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

When I do retire

My plan is to have purchased all the photo gear that I’d like before I retire, then be able to spend as much time as possible outdoors, shooting photos. That sounds simple enough, but there’s a lot more to it than that. For one thing, there’s the weather to contend with, and how I deal with it. One of the things that I look forward to be able to do is to plan where I go and what I photograph around the weather that day.

Yesterday, which was Sunday, there was dense fog that lingered well past noon, making the day almost a complete bust for me. The sun had finally come out and burned off the last remnants of the fog at about the same time as I had to leave the Muskegon area and return home. I’m sure that I missed a great sunset from what I saw through the window here at home as I was going to bed.

Fog can be good for some landscape photography, but not fog as thick as it was yesterday. The visibility was close to zero in places, and I had a hard time negotiating my way around roads that are very familiar to me. If I hadn’t known exactly where I was going, I probably would have gotten lost. As it was, it seemed silly to be creeping along at less than 5 MPH looking for the correct place to turn. It was such a bust as far as photography that I gave up for a while and took a nap while parked as I waited for the fog to lift at least a little. But before I get hung up on yesterday, back to my plans for the future.

I’d like to travel, to see the places that I’ve already been in the past, such as Yellowstone and the Canadian Rockies, along with the places that I haven’t been, like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Death Valley. While the wide-angle lenses that I have are fine for Michigan, I could use better ones for the spectacular scenery that I’ll find in those places. Also, I’d like to reduce the weight of my backpack that I carry my camera gear around in.

I thought that weight wouldn’t matter, and it I were still young and spry, it wouldn’t, but I have to face it, I’m old and grey now, and carrying all the gear that I have now wears me out. To the point where as I’m returning to my vehicle, I’m too tired to bother getting the correct lens out of the backpack, and I shoot what ever I see with the long lens set-up that I use for birding, or skip the shot completely unless it is a really chance for a really great photo.

As it is, I carry too much stuff with me that I seldom use on most days, but since I have limited time to be out shooting photos, I feel that I have to be ready for anything. But as I say, it wears me out to the point where it doesn’t matter if I am ready for anything, if I’m too tired to bother digging what I need out of the backpack.

That’s where having more time will be a good thing. I’ll be able to make trips to shoot specific types of images, say landscapes one day, macro photos on another day, and of course, days when I shoot mainly wildlife. That will be especially true when I’m traveling, then, I’ll be shooting mainly landscapes and wildlife. That means getting my gear better organized so that I only bring what I’ll really need on any particular day.

I plan to have a backpack set-up just for excursions when I plan on shooting mostly landscapes, and it will have the second camera body, a Canon 24-105 mm lens and a Sigma 12-24 mm lens in it. Along with the new 100-400 mm lens that I’ll have on my 7D, I’ll be able to shoot everything that I see, other than true macro photos. I’ll probably add the set of extension tubes and my tele-converters to that backpack, and it will still weigh less than half of what it does now. That will cover everything from 20 mm to 800 mm, and I’ll be able to take my good tripod, rather than the lightweight one that I carry now.

Since good macro photos are much easier on days when there’s little of no wind, when I have more time, I’ll be able to carry everything that I need for those images on days best suited for that type of photography, leaving the landscape gear in my vehicle or at home while I shoot the macro photos. I think that you get the idea.

Anyway, speaking of macro photography, I’m going to start the photos in this post with just such a photo, although it may not appeal to everyone.

Unidentified spider

Unidentified spider

The reason that I’m starting with that image is because it represents something else that I’m planning on for the future, getting better with the gear that I already have. That was shot with the 100 mm macro lens on the 7D, one of the few times that I’ve used that lens on that body. I typically use the 60D for macros, and it works well enough, or so I thought. What I’m impressed with in that image is that I shot it at ISO 12800, and the sharpness, detail, and clarity are much better than I had expected when I shot it.

Until a few weeks ago, I limited the 7D to ISO 6400 because I couldn’t get photos as good as the spider is at the higher ISO settings due to the noise that I’d get at those ISO settings. By learning a few more little tricks to help reduce the noise, better camera settings and learning to use Lightroom’s noise reduction better, I hate to say this, but I amazed myself with that image.

