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

For my next trick

It’s been a slow weekend so far, so I spent some time on Sunday, testing various lens/tele-converter combinations out to see which one would produce the best portraits…

Herring gull

Herring gull

…and which would do the best on birds in flight.

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

Without boring every one with the details and the many photos that I shot, the way that it worked out is that the 100-400 mm lens and the 70-200 mm lens are about equal for bird portraits with or without a tele-converter behind it. The herring gull portrait was shot with the 100-400 mm lens and 2 X tele-converter and manually focused. The flying herring gull was shot with the 70-200 mm lens and no extender.

I found that the 100-400 mm lens will match the sharpness of the 70-200 mm lens for birds in flight, as long as I turn the Image Stabilization of the lens off completely.

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

That confirms what I had been thinking for a while now, even the best Image Stabilization still interferes with getting super sharp images of subjects in motion, at least for me. The 100-400 mm lens is one of Canon’s newest, with what’s supposed to be their best IS ever. The 70-200 mm lens that I have is one of Canon’s oldest lenses still on the market, and it has no IS at all. As long as I keep the shutter speed fast enough, turning the IS off on the 100-400 mm lens produces the sharpest images. That is, if I have the time to turn the IS off, which is time that I don’t always have.

The 70-200 mm lens doesn’t have IS, so I don’t have to think about turning it off. On the other hand, even with the 1.4 X tele-converter, it’s unusual for me to get close enough to a subject for that lens to be a viable option. I didn’t think to try it with the 2 X extender, as that limits the number of focus points that I can use, and also disables some of the other features of the auto-focus system of the camera that I’ve come to rely on. However, I should at least give that combination a try, if for nothing more than a reference point or a lighter way of getting to 400 mm if I’m doing a very long hike.

During the last few trips that I’ve made to Muskegon lately, twice I have seen northern harriers and crows interacting. I haven’t figured out just exactly what is going on, if the harriers are trying to make a meal of a crow, or if they are only trying to drive the crows away. Or, it could be that the crows are mobbing a predator, but that doesn’t seem to be the case as I’ve watched the action. Unfortunately, both times that I’ve witnessed these two species interacting, it has been too far away for me to get good photos of what I saw.

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

 

Northern harrier and American crow

Northern harrier and American crow

 

Northern harrier and American crow

Northern harrier and American crow

 

Northern harrier and American crow

Northern harrier and American crow

 

Northern harrier and American crow

Northern harrier and American crow

 

Northern harrier and American crow

Northern harrier and American crow

Both times that I’ve seen these two species going at it, the harriers looked to be the one that started the fracas, but the crows quickly turned the tables on the harrier, ganging up on it and driving it away.

This week, I spotted the crows first, they were feeding peacefully in one of the recently harvested farm fields. The harrier came along and appeared to try to take one of the crows, which seems strange since the crows are almost as large as the harrier is. The crows turned on the harrier, and drove it from the field, then went back to eating. A few minutes later, the harrier returned again. This was repeated several times. If the harrier was looking for a meal, then it seemed a huge waste of energy to take on another bird that’s almost as large as it is, and is an extremely skilled flier. In fact, this week I didn’t shoot many photos, as I just sat in awe watching the birds in flight. Both the harriers and the crows are good-sized birds, it’s amazing to watch how agile both species are in the air.

That plays into a quote that I recently read.

When I started my adventure in photography, I was suddenly introduced to the world around me. I can’t believe I have been so blind for too many years.” ~ Laura Tate Sutton

It’s also the reason that I’m putting so much effort into getting better images, to share the world that I see through the camera with the rest of the world.

Most people are familiar with crows, they look like large, lumbering birds in flight as they fly from one place to another. However, when they are mobbing a predator, their skill as a bird in flight is revealed. The same can be said of the predator that they are mobbing. Someday I hope to be close enough to the birds to truly capture just how agile they are in flight.

That quote also goes along with this image that I shot Sunday.

Herring gull yawning

Herring gull yawning

First, I was surprised by how far they can open their mouth, then, I began to see the details of their anatomy inside of their mouth and throat. I’ve never seen the details of the inside of a gull’s mouth before, it isn’t like ours, that’s for sure. I have no idea what the structures are at the base of the gull’s tongue are or what they are for, but I may find out someday, and I’ll know what they look like if I read an article about them.

I had been thinking that it was a slow weekend, I walked around home on both Friday and Saturday, and these photos show how spoiled I’ve become.

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

 

Juvenile red-tailed hawk taking flight

Juvenile red-tailed hawk taking flight

 

Cooper's hawk

Cooper’s hawk

 

Cooper's hawk

Cooper’s hawk

 

American kestrel number 1

American kestrel number 1

 

American kestrel number 2

American kestrel number 2

I saw two species of hawks and two kestrels in one day around home, and I think that it’s a slow day. The tricks a person’s mind can play are amazing sometimes. That goes for memories as well. I thought that the maples here were very late in beginning to turn color this year, but this photo from Saturday…

Maple tree glowing in the sun

Maple tree glowing in the sun

…is almost exactly like one that I shot just one week earlier last year. So, the maples aren’t really any later in turning color than other years, it must be because the weather has been so nice here this year that my mind is playing tricks on me.

