Can you guess what the first photo in this post will be of? If you guessed the Buff-breasted sandpiper, then you were correct.
In a way, I’m surprised that I hadn’t gotten this species before, there were a pair of them at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, and I’ve never seen such cooperative birds before. I began photographing them with the 2 X extender behind the 300 mm lens, but they continued to come closer to me. The only difficulty that I had photographing them is that they never stopped moving as they were feeding, except for the short time when I switched from the 2 X extender to the 1.4 X because they had gotten so close. They stood there patiently until I made the switch and began photographing them again, then they returned to feeding, moving closer as they did.
Unlike my recent photos that may or may not be the sharp-tailed sandpiper, there’s no doubt that these two birds are buff-breasted sandpipers.
After my recent post and my angst over which full-frame camera, if any, that I should purchase, I’ve given the subject a lot of thought this weekend. I don’t want to rehash all of that, but I have decided that it isn’t the camera that counts so much as it’s the lens, the person behind the lens, and editing that makes a great photo. I was so happy with the photos of the buff-breasted sandpipers as the images came out of the camera, and I was in a hurry to get them online on my Facebook page. I did nothing to the first photo at all, it’s as it came out of the camera. I cropped the second photo slightly, but not very well. Since then, I also realized that I could take advantage of the tools in Lightroom to improve that already good image to make it even better. So, here’s what I think is a better version of the image above.
The changes are subtle, I’m still all about subtle, but the second version is better. A better job of cropping for composition, the use of the radial neutral density filter to brighten the bird while darkening the background slightly are all that I did.
So, the thought hit me, do I even need a full-frame camera body?
If better performance in low light is what I’m after, then instead of a full-frame camera, I could make better use of my tripod and turn the ISO of my current camera down for better resolution and lower noise. That’s only one of many things that I could do to improve the quality of the images that I’m getting. I do hate to brag, but some of my recent photos come close to matching the best that I have seen. That’s even in images shot with my outdated 60D body, as this recent image of a dragonfly shows.
Or this image also shows.
When the conditions are good, and I do things correctly, I get very good resolution capturing the fine details of the subject that I’m shooting.
At the time when the 7D Mk II was introduced, it was Canon’s most advanced camera, with many of its features being introduced to a Canon camera body for the first time. It does everything that I’d like a camera to do, so why should I upgrade to a much more expensive body?
As my recent photos of the lesser yellowlegs fighting show, it’s a great camera for shooting action, especially when I have the time to dial in the settings for action. But, even when I use my general purpose settings, I can get good photos of a great blue heron in flight…
…my only regret is that I didn’t continue shooting the heron, because as it was landing, this peregrine falcon may have swooped past the heron. I’m not sure exactly what happened.
It was the heron squawking at the falcon that alerted me to the falcon’s presence.
Unfortunately, I was in a bad position, and I wasn’t able to see or photograph the interaction between the heron and the falcon, darn! But, I could tell from the heron’s posture and behavior that it was not pleased with the falcon.
There were also a few gulls that weren’t happy to see the falcon either.
While the stand-off was going on, I switched to the 2 X extender for a few shots, as the falcon and a gull were eyeball to eyeball with each other.
I can only imagine the conversations that were taking place…
…as the heron was still squawking at the falcon from its perch on the next pylon over as well, and the falcon was keeping an eye on the heron.
I don’t know if the heron had an itch, or if this is the bird equivalent of a certain obscene gesture.
This very brave northern shoveler flew past as the falcon, heron, and gulls were yelling at on another.
As far as the stand-off went, the gulls left first, then the falcon, leaving the heron to bask in the sun.
I eventually caught up to the falcon again, for slightly better photos.
Well, I’ve done it again, gone off in several different directions at the same time.
Anyway, as I said, I didn’t see the initial interaction between the falcon and the heron, but I could tell from the way that both of them acted, neither of them were happy. I don’t know if the falcon tried attacking the heron, or if the heron came in for a landing close to the falcon, and that it thought that the heron was attacking it, and when the falcon took off, it frightened the heron.
In some ways, it doesn’t matter, as what ever happened took place so far away from me that even if I had shot photos, they would have been very poor.
As far as my quandary over whether or not to invest in a full frame camera, there are a couple of things that I could do to help me make the decision once and for all.
I could take one or two of my best images shot with the 7D, like these two…
…and have them printed at a very large size.
That would tell me if I truly need more resolution from a camera body, or if I can get by with what I have now. I know that I can go as large as 11 X 14 inches, and still get very sharp prints, because I’ve had a few of my images printed that size in the past. But, I’d like to find out just how large of a print that I can make from my current cameras.