I also wonder how much of a role that the lens played in making that image as good as it was? I’ve never read or heard anything about the quality of a lens contributing to noise, but I’ve seen it in the lenses that I own. The better the lens, the less noise in an image produced by that lens at the same ISO setting as the other lens I’m comparing it to. The 100 mm macro lens is the best lens that I own, followed closely by the 70-200 mm and 100-400 mm lenses.

That plays into learning to get the best out of the 7D Mk II, rather than to purchase a much more expensive Canon 5DS R body to get better detail and resolution in my images. Here’s another example, also shot with the 100 mm macro lens on the 7D.

Spotted knapweed

Spotted knapweed

And, here’s the other end of the spectrum, a herring gull portrait, shot with the 100-400 mm lens.

Juvenile herring gull

Juvenile herring gull

It always helps to have a willing model that’s willing to pose, as was the hawk…

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

…from my last post. When you can see the texture of a bird’s feathers, then it doesn’t get much better than that.

Okay, so I’ve laid out some of my plans, one other thing that I’d like to have is a second excellent long lens for birding. I know that it sounds silly after the photos that I’ve just posted, but getting images like those often requires that I add or swap tele-converters to the 100-400 mm lens, just as I used to do with the 300 mm lens.

Once I’m retired, I’d like to spend some days in blinds or hides, which ever you prefer, and shoot both portraits like those above, along with action photos like these.

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

 

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

I have some ideas as to what I may purchase as a second long lens, but I’ve also got to do some more testing of what I already have, and learn just what it’s capable of before I make a decision on another long lens, or if I need one at all.

I was hoping to do some of that testing yesterday, which was Sunday, but those plans went out the window because of how long the thick fog lingered.

Monday dawned bright and clear…

Monday's sunrise

Monday’s sunrise

…although a little bit of fog tried to form just as the sun was rising…

Just the right amount of fog

Just the right amount of fog

…and there was some wonderful light as the sun began to climb above the horizon.

Canada geese at dawn

Canada geese at dawn

 

Mourning dove at dawn

Mourning dove at dawn

It’s too bad that I couldn’t catch this buck in that light…

8 point whitetail buck

8 point whitetail buck

…and since it is hunting season here, the buck was in no mood to pose for me.

8 point whitetail buck

8 point whitetail buck

With good light, I thought that it would be a good day to test out some of the things that I wanted to, so I put the 2 X tele-converter on the 300 mm lens and used that for longer shots all day, reserving the 100-400 mm lens for action photos. As it turned out, there were few chances for action photos, here’s the best of the lot.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

Just as I was afraid of, the 2 X tele-converter on the 300 mm lens just doesn’t cut it as far as image quality now that I’ve seen what I can get from the 100-400 mm lens.

Rough-legged hawk

Rough-legged hawk

 

Rough-legged hawk

Rough-legged hawk

But, I kept trying to do better with the 300 mm lens all day.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

I tried a variety of camera and lens settings, but even my best attempts were not quite up to what I’ve been getting from the 100-400 mm lens.

Juvenile ruddy duck

Juvenile ruddy duck

However, I should have known that, it’s been the same story with that lens since I bought it, unless I’m close to a subject…

American pipit

American pipit

…the sharpness just isn’t there compared to the new lens.

I don’t have many regrets about “wasting” a day shooting with that set-up though, I learned what I needed to learn. The only time that I wished that I had done things differently was when I saw this eagle.

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

It hung around for a minute or two, giving me the look…

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

…then it was off to chase the gulls and ducks for a while.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

That’s the only regret from the day, that photo would have been so much better if I had used the new lens with its better auto-focusing than the 300 mm lens and extender, which focus so slowly that the photo above is the sharpest of the series that I shot as the eagle flew away.

If I were to go through and list all the photo gear that I have, the only piece of it that I would say was a mistake was the 300 mm lens. I say that even though up to the point when I purchased the 100-400 mm lens, the 300 mm lens was the one that I used most of the time. On a sunny day like Monday, I probably would have been better off using the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) than the 300 mm lens.

