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

As I make the transition, Part II

I hope to begin scouting a few places in the Muskegon area this weekend where it would be both feasible and worthwhile to set-up a hide to photograph wildlife from. I’m starting with the Muskegon area, because it’s only an hour drive from where I live. There are other reasons as well, there’s a wider variety of species of birds to be seen along the shores of the Great Lakes in Michigan than there are in more inland areas. It’s also cooler near the Great Lakes in the summer, and that also appeals to me in the summer.

I have the feeling that any place that I find close to home in the near future will be test sites that I’ll use for the time being, but eventually I’ll be traveling farther north to get the best photos and videos. I’m not sure that there’s anyplace so close to home where there won’t be human background noise that will end up on any videos that I shoot. One way to get around that in the short-term is to get out there early, before most people begin their daily lives. I plan to do that anyway, since dawn is both my favorite time of day, it’s when there’s good light…

Ring-bill gull at dawn

Ring-bill gull at dawn

…and it’s when the most wildlife is active.

Whitetail fawn

Whitetail fawn

That’s one of a pair of twins, here they are together.

Whitetail fawns

Whitetail fawns

For the photo of the fawns together, I tried something that usually works very well. I have the Canon 7D Mk II set-up so that it only activates the focusing system when I press either of the two rear buttons that I have programmed for that. When I press the shutter release, it doesn’t activate the focusing system, only the exposure metering system, and of course, the shutter release when I press the button all the way down.

I wanted a photo of the two of them together, but then, the focus point would have been on the background vegetation, and the fawns would have been out of focus, unless I had taken the time to move it so it was on one of the fawns. That’s what I probably should have done, but I didn’t know how long the fawns were going to stick around. They were quite nervous as they watched a cyclist approaching from the direction that they’re staring so intently towards. The fawn on the left was also moving at times as it debated whether it should flee or continue to eat.

What I did was put the focus point on the butt of the fawn on the right, and once the camera had a focus lock, I would let off from the focus button, then move the camera so that both fawns were in the frame. I chose the butt of the fawn on the right, as I thought that it was about half-way between the two fawn’s faces, so both of them would be in focus.

Anyway, that image isn’t as sharp as I wish it were, I don’t know if I missed with the focus, or if it was due to the slow shutter speed, since there wasn’t much light at the time. That was shot at 1/80 of a second at 420 mm and taken handheld.

In many ways, that last photo can serve as an example of why I’m making the plans that I am for the future. A full frame camera body with better low-light performance would have resulted in less noise in the image. Getting into a hide before dawn, and using a tripod would have resulted in a much better photo also. And finally, getting away from other people may have given me the chance to catch the fawns looking at me, or at least not away from me as they watched some one else.

It’s why I’m going to wait to purchase a full frame camera body until Canon makes one that has all of the features of the 7D Mk II that I’ve come to rely on so heavily, like being able to decouple the auto-focusing system from the shutter release button. I keep the 7D in the servo mode of auto-focusing, so it can track moving subjects like this as long as I am pressing one of the rear buttons for focusing.

Ring-billed gull carrying nest material in flight

Ring-billed gull carrying nest material in flight

But, I can release the auto-focus button so that it functions like one-shot focusing as I did with the fawns. If I don’t have the time to shift the position of the focus point, I can put the center point on what I want to have in perfect focus, such as a subject’s eye, then let off from the button, recompose the shot, and shoot it.

I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve tried the same trick with the 60D body, but it doesn’t work, because I can’t decouple the auto-focus from the shutter release. The 60D does have rear button auto-focus, but if I let off from that button, then press the shutter release, that body re-focuses again, so I have to start all over, remembering that it doesn’t work the same way as the 7D. Not to mention how limiting I find the nine focus points of the 60D compared to the 65 points that the 7D has.

My plan is simple, really, it’s to get to a hide before dawn with a full frame camera body with the longest fixed focal length lens/tele-converter combination mounted on my tripod to shoot portraits like these.

Upland sandpiper

Upland sandpiper

 

Pie billed grebe

Pie billed grebe

 

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

And, I’ll have the long telephoto zoom I plan to purchase mounted on the 7D for any action photos, like these.

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

 

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

 

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

 

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

Although, I probably won’t remember to zoom out so as not to cut off a bird’s wing when it gets that close to me. 😉

I love that my large bird in flight photos are now about as good as my bird portrait shots of just a few years ago. It’s all the practice shots of gulls that I shoot.

 

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

I still need to work on my photos of smaller birds in flight though.

Barn swallow in flight

Barn swallow in flight

 

Tree swallow in flight

Tree swallow in flight

 

Barn swallow in flight

Barn swallow in flight

But, they are getting better, as are my photos of other types of action.

