise in some of my images, mainly bird and wildlife images, shot at higher ISO settings. The truth is, I’m lazy, and for many of the images you see here of birds, I don’t even bother with noise reduction unless it is very noticeable. That’s about it. I can think of only a few photos that I’ve posted here that I’ve used any of the other tools in Lightroom to improve the look of my images.

I have tried them all though, and in doing so, I’ve learned how to shoot images that don’t require that I make use of those other tools, except under very difficult conditions, when I can’t pass up the chance to capture something that I see. Wait, I sometimes dodge or burn, using the correction brush, to lighten areas of an image that are too dark, or more likely, to darken areas that are too bright, just as what used to be done in the darkroom when making prints. But, that gets back to the fact that the sensors in cameras can’t handle the dynamic range of light as well as our eyes can. I try to avoid having to do any dodging or burning, as that’s quite time-consuming, and time is in short supply for me. The better the images are when they come out of the camera, means less time spent editing the images on the computer.

That’s the real “secret” to photo editing, not having to do very much of it by creating the best images that the camera can produce in the first place.

For my landscape photos, that means using the tripod, setting the ISO of the camera to 100, the lowest setting available, and focusing correctly. I think that the last item, getting the focus correct has made a huge difference in the quality of my landscape photos. Using a tip that I learned in one of the many online tutorials that I’ve watched, I set the focus one-third of the way into a scene, turn the auto-focus off, and no longer “waste ” depth of field by allowing the camera to focus at infinity. The added bonus to that is that I no longer have to stop the aperture of the lens down as far to get everything in focus, and therefore I see less diffraction in my images.

The last thing software related that I have to bring up is using Photomatix itself. If you get the exposure correct for the images that you load into Photomatix, you really don’t have to do very much within that software. I prep the images in Lightroom as far as removing lens distortion and chromatic aberrations, and if I have the exposure correct, I simply send the images to Photomatix, it aligns the images, blends the exposure, and gives me a preview. At that point, I only have to hit the enter key to finish the process, and send the HDR image that Photomatix created back into Lightroom. Typically, that’s all that I do, select the images, send them to Photomatix, accept the preview, and I’m done. If I see some ghosting due to movement caused by the wind moving foliage around for example, I will have to go back and start over, telling Photomatix to remove the ghosting, if it can. I make no adjustments within Photomatix other than for ghosting.

Photomatix does a great job, as you can see, but the controls within that software aren’t easy to figure out, and it’s much easier for me to get the images correct in the first place, rather than try to use the controls to improve images within Photomatix.

The other really big thing for me this year has been the purchase of the Canon 7D Mk II camera. It’s everything that it was cracked up to be and more! I’ve gone on at length about many of that camera’s features, the auto-focusing, how fast it can shoot, and so on. Still, the two things about it that I find myself loving most of all are its fantastic metering system, and the 65 auto-focusing points. I prattled on at length about the exposure system before, so no need for me to repeat myself more than I do already. Having focus points available that cover nearly the entire frame of the camera allows me to get a focus point on the eye of a subject to make sure that I get the eye in focus, even if some of the rest of the subject is a bit soft from being slightly out of focus.

Male mallard

Male mallard

Now then, an excursion off the topic at hand, although related to that last photo. I don’t know if you saw it, but a few weeks ago, a photo was circulating on the web of the “perfect photo” of a kingfisher as it dove into the water. The person who shot that spent 6 years, and shot close to 3/4 of a million images to capture the kingfisher as its bill touched the water, with great lighting, and the image as sharp as any that I’ve seen. In the interview that I read, the guy said that he’d sometimes shoot over 600 images in a day, and end up deleting them all. I know that I don’t have that kind of patience.

Because mallards are so common, most people tend to dismiss them, but because they are difficult to photograph well, I’d like to come up with the perfect photo of a mallard one of these days. The one above certainly isn’t, neither is this one.

Male mallard 2

Male mallard 2

However, every image is a learning experience, I was learning to make use of the higher burst rate that the 7D is capable of. In the rest of the series that I shot, the mallard rose up so high that I was cutting off part of its head, so I thought to myself, I should have shot those with the camera in the portrait position. Maybe, maybe not. 😉

Pekin duck

Pekin duck

I was too close to both the mallard or the Pekin duck to get them entirely in the frame, I should have been using a shorter lens.

Anyway, back to the perfect photo of a mallard, there may not ever be one perfect photo of one, since much depends on the background as well as what they are doing.

