A new motto to go by, if it’s good enough for Nat Geo
In my last post, I listed a few of the things that I think are holding me back as far as getting better photos.
- Weather (lighting)
- Getting closer to wildlife subjects
- Camera gear (and being able to carry it all)
All of these, and more, are inter-related in many ways, and I left what may be the most important thing off from the list, my approach to individual genres of photography. I’ve mentioned this a few times recently, but I’m moving more in this direction every time that I go out to shoot photos, concentrating on only one genre at a time. In other words, if I’m going somewhere to shoot landscapes, then I should only shoot landscapes and not think about shooting other subjects. If I’m going to spend the day birding, then I should only shoot birds, and not think about other types of subjects.
Of course this is easier than it sounds, because you never know when a great opportunity for a photo of any type is going to arise.
I purchased the camera gear that I did with that in mind, I wanted to be ready for anything at any time. However, with all the gear that I have, the backpack that holds it all is too heavy for me to lug around on longer hikes. Well, I can carry it all for 5 miles or a little more, but the truth is, it wears me out. Because of that, I pass on shooting some photos that I should, just because I’m too tired to fool around dropping the pack, digging out the required items, shooting the photos, then putting the pack back on.
I hate to admit that, but I’m no spring chicken any more, and that’s only going to become more true in the next few years as I get closer to retirement.
When I do retire, I plan on spending as much time outside shooting photos as the weather permits, and I’d like to be able to enjoy it, not come home dead tired from lugging excess camera gear around just in case.
Okay then, one thing that I’ve learned over the past few years is that going for longer hikes and shooting “targets of opportunity” so to speak, doesn’t necessarily lead to the best photos, which is why I’ve been breaking up my days doing more specialized photography over the course of a day. For example, generally, the best times to shoot landscapes are around sunrise and sunset. But there are exceptions, an approaching storm, or when the sun pops out after a storm has passed can often yield great lighting for dramatic landscape photos.
When it comes to birds, or any wildlife, generally the best time is shortly after sunrise, when the wildlife is the most active, and there’s enough light to photograph them. Also, the closer that you can get to your subject when shooting wildlife generally produces the best images. At least that’s true when you’re shooting bird portraits…
…and it’s really good if you get close enough for a head shot that didn’t need to be cropped.
However, what happens if there’s a photo opportunity at the “wrong” time of day…
…or if you suddenly get the chance to shoot action shots?
That was shot on Easter Sunday as were the others except for the Pekin duck, my best day of photography since Christmas Day, 2015. I’m beginning to think that the Big Guy upstairs smiles down on me when I spend the religious holidays in nature trying to capture the beauty of his creations.
For reasons that I won’t go into, I arrived just a bit late at the Muskegon wastewater facility to get the best photo of the sunrise, as the colors were already beginning to fade.
I shot that one just to remind myself to never be late for a sunrise again! If I had been there on time, I would have gotten a better foreground and even better color in the sky.
It turned out to be a ducky day, as I saw just about every species of puddle ducks at one point or another during the course of the day. Large flocks had just arrived at the wastewater facility, and in the early morning light, I decided to shoot mostly the small flocks of ducks as they were fooling around.
Not only had many species just arrived, but particularly the bufflehead were in an amorous mood as they were pairing up for the spring. I tried to shoot a few photos, and you’ve already seen one taken later in the day, but I decided to attempt a video of them in action.
You may think that I sped up the video, but I didn’t, I don’t have the video editing software to do that, even if I knew how. That’s really how quickly the bufflehead move when their hormones are raging. I wasn’t happy with that first video, so I tried again.
There was a small flock of blue-winged teal flying in loops around one of the storage lagoons, but whenever they were showing their beautiful blue and green wing patches…
…they were so close together that it was hard to pick individuals out of the flock. But, when they were banking away from me…
…then they would spread out nicely, showing me the duller underside of their wings.
I’m going to skip ahead at this point, to mid-morning when the ducks began to calm down and snooze for the most part. I decided to park my brand new pretty blue Subaru next to the east lagoon while I ate lunch to see how close the ducks would come towards it if it wasn’t running.