The 300 mm lens does focus closer, and it’s much better in low light, but it is a soft lens at any distance over about twenty feet. It’s only because of its superior low light performance over the Beast that it was my go to lens for birding most of the time. Even then, when I had a trying day when using the 300 mm lens, I’d switch back to the Beast to use its superior auto-focusing to get images of small, fast birds that stay deep in the brush most of the time. Without a doubt, the 100-400 mm combines the best features of both the Beast and the 300 mm lens, with none of the drawbacks of either of those two lenses.

Mallard pair

Mallard pair

I’ve written about the fog on Sunday, how foggy was it?

The cliched lone tree in the fog

The clichéd lone tree in the fog

When I got to the clay pits, I decided to shoot a less clichéd shot, but in the same vein.

Lone island in the fog

Lone island in the fog

On the other hand, you couldn’t have asked for clearer skies on Monday.

Making the yellow pop

Making the yellow pop

Yes, I used a polarizing filter for these, and I considered de-saturating the colors a bit because I was worried some one would think that the color came from software tricks.

More of the bright yellow color

More of the bright yellow color

Now then, for some fun photos. I’ll never figure great blue herons out, they choose some strange places to take a break sometimes. This one was perched on the railing around the top of one of the chemical storage tanks at the wastewater facility.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

I did play some software tricks to these photos, I was shooting almost directly into the sun, and the sky came out with a weird greenish cast because of that. I used Lightroom to shift the color of  the sky back towards blue where it belongs. Anyway, I zoomed out for that photo, to show what the heron was perched on. As I zoomed in, the heron began to walk the “tightrope”.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

The heron had to use its wings for balance, and it still nearly slipped off from the railing.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Then, I got the look, as if to ask, “You didn’t film that did you?”

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

I’m not sure if an eagle would try for a great blue heron, but if I were a heron, I wouldn’t want to learn the hard way that an eagle would, so I’d be a little more choosy about where to perch. On the other hand, if I were an eagle, I’d be looking at that long, skinny neck and thinking that heron may be on the menu today. Then again, on the other hand, (yes, I have three) maybe the heron thinks that having a clear field of view in all directions means that it could spot an eagle long before it came close.

Anyway, something else that I have to do is to find a number of places where I can go, set-up hides to watch and photograph wildlife from, and not have signs of man-made structures in the background of my photos.

Northern shovelers in flight

Northern shovelers in flight

It’s really cool to see several hundred of the same species of duck take flight at once, but I would rather it be in a more natural looking area than the storage lagoon at the wastewater facility. I know that I’ll never find another place as close to home with the same numbers of any one species, or the range of species that I see there though. That means locating a number of places where I can spend a day concentrating on better images of fewer subjects. I should say, spend part of a day, for I’d only want to sit around in a hide when the light is good.

Let’s say that I’m going to shoot wading birds, ducks, or shorebirds, the place that I find will have to be on the southern side of whatever body of water that attracts the birds so that I have the best light. To get even more specific, I want to be looking towards the west or northwest in the morning, and towards the northeast or east in the evening to take advantage of the best light during the time that I’m in the hide. I’ve been checking out places online, and finding great spots isn’t going to be that easy. For some reason, most of the places that I’ve heard of end up being on the north side of bodies of water, so I’d end up shooting into the sun, which isn’t good. I can cross those places off from my list when I check them out on a map without wasting time traveling there in person.

In the meantime, here’s a few more photos from this weekend.

Unidentified fungi

Unidentified fungi

 

Savannah Sparrow in the fog

Savannah Sparrow in the fog

 

Horned lark

Horned lark

Even though I was shooting in high-speed for these next two…

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

…I missed the exact moment when the gull made the snatch of a tidbit of food.

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

The American tree sparrows have returned from their summer home range to spend the winter here.

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

 

Starling

Starling

I wish that these two eagles would choose better places to perch than this.

Bald eagles

Bald eagles

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

My plan is to begin exploring places this winter, as long as there isn’t too much snow to get around in. Winter may not be the best time of the year for exploring, but there are still a few species of birds migrating through the area that I need photos of to add to my list of birds that I’ve seen. Recently, short-eared owls have been seen in the Muskegon area, along with a female harlequin duck. I need to get photos of both species, although I would prefer a male harlequin duck in breeding plumage. But, as has happened so many times in the past, once I get photos of a female or juvenile of a species, it isn’t long before I catch a male of the same species.