Male mallard 3

Male mallard 3

 

Male mallard 4

Male mallard 4

 

Male mallard 5

Male mallard 5

 

Male mallard 6

Male mallard 6

 

Male mallard 7

Male mallard 7

 

Mallards

Mallards

 

Mallards

Mallards

None of those are close to perfect, but I learn more with every image.

Now then, back to the 7D Mk II and what it’s capable of. On Sunday evening, as I was shooting some of the mallard photos above, there were a couple of gulls circling the area, so I decided that it was time to put the camera through its paces to see what it could do if I set it up specifically for birds in flight. Before I get to the photos, a few more words, sorry. 😉 Earlier this year, not long after I was starting to become comfortable with the 7D, I stopped at the Muskegon County remote control airplane club’s area where they fly their planes, and shot over 700 photos of the RC planes in flight. In a way, it was both too easy, and I learned very little, for even as fast as RC planes are, keeping them in focus was a piece of cake for the 7D. Almost every photo was in focus.

RC plane

RC plane

Birds are a different story, as they aren’t predictable in their flight path, and even larger birds such as gulls, hawks, and eagles can change direction much faster than a RC plane can. I’ve posted a few good photos of birds in flight, but I would say that the good ones that I have gotten have been mostly luck, for it isn’t very often that I change the settings of the 7D specifically to shoot birds in flight. I keep the camera set to what works best for portraits with the possibility of getting a bird if it’s flying as a bonus.

Not on Sunday, I changed the auto-focusing, exposure settings, and everything else that would make it easier to get good photos of the gulls as they circled around me. I shot in high-speed burst mode, and I could easily fill several posts with the photos that I shot. However, I’ve narrowed the photos down to just a few of the better ones.

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

 

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

 

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

 

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

 

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

 

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

 

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

 

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

 

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

 

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

 

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

 

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

 

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

 

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

 

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

The last one is the only one that was cropped at all, only because I caught the gull with its mouth open as it screamed at one of the other gulls nearby.

In some ways, I feel as if I should apologize for so many photos of the mallards and gulls, but I have to shoot things that I see, and this time of year, they’re two species of birds that I can find in good light, and get good photos of.

Also on Sunday, before shooting the gulls and mallards, I walked some of the trails at Duck Lake State Park. I saw birds, I think that there were more than I’ve seen anywhere other than the wastewater facility, but getting good photos of smaller birds in the low light this time of year is much tougher.  Here’s the perfect example.

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

I pressed the shutter release as soon as the kinglet was in focus, and continued shooting in the burst mode…

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

….and got a grand total of three photos, including this one as the kinglet flew off to the next spot.

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

All of the other times that I tried for one of the kinglets, it was gone before I could get it in focus. I had slightly better luck with a tufted titmouse.

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

These were shot after the titmouse surrendered and decided to pose for me. The first three shots were blurry as it was hopping across the ground in search of food.

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

 

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

I may have to spend a lot more time at Duck Lake, given how many birds that I did see while hiking the trails there. There are also plenty of other subjects that I found to photograph along the trails, as you will see in my next post. For right now, I’m going to go back to where I began this post, landscape photos that I shot on the beach. I’ll start with my second attempt at this scene.

Duck Lake sunset over Scenic Drive

Duck Lake sunset over Scenic Drive

I know that there’s a good photo there, if I can figure out a way to keep the road out of the frame. 😉

Duck Lake beach looking north

Duck Lake beach looking north

 

Duck Lake beach looking south

Duck Lake beach looking south

The next time I shoot something like this, I need to remember to erase the footprints in the sand first. 🙂

Driftwood

Driftwood

The same applies to every photo that I shoot along the beach, but before I could erase all the footprints, people would be making more of them. I know this because I often have to time my shots between when other people are walking the beach.

Duck Lake beach looking west

Duck Lake beach looking west

It wasn’t much of a sunset, but the main thing is that I’m learning how to shoot better landscape photos at any time of the day.

Sunset at Duck Lake looking southwest

Sunset at Duck Lake looking southwest

I know that I’m a little early doing a year in review type post, made worse by the fact that I used all photos from my most recent outing, including too many gulls and mallards, but that the way that I do things. I was getting good photos occasionally at the beginning of the year, but they’re coming more often now, and the average quality of my photos has risen substantially. That’s what matters the most to me, the overall average quality of my images. One of these days (or years) I may actually get good at this.

