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

I learned a new trick!

If you’re into photography, one thing that you learn is that certain colors are often difficult to photograph well, when that color makes up most of the “scene”.  The two colors that come to mind quickly are red and yellow, two of the warmer colors. They can throw off a camera’s metering system for some reason, although how much the camera misses is dependent on the camera, which I’ll get to shortly.

When it comes to flowers, another problem that I’ve had in the past is that I get deep shadows that are a result of the way that cameras increase contrast in a scene. Well, that’s a problem when photographing far more than flowers, since it was something other than a flower that I photographed which eventually led me to try something when photographing flowers.

I had shot a photo of a nicely colored tree trunk, and I paused to review the image using the screen on the camera. In the image, there were deep shadows across the tree trunk, so since I hadn’t moved from where I had knelt down to shoot the photo, I looked at tree trunk again, no deep shadows. In fact, I had to look at the image and the real life scene several times before my eyes picked up faint shadows on the tree trunk in real life. The shadows that I saw in the image ruined it for me, if I had used that image as it came out of the camera, for the shadows were too dark, far darker than what I saw in real life.

That’s not the only time that shadows have ruined what I thought was going to be a good image, but it really hit me that day as I compared the image in the camera to what I could see right in front of my face.

That’s a function of the sensors and software in a modern camera, they emphasis any shadows in a scene, far more than we see with our eyes. Sometimes we can fix that using Lightroom, or a similar editing software, but I’ve never had much luck in softening shadows on flowers when I shoot them. It was another Aha! moment as I work to capture what I see with the camera.

So, since the crocus have begun to blossom here, and I’d like to get a really good photo of them, I tried something new. I used auto-bracketing of the exposure, then blended those images into a HDR image using Photomatix Pro software just as I would if I were shooting a landscape.

Crocus HDR

Crocus HDR

Whoa, true colors and soft shadows, just the way that I saw scene when I was looking through the viewfinder!

That was shot using the Canon 60D camera and 100 mm macro lens. In the past, I’ve had to adjust the exposure compensation of the 60D down by at least a full stop, then, play in Lightroom using the luminance and saturation adjustments to attempt to get the colors close to correct. Even after spending what I think is a considerable amount of time editing my images of yellow and other flowers, I was never completely happy with them, as the colors were still off a little. In addition, I’d often do some dodging and burning in my attempts to make an image look like what I saw. I don’t want to spend that much time at the computer, I want to spend more time outside.

But wait, what about the 7D Mk II, I’ve raved about its metering system, and how I seldom have to adjust the exposure compensation no matter what color the subject of a photo is. Well, that’s true, the 7D does do a much better job of automatically compensating for warm colors.

Crocus, 7D Mk II, not a HDR

Crocus, 7D Mk II, not a HDR

I’d be happy with that one, even if the colors are off slightly. But, you wouldn’t know that if I didn’t tell you, or post this HDR image of the same flower.

Crocus, 60D and HDR

Crocus, 60D and HDR

Some people may prefer the more intense colors produced by the 7D, but the colors in the HDR image are very, very close to what the flower actually looks like in real life. It’s also much better than the base image of the three used to create the HDR image.

Crocus, 60D and not HDR

Crocus, 60D and not HDR

You can see that in the non-HDR image, the yellow is over-powering the camera’s sensor, and because of that, it lost almost all of the definition between the shades of yellow, so the image doesn’t look as sharp. In fact, it’s almost hard to believe that the last image was one of the three used to create the HDR image above it.

Personally, I prefer the subtle beauty of nature, and I believe that the HDR image captured that the best. If I wanted the more intense color as the 7D produced, I could increase the color saturation to get the same effect. But, why would I want to? I think that the HDR image best captures the delicate beauty of the flower that I saw when I pressed the shutter release. You can see all the details in the petals, and how they are almost translucent, which the 7D didn’t capture as well.

But, what about other colors, especially a cooler color such as blue?

Blue crocus, HDR

Blue crocus, HDR

Not only does the HDR image produce more realistic colors, but it softens the shadows, or I should say, undoes the harshness of the shadows created by the camera.

