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

Why didn’t I?

In almost every image that I shoot, once I load it to my computer and look at it in Lightroom, I see a flaw that I could have easily avoided if I had taken the time to analyze the scene that I was shooting in the first place. Take the image of the day lily that I put in my last post.

Day lily

Day lily

There’s the one dried leaf towards the bottom of the frame that stuck out like a sore thumb when I first viewed the image. I was able to use Lightroom to darken it down a little so that it’s not quite so obvious, but I could have easily plucked that leaf off if I had been paying attention in the first place. I made the same mistake in this image.

Day lily

Day lily

I should have done some judicious pruning before shooting that image as well.

I think that a lot of it has to do with the fact that my first love is shooting wildlife, mostly birds, and that I often have very little time to get any photo. Some times, I just luck out.

Male dickcissel singing

Male dickcissel singing

However, even when it comes to birds, I’m trying to be more aware of what’s in the background, and I swear, the birds know that, and what I’m attempting to do. I spotted a male cardinal singing, and so I shot a photo or two from where I was when I first spotted him. Since he didn’t fly off right away, I looked the scene over, and sure enough, there were branches right behind him. I could see that if I moved to my left a little, then there would be nothing behind him but blue sky, so that’s what I did, moved to the left. As the camera was acquiring focus, I could see the cardinal walking along the branch he was perched on until the branches were directly behind him again.

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

Argh! I didn’t try moving back to my right so that the branches behind the cardinal in that photo wouldn’t have been there. He probably would have walked back down the branch back to where he started anyway.

Even in the image of the dickcissel above, the tip of the branch he is perched on is sticking out of his shoulder. I tried to remove it in Lightroom, with limited success.

Male dickcissel singing

Male dickcissel singing

I need more practice in both shooting photos in the first place, then in editing them later.

You may say that I’m being overly critical, but it’s the small details that separate a good image from a great image. I need to take more time when I’m shooting flowers or landscapes to be sure that the image that I’ve shot is the best it can be, and not shoot those subjects the same way as I do birds or other wildlife.

Then, there are the times when shooting a video would have been a much better choice than shooting still photos.

For those of you who don’t know, squirrels build two types of “nests”. During the colder months, they gather dried leaves and pile them up in the crotch of a tree or where a number of branches come together. Then, when the squirrel wants to sleep, it simply burrows into the pile of leaves, which act as insulation to keep the squirrel dry and warm.

That works fine for an adult squirrel, but their young are born blind and helpless, just as most mammals are. So, when a female is about to give birth, she builds a different type of nest, one very similar to a bird’s nest, using branches that she cuts off with her teeth. The branches are then woven loosely together, and the result is lined with leaves. That way, the newborn squirrels are in no danger of falling out of the nest while their mother is off feeding.

So, I found a female fox squirrel working on a nest in which to give birth, and I shot dozens of photos of her in action. This is one of those times when a video would have been so much better. How do I know that? Because in setting this up, the thing that comes to mind is to say that if you’ve ever seen a video of a dog trying to get a long stick through a narrow doorway, that’s what I was reminded of as I watched the squirrel in action.

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Oops, almost dropped it.

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Come back here.

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

I need a better grip on this branch.

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

I’ve got it now!

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Still can’t get it past the other branches.

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

More to the left.

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Maybe if I hold it here instead?

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

Pregnant squirrel building her nest

And so it went. The thought to shoot that as a video occurred to me later, so I returned to that spot. By then, she was in a different part of the tree, where I could just make her out, and the light was horrible as well. Nature seldom gives you more than one chance to get it right in the first place, whether it be still photos or videos, unless you have plenty of time to spend outside.

As I’ve said before, shooting video with a long lens handheld is no easy task, most of the videos that I’ve attempted are too shaky for me to post here. If I use my tripod, it works fine for stationary subjects, because I have a tripod head best suited for still photography. For video, I should have a tripod head that allows for smooth movement as I follow a subject. That means purchasing yet another tripod head, and even though the heads for videos can be locked for stills, I wonder how effective that would be. I have the feeling that I’d end up trying to carry two tripod heads and switching back and forth, or much more likely, trying to make do with the wrong one for what I’m attempting to do at the time.