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


I can’t stay away

In many ways, I’ve become bored with my weekly trips to the Muskegon area, however, it’s still the best place relatively close to home for me to shoot photos of a wide variety of subjects. Every weekend, I go through the same routine, check the weather, then run down the list of places that I could go, and end up deciding that the Muskegon area is my best choice, because I have so many options there.

Pickerel Lake is usually towards the top of my list, since there are plenty of birds there, including waterfowl. But, there’s just too many people there on a weekend and I seldom get close to the birds, because the steady stream of people keep the songbirds spooky, and the waterfowl flocked in the middle of the lake and out of camera range.

I could go to P. J. Hoffmaster or Saugatuck State Parks if I wanted to shoot more landscapes and maybe an occasional bird, I should really go back to both of them once in a while. However, my chances of finding a new species to add to my life list is slim at either of those parks.

There are many county parks closer to home, a few of them have looked promising when I did some checking online, but it’s hard for me to cross Muskegon off the top of my list, as I’m sure that my best chances of getting good bird photos is there. Still, I think that this weekend, I’ll devote one day to a new park, just for a change of pace. That is, even though I know that I won’t be shooting a photo like this one…

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

…or this.

Yet another Duck Lake State Park sunset

Yet another Duck Lake State Park sunset

The root of the problem that I have deciding where to go is that I’m spoiled, for how many people see northern shovelers or tundra swans?

Tundra swan

Tundra swan

By the way, you can tell that’s a tundra swan by the small patch of yellow in front of its eye. Our other native swan, the trumpeter, is larger and lacks that patch of yellow, and the introduced mute swans have a differently shaped head and bill, along with their bills being orange.

And, it wasn’t as if there were just one or two of the swans…

Tundra swans with gulls flying over them

Tundra swans with gulls flying over them

The number of birds to be seen in the Muskegon area is nothing short of astounding to me, although I’m learning that there are other places where even larger numbers of birds congregate over the winter months, like the Chesapeake Bay area, and a few of the southern nature preserves.

Anyway, some one that I talked to counted 102 tundra swans in that flock, I was up over 50 as I tried to count, but I got distracted by something and lost count. Since they just pass through the area during migration, I shot a few more photos of them.

Tundra swan

Tundra swan

Apparently, yawning is a common habit of the swans.

Tundra swans

Tundra swans

A short sidenote, that last photo was shot with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) with the Tamron 1.4X tele-converter for a focal length of 700 mm on the 7D Mk II and the image wasn’t cropped at all. It’s not bad. I tried that combination before, but never gave it much of a chance, I may have to rethink that and do some more testing.

Maybe it was because the swans were using the lagoon for safety as they napped on and off that they were yawning so much. The tundra swans behave a little like Sandhill cranes, in that they often feed on dry land, and rest in water where they are safer from predators. The members of this flock would sleep and while they did, the wind would blow them towards shore. They’d wake up, I don’t know what woke them, but they would then swim back closer to the center of the lagoon, and go back to sleep again.

Tundra swans

Tundra swans

I shot a video, but it didn’t turn out well, the wind blowing in the camera’s microphone drowned out the calls of the swans, and it was also a bit over-exposed. But, I couldn’t resist shooting a few stills as a few of the swans would line up as they moved among the other members of the flock. The four in the bottom of the next frame must have been old friends that hadn’t seen each other for a while, as they got together to have a conversation and catch up on what was new.

Tundra swans

Tundra swans

They caught my attention, but I should have composed this next shot differently to have gotten a better image.

Tundra swans

Tundra swans

I wasn’t sure what was going to happen as vocal as those four swans became, I put them in the center of the frame so that I could follow any action if it occurred. I should have moved the focus point of the camera to keep them in the lower left of the frame, with a better view of the other members of the flock in the background. Even though my photo isn’t as good as it could have been, I had a good time sitting there watching a species of bird that I seldom get to see.

Another short sidenote, I was a bit frustrated this past weekend, other than the tundra swans, it was more of the same species that I probably post too many photos of already. On top of that , many of my images weren’t as sharp as I’ve come to expect them to be. Well, I had been watching a video from The Canon learning center about setting up the very complicated auto-focusing system of the 7D Mk II, and had changed a setting while watching the video last week. I didn’t realize until today (Tuesday) why my camera wasn’t behaving the way that it always had in the past, and it was then that I remembered the setting that I had changed, and changed it back.