Well, it’s about time for me to go to work, so I’m going to end this post here, check to see who our next president may be, then put in another long boring night driving back and forth across the state.

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

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31 responses

  1. I enjoyed your set of photos, as always, Jerry! Hope retirement gives you the time to do everything you would like.

    You get some spectacular sunrises out there. The color is outstanding.

    November 9, 2016 at 1:43 am

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! I hope that when I do retire, I can shoot both sunrises and sunsets until even one is sick of seeing them. 😉

      November 9, 2016 at 1:14 pm

  2. I loved the contrast of your pictures in the fog with the ones in bright sunlight, the foggy ones were mystical which I enjoy.

    November 9, 2016 at 4:07 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! I didn’t have much to do with the contrast between the two days, other than to record that contrast when I saw it. I wish that there had been slightly less fog, but at least the photos that I shot came out well.

      November 9, 2016 at 1:17 pm

  3. Great shot of the jumping spider! Note the two sets of eyes.

    November 9, 2016 at 5:11 am

    • Thank you very much Bob! I did notice the two sets of eyes, but I couldn’t tell if the second set was the same blue as the main ones.

      November 9, 2016 at 1:17 pm

  4. Great post.

    November 9, 2016 at 7:00 am

    • Thank you very much Victor!

      November 9, 2016 at 1:18 pm

  5. I know you are planning for the future but it’s great to see that you are also making the best possible use of the present taking some more amazing photos. How on earth do you remember all the settings you use on your cameras? The Great Blue Heron photo would be great for a caption competition! I love the spotted knapweed photo capturing the water drops and that buck just knows he’s so handsome!

    November 9, 2016 at 7:13 am

    • Thank you very much Marianne! remembering the camera settings isn’t so difficult when you shoot hundreds of photos a week. The problem that I have is remembering all the ways that my camera has of changing them quickly, and how to set those things up correctly. I love it when I catch a bird in a humorous moment, you’re right, the heron would be good for a caption contest. I’ve been trying to get close to that buck all fall, not only does he know that he’s handsome, he also knows that it’s hunting season.

      November 9, 2016 at 1:23 pm

  6. Vicki

    great photos.. I especially liked the sunrise with the fog, the eagle taking off and the island in the fog.

    November 9, 2016 at 10:57 am

    • Thank you very much Vicki! I need to be more prepared for photos of the types you mentioned, they could have been much better.

      November 9, 2016 at 1:24 pm

  7. Excellent post and photographs!

    November 9, 2016 at 11:12 am

    • Thank you very much Belinda!

      November 9, 2016 at 1:24 pm

  8. I can warn you that you never have quite as much time as you think will when you actually retire. Apart from anything else, either life speeds up or you slow down….and you can end up having too many choices and not being able to choose which is the best. Still, good luck with the plan. It seems to be going very well so far judging by your recent photographs which keep getting better and better.

    November 9, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! I know that things won’t go exactly as plans, which is why I’m also planning back-up plans. 😉

      November 9, 2016 at 2:39 pm

      • Very sensible.

        November 9, 2016 at 4:25 pm

  9. Great shots!
    I’m retired… and that’s what i do! 🙂

    November 9, 2016 at 4:41 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom!

      November 9, 2016 at 11:56 pm

  10. I don’t like driving in the kind of fog you speak of either and I would have waited it out too. But it is too bad when it takes the whole day up.
    At least you were able to get another great sunrise on Monday, along with the right amount of fog.
    That’s a great shot of the 8 pointer. I’ll bet he didn’t stay around for more than a few seconds!
    The heron’s feet don’t look like they were made to do what it was trying to do with them. He must’ve been lurching a bit.
    That’s a beautiful shot of the knapweed!

    November 9, 2016 at 5:31 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! I hate driving in fog, but the worst of it didn’t close in until I was almost to my destination, or I may have turned back. The weather report was for patchy fog on the day it was so thick, but there were dense fog alerts on the day that dawned clear, so much for weather reports.