The second thing that I could do is to rent a full frame camera for a week, and put it through its paces to see if there’s any improvement over my current gear. The problem with that idea is that a week may not be enough time to really learn how to get the best out of a rented camera.
One thing that I should do no matter what, is to find a willing subject…
…mount the 7D on the tripod, turn the ISO way down, and see just how good the resolution of the 7D is under ideal conditions. That image was shot using the 2 X tele-converter in poor light, a few minutes later, with better light, I got close enough to switch back to the 1.4 X tele-converter, and shoot this image.
I should also repeat the same type of test with my sharpest lens, the 100 mm macro lens, just to see what the ultimate image quality the camera is capable of.
By the way, while the eagle was perched there posing for me, instead of setting up the tripod as I should have, I got the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) and the Tamron 1.4 X extender out to shoot the eagle. It worked, and the photos aren’t horrible, but I can see one of the reasons for the improvements in my photos, quality Canon L series glass. Even cropped significantly, the images shot with the 300 mm L series lens, no matter which extender I used, were far and away much better than the uncropped images shot with the Beast, with or without the extender. It pays to invest in quality lenses.
That’s not a knock on the Beast, it still sees some use from time to time. Like this spring when I was on vacation. It still auto-focuses quicker than the 300 mm lens and an extender, so when I’m chasing quick, little birds in thick brush, the Beast is still my lens of choice. The absolute image quality may not be quite as good, but first you have to get the shot before you can worry about the image quality. I’m hoping that the Canon 100-400 mm L series lens will give me the same quick auto-focusing as what the Beast does, since I won’t be using an extender for the added reach as I do now with the 300 mm lens.
By the way, last Sunday, there were eagles everywhere at the wastewater facility, I could tell that fall is approaching, even though the temperature said that it isn’t.
In addition to this series…
…I have photos of four other eagles…
…perched around the county landfill…
…but, I’m not going to post those photos…
…because those eagles were too far away for good photos.
Instead, I have one more photo from this series, where a number of starlings are flying between myself and the eagle.
I’ve learned over the past few years that juvenile eagles congregate at the wastewater facility/county landfill during the fall and winter to take advantage of the easy pickings as far as food available to them. There are plenty of food scraps at the landfill for them to eat, plus, they can vary their diet by picking off a gull, duck, or small mammal that isn’t paying attention to the eagles from time to time. When spring comes, they will spread out over the state to claim a territory for themselves’, and the cycle will repeat the next year.
The question is, how do young eagles know where the landfill is, or do they find it haphazardly?
I think that I have figured out the answer to that question. Eagles take three to four years to fully mature, and while eagles don’t form tight family flocks like some other species of birds do, the young do stay in the same general area as their parents. So, it would only take one or two adult pairs bringing their young to the landfill to account for all the juveniles, since there are several years worth of young following their parents. When the young eagles do eventually have young of their own, they’d remember the landfill, and bring their own young there over the winter.
While I’d rather photograph adult eagles, seeing so many juveniles is a very good sign of just how well the species is doing here in Michigan. Lots of juveniles now means even more adults in the future.
Another thing that I’ve learned that helps me to spot the raptors is paying attention to the other birds in the area. Most of the time, whether it’s an eagle, one of the falcons, or a red-tailed hawk…
…a raptor flying overhead makes all the other birds act differently. Some, like the starlings in the photo above, take flight, and fly in flocks in such a manner as to confuse the raptors, or so the scientists say. Others, such as the shorebirds, dart into the taller vegetation, or just freeze in place, and hunker down until the raptor is out of the area. Either way, the behavior of the small birds alerts me to the possible presence of a raptor overhead.
Sorry, but I have some more thinking out loud to do about the full frame or crop sensor dilemma that I’m having right now.
Even if I did shoot a few test photos under ideal conditions to see just how well my current camera performs, I seldom have the chance to shoot under ideal conditions. I was shooting into the mid-morning sun for both the peregrine falcon and gull photos, and the juvenile bald eagle taking flight series of photos. So, while it would be nice to know just what my current photo equipment is capable of, there would be very few times that I could achieve the same results in real life.
Another problem if I were to stick with a crop sensor body is the price of a quality wide-angle lens to use for landscapes. Since a crop sensor body has the effect of increasing the focal length of any lens used on it, I’d have to go down in focal length to a fish-eye lens if it were used on a full frame camera. To get away from the severe distortion that comes with those lenses is expensive, any cost savings I’d get by staying with crop sensor cameras would be eaten up by paying more for better lenses. It’s funny how that works, but comparing prices, it comes up to about the same total if I purchase a full frame body and slightly less expensive lenses as it does if I stick with crop sensor bodies and purchase more expensive lenses to duplicate what I could get with a full frame camera.