Blue crocus not a HDR

Blue crocus not a HDR

Actually, there’s a lot going on between those two images. The first one is brighter, which I could replicate by adjusting the exposure in Lightroom, but then, the orange pistols and stamens of the flowers would be blown out if I did that. The Photomatix software does an excellent job lightening the cool blues of the petals without blowing out the warmer oranges of the pistols and stamens, while at the same time, softening the shadows that the camera itself produced in the image. Once again, the HDR image is much closer to what I saw when I shot that photo.

You can still see the shadows that were there…

Yellow crocus

Yellow crocus

…for example, you can see the shadows cast by the pistols and stamens, but they are a natural looking shadow, without the harshness produced normally by the camera.

Not only did this trick work with wider shots as I’ve shown so far, it really helped when I moved in closer…

Blue crocus, HDR

Blue crocus, HDR

…and closer…

Blue crocus, HDR

Blue crocus, HDR

…and closer still, until I was approaching the limits of how close the macro lens can focus.

Blue crocus, HDR

Blue crocus, HDR

That’s a shot that I’ve struggled with in the past, getting a good, sharp, properly exposed image that shows both the warmer oranges and yellows of the pistols and stamens and the cooler blues of the petals well.

There are downsides to trying to shoot three images to be blended together to produce the HDR images, if the wind moves anything in the frame, the HDR image is ruined, as you may well imagine. But, another upside is that I learned more about how the 60D body operates, and that’s never a bad thing. I knew that if I used the two second delay when I had the camera set to auto-bracket the exposure, that the 60D would automatically shoot all three photos in rapid succession, rather than it requiring me to push the shutter release three times. What I didn’t know was that 60D also shuts off the auto-focusing system while the three images are being shot. If that wasn’t the case, I doubt if the HDR images would have come out as well as they did, especially when I was very close to a subject.

Another downside is that I had to lay down in the mud to get the photos that you’ve seen so far. A way to get around that was to use the 7D with the 300 mm lens and 2 X tele-converter for 600 mm of effective focal length that I used to shoot these.

Blue crocus, 600 mm

Blue crocus, 600 mm

That way, I could stand up and still get close to the crocus.

Blue crocus, 600 mm

Blue crocus, 600 mm

 

Blue crocus, 600 mm

Blue crocus, 600 mm

There are many experts that will tell you that image quality suffers too much to use a 2 X tele-converter, and there’s probably an equal number of experts that will tell you just the opposite, that a 2 X tele-converter is an essential part of any serious photographer’s gear. Given the right conditions, and on the right camera body, I’m able to produce good, sharp photos when using the 2 X tele-converter. The kestrel photo from my last post…

American kestrel

American kestrel

…along with the crocus from this post should prove that.

That brings me to another point that I’ve touched on before, on almost everything about photography, there are experts on both sides of every issue. Some of that relates to subject matter that the experts shoot, some of it relates to the choices in gear that they use.

So, what’s a budding photographer to do when it comes choosing which experts to listen to when it comes to this or any other question? The first thing that I do is question the source. There’s a lot of experts that make their money selling camera gear, opinions, or opinions on camera gear. Then, there are the experts that make their money actually selling their photographs. I give their opinions much more weight. If some one who works for the National Geographic magazine says that he uses a 2 X tele-converter, and that Nat Geo has published those photos, then that’s good enough for me.

Would I recommend a 2 X tele-converter for every one? No, I wouldn’t, you need to use one behind a good lens to begin with, and on a camera body that is capable of dealing with the loss of light that occurs when using one.

That’s what most of the decisions that we have to make about gear comes down to, what are we going to be shooting, and how are we going to be combining our gear as we shoot the things that we do. No expert knows that, it is up to us to educate ourselves, and make the best possible choices that we can.

Last summer, I posted a few photos of water striders that I shot with the 300 mm lens and 2 X extender, and they were pretty good. Still, I wondered how well that I could do if I used my 100 mm macro lens. To do so, meant that I had to lay down on the edge of the creek, nearly sliding headfirst into the cold water, but I gave it a shot.

Water strider

Water strider

Several shots in fact.

Water strider

Water strider

Besides being careful not to slip into the water, my biggest problems were lighting, and trying to catch moving targets as they drifted with the current, or skated on the surface of the water. But eventually, I got this one which isn’t cropped at all.