Canada geese in a territorial tussle

Canada geese in a territorial tussle

 

Canada geese in a territorial tussle

Canada geese in a territorial tussle

 

Canada geese in a territorial tussle

Canada geese in a territorial tussle

 

Canada geese in a territorial tussle

Canada geese in a territorial tussle

I miss the days at the old apartment complex where I could shoot the geese and ducks on a daily basis. Since most of the waterfowl that I see these days are during their migration, most of the time they are feeding or sleeping. But, every once in a while a fight breaks out.

Male northern shovelers fighting

Male northern shovelers fighting

Okay then, this may sound funny at this point, but I’ve come to realize that I am not a great photographer. I’m trying to get better, but I don’t know how far that I’ll be able to go. I occasionally shoot a good photo of a flower…

Wild rose

Wild rose

…or insect…

Eastern swallowtail butterfly

Eastern swallowtail butterfly

…or, a bird.

Semi-palmated sandpiper

Semi-palmated sandpiper

However, there’s nothing very artistic about the vast majority of the photos that I shoot, and that includes landscapes as well.

As the rain ends

As the rain ends

No, I’m not a great photographer, my real skills are my ability to spot and get close to critters, and the natural affinity that wildlife seems to have for me. Take this guy for example…

Muskrat

Muskrat

…he swan right up to me to give me a demonstration of how muskrats go about choosing what to eat. First, they give it the smell test…

Muskrat

Muskrat

…then, they lick it to see how it will taste…

Muskrat

Muskrat

…if it passes that test, then it’s time to munch away.

Muskrat

Muskrat

I watched it do the same thing with the tubers of some of the vegetation, but he had his head even more obscured by the vegetation then, so I’m not going to post those photos.

Most people would say that it’s only a muskrat, and that they couldn’t care less about them, what they eat, or how they eat it. But, that stuff fascinates me, I loved watching it pull young cattail shoots out of the mud, wash the tubers that they grow from off in the lake, sniff them, taste them, then eat them.

So, I have to take my lack of artistic skills into account, and play to my strengths as I search for out of the way places to set-up a hide.

It’s Sunday morning on the 3rd of July as I’m typing this now, the middle of three days off from work. However, these three days aren’t going to give me very much time to get outdoors. Yesterday, I had to get the first oil change done on my almost brand new pretty blue Subaru and some other chores that I don’t have time to do during the work week. Today, my brother and sister-in-law are having a family get together at their place, starting at noon, so that cuts this day in half as far as outdoor time. Also, I picked up the box of goodies that I had ordered from B&H on my way to work on Friday, so I’ve been busy with that stuff.

I think that I wasted my money upgrading from Lightroom V5 to V6, there doesn’t seem to be any new features that I thought that the newer version had, but at least I’m not as far behind as I was before the upgrade. I guess that I’ll eventually have to go to Lightroom CC, but I’m in no hurry to do that.

The new Macbook Pro is a great little computer from what I can tell so far, it’s everything that I wanted in a laptop computer to take on trips with me. However, after using a 27 inch iMac, the small display of the Macbook is going to take some getting used to. The main thing is that I can upload photos that I shoot on a trip to the laptop, sort out the obviously bad images, then transfer the images from the Macbook to the iMac once I’m home to do the real editing.

The battery grip for the 7D Mk II is a winner, although it will take some getting used to as well. Not only does it make the camera easier to hold when shooting in portrait orientation…

Day lily

Day lily

…but because of the shape of the grip, it also makes it easier to hold the camera in the landscape orientation as well as making it more comfortable to carry the camera. The second set of buttons on the grip aren’t exactly the same as on the camera itself, but they are close, but that’s what’s going to take some getting used to. When I used it yesterday, I’d forget that it had its own buttons, and I’d fumble around trying to find the old buttons as I used to do. It’s a well thought out piece of equipment, to install it, one removes the door to the batter compartment of the camera body, and there’s a place on the grip to store the door so that there’s no chance of losing it if you want to remove the grip for some reason. I can’t see myself doing that, the camera feels even better in my hands with the grip on it than it did without it.

I think that the new microphone is going to prove to be a winner also. I used it to shoot this video yesterday.

The sound quality is much better than what I could get with the camera’s built-in microphone, but I can tell that if I’m going to shoot more videos, I have to use a tripod most of the time. That, and remember to always bring my glasses so that I can see the small screen on the back of the camera to make sure that what I’m shooting is in focus.

The microphone has a built-in pre-amp that boosts the sound by 10 dB if you flip the pre-amp on, which I did for the meadowlark in that video. When I get as close to my subjects as I hope to in the future, then I can turn the pre-amp off to keep from having the sound too loud. There are other options, but for right now, I mounted the mic to the camera’s hot shoe, which is very convenient for having it ready to go quickly.