Here’s a few of the other photos from Saturday.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

 

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

 

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

 

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

So, not a bad day after all.

Monday, I went to Duck Lake to shoot the Super Moon as it set, but clouds ruined that idea.

The Super Moon setting over Lake Michigan

The Super Moon setting over Lake Michigan

But, the good news was that the clouds made for a great sunrise. These next three were shot with the 60D and EF S 15-85 mm lens, and are HDR images.

Sunrise over Duck Lake State Park 1

Sunrise over Duck Lake State Park 1

 

Sunrise over Duck Lake State Park 2

Sunrise over Duck Lake State Park 2

 

Sunrise over Duck Lake State Park 3

Sunrise over Duck Lake State Park 3

I also shot a few hand-held with the 7D and 100-400 mm lens.

Flaming sky

Flaming sky

 

Gull flying into the flame

Gull flying away from the flame

I then set-up to shoot the last vestiges of the sunrise over Lake Michigan.

Lake Michigan as the sun rose

Lake Michigan as the sun rose

I thought about walking the trails at Duck Lake State Park, but that park is open to hunting, so I decided that Muskegon State Park would be a better option, hoping that I’d find something to photograph on the Lost Lake trail. I did.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

The only thing remarkable about these is that I shot them at ISO 12800, and they are sharp, with most of the detail intact within the images, despite the amount of noise reduction required.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

While these would have been better with more light, I can’t really complain about these, my low-light images continue to improve.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

One thing that I still don’t understand is why it is impossible at times to get a sharp image, even when everything seems to be good. I thought that I had great light when I shot this photo of a rough legged hawk.

Rough-legged hawk

Rough-legged hawk

I was using the 100-400 mm lens and 2 X tele-converter, which means that I was focusing manually. I tried many times to get the focus just right…

Rough-legged hawk

Rough-legged hawk

…and these are good, but even as I was looking through the viewfinder and focusing, I could never get the image that I saw as sharp as what it should have been. When you look at the first photo in this post, the herring gull, you can see what the lens/extender combination is capable of. The same applies to this image as well.

Male belted kingfisher

Male belted kingfisher

Of course I was closer to the gull, and that image was shot the previous day. But, I was closer to the hawk than the kingfisher, and those images were shot within an hour of one another. Every photo of the hawk is a tad bit soft, and I shot quite a few, and most of the images of the kingfisher…

Male belted kingfisher

Male belted kingfisher

…are quite sharp, despite how much that I cropped them. Same day, slightly different locations, but somewhat different results. As I watched the hawk through the viewfinder, I was rocking the focusing ring back and forth, trying to get the focus just right, but never did. For the kingfisher, it popped into focus, and I could sit and wait until it struck a good pose, then fire away.

Another thing that I’ll never understand is why two species of birds that are usually very wary both allowed me to get quite close, and shoot my best images ever of both species on the same day.

There was a kingfisher at Lost Lake that morning, and I tried stalking it, using a sand dune for cover as I approached where it was perched, but it was gone when I got to where I would have been able to see it if it had stayed where it had been. Knowing that they use the same perches over and over, I sat down behind some brush to wait for the kingfisher to return, it never did. It went around the lake several times, stopping at various places along the way, but it never returned to where I could have gotten a good photo of it, it must have known where I was hiding.

The same day, but at the wastewater facility, I find a kingfisher that allowed me to get very close to it several times, as you can see by the fact that it’s perched on different things in the two photos of it. In fact, I couldn’t believe my luck, and I returned later to see if it was as amicable as it had been earlier, and it was. It would sit until it saw a fish, dive to make the catch, then move on to different place to perch. I followed along, shooting more photos at each location.

Changing the subject, some of the male northern shovelers are getting close to having their full breeding plumage, so I thought that I’d try to get a good photo of one of them in flight.

Male northern shoveler being photo-bombed by mallards

Male northern shoveler being photo-bombed by mallards

But, a pair of mallards flying into the frame distracted me, so the shoveler was some distance away when I finally got this photo.

Male northern shoveler in flight

Male northern shoveler in flight

I have filled each of the three available custom control modes of my 7D Mk II with bird in flight set-ups. The first set-up that I saved works okay if the birds are the only thing in the frame other than the sky, as when I’m shooting up to get the bird, but those settings don’t work as well when I shoot at a low angle, like in the photos above. So, the other two customizable settings that I saved are close to being the same, but one is for good light, and the other for poor light. They work very well most of the time, especially for mostly dark birds like eagles and hawks, not so well for birds that are white, like gulls, or have a lot of white on them, like the ducks. So, I’m going to have to reprogram that first set-up with different exposure setting for when I’m shooting lighter birds, otherwise, I’m blowing out the highlights too often. Okay, that’s done, it was easy enough now that I’m used to doing it.