Water strider

Water strider

Still, I think that I can do better, after I clean the hair off from my camera’s sensor. 😉

In my last post I had a video that I created from a slide show that I created in Lightroom of a blue jay playing with its food. While it turned out very good, it used the full resolution photos from Lightroom, so it used more bandwidth to view the video than it would have if I had posted just the lower resolution photos that I post on my blog. I’m working on a solution for that, I may need to export the photos out of Lightroom in the lower resolution format, then, re-import them into Lightroom again to create the slide show, then upload that to You Tube to be turned into a video. I don’t have time to play with that now, so instead, you’re going to see a series of photos of a black-capped chickadee in action.

I saw a pair of chickadees on a Friday after a short day at work, and it looked to me as if the one was hollowing out a tree to use as a nesting cavity. Here’s two of the images I shot then.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

I’m including these because I had the light just right and the chickadee was so cute.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

On Saturday, I returned and came up on that spot from the other side so I could see if they were hollowing out the tree, and the answer was yes, they are. The light may not have been as good, but I was able to see the hole in the tree and get a few good shots of the chickadee even in the reduced light.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

From the photo above, you wouldn’t think that the hole was very deep…

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

…but it was…

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

…and getting deeper with every beak full of wood chips removed.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

I had to shoot several burst with the 7D to catch the chickadee with its mouth full of the wood chips, they move a lot quicker than did the woodpecker that I posted a similar series of photos of a while back. So quick that I never did catch the chickadee spitting the wood chips out. But, at least you can see that they do excavate their own nesting cavities rather than using the ones left by woodpeckers.

My bank account may not think so, but I was very fortunate to have worked only eight hours both Friday and Saturday, as they were the two nicest days this week. The temperature has been great, but it was cloudy and rainy off and on most of the other days this past week. On Sunday, it began raining just before dawn, as I was headed out to do my grocery shopping, and there was a steady moderate rain all day long. I should have gone for a walk anyway, but I didn’t feel like getting soaked, and I had other things to do that kept me busy. Note to myself, it’s time to replace my winter parka, as it’s no longer waterproof, and it has seen better days.

It has been a great week as far as the weather though, just last weekend there was still snow on the ground…

Spider on the snow

Spider on the snow

…and in just a week, the snow is gone, things are beginning to green up, and the geese are back and mating.

Canada geese after mating

Canada geese after mating

Flowers are starting to open…

Maple flowers

Maple flowers

 

Another type of maple flowers?

Another type of maple flowers?

…and the birds are singing again.

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

It’s very early on Monday morning as I’m typing this part of this post, and in a few hours, eight to be exact, I pick up my new Subaru Forester! Once I have my brand new pretty blue Forester, I’ll be almost all set for my vacation this May. I should get a few more higher capacity very fast memory cards before I head up north for a week, as I’m positive that I’ll fill my existing cards in two or three days. When I went on vacations in the past, I had a laptop computer to take along, so I could transfer the photos that I shot each evening after a day of shooting. I suppose that I could bring the old Windows laptop with me, but then I’d have to get the photos from it onto my iMac somehow or another, and that sounds like more work than swapping memory cards.

I’ve been giving the idea of buying a full frame sensor camera lately, and I’m still undecided. There are advantages to a full frame sensor, better low light performance with less noise, and being able to produce larger prints. On the other hand, the downsides are that I’d have to purchase two wise-angle lenses to replace the two EF S lenses that I have now, since they will only fit a crop sensor body, and the cost of purchasing a full frame body.

The 7D Mk II has certainly spoiled me, it isn’t that the image quality is that much better than what I can get out of the 60D body, I still shoot almost all of my macro and landscape photos with the 60D. It’s the other capabilities of the 7D that I seldom get to use that has me considering another camera body. I could list them all, but I won’t, I’ll just say that there are times when I have the 60D set-up on the tripod, and I’m using the 7D for other subjects, that I think that maybe I should be doing it the other way around, having the 7D on the tripod, and using the 60D for other subjects. But, that wouldn’t work well either, since most of the time, it’s in a low-light situation, where the 7D is the much better choice to use handheld, because its low-light performance is so much better than the 60D.