The subject of the video was an eastern meadowlark, and after three years of trying, I’ve gotten my best photo ever of one.

Eastern meadowlark singing

Eastern meadowlark singing

I still had to crop that one quite a bit, but it’s the closest that one of them has ever allowed me to get. Now if I could train one to perch somewhere other than the fence around the ball field, it would be even better. 😉

As I said, I’m not very artistic, but I’m working on it. Here’s an robin that I purposely shot as a silhouette.

American robin in silhouette

American robin in silhouette

I’ve also been shooting backlit birds on occasion…

Grey catbird singing

Grey catbird singing

 

Killdeer

Killdeer

…and I can see some possibilities there.

Still, my bread and butter, if you will, is getting close to wildlife…

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

…that wasn’t cropped, and I shot that as she began to move away from me. Here’s one of the earlier shots I took of her when I caught her eating.

Whitetail doe eating

Whitetail doe eating

But then, she had her head in the bush that she was feeding from.

I’ve been working on this post for too long already, so I’m going to throw in a couple of photos from today, then hit the sack.

Bambi (Whitetail fawn)

Bambi (Whitetail fawn)

 

Thumper (Cottontail rabbit)

Thumper (Cottontail rabbit)

 

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

 

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

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

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30 responses

  1. You’re way too hard on yourself. I think you are improving by leaps and bounds. I love the moody, broody landscape shot, but your horizon is a teensy bit tipsy. Wish I could get shots of wildlife half as good as yours!

    July 3, 2016 at 11:22 pm

    • Thank you very much Gunta! You’re too kind, I still have a long way to go before I’d say that I’m a good photographer.

      Apparently, Lake Michigan is able to fool the electronic level in my camera, and the automatic leveling feature in Lightroom. I struggle with straight horizons due to the curvature of the Earth when I shoot landscapes like the one you mentioned.

      July 4, 2016 at 6:52 am

  2. I agree with Gunta, Jerry! I’ve followed you a long time, and I see your photos now as being quite professional in both detail and quality. I love your variety too! I’m trying to get more into landscape scenes, but I just don’t feel the excitement as I do with wildlife. Gimme a critter/bird over landscapes any day!! 🙂

    July 3, 2016 at 11:58 pm

    • Thank you very much Donna! Yes, my photos have improved a great deal, but they still have a long way to go.

      When it comes to landscapes, I’ve learned that if I don’t love the scene that I’m trying to shoot, then the images will be junk. Even when I love a scene, it’s a lot of work to make a good landscape image.

      July 4, 2016 at 6:48 am

  3. MaryLou Graham

    Just a quick response to ” being able to decouple the auto-focusing system from the shutter release button”. Canon 5D full frame bodies have always been able to do that………… I shoot with the 1DMII and it also does that. I have probably been using that feature for at least 8 years starting with the initial 7D………

    Love what you are doing- keep up the good work.

    MaryLou Graham.

    July 4, 2016 at 12:07 am

    • Thank you very much Marylou! I’ve never had a 5D and certainly not a 1DX, so the 7D is the first body that I’ve used where I can decouple the auto-focus from the shutter release. Just trying to pass on a tip for other Canon users.

      July 4, 2016 at 6:41 am

  4. You persevere and you succeed, what a gallery of photographs you posted here, you are a great photographer in my view.

    July 4, 2016 at 3:04 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! I’m very good at locating and getting close to wildlife, but I still rate my skills as a photographer as only good. That’s why I’m slowly changing the way that I do things, so that I still get the variety of subjects, only better.

      July 4, 2016 at 6:39 am

  5. You are a great photographer, that’s my honest opinion. I like the way you dedicate yourself to your goal of getting close to wildlife, and capture those photos that very few people can, unless they work for National Geographic and have literally tons of equipment. Those BIF photos of yours are just perfect, especially those of the cormorant with blue eyes, but all the others are just as impressive.

    July 4, 2016 at 6:40 am

    • Thank you very much! I don’t think that I’m a great photographer, although I am very good at getting close to critters and catching them in action. There’s a difference, and I’m trying to work on the photography part of it so that I can capture what I truly see in real life. The cormorant was luck, it just happened to fly past me at the right distance for the lens that I have. I still have to learn how to get lucky like that more often, maybe even luckier. The cormorant would have been even better if I hadn’t been shooting almost straight up as it passed over me.

      July 4, 2016 at 7:13 am

  6. Terrific post and marvellous variety and quality of photographs!

    July 4, 2016 at 9:35 am

    • Thank you very much Belinda!

      July 4, 2016 at 6:06 pm

  7. You area great photographer, Jerry, not just a good one. I love the selection of photos in your posts, especially your documentation of wildlife habits, like the muskrat. Always a treat to stop by here.

    July 4, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! Just because I catch critters in action doing things that most people never see doesn’t mean that the photos are great. They’re getting better, but I still see lots of room for improvement.

