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

The hard work is just beginning

With the 7D Mk II and the new 100-400 mm lens, I now have great gear for shooting birds and other wildlife, the best that I’ve ever had. I’ve also learned a lot, both how to use my gear, and also what makes a great photo. However, I broke one of the rules for making a great image when I’ve been shooting the bald eagles recently.

Bald eagle hacking up a pellet

Bald eagle hacking up a pellet

Sorry for so many eagle photos lately, I had forgotten that I had shot a few photos as the eagle from my last post was regurgitating a pellet of indigestible remnants of a previous meal, just as owls do.

I purposely lined the eagle up with the tree that you can see behind it, because I’m not a fan of the high-key look that you get when shooting a bird against a cloudy sky.

American kestrel

American kestrel

I could have positioned myself so that I had only the sky in the background for the eagle photos, but my personal preference is not to do that, even when I should. The kestrel photo isn’t bad, since they have some color to them. But, while the experts may say that the kestrel photo is better due to no distracting background, I prefer the eagle in front of the tree.

I’ve been attempting to pay more attention to the backgrounds in my images so that there are no distractions in my images to take away from the birds, but that’s close to impossible when shooting small songbirds.

White-crowned sparrow

White-crowned sparrow

 

Starling eating a grape

Starling eating a grape

Those species of birds live on the ground or vegetation so thick that it’s a once in a lifetime thing if you catch one out in the open completely.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been missing shots of the smaller birds lately because I’ve been moving around too much while attempting to get the best shot possible.

According to the experts, for an image to be a great one, the only thing in focus in the frame is the subject, and nothing else, with a pleasing background in one of the neutral colors. You’d think that with so many birds around to shoot…

Assorted waterfowl on the move

Assorted waterfowl on the move

 

Starlings in flight

Starlings in flight

…that I’d have little trouble making an image that would make the experts happy. That isn’t the case though, not for me anyway. When it does happen, it’s mostly luck.

I was working the edges of the farm fields near the Muskegon County wastewater facility, looking for sparrows, and hoping to find a lifer that was migrating through. I didn’t find any lifers, but I did find a vesper sparrow willing to pose.

Vesper sparrow

Vesper sparrow

However, I should have used a wider aperture to blur the background more. More on that in a second. As I was looking for sparrows on the ground, I looked up to see a great blue heron flying in my direction. Fortunately, I had the time to switch camera settings and I was able to shoot a series of photos of the heron as it passed by me.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Not the best lighting in the world, but not bad either.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

There’s no distracting background in those, and the blue sky made a pleasing background for those two.

I said two things about the new 100-400 mm lens that I need to explain a little more. The first thing is that I said that there wasn’t any learning curve that came with it, that isn’t true. There is something that I need to work out, and that’s the second thing that I said about it, that it seems to produce a wider depth of field at the same distance and aperture as my other lenses.

So, on my walks around home, I have been working on that, and for reasons that I still don’t understand, the new lens does seem to have a wider depth of field than my other lenses. I shot this one the way that I would have in order to get all the yellow leaves in focus with one of my other long lenses, with the aperture stopped down quite a bit.

The changing take 1

The changing take 1

Then, I opened the aperture up all the way for this one, and lo and behold, all the leaves were still in focus, but the fence behind them was beginning to disappear.

The changing take 2

The changing take 2

To be a true test, I should have also shot the same scene with one of the other long lenses, however, I’ve shot thousands of photos with those lenses, and know where I have to set the aperture to get what I want in focus in focus. In this next photo, there’s no way that either the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) or the 300 mm lens would have gotten both the yellow and green leaf below it in focus at f/8, I’d have to have gone to f/11 or even f/16 to duplicate this one shot with the new lens.

The fall fight for color

The fall fight for color

So, I put what I’ve been learning with the new lens to use in this image.

Soft fall

Soft fall

I have no idea why the new lens has a wider depth of field than my other lenses, but it does, which is something that I need to work with more.

Before I continue on this line, I have to say that my goal isn’t to shoot only images that the experts would like, I also want to continue shooting the images that the general public will like, and those two things aren’t always the same. However, there’s no reason that I can’t use a few of the tips from the pros to make all my images better.

That means working even harder to get better angles, better backgrounds, and better results overall, no matter which type of photo that I’m shooting.

Male northern cardinal

You may remember seeing the same cardinal in my last post also. That was a wider shot, because I liked the colors of the leaves near the cardinal. In this tighter shot, I could and should have opened the aperture wider, since I was no longer trying to get the leaves in focus. 😉

Leave it to me to buy a lens that somehow magically produces a wider depth of field just when I’m trying to go for the short depth of field look.

I continued to play a little more on Sunday, when there was no light to work with at all. I couldn’t come close to freezing the wings of this palm warbler as it dried itself off.

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Luckily, it stuck around until I got a good shot.

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

The background is out of focus, but there’s lots of noise left too. It’s the same with these images of a peregrine falcon.

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Here’s the slightly cropped version.

