On my way home
I stayed up north until Saturday morning, which dawned cloudy…
…and still warmer than it had been by a few degrees, but with hints that it would become sunnier later.
After shooting those, I shot one last photo of my campsite, as seen from the beach.
As I drank my morning coffee, I opened up the tent/cot completely to dry the dew off from it, and hung my sleeping bag and pad out to thoroughly air out before packing them up. I then grabbed the camera and set off for my last walk up there this trip, but before I could get out of the campsite, this green heron landed above me.
As I walked along, I reflected on how great the week had been. My legs not only had held up well, they felt better than they had in a couple of months. Except for a couple of very chilly mornings with the temperature near freezing, the weather had been great. Instead of driving all over that part of the state, I had stayed relatively close to the campground, visiting the same places two, three, or more times. I had taken much better care of myself, ate better, and remembered to stay hydrated, rather than running myself ragged to the point where I couldn’t function well any longer as I had on some of my previous vacations.
I’d say that it marked a turning point for me, but that had really come earlier, when I had decided that my previous ways of doing things while on vacation was the wrong way. This week was a test of sorts to see if what I had in mind for the future would work as well as I hoped that it would. It did!
That includes photography, and how I approach it. I no longer run around trying to make every trip out, whether at home, along the Lake Michigan shore near home, or this trip, a birding Big Day, where I try to photograph as many species of birds that I possibly can, regardless of the quality of the images that I get. I slowed down a lot, concentrating on the species of birds that I rarely see, and trying to get the best photos of them that I could.
I say that even after having just put the poor photo of the green heron in this post, but, a green heron perched over my head while still in my campsite is something special in a way, I will remember that far longer than some of my better photos of more common birds, or the squirrels…
…that I shared my campsite with that week.
It was a strangely quiet morning, I didn’t hear or see many birds, even the common terns were perched quietly on a stump out in Thunder Bay, when they’re usually quite vocal.
A common merganser flew past me, but in the low light, a good photo was impossible.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) still shows a one mile long walking loop off from the Ossineke State Forest Campground where I was staying, but I’ve yet to find it, or any signs of it. I think that the trail didn’t get much use, so it has grown over, and due to a lack of funds, the DNR stopped maintaining it. Still, it seemed like a good morning to see if I could find it. I found a footpath leading to the south, so I tried that. It wasn’t the loop I was looking for, it was a path down a bit of higher ground between the marsh of Lake Huron to the east, and a more traditional upland marsh to the west. It was a very pleasant walk, and I found this guy there.
But the big find along the path was a stand of old growth white pines, but all that I had with me was my birding set-up, so here’s the best shot that I could come up with to show the size of some of the trees.
The trunk of that tree was close to 4 feet in diameter, the limbs you can see ranged from one to two feet in diameter as well. There were a few of these magnificent giants right on the tip of land between the marshes, I assume that they weren’t cut down back in the logging days because they had so many low branches, they weren’t ideal for lumber. It was a wonderful little spot, standing there between the towering old pines, but I only tarried a short time, I still had to pack and head for home. So, I reluctantly retraced my steps back to my campsite, if I hadn’t, I knew that I’d never leave.
I had taken my kayak with me, but I never used it. Thinking about it while I was up there, it’s been a while since I’ve been kayaking, and I didn’t think it wise to risk my expensive camera gear getting the hang of it again. Also, I had spent a considerable amount of time on top of the hill overlooking the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary, and other than the black terns, I hadn’t seen much wildlife activity there. However, I had only been there in the afternoons, I would think that early morning would be much better.
I thought about getting a motel room for one night, and getting out there on the water right after dawn. That way, I wouldn’t have to wait to drink my coffee or get something to eat in the morning, or make the short drive into town to get to sanctuary. I may very well do that the next time that I’m up there, it’s an idea worth exploring.
On my way back home, I stopped twice to shoot photos that illustrate what northern Michigan away from the Great Lakes looks like.
It’s rolling hills and trees, lots and lots of trees. Unless you’re in one of the farming communities, or a road has been cut through the trees, you can’t see the forest for the trees.
So, that takes me to the boring part of this post. I said that this trip exposed the strengths and weaknesses of my camera gear, and I’ve decided that there are three things that I could do about the weaknesses. One is to whine about it, and do nothing. The second would be to buy more gear that may not have those weaknesses. The third thing is to find ways to work around those weaknesses, and to get the photos that I want despite not having the ideal gear.
Without making a conscious decision on my part to do so at first, I have been working on over coming the weaknesses in a variety of ways.
Yes, I would still like a full frame camera one of these days for better low light performance and better resolution for landscapes, but the 60D body with the lenses that I have for it do very well for right now.
I haven’t played with the neutral density filters that I purchased very much, but when I have used them, I’ve loved the results.
With the 100 mm macro lens on it, the 60D does just fine as well.
I just need to train the bugs to land somewhere more photogenic than the steering wheel of my Forester. 😉
Okay, I’ve said that the auto-focusing of the 300 mm lens with the 1.4 X tele-converter was too slow to catch small birds, and that the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) was better. The Beast is faster, but it still wasn’t fast enough by itself to catch the flying dragonfly that most people commented on in my last post. That took a combination of things, probably the one that led to my eventual success in getting that photo was to take the time to observe the dragonfly for a while to learn that it often stopped to hover in about the same spot on a regular basis.
Still, even though I knew where the dragonfly would be, not even the Beast was fast enough by itself, I had to help it out by getting the focus close manually, then letting the auto-focus take over.
I suppose that I should put the photo of the dragonfly in this post now to illustrate where I’m going.