There are two other possibilities, purchasing the add-ons that would give the 60D the capabilities that I desire, but that means more stuff to lug around. The second alternative would be to purchase a second 7D Mk II, then I could have one on the tripod to shoot time-lapse sunrises and sunsets, or star trails, and the other body set-up for handheld use on other subjects.

A second 7D Mk II actually makes the most sense, that camera has all the capabilities that I really need, and having a back-up in case one fails may not be a bad idea. Other than purchasing accessories for the 60D, it would also be the least expensive alternative, as I wouldn’t need any new lenses either.

I have plenty of time to mull all this over, and things may change by the time I’m ready to make a decision one way or another.

I know, camera talk bores many of you, but here’s an example of why it’s important to me.

I had just finished shooting the macro photos of the water striders that you saw earlier in this post, and was standing near the creek getting ready to move on. When I looked up the hill and saw a herd of deer running across the park, I grabbed the 7D with the 300 mm lens which I had sitting on the railing of the bridge that I was standing next to in order to shoot this.

Whitetail deer on the run

Whitetail deer on the run

Having one camera all set-up with the right lens and settings ready at all times is what got me that photo, even if it’s not that great. If I had been swapping lenses and settings, which I would have been doing about then if I didn’t have two cameras, I would have missed that photo for sure. And while that photo is nothing special, there may come a day when being ready at all times nabs me a killer photo.

Enough babbling on for now, time for some more photos.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

 

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

 

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

One of these days I’m going to catch the pussy willows opening on a sunny day when I can have blue sky for a background, rather than a dull grey sky, but for now, this will have to do.

Pussy willow

Pussy willow

 

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

More signs of spring…

American robin

American robin

Most of the cones on the white pine trees are fully open.

Pine cone fully open

Pine cone fully open

As are these tiny blue flowers. I tried to get a good macro of one, but I decided that the one I have isn’t good enough, I’ll try again.

Tiny blue flowers

Tiny blue flowers

To wrap this one up, more HDR images of the crocus.

Crocus

Crocus

 

Crocus

Crocus

 

Crocus

Crocus

Well, I’ve picked up my brand new, pretty blue Subaru, and I absolutely love it! Between the styling changes made by Subaru, and the extra trim that I ordered, it’s much better looking on the outside, but it’s the interior that’s the biggest change. Not only does it look much more modern, it has all the latest gizmos and gadgets, like Bluetooth connectivity to my phone, and a back-up assist camera. The best part, it’s even more comfortable than my old one, and rides even better as well. I’m sure that you’ll be hearing more about in the future, although I’ll try to limit my enthusiasm as much as I can. 😉

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

Advertisements

23 responses

  1. Your experiments in photographing colours worked out really well, the crocuses sparkled in your pictures.

    March 15, 2016 at 3:44 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! Now, if I can get the wind and flowers to always cooperate, I think that all my flower photos will look this good.

      March 15, 2016 at 2:32 pm

  2. Jerry, thank you for this great post with such interesting tips and marvelous photos to illustrate your points. I’ll have to try HDR with our crocuses which have begun to raise their heads.

    March 15, 2016 at 7:05 am

    • Thank you very much! It would be interesting to see if some one else came up with the same results that I did in creating HDR images of bright yellow flowers. I want to give it a try on the bright red flowers as well, like cardinal flowers.

      March 15, 2016 at 2:35 pm

  3. I haven’t finished reading my manual yet but I know there is an auto-bracketing setting and other options. After your experiments you’ve got me thinking I should finish reading it! I do get disappointed by the way my camera changes what I see. Thanks for explaining these tips so clearly. Gorgeous natural flower shots, Jerry! They really are very impressive. I’m also particularly envious of the water strider shots but the rest are wonderful too. I’ve not been able to take shots of insects on water yet.

    March 15, 2016 at 8:41 am

    • Thank you very much Jane! Taking the three different exposures is just the beginning, you need the Photomatix software to blend them together to create the HDR image. I had trouble getting the camera to focus on the water striders, it kept switching to the reflections on the water instead. It took me some time to shoot those photos, as I just get the striders in focus, and they’d move, just like birds. 😉

      March 15, 2016 at 2:38 pm

  4. The crocus shots look perfect to me, and I’m wishing my camera would do RAW. Unfortunately it doesn’t so I have to under and over expose to get something useable in bright sunshine like that.
    The water strider shots are also excellent and worth the trouble it took to get them. I’ve never gotten a decent shot of one.
    That first shot of the maple flowers is of female flowers and the second are male flowers. On red maples you can often find both on the same tree.
    The tiny blue flowers look like one of the speedwells, but there are many and I don’t recognize that foliage.
    That’s interesting about the chickadee hollowing out a nest. I never would have guessed they had it in them!