I am so spoiled! I had four bald eagles in sight at one time, with three of them perched on the ground in a spot where there were thousands of geese and ducks in the background, and the fourth eagle circling overhead, and I’m complaining about being bored, because there was no way for me to get a good photo of that scene due to the light and how far away from me that the eagles were. I saw several northern harriers, including one that made a pass at a crow as if it were attempting to capture the crow for lunch, which of course failed. I saw a rough-legged hawk out of camera range, along with several red-tailed hawks. Then, there were a half a dozen or more species of ducks which totaled into the thousands if you combine them all together. There were flocks of snow buntings flying from spot to spot, along with several thousand gulls, but I found few subjects for really good photos. Two years ago, I would have come home with close to a thousand images over two days, most of the photos would have been so poor that I’d end up deleting them, but I’ve learned not to bother shooting things when I know that the photo won’t turn out well enough to use here.

There is an upside to that, I spent less time shooting poor photos, and more time just watching the behavior of the birds, and learning more about them. I never did figure out how the swans that were sleeping as they drifted with the wind across the lagoon knew when to wake up, and swim back to the center of the lagoon to repeat the process again, as one example.

Okay, I’ve been complaining about the same old, same old species of birds, but I’m going to use mallards as an example of how intelligent birds really are. A few years ago, I did a post entitled “The Mighty Mallard” about how I use them as practice subjects for my efforts in learning photography, but more importantly, why they’re able to survive and multiply, when many other species of waterfowl are declining in numbers due to overhunting and habitat loss. One reason is that they are able to learn when and where they are safe, and where they’re not.

A little more background, the Muskegon Wastewater facility is located within the Muskegon State Game Area, an area that is open to hunting. Since it is hunting season in Michigan, hunters aren’t dumb either, and they surround the wastewater facility in hopes of bagging a few geese or ducks as the waterfowl come and go. There, the mallards are extremely wary, and are often the first species of waterfowl to take flight as some one approaches.

Male mallard flying past a common goldeneye

Male mallard flying past a common goldeneye

While this goldeneye, which may not have ever seen a human, wondered what I was.

Juvenile common goldeneye duck

Juvenile common goldeneye duck

However, the Bear Lake channel, where Bear Lake empties into Muskegon Lake, is surrounded by homes on land, and marinas on the water’s edge, and there’s no hunting. Here, the mallards know that they’re safe, and I can photograph them with my 100 mm macro lens, and get photos like these.

Mallards

Mallards

 

Male mallard

Male mallard

 

Female mallard

Female mallard

The photography sidenote to this is for the best images, get closer and use a shorter lens. If the light had been better, I would have put the macro lens on the 7D, but those three were shot with the 60D camera, which had a hard time keeping up with the mallards as they moved around. Still, I can see a great deal of promise in those three images, as good as the 300 mm L series lens is, it still can’t match the 100 mm L series macro lens for either sharpness or color rendition.

Another one of the other ducks that has learned that the Bear Lake channel is a safe haven from hunters is this wood duck…

Male wood duck and female mallard

Male wood duck and female mallard

…who hangs out with the mallards…

Male wood duck and female mallard

Male wood duck and female mallard

…and the Pekin ducks.

Pekin duck

Pekin duck

 

Pekin duck

Pekin duck

 

Pekin duck

Pekin duck

By the way, have I mentioned how much I love using a polarizing filter when shooting waterfowl on the water?

More Pekin ducks

More Pekin ducks

I found out that it works well when there’s ice in the frame as well.

Birch bark trapped in ice

Birch bark trapped in ice

Anyway, back to the point I was making. Mallards move around from places where they’re safe to places where they’re not, and back again, changing their behavior to suit where they are. So far, just the one male wood duck has learned this at the Bear Lake channel, although I have heard that they can also become quite tame under the right conditions in other places.

You would think that other species of ducks would learn that Muskegon Lake is safer for them than the wastewater facility, but other than a few smaller flocks, few of them do. Muskegon Lake is one of the finest fishing lakes in the entire state of Michigan, so there’s plenty for the fish and also for the ducks to eat, including fish for the diving ducks.

Maybe the ducks aren’t so dumb after all, most of the species of puddle ducks such as mallards, northern shovelers, and so on, congregate at the wastewater facility, while the diving ducks, such as long-tailed ducks, mergansers, etc., use Muskegon Lake as stopping places as they migrate south. During mild winters, like as this one so far, all of the ducks will hang around until there’s no open water left for them.

