Is it cheating?
It’s Saturday January 16th as I begin working on this post, and this morning was the first time all week that I made it outside for a walk. I’ll get to the details of the past week in a while, but one of the things I’ve been doing during the cold snap that we had, was to check out more image editing software than what I’m currently using. What I currently use is Adobe Lightroom to organize my images and to do basic exposure corrections that are within the range of possibilities in Lightroom. I also use Photomatix Pro to create HDR images, which is beyond what the version of Lightroom that I have can do.
I saw an ad for Macphun photo editing software, it has been getting some attention as an alternative to Adobe Photoshop, and seeing that they are offering a free trial, I decided to check it out. One of the drawing points is that rather than being able to do just about anything to an image in one program, the Macphun software is a suite of programs, with each one doing one aspect of the editing. There’s Snapheal to remove unwanted elements in an image, and Noiseless to remove noise, as an example of how the software is structured. In the online demonstrations, they made it look so easy, and the results so good that I had to give it a try. I can’t say that I was impressed, I believe that some trickery was involved in the demonstrations. For example, in the Noiseless demonstration, not only was all the noise in the image removed, but the resolution of the image looked to be improved as well.
In my testing of my images, I never did get rid of all the noise before the resolution of the images became so poor that I’d never post them to my blog, let alone try to print them. I think that Lightroom does a much better job of removing noise.
So, I tried Snapheal to remove unwanted things from a few of my images, and the outcome was mixed. It worked well in some cases, not very well at all in others. It certainly wasn’t as it was portrayed in the demonstrations that I watched. As I said, I believe that some trickery was involved for both of the programs, such as using two different images as a before and after, but I can’t swear to that.
I also checked into Photoshop as well when I learned that they offer a free 30 day trial of that program. Again, in my very limited testing, the results don’t come close to what the online demonstration showed, but in my opinion, Photoshop performed much better.
However, the question is, is this cheating? Here’s the after image that I worked on…
…and here’s the before version.
As you can see, I used Photoshop to remove the branch that obscured the view of the heron. If only I could teach the birds to pose nicely for me, with no intervening branches, I wouldn’t have to worry if removing the branches was cheating or not. 😉
I’d only resort to cheating if the subject and the overall image was worth it, as it would take far too long to process every image that I shoot. It only took a few seconds to select the branch and remove it initially in this photo, however, cleaning up both the sky and the heron “behind” the branch so that they looked right, took considerably longer.
Anyway, I decided that if I’m going to add any software to what I already use, it will be Photoshop, even though it’s a bear to learn, and despite the fact that Adobe attempts to take over my computer. Since tomorrow’s is forecast to be even nastier outside than last Sunday was, I may give the Macphun software a few more chances before I make up my mind as to which software I’ll use, and delete the free trial of the software that doesn’t make the cut.
Speaking of last weekend, I did a little more work to this image of the Grand Haven Lighthouse.
And, even though these next two weren’t shot from the same spot, they do show the difference in appearance of the north breakwater at Grand Haven between a calm summer morning…
…and the fury of the winter storm last weekend.
Also, if you look closely, you can make out a gull over the breakwater, which I still find hard to fathom how they manage to fly in such weather with the falling snow and spray from the waves pelting them.
Hmm, maybe this next photo will shed some light on that.
I had saved that photo from my walk on Saturday to show one of the problems that I have photographing all birds, but crows in particular. Most birds have a third eyelid which moves horizontally across their eyes which is called a nictitating membrane. The nictitating membrane (from Latin nictare, to blink) is a transparent or translucent third eyelid present in some animals that can be drawn across the eye for protection and to moisten it while maintaining visibility.
Maybe it’s bad timing on my part, but I seem to catch a lot of birds in mid-blink of their nictitating membrane, or even worse in a photo as in the one above, with the nictitating membrane fully covering their eye. Since I’m trying to get the eye(s) of my subject as sharp as I can, with the nictitating membrane partially or fully closed, it ruins my photos in my opinion. I saved the photo of the crow because they seem to blink their nictitating membrane more than any other species of bird that I’ve photographed and I wanted to remember to include that in my post.
However, as I was working on this section of this post, I remember that when I’ve been choosing which photo of a gull to use for my blog, that I’ve caught them blinking their nictitating membrane and that their nictitating membrane is transparent and difficult to see, other than when they have it closed, their eye looks as if I missed the focus slightly as it doesn’t look sharp in a photo. Maybe the gulls are able to fly through blowing snow and spray from the waves of Lake Michigan because they close their nictitating membranes to protect their eyes, much as humans wear goggles while skiing or other activities where our eyes need protection, birds have built-in goggles to protect their eyes.