    March 15, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! You may want to try the base version of Photomatix, it does handle Jpegs, but not as well as RAW files though. They have a free trial version that you can find at http://www.hdrsoft.com if you’d like to try it. I’m really amazed at how well the yellow crocus came out as HDR images.

      I was about as uncomfortable getting the shots of the water striders as I’ve ever been while shooting photos. But, I’ll do about whatever it takes. 😉

      I should know by now from reading your blog about the maple flowers, but they were two different trees, which threw me.

      I thought that chickadees used old woodpecker holes most of the time for their nests, so I was very pleased to catch one making its own nesting hole.

      March 16, 2016 at 12:25 am

      • Thanks for the link. I’ll have to look into it!

        March 16, 2016 at 5:29 pm

  5. Your new trick certainly works very well; the crocuses look wonderfully delicate and the colour is beautiful! I liked the series of chickadee shots and find it fascinating that they dig out their own nest hole with such little beaks! Our great tits do the same, as I found last year when they made a hole in our parcel box you may remember. I think your little blue flower might be a Grey/Gray Field-speedwell (Veronica polita) which I know is found in the States as well as here.

    March 15, 2016 at 7:20 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! Yes, I remember the great tit nest in your parcel box last year, they must both be tough little birds to do so much with such little beaks. Thanks for the help with the ID of the flowers as well.

      March 16, 2016 at 12:04 am

      • My pleasure Jerry.

        March 17, 2016 at 2:51 pm

  6. Very useful babbling and very fine pictures. Keep them both coming.

    March 15, 2016 at 7:29 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! I’m glad that you found my babbling useful.

      March 15, 2016 at 11:58 pm

      • I always do.

        March 16, 2016 at 6:52 pm

  7. Those Cedar Waxwings captures are gorgeous! 🙂

    March 15, 2016 at 8:59 pm

    • Thank you very much Donna! Better light would have produced better photos, but I had to settle for these.

      March 15, 2016 at 11:50 pm

  8. Beautiful series, thanks for the trip

    March 15, 2016 at 10:10 pm

    • Thank you very much!

      March 15, 2016 at 11:50 pm

  9. You have such a fine eye, and it really shows in your tests. I’m on the fence as to which of the various images I would prefer, but you know which were true to your eye – that’s what’s important. I do appreciate all the crocus shots – don’t they always make you happy to see each year? If you were here in California, you could practice with the color orange – the California poppies are everywhere. Small clumps or huge fields of them. They’re stunning

    Gorgeous cedar waxwings.

    Your new Subaru sounds great. Once you get used to having all the bells & whistles, you can never go back. Enjoy.

    March 16, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    • Thank you very much Judy! I’m not sure that I have a fine eye or not. 😉 I’m trying to accomplish two related things at the same time, get the camera to record as close to what I see, and also to see things in a more creative way. In the past, I’ve been thwarted in my efforts at creativity by the the way the camera records what I see. I’d love to photograph the poppies, maybe one of these days I’ll get the chance. All flowers make me happy, especially the early bloomers that signal the start of spring.

      As far as the bells and whistles, I went from Ford Explorer with every single option available (It was a salesman’s vehicle who also owned the company) to my bare bones black Subaru. It’s nice having them again, but there’s far more to my new Forester than the bells and whistles.

      March 16, 2016 at 3:29 pm

  10. A beautiful set of photos, as always! One of my favorite color compositions is the orange-gold stamens against the purple crocus petals.

    No white-tail deer here, just black tailed deer and mule deer. I enjoy seeing the deer, but wish they would not eat or rub the velvet off their antlers on my blueberry bushes.

    March 20, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    • Thank you again Lavinia! Yes, deer in the garden may be bothersome, to put it mildly. Deer used to eat the flowers off from my favorite roses when I had a rose garden.

      March 20, 2016 at 7:19 pm