I suppose that I should bite the bullet and spend the $600 for a Wimberly gimbal head like the professionals use that will work for both video and stills, maybe some day. 😉

That, and along with the theme of my last post, I’m looking forward to the days when I can spend as much time as needed to get the photo that I’d like to get, and not feel the need to rush off to the next photo-op. An example of that would be that when there’s a day with good light, and very little wind, to spend the time shooting wildflowers.

Unidentified flowering object

Unidentified flowering object

Along with their many visitors.

Honeybee on an unidentified flowering object

Honeybee on an unidentified flowering object

I missed the grasshopper on the back of the flower, it took off when I moved. But as I was looking for it, or a better one of the flowers to photograph, I saw the most beautiful bee that I’ve ever seen.

 Unidentified bee on an unidentified flowering object

Unidentified bee on an unidentified flowering object

I tried for a better image.

 Unidentified bee on an unidentified flowering object

Unidentified bee on an unidentified flowering object

But, I really should have put a tele-converter or extension tubes behind the 100 mm macro lens so that I could get closer to that tiny bee.

As small as the individual flowers were, I was quite proud of the images of them that I got, they were just over 1/8 of an inch (3 mm) across at their base.

Unidentified flowering object

Unidentified flowering object

If I would have sat there for a while with the proper set-up, the tiny bee may have returned for a better image of it, at the least, I would have gotten better images of the flowers. Even if I hadn’t, what could be better than sitting in a field of beautiful wildflowers with nothing else to do but enjoy and admire them?

I think that I’m having an epiphany at the moment, maybe it isn’t that I don’t have the time to shoot great photos, maybe I have the perception that I don’t have the time that it would take to shoot the subjects that I do in a much better way.

I have slowed down quite a bit already, and it is paying dividends. But, there’s always the nagging thought in the back of my mind that there’s a better photo around the next bend in the trail, or the next location that I plan on visiting. I need to work on that as much as anything.

I’m still learning, and maybe the next big milestone in my education is the idea that great images don’t just jump into your camera when you’re in the right place at the right time every now and then.

I can always come up with excuses as to why I shouldn’t spend more time on any given subject that I’m shooting. The light is wrong, the background is wrong, there’s too much wind, the subject isn’t perfect, and so it goes.

There are ways to work around those problems, and I’ve done so when I’ve really wanted a particular photo. I’ve said in the past that I love solving the problems that are presented to me when it comes to photography, maybe I need to take that a few steps further.

As I’m thinking about this, I’ve just remembered what the next photo that I shot after the flowers above was, it was this upland sandpiper that flew past me as I returned to my car.

Upland sandpiper in flight

Upland sandpiper in flight

That may not have been totally luck, but close to it. I do keep the 7D body with a long lens set-up ready at all times for just such an occasion, and the sandpiper flew past me right after I had set down the 60D body and macro lens, freeing my hands for that shot. However, I can’t rely on such luck all the time if I expect to shoot images like that on a regular basis.

I’ve been trying to get past the notion that there’s always a better photo somewhere else, take the sandhill cranes for example. I sat there waiting for them to take flight, hoping to get good images of them, but it was a poor day to do so. That’s because there was no wind at all, which meant that the cranes took flight in any direction that they felt like when they decided to leave the marsh to go to their feeding locations for the day. Any bird that runs to build up speed as it takes to the air…

Sandhill cranes taking flight

Sandhill cranes taking flight

…will always take off or land going into the wind for the added lift that they get from the air going across their wings, just as airplanes do.

That meant that I wasted most of the time that I sat there watching the cranes and waiting for them to fly, as none of the photos that I shot are all that great compared to what they could have been if the cranes had taken off at a different angle, towards me rather than slightly away from me. Instead of waiting around to get poor photos of the cranes, I should have been shooting more wildflowers that morning since there was no wind.

Appendaged waterleaf?

Appendaged waterleaf?