      I watched the buck for a while, and he was moving slowly and deliberately to avoid any hunters. I didn’t think that I would get a good photo of him, so I shot a bad one. He turned around when he heard the shutter, giving me the one that I posted of him looking back. The second time the shutter went was enough, and he broke into a run then.

      Heron’s seem to be ungainly when walking at any kind of pace at all, I often see them using their wings for balance. That’s especially true when they perch in a tree or something, yes, they do lurch around a lot.

      The knapweed was about the only flowers that I saw, other than evening primrose which I forgot to go back and photograph when the light was better. The flowers are about done here.

      November 10, 2016 at 12:08 am

  11. I love the spider! I like jumping spiders the best as they seem to have surprised expressions! I laughed at your shots of the balancing heron; I also wonder why it decided to perch there. The sunrise shots and the foggy shots are very beautiful.

    November 9, 2016 at 6:19 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I liked the spider for the color of what I think are its fangs, the bright green. Great blue herons seem to do things that no other birds do, and I have no idea why. I wish that I had photos of all the odd things that they do. The two days couldn’t have been more different, but each one was good for photos in its own way.

      November 10, 2016 at 12:00 am

  12. Love the balancing act of the heron. Agree with you that he might have a tough time unsnarling those long legs if he had to make a quick getaway.

    You’ve got plenty the of time to plan your retirement, so I think you should add a small camper of some sort to your equipment list. There’s no better way to explore the places you want to be, and (believe me), your old bones will appreciate not having to sleep on the ground. A dry, cozy place to review your day’s work will be welcome. And, you already have the perfect tow vehicle for the job!

    Just tryin’ to help. 😀

    November 10, 2016 at 8:41 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! Herons look so graceful while flying or as they stand patiently waiting to strike at food, but they have a hard time walking at even a slow pace.

      I’m thinking along the same lines as you are concerning a camper, I may check them out one day this winter when the weather isn’t good for photography. I have an alternate plan as well, a truck, as in a semi with a sleeper berth, or better yet, one of the expedite straight trucks. That way I could tow my Subaru and not put many miles on it, then use it to get around to the actual parks while leaving the truck in a truck stop close by. You wouldn’t believe the room in one of those, not only a bed but also a microwave and refrigerator. Built in AC and heat as well, and the newer ones come with generators to run a computer or what have you. Not only that, but used trucks, even though with low miles for a diesel engine, are dirt cheap compared to RV and campers for what you get.

      November 10, 2016 at 12:47 pm

      • There are lots of options out there, Jerry. Some are incredibly inventive. We have met some folks who live full-time in a pickup truck with a camper mounted on the back. Their camper has a small slide-out, which gives them a bit of extra stretch out space. I think John and I could easily full-time in the Fireball. Life is much more simple with less stuff.

        No need to have a generator. Go solar. Fun to think about the choices. Luckily, you have plenty of time to sort them out.

        November 10, 2016 at 9:47 pm

      • Thanks for the input, Judy! I will look into solar for electricity, but most trucks these days have what’s called an APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) that provides the temperature control and generator at the same time. I suppose that solar would be a good option when the APU could be shut down completely.

        I like the idea of a truck, no axle, brake, or other problems that I hear from so many people with recreational vehicles of any type. I lived in a truck for five years, and it’s great when you’re on the go, everything is self contained and built to last.

        November 10, 2016 at 11:52 pm

  13. I love Lone Island in the Fog, and about the GBH and Bald Eagle? Yes, Eagles have been known to snare Herons mid-flight. I will spare you the aftermath photos. Best, Babsje

    November 11, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    • Thank you very much Babsje! I’d never heard of an eagle taking a heron before, but it seemed like a possibility to me.

      November 12, 2016 at 12:37 am

  14. You’ve captured some beautiful shots here, Jerry. I also enjoyed your thorough thought on what equipment you would desire to have at retirement. A heavy backpack of equipment is definitely difficult, I too find I don’t carry everything just because of that. Then, as you say, the shot of the moment is missed or not fully created by you because of the missing equipment. I believe you are on the right track in your thinking!

    November 13, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    • Thank you very much Donna! I hope that I’m on the right track, being able to do more without carrying everything that I do now.

      November 13, 2016 at 4:57 pm