There is one gratifying thing that has been happening lately. In the past, people would see my photos and say “You should sell your photos”. But, they didn’t want to purchase any of them even as they were saying that. Lately, I’ve had people asking if they could purchase my photos when they see them, or asking me to shoot specific subjects, because they would like to purchase a photo of mine that I take of that subject. While I’ll never be a professional photographer, it is nice to know that all my thoughts and the hard work that I’ve put into trying to improve my images hasn’t been for nothing.
There’s something humorous about that as well, most of the photos of mine that people have purchased have come from the 60D camera, not the much better 7D Mk II. That’s because I still use the 60D for landscapes and the 7D for birds. That tells me a couple of things. One, that landscapes sell, and that birds, other than eagles and a few other species of birds, don’t interest most people. Also, cute mammals. like bunnies and fawns attract people’s interest as well. It also tells me that if I would like to sell a few more photos from time to time to help offset the cost of my equipment, that I should shoot what sells.
That’s at the heart of the entire full frame or crop sensor debate that I’m having with myself right now. If I’m going to make an effort to sell a few images now and then, then a full frame camera is the way to go. If all I ever plan to do with my images is to post them here, then a crop sensor camera is just fine.
I’m not sure if I related this story here earlier this year, but while I was up north on vacation, I stopped in a local art gallery to have a look around. That gallery specializes in the works of local artists, including one or two photographers. I got to talking with the owner, and I showed her a few of the images that I had shot so far during my vacation, and she was quite interested, other than the fact that I wasn’t local. I could tell that she was trying to come up with a way that she could say that the photos had a local connection in one way or another so that she could put them on display in her gallery. In the end, we couldn’t make that local connection, so nothing came of it, other than I was taking a bit more pride in my images after that.
So, as I try to decide which direction to go when it comes to camera gear, the thought is also in the back of my mind as to whether I should make more of an effort to shoot what would sell, and to attempt to sell more photos. Let’s face it, this may be a good photo, but very, very few people would ever purchase it.
If I had better lighting, rather than shooting almost into the sun, and a better background, then there’s a chance some one would like it enough to buy it.
I’m afraid that if I did put the effort into trying to sell an occasional photo that it would change what I photograph, at least to some degree. While I would like to photograph more landscapes anyway, they aren’t the only thing that I want to shoot. It’s the same with birds, there’s only a few species of birds that a photograph of would interest any one enough to purchase a photo of them. My images of the buff-breasted sandpiper are very good, but I doubt if there’s any one interested in purchasing a photo of that species.
My recent images of the lesser yellowlegs fighting are excellent in my opinion, yet there’s probably no one who would be interested in purchasing any of them.
I do know this though, to a large degree, what the general public would purchase isn’t what the photography experts say is a great image. The general public wants cute and cuddly critters, and landscapes that are beautiful or that they can relate to in some way.
Anyway, I’ve placed an order for some large prints, 16 X 20 inches in size, just to see where I stand as far as image quality when it comes to prints that size. Until I see them, I really don’t know where I stand, so here’s a few more photos while I wait to see how the prints turn out.
Once again, I’ve gone on too long about camera gear, when the debate that I’m really having with myself is whether I should put the effort into attempting to sell my work. Yes, the extra income would be nice if I could sell a few photos now and then, but I’m not good at self promotion or selling myself. In many ways, those things are more important than the quality of the images that photographers sell from what I can see. And, there’s the issue of time, I don’t have enough as it is already with the hours that I work, do I want to spend some of that precious time trying to peddle my photos?
Then, there’s the expense to get started. Having large prints made isn’t cheap, having them mounted and framed increases the cost significantly. I don’t want to go around to the various art fairs, paying for space, setting up a display, then sitting around all day not selling anything. I’d rather be out shooting more photos, even if I never sell another one. Still, that last little bit sounds good in a way, even if I never sell another one. It’s nice to know that at least a few people have thought that my photos were good enough to purchase them.
So, I guess that I’m on hold until I see the large prints. I just received a call from where I ordered them to confirm that I really wanted them all printed that size. The person who called had started the printing, but then realized how many more I had ordered. I told her I had sent the order to find out what my camera gear was capable of. According to her, the first 5 she had printed “came out just beautiful!”, so now I’m getting a bit excited. Too bad that it’s almost time for me to go to work. I’ll pick-up the prints tomorrow after I go for a walk, then I’ll have a better idea of where I’m going to go as far as future camera gear.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!