I also let some things get to me that I shouldn’t. I never found their nest, mostly because I wasn’t really looking for it, but there were a pair of green herons flying across one of the small waterways near Grand Haven…

Green heron in flight

Green heron in flight

…I could tell that they were bringing food to their young…

Green heron in flight

Green heron in flight

…if I had hung around there longer I may have gotten a good photo of them. I may have even gotten to see their young, and the adults feeding them. But, a bass boat…

Breaking the morning calm

Breaking the morning calm

…went blasting down the channel, and I let it ruin my mood, when I should have stuck around that spot for a while longer. The herons would have gone right back to bringing food to their young, they had no other option. I should know by now that such things are going to happen, I’m not out in a wilderness somewhere when I’m out shooting photos, so I don’t know why I let a small thing like the bass boat going past make me decide to pack it in where I’m at, and move to another location, where something similar is bound to happen.

I need to become more patient, that is if I’m ever going to shoot the photos that I’d like to someday. That doesn’t apply to just the quality of the images, but also the subject matter as well. I’d like to chronicle several species of birds raising their young, from while the parent(s) are incubating the eggs, as in this earlier photo of an Eastern Kingbird…

Female eastern kingbird on her nest

Female eastern kingbird on her nest

…to when the birds first hatch…

Newly hatched eastern kingbird

Newly hatched eastern kingbird

…and catch the parents feeding the youngsters. I rarely hang around a nest for very long at the present time, because I’m standing out in the open where the parents can see me, and become very upset with my presence.

It’s tough enough being a bird as it is, they don’t need me adding to their problems. However, if I were in a hide where I didn’t upset the birds, and I could record the live’s of the young as they grow and eventually learn to fly.

Before I forget, I have returned to that nest one other time, and the mother was there keeping the youngsters warm on a cool morning.

Eastern kingbird

Eastern kingbird

I’d also like to find a scene or scenes that I could shoot over the course of all four seasons, and in different weather conditions. I’m sort of doing that now at several places that I go, like Lost Lake…

Lost Lake on a foggy day

Lost Lake on a foggy day

…Duck Lake…

Duck Lake State Park after the rain

Duck Lake State Park after the rain

… around home…

Still green in the drought

Still green in the drought

(I shot that one to record how green everything still is, even though we haven’t gotten as much rain as we usually do, and we’re on the edge of a drought)

…and even at the wastewater facility.

Cloudscape after the snow

Cloudscape after the snow

However, what I’m really looking for are scenes that I could shoot from the exact same spot time after time to record not only the changing of the seasons and the different moods depending on the weather, but also any changes that occur.

Switching gears somewhat, it’s funny that I’m complaining about a lack of time as I sit here today trying to think of somewhere cool that I could go for the day. It’s been a hot summer here in Michigan so far, with quite a few days when the temperature rose above 90 degrees (32 C). Today may end up being the hottest day of the year so far, and while I tolerate heat a little better than I used to, it’s still not something that I look forward to.

I could go somewhere along Lake Michigan, where the breeze off from the lake will be about 10 to 15 degrees cooler, but every one else and their brother will be doing the same thing.

It’s also a bit funny that the last photo so far, of the cloudscape, was taken the day before I left on my vacation back in May, on a day when it had snowed earlier. That week turned out to be the turning point in our weather, from a cold spring to a hot summer. It’s also been drier than average, we’re on the verge of a mild drought, but you wouldn’t know it from looking around.

Some of the grasses have flowered…

Unidentified grass

Unidentified grass

 

Unidentified grass

Unidentified grass

…and they’re turning brown, but the trees don’t look stressed yet, and there are plenty of wildflowers blooming.

????

????

 

Wild rose

Wild rose

 

Dame's rocket

Dame’s rocket

 

Wild rose

Wild rose

 

Sow thistle

Sow thistle

 

Sweet pea

Sweet pea

 

Money wort or creeping Jenny

Money wort or creeping Jenny

 

IMG_5920

Money wort or creeping Jenny

With all the flowers blooming, I’ve seen and shot quite a few bees…

Honeybee

Honeybee

 

Unidentified black bee licking a bindweed flower

Unidentified black bee licking a bindweed flower

…and other bee-like insects.

Unidentified fly on a rose

Unidentified fly on a rose

However, I haven’t been seeing many butterflies so far this year, here’s one that I managed to get a photo of.