Okay, it’s another cold, snowy Sunday morning, a virtual repeat of the weather last Sunday. I knew that it was coming, and I’ve been trying to think of something to do today that involves photography. I’ve considered a few indoor venues, as luck would have it, this is the weekend that Frederick Meijer Gardens is holding their annual orchid show. However, I’ve been to the orchid show a few times, and while the orchids on display are beautiful, the venue is crowded and not conducive to great photography, as they don’t allow the use of a tripod and frown on using a flash.
Also, part of the facility is closed for the week, making it a less attractive place to spend a day.
I could go to the Airzoo again, but I have dozens of photos left over from last year that I didn’t post.
I could retrace my trip from last week, trying to shoot better photos to capture what it’s like in a snowstorm, but that seems rather silly to me right now. Why do two posts in a row of bad photos shot during a snowstorm?
I could whine about the lack of sun, over the last 9 days Grand Rapids has had just 5.3% of possible sunshine and over the last 40 days, Grand Rapids has had just 13.3% of possible sunshine, but that doesn’t change things. Neither does whining about how cold it is, with the windchill outside -10 F (-23 C) with snow falling as I type this. The winter blahs have set in, that’s for sure. However, the good news is that it’s the middle of January, which means that we’re half way through winter here in Michigan.
While I’m sure that we’ll have plenty of cold and snow left this winter, spring is now in sight, and I should begin to see the very early signs of it soon. The birds and other critters will begin behaving differently, with a few male birds beginning to practice their spring mating songs when we have a spell of good weather. Then, I’ll notice that the leaf buds on trees are showing signs that they are swelling, just a little, in preparation for when spring does arrive.
As if on cue, as I was typing that, the sun came out for a while, so despite the cold, I bundled up and went for a walk around home. It may have been the quickest three miles that I’ve walked in quite some time, as it was bone-chilling cold out there. And, it isn’t as if there were blue skies and great light, because the snow never let up the short time while I was out. Still, while it may have been tough on this old body, it was good for the soul to get out in the filtered sunshine for a change. I even shot a few photos of a pair of mallards that were feeding in the creek.
I also saw one of our resident red-tailed hawks, and it was closer to me than when I shot this photo on Saturday…
…but today, the hawk was on the other side of a row of trees so that I didn’t have a clear view of it. I only included that photo to remind myself of how well the settings that I have programmed into the second back button focusing set-up work, even though I continue to fine tune them. However, with the 7D Mk II, it’s getting to the point where I can spot a perched bird like this hawk and use the first button for a portrait…
…then switch to the other button when the hawk takes flight…
…and the 7D continues to track the hawk very well, almost like shooting fish in a barrel…
…even with the woods in the background. By the way, those photos of the hawk were shot on my way to the Muskegon area one morning last month, and I’ve just gotten around to posting them.
My other photos from around home on Saturday were these two, I like this first one…
…but this next one was a practice shot, learning how to expose a turkey in the snow while using the 7D, since its metering system is completely different from what the 60D that I’m more used to has.
As good as the metering system in the 7D is, it doesn’t seem to like snow very much, and since this is my first winter using that camera in the snow, so I have much to learn yet.
Well, it’s now Monday morning, I frittered around with the free trials of the software that I downloaded last week, reviewed a few more images shot by others that have been uploaded to Flickr!, and generally wasted the day other than my walk early on. Not much has changed weather wise, it’s still very cold with occasional lake effect snow.
When it comes to the software, the biggest debate that I’m having with myself is whether or not I even need it. I found it difficult to force myself to go back and attempt to improve any of the photos that I’ve shot in the last year since I began shooting in RAW 100% of the time. Going back further makes little sense, all those images are Jpegs, and not worth bothering with because the software can’t improve those images as much as they can RAW images. And, the only reason to edit any of my images that need it is to test the software, since I have shot far better images of most subjects either before or after the images that need work. That’s why I’ll never turn into one of those people who spends a great deal of time editing images, I know that it’s far better to shoot good images in the first place, and sooner or later, I will get a good photo of most subjects. Compounding that is the improvement that I’ve been making in my techniques to shoot better images. I see little reason to attempt to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, when the silk purse will come in time as long as I continue to shoot more photos and improve my basic photography skills.
If you go back to the top and view the image that I captioned “The Grand Haven channel at dawn”, the only thing that makes it a good photo is that I caught the first sunshine at dawn hitting just the end of the breakwater and the boat leaving the channel, otherwise it would be even more hum-drum than it is.
I’d be much better off spending more time outside, learning to put myself in the best places at the best times to get good images in the first place than I would be sitting inside at the computer, trying to make a poor image into a good one.
To that end, I have located a source for camouflaged material that can be used to build temporary hides for me to use to get closer to wildlife. It’s reasonably priced and much lighter in weight than the pre-made hides are, so come spring, I’ll be ordering one color to see how well it works. If the material is worth it, I can order a fall camo pattern later.
The other news from around here is that next week I’ll have a different schedule for work. I don’t know what that will be yet, I’ll find out tomorrow which of the runs that I bid on I got, if any, and what my schedule will be.
