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

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!

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26 responses

  1. Fabulous fotos!

    December 19, 2015 at 8:04 pm

    • Thank you very much Cindy!

      December 19, 2015 at 8:33 pm

  2. Fascinating post with topnotch photos! I like what you wrote because I just got a 7D Mark II and am just starting to learn about its capabilities. Still a lot to learn, but already I can see some improvement in my recent photos.

    December 19, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    • Thank you very much! You’ll love the 7D Mk II, I’m not sure that I could pick one feature that it has as my favorite. I thought that it was Canon’s new metering system, but the more that I program the camera the way I want it, the more I lean towards its versatility and the way that you can customize it to suit what you shoot and how you shoot.

      December 19, 2015 at 8:38 pm

  3. Great post. Great photos.

    December 19, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    • Thank you very much Victor!

      December 19, 2015 at 8:33 pm

  4. Getting the red squirrel like that on the run was very clever.

    December 20, 2015 at 3:23 am

    • Thank you very much Susan!

      December 20, 2015 at 8:21 am

  5. Amazing camera!

    December 20, 2015 at 6:56 am

    • Thanks Bob!

      December 20, 2015 at 8:21 am

  6. Isn’t it crazy how much technology you have at your fingertips? Amazing that this is all available for any of us to buy – the only barrier being the fatness of one’s wallet.

    If I’m on the jury, I’d vote No on your frosty grass photo. Perhaps I’d like it better if you had shot it from the corner, so that the bottom of the ‘v’ would have been in the center, and the legs run out toward the sides.

    Love the downy woodpecker flinging the debris out of his home. My favorite shot of the bunch.

    Hope you get some sunshine. Dealing with the cold is easy, but the gray eats away at your soul. Hope you get some extra time off during the holidays, to practice your craft.

    Cheers.

    December 20, 2015 at 8:39 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! Actually, as far as price, the 7D is a mid-range camera, which makes it that much more amazing.

      I thought about different angles, but there’s trees and elevation changes to contend with, that’s the only opening which I had to shoot the frosty grass.

      It’s a sunny but very cold morning, so I’m off to take advantage of the light right now. 😉

      December 20, 2015 at 8:47 am

  7. The woodpecker excavating the hole was a winner for me. I enjoy reading about your learning processes. I must find the manual……..oh, maybe tomorrow.

    December 20, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! I only open the manual when all else fails. Most of the time I’m learning from videos posted online by Canon. I’ve watched a few from other sources, but they’re a waste of time.

      December 20, 2015 at 5:39 pm

      • Perhaps I should search for some video help too. I will see what Nikon has to offer.

        December 21, 2015 at 5:25 pm

      • Stick with videos from Nikon or some one affiliated with Nikon if you can find them. There’s lots of videos on youtube posted by people who know nothing but are trying to make a few dollars.

        December 22, 2015 at 4:49 am

      • I am well warned, thank you.

        December 22, 2015 at 6:24 pm

  8. And here I thought that you were enjoying the same sunny skies as we were. I’m not sure where I got that idea!
    The pictures came out fine anyway, especially the woodpecker cleaning house. How many times would you see that happening? For a lot of us, never. And I’ve never seen a wooly bear caterpillar look like either one of those two.
    I think the white growth is a slime mold but I’m not sure which one. You got some good shots of the lichens fruiting. I know how small they are!
    I think buying those Canon cameras was a very smart thing to do. The difference between them and your old camera is very noticeable, and of course you keep getting better. There are little tricks in any trade and learning them can only make us better at what we do.

    December 20, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! We did have sunny skies up to the first of December, it’s been cloudy ever since.

      I’ve seen woodpeckers cleaning out their homes a few times, but I can hear them pecking away inside of the tree, which leads me to stop and wait. I think that I may have posted some really bad photos a few years ago, nothing like the ones in this post.

      I don’t think that I’ve ever seen an entirely black woolly bear before, but I have seen a few almost entirely brown.

      It’s been a slow learning curve for me, between getting past the old Nikon which never did work the way it should, and the realization that digital cameras aren’t just electronic film cameras. I learned something new again today, I can’t stack all three of the extension tubes that I have behind the macro lens to get super close to subjects, the 60D sounds as if the shutter goes, but I get no image at all. I’m better off using the Tamron extender to get closer.

      December 20, 2015 at 5:48 pm

  9. I am glad you are getting such a lot out of your new camera. You have managed to capture some lovely shots – the squirrel, the woodpecker, the cat and mallards and the detail on the lichen and fungi shots are fabulous.

    December 20, 2015 at 7:55 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! It’s been a good couple of weeks around here even though it’s been cloudy most of the time.

      December 20, 2015 at 10:37 pm

  10. Stunning captures all the way through, Jerry. I appreciate your patience on capturing the flying wood chips with the woodpecker excavating his tree hole, love those shots! 🙂

    December 20, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    • Thank you very much Donna! I was very happy to catch the woodpecker in action, but I thought that I’d be the only one who thought that the images were special in any way. I was wrong again. 😉

      December 20, 2015 at 10:38 pm

      • You and I just love those behavioral action photo ops! 😉

        December 21, 2015 at 8:11 am

  11. My vote goes for the excavation project, too! Great action shot there.

    December 21, 2015 at 9:55 pm

    • Thank you very much Gunta! I think that particular series was every one’s favorite.

      December 22, 2015 at 4:51 am