Unidentified skipper

Unidentified skipper

Well, I guess that it’s time to go out and face the heat, I hope that I don’t melt. 😉

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

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26 responses

  1. Great post. Impressive photos. Try Jobu for a gimbal, very good and usually cheaper.

    July 23, 2016 at 9:11 am

    • Thank you very much Victor! I’ll look into the Jobu gimbal head.

      July 23, 2016 at 3:49 pm

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. The photos of the male Dickcissel are superb. I also second Victor’s recommendation for the Jobu gimbal. I’ve been using one for the past 4 years and it did not disappoint.

    July 23, 2016 at 9:38 am

    • Thank you very much! I’ve never used a gimbal head or seen one in use, so the feedback is much appreciated.

      July 23, 2016 at 3:50 pm

  3. I really enjoy the shots of various flying insects and bees on flowers. It’s always interesting to see this cycle of nature.

    Standing out in this heat and humidity with several pounds of camera gear is a test of your commitment to your craft. In your situation, I would stay home and photograph dust bunnies and the spiders that reside in the deepest, darkest corners of my basement. Or, I could sit near the door and wait for a chipmunk to wander into the live trap for a peanut butter snack. (John takes our ‘guests’ for a bicycle ride across 28th Street to a lovely shaded oasis near a creek where they can start a brand new life).

    July 23, 2016 at 9:57 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! Believe me, I was tempted to stay inside and plan a possible trip to the Everglades this winter, but I did go for a walk. I only took a few things with me though, they were more than enough.

      I’ll bet that John is racking up the miles during the chipmunk relocation program you two have going on. 🙂

      July 23, 2016 at 3:54 pm

  4. Love the “Unidentified fly on a rose”. I feel your pain both with respect to things we should see when composing a photograph and the bass boat.

    July 23, 2016 at 11:14 am

    • Thank you very much Bob! It’s always something, today it was a cyclist passing by after I had waited ten minutes for a fox to approach me where it would be out in the open.

      July 23, 2016 at 3:55 pm

  5. You are much too hard on yourself, you take magnificent pictures in my view. I especially enjoyed the sand cranes taking off.

    July 23, 2016 at 11:15 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! Wait until I get a good photo of the cranes taking off. 😉

      July 23, 2016 at 3:56 pm

  6. Brilliant set of photos to look at and enjoy- especially love the honeybee on a daisy and the flying upland sandpiper. Sounds a good idea to take photos of the same scene through the seasons and track a bird nesting following on until the fledglings fly. Your photos of the squirrel with a stick reminded me of an interesting You Tube with a crow and stick- not sure if this link will work but here goes!

    July 23, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    • Thank you very much! Don’t apologize for the link! I had seen that one before, but there may be others that haven’t. And, watching that video again led me to the full BBC Nature episode on crows that I found to be excellent! One of the few things that I miss not having a TV is the few worthwhile scientific documentaries that there are. I didn’t know that full episodes of Nature were on Youtube, it gives me something to do on this extremely hot day.

      July 23, 2016 at 3:59 pm

  7. OH! so sorry I included that video link – didn’t know it would do that! I really apologise- I shouldn’t mess with things that I don’t understand! Sorry.

    July 23, 2016 at 2:16 pm

  8. I actually really loved the second photo of the lily. You captured the story of the life of a flower…bud to bloom, to going to seed. It is all in how you look at it. The beauty is in the authenticity. Thank you for that.

    July 23, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    • Thank you very much Maria! I never thought of it that way.

      July 23, 2016 at 6:07 pm

  9. I hate to say it but I don’t recognize a single one of your unidentified flowers. I tried looking them up but didn’t have any luck. I thought the purple spike might be loosestrife but I’ve never seen it with those bright yellow anthers. It’s pretty, whatever it is.
    When I shoot flowers I take them from several different angles if possible and I bracket the exposure value. I also check the shots on the viewing screen and zoom in on them to make sure they’re sharp and to make sure there isn’t anything in the shot that I don’t want to be there. But even with all of that I sometimes have to go back 2 or 3 times and try again. I spent over an hour today shooting a tiny Canada St. John’s wort but every shot is junk so I’ve got to go back and try again tomorrow. But at least I know they won’t have flown or crawled away!
    I think the spike of flowering grass might be Timothy.
    Personally I think where you really shine and where your photos have gotten exponentially better are your landscapes. I would have been very happy to have shot any one of them in this post. But that opinion might come from the fact that I also shoot landscapes and I can’t get anything like them out of my camera. I might say the same about your bird photos but since I don’t shoot birds I have no comparison. I know your flower photos are as good as any I’ve taken and I almost bought a DSLR because of them!
    This comment is turning into a book so I’ll just say, great shots!