It’s a good photo, but it’s lacking some of the fine detail that the better quality glass in the Canon macro lens can deliver as you can see if you compare the dragonfly image to the one above it, or this one, shot with the 300 mm lens with the 2 X extender…
…even when I moved back a little…
…the Canon glass is obviously better than that used in the old version of the Beast that I have. When I can get a sharper image with more detail using a 2 X extender than what the Beast can produce, well, I guess that says it all. The differences aren’t huge, but there are differences.
But, if the 300 mm lens with the 1.4 X extender is slow, then with the 2 X behind it, it’s darn right painfully slow, and it hunts for a focus most of the time.
So, being the idiot that I am, I’ve been using that set-up at Muskegon quite a bit, where it got me a lifer, a Virginia rail.
You may well ask why I’m using the slower set-up more often, and I’ll get back to that in a second, but first, a few words about the Virginia rail.
This is what the All About Birds website says about them, “A secretive bird of freshwater marshes, the Virginia Rail most often remains hidden in dense vegetation.”, and I can agree with that. They are about the same size as sora, or an American robin, and they live in the same habitat that sora do, but that’s where any similarity ends. Sora move through the vegetation slowly and deliberately, as if they know that they are well hidden, and that they don’t have a care in the world.
On the other hand, the Virginia rails act as if every predator on the face of the Earth is about to pounce on them, they never sit still if they’re someplace where they can be seen. They even have forehead feathers that are adapted to withstand wear from pushing through dense marsh vegetation. If they do cross an opening in the vegetation, they do it quickly, as in so quickly that all you see is a brown blur, even with the naked eye, there’s no way to catch them with a camera, at least not that I could find. There were two of them, calling back and forth to each other, I managed to see and photograph one of them. I never saw the second one, but I could hear it, and see the vegetation moving when it moved.
Okay then, back to the extremely slow auto-focusing of the 7D, 300 mm lens, and the 2 X extender. I can’t make the actual speed at which that combination physically auto-focuses, but I can do things that speed up how quickly that I can obtain a sharp focus. I used a few tricks in combination to get the photos of the rail…
…such as pre-focusing on a small opening in the vegetation where I thought that the rial would pass through, then as soon as I saw its eye, I’d fire off a few shots. I did a lot of manually focusing to get close to having the rail close to being in focus before letting the auto-focus take over as well, just as I did with the dragonfly.
Another trick has to do where I would put the focus point of the camera in the scene. The auto-focusing system uses a number of things to determine when the focus is correct, one of them being contrast between colors. If I put the spot dead center on the bird’s brown body, the camera had a hard time determining that it was in focus. But, if I put the focus point where it was mostly on the bird, but partially on the background, then the camera could read the differences in color, and focus correctly. In that last photo, I had the focus point over the rail’s neck, with a little of the background covered by the point as well.
Though not related to auto-focusing, another thing that I did to get sharp photos of the rail was to use shutter priority, Time Value (TV) if you use a Canon, to shoot at a faster shutter speed than I would have gotten if I had used aperture priority as I normally do. Since the rail was never completely still, that helped a lot. I’ve been using shutter priority, and even the manual mode, more often all the time, especially when using the 300 mm lens and 2 X extender. It’s all about getting the best out of the camera gear that I have.
Sometimes, that means improving my skills, more so than anything having to do with the camera or lens, as in this photo.
That was shot at 1/60 of a second, handheld, at 600 mm, the 300 mm lens and 2 X extender. Yes, the lens has Image Stabilization, but that isn’t enough to produce that photo at such a slow shutter speed given the focal length of the lens. That was me getting into a position where I could hold the camera steady and get a good, sharp image at such a slow shutter speed. It’s all about pushing the limits, of both the gear that I have, and myself.
That photo does bring up another point, I should shoot with the camera in the portrait position more often, because this is a good photo…
…but, this is a much better one.
Neither of those were cropped, I was that close to the dove. Simply rotating the camera so that I didn’t cut off the dove’s tail makes the second one better in my opinion. If I had been close enough for just a head and shoulders shot, things may have been different.
Anyway, after my last post, when I was in a quandary whether I should purchase a better long zoom lens, or other things first, I have made a decision. All of the accessories and the Macbook computer add up to almost exactly what a better long zoom lens cost, so I’m going with the accessories and computer come July.
It’s all about the future for the most part, and my vacation proved to me that the plan that I’m working on is the right one for me. There will be times when I kick myself for going the route that I’m going, but I’d do that no matter what.
So, with the laptop computer I’ll be able to take it on trips, and download each day’s photos to it, rather than waiting until I’m home and having to wrangle with thousands of images all at once. In addition, I think that I’ll be able to use that computer for tethered shooting, especially videos as I work to shoot more of them. I can also take it in the truck while I’m working, and when I’m sitting at a dock somewhere, work on my blog rather than being bored to death. I’m so far behind now that I still have photos of henbit flowers…
…and these unidentified flowers left over from April.
As well as these from later this year.
As always, I’m seldom sure of my identification of the flowers that I see.
As a sidenote, you can see that the images of the flowers has improved as I put to use what I’ve learned to use the same tricks to get sharper images of birds to get better images of flowers as well.
Anyway, the battery grip that holds two batteries will insure that I don’t run out of juice in one day any longer. In addition, the grip also allows the use of AA batteries if I’m out in the boonies with no way to recharge the Canon batteries. But, maybe the biggest reason I’d get more use out of the battery grip is that it is designed to make shooting with the camera in the portrait position much easier. It has all of the same buttons as the camera itself has, so I wouldn’t be sticking my thumb in my eye as I try to change settings or start the auto-focus any longer, as I do now when I hold the camera vertically.
I could prattle on longer, but I think that it’s time for a few more photos as I try to catch up.
All of those were shot around home, as was this one, a mallard welcoming me home after one of the best vacations of my life.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!