I’d better not start telling you how much I love this car already, that could be an entire blog post if I were to get started.
Anyway, a small flock of bufflehead were drifting towards me getting closer all the time. Since I wanted to get a good close-up of one of the males showing their iridescent head, I put the 2 X tele-converter behind the 300 mm lens…
…with them facing me for a change, instead of swimming away from me.
Even at 600 mm of focal length, I wasn’t getting as close to the ducks as I had hoped, but that suddenly changed. Their hormones kicked in again, and they were going just as crazy as in the videos earlier, then that 600 mm f/8 lens was too long and too slow…
…I was a bit slow trying to keep up with the action as well…
…and most of the time, I couldn’t keep both of them in the frame…
…although the male did slow down to catch his breath, then he was off again…
…overall though, I’m surprised that as many of these came out reasonable well as they did…
…as the combination of the 300 mm lens and 2 X extender seems to focus as slow as molasses…
…but they tracked the bufflehead well and did a respectable job here…
…then, I don’t know if they noticed me, or something else spooked them, but they departed for good…
…maybe the female was tired of being chased…
…and so it goes. I probably shouldn’t have posted all of those, but since bufflehead are small ducks ( Just over a foot in length), I don’t have that many good images of them.
You can never predict what wildlife is going to do, making the camera settings/lens selection difficult. If I had known that the bufflehead were going to go nuts as close to me as they were, I wouldn’t have put the 2 X extender on the lens. Although, it worked out reasonably well here, it would have been better if I could have kept both the male and the female in the frame to tell the story by having them both in the frame.
I don’t want to get into he technical details of photography, I’ll just say that neither the lens combination that I was using, nor the camera settings were as good as they should have been to capture the action. That goes with the two examples from my last post, the waxwing feeding frenzy and the downy woodpecker territorial dispute where because of my equipment and settings, I wasn’t able to tell the entire story of what was going on. Then, there’s the fact that shooting video may be the best way to tell the stories that I’d like to tell when it comes to when it comes to wildlife.
I’ve been mentioning things such as wearing camouflaged clothing, or using hides to get closer to wildlife, along with specializing more when it comes to the time that I spend outdoors. It’s time to start putting that all together in the form of a plan.
On a nice warm, sunny day as Easter was, I’d love to sit back in a hide and let the birds come to me. Just as I parked my brand new pretty blue Subaru in a spot where I knew that I’d have good light and that the ducks seemed to like to hang out at, I could have set-up a temporary hide there, and taken two cameras, lenses, and just a few more bits of gear and waited for the ducks to return so that I could have gotten even better images than I did. I’d have one camera set-up for action, the other for portraits. I may even start doing things right by mounting the portrait set-up on my tripod if I know that I have another good set-up ready for action photos ready to go right next to me.
But, I don’t want to completely give up my longer hikes, I do enjoy them, and frankly, I need the exercise, so there’s the weight of my gear to consider.
I think that I have a solution, a better long zoom lens than the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) for action, and I can use the 300 mm lens with the tele-converters for portraits when I’m in a hide. The new Canon 100-400 mm zoom lens is still a full pound lighter than the Beast, is much shorter and compact, and it focuses as close as the 300 mm lens does for near macros, so I could carry that on longer hikes since it’s so versatile. If that lens had been available when I made the switch from Nikon to Canon, it probably would have been the lens that I purchased rather than the Beast. The 100-400 mm lens is a bit heavier than the 300 mm lens alone, but I always have the 1.4 X extender behind that lens, so the weight difference between what I use now and the new lens is minimal.
Thinking along those same lines, versatility, I have been trying out a few things on my longer walks the past month or so. When the weather is suitable for good macro photography, and I know that I’ll likely want to shoot macros, I’ll carry the birding set-up along with a 60D body and the 100 mm macro lens. On days when it’s windier, or I think that I may shoot a landscape or two, I carry the birding set-up, the 60D body, the 15-85 mm lens, and one or two of the extension tubes which convert that lens to a near macro lens. Since I have learned that software can help almost as much as extra light sources, it works quite well.