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

There was a second falcon at the wastewater facility today…

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

…and that must have put the one that’s been there for a while into a bad mood, because it repeatedly attacked the newcomer.

Peregrine falcon attacking another

Peregrine falcon attacking another

If only there had been some light…

Peregrine falcon attacking another

Peregrine falcon attacking another

…I had to shoot with the lens wide open, the ISO maxed out, and shutter speeds that were really too slow to freeze all the action, whether one of the falcons was perched, or if they were both airborne.

Peregrine falcon attacking another

Peregrine falcon attacking another

But, that didn’t stop me from trying to luck out…

Peregrine falcon attacking another

Peregrine falcon attacking another

…I kept on shooting, trying to keep a focus lock on the less aggressive falcon…

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

 

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

…until the less aggressive falcon landed again…

Peregrine falcon ready to fend off an attack from another falcon

Peregrine falcon ready to fend off an attack from another falcon

…and I was able to shoot this one.

Peregrine falcon attacking another

Peregrine falcon attacking another

Those photos aren’t very good, but let me tell you, keeping one of them in focus all the time as fast as they are and as little light as there was is not easy. And, as bad as those images are, I can tell that the newcomer isn’t banded, which means it must have come from a nest not watched by any of the Federal or State Agencies in charge of such things, in other words, a wild nest so to speak. All the nesting boxes set-up for the falcons to use, or known nests are watched, and all the chicks that hatch are banded, the attacker wears a blue band with the number “40” on it. If I knew where to submit that information to, I may hear back about where that falcon was hatched and raised. But, the really cool thing is seeing an unbanned bird, which means that there’s more falcon reproduction than just in the controlled nests.

Besides, how many people get to see one peregrine falcon, let alone two of them going at it? Of course with my luck, it was when there was no light to work with, the story of my life. 😉

Anyway, with it being a rainy, foggy day, none of my images came out well at all. Here’s a pair of juvenile dunlin that I found.

Juvenile dunlin

Juvenile dunlin

 

Juvenile dunlin

Juvenile dunlin

A non-breeding horned grebe.

Horned grebe, non-breeding

Horned grebe, non-breeding

And, when I saw a shorebird with a huge bill, I had to shoot a few photos of it.

Short-billed dowitcher, green teal, and female mallard

Long-billed dowitcher, green-winged teal, and female mallard

I did finally get the dowitcher alone, but all the way across the pond, so these photos aren’t very good either.

jvis8214

Long-billed dowitcher

How would you like that bill hanging from your face?

jvis8220

Long-billed dowitcher

The only other birds that I shot were this American pipit…

American pipit

American pipit

…and this great blue heron, which I shot at f/5.6, which is wide open with the new 100-400 mm lens set to 400 mm.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

That image wasn’t cropped, that’s my buddy, the young great blue heron that poses for me so I can test things out. I can see that the days of having to shoot with the aperture stopped down to at least f/7.1, or better yet, f/8, to get a sharp image are gone with the new lens.

I’m already over my limit for photos, so I’ll save the foggy landscapes for the next post.

But, before I sign off, I have to apologize to all the regular readers of my blog. Some how, and I haven’t figured it out yet, WordPress turned off all the notifications that I get  when people post their blogs, or comment to mine. I could see the comments to mine, so I didn’t need the notifications, but after a week, I thought that it was strange that every one else had decided to take a break from blogging, all at the same time. So, I’ve missed a lot of people’s posts, I’ll try to get caught up this week.

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

Advertisements

23 responses

  1. wonderful shots of the peregrine falcons, you must have had to be very quick taking the photographs.

    October 17, 2016 at 3:24 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! I wasn’t easy keeping either of the fastest species of birds in the viewfinder, let alone in focus, but I did the best that I could.

      October 17, 2016 at 6:13 am

  2. that is such an interesting picture of the eagle!

    October 17, 2016 at 9:21 am

    • Thank you very much Maria! Since I spend more time when trying to get good photos, I learn a good deal more about the birds that I’m trying to photograph.

      October 17, 2016 at 10:34 am

  3. Fascinating account, especially the photos of the two Peregrine Falcons. I doubt anyone else could have duplicated or even come close in image quality to what you were able to capture.

    October 17, 2016 at 10:01 am

    • Thank you very much Hien! Your words are very kind, but I’m not sure if they apply. I know that all the camera settings were maxed out, still, I can’t help but wonder if I could have done something differently.

      October 17, 2016 at 10:36 am

  4. Bald eagles are my favorite…awesome shot!!

    Cheers
    Josh

    October 17, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    • Thank you very much Josh!

      October 17, 2016 at 1:40 pm

  5. You are quite right to keep two sets of criteria in you mind. “Experts” often seem to produce pictures which are so perfect as to be rather lifeless so producing pictures which you know your readers will like is a very good plan. I very much like your first eagle shot with the leafy background.

    Incidentally, it is often true that many ‘expert’ wildlife shots have been taken by people in hides where all sorts of prearranged set ups have been prepared to entice the subject into a predetermined frame.