    July 23, 2016 at 6:02 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! If you couldn’t ID the flowers then I don’t feel bad about having failed despite several hours of research online. I spent quite a bit of time with the purple spike flowers, I’d never seen them before, and they are beautiful.

      I do about the same thing that you do, except that I don’t bracket the exposures. I’m always amazed at how a slight change in the angle that I’m shooting at makes a huge difference in the appearance of a flower in the photos I shoot. But, I’m learning that it’s much like shooting landscapes, you need a foreground, middle ground and background to really add depth and life to the images of flowers.

      After all the videos that I’ve watched, and faithfully following Kerry Mark Leibowitz’s landscape photography blog, I’d hope that there’d be some improvements in my landscape photos. 😉

      I’d say that both of us to a very good job with flowers, especially after all the online research that I did trying to ID some of the flowers that I’ve shot. Most of the photos on the sites that are supposed to be there to help one ID a flower are terrible, blurry, out of focus, exposed wrong, it’s a wonder that any one can tell what flower it is supposed to be.

      Flowers may not fly or crawl away, but some are only open for a few hours everyday, other only last a day or two. Birds are like busses, there’s always another one along in a few minutes.

      July 23, 2016 at 6:19 pm

  10. I agree about the landscapes. You are producing far more interesting images than you were.

    July 23, 2016 at 7:09 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! It’s hard to compete with the Scottish countryside though.

      July 23, 2016 at 7:24 pm

  11. I understand why you are sometimes dissatisfied with some of your shots (the Cardinal with the twig background; the lily with the dead flower next to it) and a perfect shot would have the bird against a clear sky or evenly-blurred background and the lily would be without its dead companion. However, these shots are also taken in nature – the subjects are in their natural surroundings and there is value in that. The subject of your shot is perfectly in focus and the colours are clear and natural.
    I think my favourite shot is of that newly hatched chick. How fortunate to be able to photograph that!

    July 23, 2016 at 8:59 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I am proud of the fact that all of my images come from the wild, none of them are staged, and other than correcting for the inability of a camera to see what our eyes see, there are no major editing tricks.

      However, I’m probably more aware of some of the small “defects” in my images because I see them before I do any editing in Lightroom. I’m always surprised by how something brown can stick out like a sore thumb when seen next to flowers that range from yellow, through orange, to almost red. Those are warm colors that a camera often over-exposes, while brown is a neutral color. Yet, there’s that bit of brown competing for attention, until I tone it down a little in Lightroom.

      July 24, 2016 at 5:36 am

      • I understand exactly! And your eyes are just drawn to it!!

        July 24, 2016 at 4:15 pm

  12. Enjoyed these beautiful photos very much, Jerry, especially the sequence of the nest building squirrel.

    July 25, 2016 at 10:48 pm

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! I would have included a few shots of her actually weaving the nest, but of course she chose a spot almost out of sight for the nest.

      July 25, 2016 at 11:11 pm

  13. Hi Jerry,
    Once again you share too many great shots for me to comment on them all. I do appreciate the grass shots. I actually find the details of grass seeds quite pretty and interesting once enlarged and the way the light hits them is also lovely. I guess because they are common and the flowers are tiny we probably don’t appreciate them. Thank you also for enlightening me on the nesting habits of squirrels, a creature that I will always find adorable to look at. So many lovely close ups of flowers and bees too. Oh, and the newly hatched chick – how wonderful! You do a generous service to the world sharing such glimpses of nature. Please keep doing it. 🙂

    July 28, 2016 at 7:16 am

    • Thanks again Jane! You are correct, we tend to overlook the smaller things around us like the grasses. I shoot what I see, and fortunately, I have very good eyesight even at my age, so I notice the things that most people miss, whether it’s a squirrel building a nest, or the young bird in a nest.

      July 28, 2016 at 8:22 am