I’ve struggled in the past with similar photos, as there would be deep shadows in places in that photo. I’d have to dig out the LED light that I have, and/or the flash unit, set everything up, take a few test shots, then rearrange the lights as needed. By shooting to produce a HDR image, I find that I seldom need to fool around with the extra light sources to kill the shadows that the camera produces in a scene like that one. While that one isn’t a true macro photo, I used the same technique to shoot the crocus flowers recently.
I guess that you could say that I’m still learning how to get the best out of the gear that I have now.
That still doesn’t deter me from wanting a full size sensor camera body though, no matter how good that I get with my crop sensor gear, it can never match what’s possible with a full size sensor.
I’m in no hurry though, since Canon introduced the 7D Mk II, they’ve upgraded the 1DX, their top of the line camera, to match all the capabilities of the 7D, such as the dual Digix 6 processors, the better metering system, built-in intervalometer, and so on. I don’t think that it will be long before they upgrade the 5D Mk III to include those features as well.
Then, I have to think about lenses, actually, I’m thinking about that now. I had two wide-angle lenses picked out, but I’ve changed my mind. That’s where the new motto comes in.
In the videos that Michael Melford did, he listed the gear he used, and one of the lenses he used a lot before he switched to Nikon was the Canon 24-105 mm L series lens. I’ve also noticed that many of the professionals who do the online tutorials on Lightroom or Photoshop use that same lens, even though it is getting long in the tooth.
It’s easy to understand why, that’s about the ideal focal length range for an all around lens unless one is into specialized subjects, such as wildlife or macro photography. The 24-105 mm lens goes from wide enough for most landscapes, to enough of a telephoto lens for portraits, still life photography, and subjects such as flowers. In fact, it was one of the lenses that I considered early on when I bought the 60D camera, but that’s a crop sensor camera, and the 24-105 mm becomes a 38.4 – 168 mm lens on the 60D, not wide enough for what I wanted on the crop sensor body. That’s why I chose the EF S 15-85 mm lens, because it is to a crop sensor camera what the 24-105 mm lens is to a full size sensor body.
But, the venerable 24-105 mm lens is getting old in the tooth as I said, and it’s never had a reputation for being extra sharp. But, the way I’m looking at things now, if it is good enough for the professionals, then it’s good enough for me. Or, to put in a slightly different way, if the photos that it produces are good enough for Nat Geo, then it’s good enough for me.
Since my goal is to shoot photographs that come close to the ones that I’ve seen in the National Geographic, I’d be a happy camper if I could achieve that goal.
Canon is currently updating both their cameras and lenses, maybe they will update the 24-105 mm lens soon. That would make that lens a sure bet, but I’ll probably purchase the old style if that’s all that’s available.
So, what I’m thinking of in the future on my longer hikes is carrying the 7D Mk II with the new 100-400 mm lens on it for birds, wildlife, and near macros, maybe even a landscape now and then. I’ll carry the full frame camera with the 24-105 mm lens on it for landscapes, still life photos, and so on, and I’ll have the extension tubes with me that weigh next to nothing to convert that lens to a macro lens. I’d be able to cover all the bases pretty well without trying to carry a full studio around with me as I’m doing now.
If you think that the rest of the gear that I’ve purchased so far will go to waste, it won’t, it will get used when I go on the more specialized photo outings. But, rather than pack it all, all the time, I’ll just take what the specialized outing calls for.
Okay then, back to Easter Sunday at Muskegon. I said that it was a ducky day, and that I saw a wide variety of species there, so here’s the photos of them.
But the stars of the day were the bufflehead, there were hundreds of them, everywhere, so here’s three more photos of them, even though this post has been full of them so far. These are more artistic images, the species doesn’t matter as much as the lighting…
…the angle that I shot the image at…
…or capturing the shot at the right moment.
I also spent some time adding to my collection of photos of gulls in flight, here’s just one of them that I shot on Easter.
Gee, I posted so many photos of the bufflehead that I don’t have room for the snowy owl, I guess those photos will have to wait until the next post. That’s okay, this snowy was in no mood to pose for me, so the photos aren’t that good, and it’s no big deal if I hold off posting those.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!