    October 17, 2016 at 6:13 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! My thinking is that if I like an image, most of the readers of my blog will like it also, even if the experts don’t. I’m well aware of the lengths that some people go to in order to get those photos that please the experts as well. While I’m planning on using a hide in the future, that’s as far as I’ll go, there’ll be no other manipulations in order to create an image that will please the experts. However, I wouldn’t mind shooting an image no and then which the experts would like.

      October 18, 2016 at 12:26 am

      • They must be very picky if they don’t like the ones you are shooting now.

        October 18, 2016 at 4:57 pm

  6. wow beautiful

    October 18, 2016 at 12:25 am

    • Thank you!

      October 18, 2016 at 12:27 am

  7. The falcon series is amazing. It must have taken some presence of mind to keep shooting, and to keep them framed. Do they make noise when fighting? I would love to witness something like that.

    We are out in the Dakota Plains right now, and have both remarked about the dearth of birds. I’m sure there are some out there, but we don’t see or hear them. It’s very odd. Campgrounds are quiet now, and we find ourselves enveloped in complete silence. Marvelous.

    October 18, 2016 at 8:52 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! The only thing that would have stopped me from shooting the falcons was thinking too much about how I could get better images, or shoot a video. I knew that the images wouldn’t be great, and as I tired to keep the one in focus and watch its behavior to know when the second one was getting close to start shooting again, I could hear them screaming at one another. So yes, I did have thoughts of shooting a video to capture the sound, but I’d never be able to keep them in the frame if I did. The aggressive one would climb quite high, then dive bomb the other at high speed, which is part of the reason it’s blurry.

      Out on the plains, there should be some grouse around, but hard to see this time of the year. Not great singers either. I’ll bet that you’ve seen snow already, and baked in the heat a few days later, great camping weather. 😉

      October 18, 2016 at 1:26 pm

  8. These are fantastic shots and all so interesting too. The series of peregrine shots is excellent and it must have been exciting to have seen their exchange. I loved the eagle shot – I’ve never seen anything like that before and the colours of the bird and the leaves behind it are so clear. I like the shot of the American Pipit as well.

    October 18, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! While I was photographing the falcons, I couldn’t help but wish that I had been able to shoot a video of their fighting, as they were screaming at one another the entire time. Still photos may be able to convey what aerobatic flyers they are, but they can’t capture the entire experience of seeing and hearing them.

      October 19, 2016 at 12:04 am

  9. WordPress did the same thing to me, but only on one blog, which is weird. I can’t see their response to comments anymore.
    What a great gift deeper depth of field must be. And f stops too! I have neither with this new camera.
    Those are great shots of the eagle and the fighting falcons. It isn’t often that you see a bird upside down in mid air.
    I like that shot of the heron too. It isn’t often you can get that close.
    I used to pay attention to the experts back in the days of film, but when I went with digital years later I decided I’d shoot what and how I wanted. Photography is much more fun that way and if people don’t like the photos, that’s okay.

    October 18, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! Yeah, I don’t know how all my notifications were turned off, I sure didn’t do it. I’ll catch up with your blog soon.

      The greater depth of field is both a blessing and a curse. I love being able to shoot at a wider aperture so that I can reduce the ISO or shoot with a faster shutter speed. However, since I no longer have to stop the lens down to get sharp images, I thought that I’d get a more pleasing background blur, but the darned lens makes everything sharp, even the backgrounds when it is wide open.

      I must be really lucky, I got two shots of the falcon upside down, and I’ve gotten a few others of other species of raptors upside down. One of these days, I’m going to see something like that in better light, and a few feet closer, so that I can get really good images of it.

      There’s one heron hanging out at the wastewater facility that allows me to get very close to it, it’s the same one that posed for the head shot a few weeks ago.

      I shoot what interests me, but I wouldn’t mind getting a few images now and then that the experts would like also. I love a challenge, and getting the more difficult shots like the falcons is what drives me, even when I know that the images won’t be that good. However, I would love to improve my bird portrait shots even more.

      October 19, 2016 at 12:15 am

  10. Just back from a great holiday in Scotland so just catching up on reading your posts. The peregrine falcon photos are amazing- they seem really feisty birds! I love the American pipit!

    October 19, 2016 at 5:07 pm

    • Thank you very much Marianne! Feisty is a good way of describing the peregrine falcons, they are fierce predators despite their smaller size. The pipits are only here during migration, which is a shame, as they are cheerful birds that I’d like to see more often.

      October 19, 2016 at 11:57 pm

  11. That was a great series of of shots of the falcons! I loved all the photos, especially the cardinal. The red bird against the brilliant blue is spectacular.

    WordPress has been randomly turning off notifications lately.

    October 21, 2016 at 12:40 am

    • Thank you very much Lavinia. I wish that I could have done better with the falcons, but I did finally get a cardinal against a very blue sky, something that I’ve been trying to do for several years now.

      WordPress is typically very stabile, I’ll have to keep my eyes open and check things once in a while when I’m not getting notifications.

      October 21, 2016 at 12:47 am