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…
…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. 😉
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.
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…
…it was because he was about to poop.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It was only then that the owl looked at me with its eyes wide open.
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.
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…
…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.
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…
…they were about a half an inch wide. As I was setting up to shoot that image, I saw these nearby…
…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.
Just a short time later, I was shooting landscapes.
Then, it was a 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.
I shot those in the last vestiges of twilight, as I was waiting for the full Christmas moon to rise.
And although I didn’t shoot these next ones on Christmas, I have to throw them into the mix because I shoot flowers…
…as well as insects when I have the opportunity.
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.
But as I’m trying to get the perfect photos of those species, I’m wasting good light for landscapes.
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.
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.
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…
…and the moon is rising…
…I’ll post one more image of the snowy owl, with him waving goodbye to every one.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!