It may seem as though I’m way off the topic of why I keep going to the Muskegon area every weekend, but I take all of that into consideration when I’m deciding where to go each weekend. It isn’t just the birds that drives me to go there at least once a weekend, it’s also the possibility of shooting more landscapes.

Lake Michigan beach 1

Lake Michigan beach 1

 

Lake Michigan beach 2

Lake Michigan beach 2

I shot many more than that, but those are the only two that I’ll bore you with for now, as far as straight up landscapes. The nice thing about landscapes is that the scenery doesn’t really change much, only the lighting does, so you can always go back and shoot the same scene again, once you’ve identified the mistakes that you made the first time. I shot a good many other landscape photos that afternoon, but the light wasn’t that great, and I also made quite a few errors in how I shot the scenes that I did. I’m learning though, that’s what counts.

However, no two sunsets are ever the same. On Saturday, I thought that we’d have a fantastic sunset, due to the nature of the clouds late in the afternoon.

Late afternoon cloudscape

Late afternoon cloudscape

But, as the sun set, the high clouds dissipated, and the sunset was a bit of a bust. However, I shot these two to not only capture the sunset, but to also work on my overall landscape skills, although it may not appear that way to you.

Saturday sunset 1

Saturday sunset 1

 

Saturday sunset 2

Saturday sunset 2

On the other hand, Sunday’s sunset looked like it was going to be a bust, with a layer of low clouds present.

Sunday afternoon cloudscape

Sunday afternoon cloudscape

I gutted out the cold, as the temperature was right about at the freezing point that evening, and something magical happened. A layer of high clouds above the low clouds lit up by the setting sun cast that color down on the low clouds for the photo towards the top of this post, and for this one.

Sunday evening's sunset at Duck Lake State Park

Sunday evening’s sunset at Duck Lake State Park

Now then, going back to what I said about the scenery not changing, only the light. Over a month ago, my original plan for the sunset was to shoot it over the Muskegon Lake channel, but the sun would have set in the wrong place in relation to the channel for me to get the shot that I wanted. I can tell from having been shooting sunsets at Duck Lake State Park since then, that the sun is setting farther towards the south now, and that the shot that I want of the channel is now possible, when we get another good sunset.

It’s a bit ironic, I’ve been birding around Muskegon, then going to Duck Lake for the sunsets. This past weekend, I found out that there’s a system of trails in Duck Lake State Park now, and that it would be a good place for birding. At the same time, I can tell that I may be better off shooting sunsets from Muskegon, so this weekend, I’ll probably reverse what I have been doing. I’ll go to Duck Lake to hike and bird, then go to Muskegon for the sunset.

Anyway, here are a few of the other photos from this past weekend, when the days began frosty…

Frosty morning

Frosty morning

…and I tried an artsy shot of the frosty grass.

Artsy frosty morning

Artsy frosty morning

Earlier, I said that I watched a northern harrier make a pass at a crow, here, a crow harasses a red-tailed hawk.

Crow harassing a red-tailed hawk

Crow harassing a red-tailed hawk

You didn’t think that I’d catch a northern shoveler close and in good light and only shoot one photo of it, did you?

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

I also got three good photos of a bird that’s hard to photograph well, a crow.

American crow

American crow

Of course, they can’t keep their mouths shut for long…

American crow

American crow

…so I learned that their mouths are red inside.

American crow

American crow

I am trying more artistic photos, here’s one that works.

Cattails in the twilight

Cattail in the twilight

I also use gulls as practice subjects for bird in flight photos.

gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

For people who aren’t familiar with the Great Lakes, I shot these next two to show that they are more like freshwater seas than lakes.

Tug and barge on Lake Michigan

Tug and barge on Lake Michigan

Besides, this way I’ll remember that the shipping season is still open towards the end of November.

Lake Michigan freighter

Lake Michigan freighter

Here’s another one of my attempts at being more artistic. This is of the sand along the beach at Duck Lake as the light from the setting sun hit it.

Sand in the sunset

Sand in the sunset

What sunset would be complete without a few gulls in the warm light of sunset, with a splashing wave thrown in for good measure?

Bonaparte's gulls in the sunset

Bonaparte’s gulls in the sunset

One last note, it’s still hunting season here in Michigan, which limits my options as far where I go on the weekends. I’d rather not get shot, and I’d prefer not to mess up any one else’s hunt if possible. But, I’m still researching my options for next spring, and I think that I’m finding a few more good places to check out.

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