That brings up something completely unrelated to nature or photography, the trucking industry. The company that I’m working for now prides itself on how they treat their drivers and how well they retain the drivers that work for them. However, I started there just over a year ago, and the company has approximately 200 drivers working for them. In that year, I went from the bottom of the seniority list to number 79 when I put in my bid sheet for a different run this time. That improves my chances of getting a better run than the one I’ve been doing the past few months, but it also means that the company has lost over half the drivers that were working there when I started. Some drivers ahead of me on the seniority list retired, but most of them have quit to go to work for other companies. There was one day when three drivers quit in the short time I was in the office doing my paperwork.
There have been more than a few times when I had to fight the urge to quit, but I want to gut it out until I have used up my vacation time, which I’ll do in May. As I move up the seniority list, I will be able to get better runs all the time when they are open for bidding, so I’ll see how it’s going after my vacation before I make a decision whether to stay or look elsewhere.
My timing is terrible, it’s now Tuesday afternoon, and I made it out for a walk today. It was still cold, but the wind has dropped off to almost nothing, which also meant that we lost almost all the lake effect clouds. I say almost, because it was sunny when I began my walk, then the clouds rolled back in until I had almost finished my walk, when the skies cleared again. The important thing from today is that for the first time in over two months, I felt warmth from the sunshine! That goes with what I was saying earlier, spring is on its way no matter how bad the weather gets in the next few weeks, we’ve turned the corner on winter. In honor of the occasion, I’m going to post the last photo that I shot today, even though it’s a nothing photo.
My only reason for posting that photo is that I can see that the quality of light is getting better over what it has been the past few months. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the best light when I shot these earlier in the day.
Since I didn’t see a bird in flight today on which to test my most recent changes to my camera settings, I made do with the dog, and since the dog is black, it was also a good test of my exposure settings in a snow scene as well.
The only wildlife that I found to shoot was this fox squirrel.
Not bad considering the conditions at the time, but I can hardly wait until I’m shooting photos like this one again.
It won’t be that long now until I’m shooting photos like these again.
It’s currently Wednesday morning, and the big news today has little to do with nature or photography. Even though the temperature outside has moderated a little over what it was the beginning of this week, and even though there’s some filtered sunshine, I won’t be going for a walk today. That’s because last night, as I was walking across a parking lot to get a cup of coffee for my trip back to the home terminal where I work, I was struck by a car. I managed to escape being hit directly by the front of the vehicle by moving out of the way, but the ditz driving the car turned hard left and struck me with the side of her car.
I’m okay, other than bruises on both elbows, a gash on my left arm from where the car’s outside mirror hit me, and scrapes on my right elbow from when I hit the pavement. Both arms are sore, so I don’t feel like lugging a six pound camera/lens combination around on slippery trails. I’ve been injured much worse in dirt bike wrecks and some of the other stupid things that I used to do when I was younger, but I’m feeling my age today. By tomorrow or Friday, I’ll be back to normal again.
I think that her car is in worse shape than I am, her outside mirror is gone and she has a big dent in the door from where she hit me. It was funny in a way, I was sitting on the ground taking stock of my injuries, and the ditz driver was whacking me with her door as she tried to get out of her car to see how badly injured I was.
The other big news is that starting next Tuesday, my assigned run will be the same run that I had for the first half of this past summer. That will mean that I’ll be out very early to catch sunrises and also have the best light for wildlife! In my opinion, early morning light is sharper than late afternoon light, although afternoon light is warmer. Each has its merits, but I personally like being out at sunrise much more than at sunset, even though sunsets can be more spectacular than sunrises. I also love what the warm late afternoon light does for wildlife photos, but I see more wildlife to photograph at dawn than I do at sunset. Maybe I should nap in the middle of the day and catch both sunrise and sunset?
Anyway, I’m going to throw in a few more images that I have left from last year, then call this post done. I’ll start with a sunrise photo in honor of getting back on an assigned run that will work much better for me.
I don’t think that I posted many photos of this species this year.
And I’m surprised that I haven’t posted these two before, my first good photos of a female scarlet tanager.
It’s easy to spot the males, since they are scarlet as their name implies, but the duller colored females are harder to spot, and usually stay more hidden than this one did.
It’s easy to confuse this next bird with the pewee from above, but phoebe have an all black bill as opposed to the pewee’s bi-colored bill.
This next one is to remind myself that better weather will be here soon…
…as is this one, besides, I miss this bird’s cheerful songs.
I was able to get quite a few good photos of monarch butterflies this past summer, here’s another.
So, that wraps up another one. The weather forecast for this weekend is looking pretty good so far, it won’t feel like spring yet, but it’s forecast to be partly sunny with temperatures right around the freezing point. If that holds true, I’ll be heading to the Muskegon area for one day this weekend, hopefully I’ll be able to track down a snowy owl and a few eagles.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!