      July 4, 2016 at 6:08 pm

  8. Your photos give me pleasure. I don’t know anything about camera settings etc but I do know what I like to look at and I like looking at your amazing photos! The fawns, swallow, Canada geese, muskrat are favourites in this post- thank you.

    July 4, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    • Thank you very much! I know that people who love nature will enjoy my photos, which is one of the reasons that I’m pushing myself to make the photos even better. I’ve come a long way, but there’s still a lot more to go.

      July 4, 2016 at 6:13 pm

  9. I love the shots of the muskrats and I’m very interested in what they eat. I’ve known they eat cattails because you can see their trails through them, but I don’t know much about what else they eat.
    The shots of the deer are excellent, and of course especially the fawns. It’s hard not to like shots of baby deer.
    The chipmunk on a limb is different. I’ve seen them run up trees but not very often, and I’ve never seen one sitting in a tree like that.
    Maybe the first step toward being a great photographer is knowing that you aren’t there yet, but if you ask me shots like the sandpiper are worthy of any wildlife magazine that I’ve ever read.
    I’m glad you got some extra time off!

    July 4, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! You may love the entire series of photos that I shot of the muskrat. 🙂 I saved 32 images, and deleted almost that many more because its face was obscured by what it was eating. I also stood there quite a while watching it eat, but other than the cattails, I can’t ID the sedges and grasses it was munching on. Now I know why there are rootless cattails floating in ponds, the muskrat pull them out of the mud and eat the tubers.

      Yes, it’s hard not to like a photo of a fawn, and I was going to write in a post that I didn’t know what was going on this year, I wasn’t seeing any fawns. I am now.

      I’ve seen chipmunks all the way in the tops of trees before, but you’re right, they don’t normally sit on a branch like the squirrels do. They normally run up, fill their cheeks, and run down again.

      I’ll probably never be great, but I’ve found what I want to do the rest of my life, record what I see in nature, and do it as well as I possibly can. So, even if greatness isn’t in the cards, it will keep me from becoming a couch potato as so many senior citizens become.

      The extra day off was nice, but I’ll pay for it tomorrow, I’ll be coming out of Chicago during the afternoon rush. 😦

      July 4, 2016 at 6:27 pm

      • I hope it’s not as bad as you expect!

        July 4, 2016 at 7:40 pm

      • Chicago at rush hour, it doesn’t get any worse. 😦

        July 4, 2016 at 9:06 pm

  10. I agree with Allen – I believe that any really skillful artist, musician, photographer is never satisfied with the results of their work. They are forever striving for something better. I loved all the shots in this post and the observations you make about animal and bird behaviour are so interesting.

    July 4, 2016 at 7:09 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! You know what they say, that a picture is worth a thousand words, I’m trying to get photos illustrate animal behavior so well that they save me a lot of typing. 😉 The better that my photos are, the less I have to type.

      July 4, 2016 at 9:03 pm

      • 😀

        July 4, 2016 at 9:04 pm

  11. All I can say is that if I could take shots like yours, I would be pretty pleased with myself. There were some absolute crackers in today’s selection. However, a little modesty is always pleasing in a great man so keep trying to improve and we will keep enjoying your work.

    July 4, 2016 at 7:22 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! That’s high praise coming from some one who regularly posts such excellent photos!

      July 4, 2016 at 9:05 pm

      • Well deserved.

        July 5, 2016 at 5:22 pm

  12. You certainly do have an affinity for wildlife but you are also great at photography. I only wish I had a fraction of your skills. I loved seeing and reading about the muskrats. They look adorable close up with their delicate little paws. I may never see Michigan is real life, but I am happy to be able to see it through your eyes. Thank you.

    July 6, 2016 at 2:05 am

    • Thank you very much Jane! I hope that you don’t mind that I reply to all your comments in just one, but I’ve been pressed for time this week due to some very long days at work. It’s also why I haven’t gotten to your most recent post as well.

      I plan on continuing to do what I have been doing, only doing it better. There’s so much to love about nature, and so much to learn. I hope that through my photos, people will begin to more closely examine the world around them, much as you do in your photography and blogging.

      July 7, 2016 at 7:25 am

  13. I just finished looking through (and reading) your last two entries, Jerry. Those are some damn fine wildlife images you’re posting. I doubt many people understand just how difficult it is to get a technically usable picture of a wading bird in flight, to say nothing of a songbird. Terrific work!

    July 7, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    • Thank you very much Kerry! I should probably stick with wildlife, because if I have any talent at all as a photographer, that’s where it is. I’ve been looking at your most recent posts, but haven’t had the time to come up with comments worthy of the great images that you post. Working 14 hours a day is a drag.

      July 8, 2016 at 8:08 am