It will be interesting to see how those new settings work out, as I based them on the manual mode rather than shutter priority as I did for the other two set-ups. If this works as well as I hope it will, I’ll reprogram the other two customizable modes also. I was hoping that the register recall function that I can assign to several different buttons on the camera would do the same thing, only faster, but it won’t switch the camera mode. That does give me an idea though, as it pertains to getting better portrait shots. There, that’s taken care of.

If there were one feature that I would add to the 7D Mk II if I could, it would be the ability to store lens settings in the customizable modes. I’d love to be able to limit the focusing range and to turn the IS off with the turn of a dial or press of a button, rather than to have to set both the camera and the lens to the best settings for the photo that I’m going to shoot. Maybe some day Canon will make that possible.

Anyway, here’s a few of the other photos that I shot while walking the Lost Lake trail on Monday.

Beech leaves

Beech leaves and hemlocks

 

Oak leaves abstract

Oak leaves abstract

 

More beech leaves

More beech leaves

Well, that’s about it. I think that my next trick will be getting photos as good as these once more typical weather moves in. It’s been a glorious fall so far, with warm temperatures and lots of sun. That’s all forecast to end this weekend, darn. Rain, snow, and wind are supposed to hit the area on Saturday. I may have to spend one day moving all my stuff back into the room that had the water leak in it. They finally got around to finishing that job.

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

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27 responses

  1. Anonymous

    The sharpness of the photos is outstanding for me. They are so beautiful and they nicely capture and document the lives of birds.
    Incredible. Absolutely amazing. This is the point of view of a man using a point and shoot camera.

    November 16, 2016 at 3:45 pm

  2. The sharpness of the photos is outstanding for me. They are so beautiful and they nicely capture and document the lives of birds.
    Incredible. Absolutely amazing. This is the point of view of a man using a point and shoot camera.

    November 16, 2016 at 3:46 pm

  3. If that was a slow day, I hope I that I have a few slow days too. I thought that this post might contain some of your best shots ever to my taste.

    November 16, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! It did turn out to be a good weekend after a slow start. Other than the crows and the harrier, I would agree, some of my best shots in a while.

      November 17, 2016 at 12:17 am

  4. Superb shots! 🙂

    November 16, 2016 at 5:22 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom!

      November 17, 2016 at 12:17 am

  5. I saw a crow doing the same thing to a hawk last week. Just following it turn for turn and cawing softly the whole time. They flew that way until they were out of sight so I don’t know if the crow got belligerent or not.
    You’re really getting good with those sunrises and they’re beautiful. And so are the shots of the deer. You can’t get much closer than that!
    I also like the shots of the kingfisher. I see one once in a blue moon but never close enough for a photo.
    Your foliage is still beautiful!

    November 16, 2016 at 5:38 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! It isn’t unusual to see a crow chasing a predator, what was interesting in this case was the actions of the northern harrier.

      I love sunrise, and it helps to have a schedule that allows me to be in place long before the sun actually comes up to capture the scene as it unfolds.

      I’ve been closer to deer before, but never out in the open like that. She found something that she really wanted to eat, and other than looking my way while chewing, she wasn’t going to let me being so close stop her from getting what she wanted.

      I’ve never had a kingfisher allow me to follow it around and get so close before either, that’s one for the record books.

      Most of the leaves have fallen from most of the trees here, so I had to get close to get what remains of the fall colors.

      November 17, 2016 at 12:24 am

  6. Wonderful photographs of birds, splendid views of flaming skies and you finish with striking pictures of Autumn colours, wow!

    November 16, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan! The great weather we’ve had here went a long way towards me getting the photos that I did.

      November 17, 2016 at 12:27 am

  7. Very nice close-ups!

    November 16, 2016 at 6:36 pm

    • Thank you very much Bob!

      November 17, 2016 at 12:28 am

  8. Vicki

    excellent photos! the female Cardinal, the sunrise photos and the Kingfisher are my favorites..

    November 16, 2016 at 7:25 pm

    • Thank you very much Vicki! Those are among my favorites also.

      November 17, 2016 at 12:30 am

  9. I love the shots of the deer and the sunrise. It seems to me you had a very successful weekend as you not only took these gorgeous photos but you managed to do a lot of experimenting with your lenses too.

    November 16, 2016 at 7:42 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I just hope that I remember what it is that I learned about the lenses over the coming winter.

      November 17, 2016 at 12:31 am

      • 😀

        November 17, 2016 at 7:35 am

  10. Of course, you know that I really love those close-ups. Outstanding! I especially love the hawks and harriers, because I never have seen them close before. Birds are so beautifully constructed, aren’t they?

    The symmetry of the two Canadian geese is intriguing. Love that photo.

    After three weeks of taking constantly, all the leaves are suddenly down, and I’m thinking uh-oh. We all know what’s coming next…..in the meantime, this has been an extraordinary month to be outside and enjoy Michigan. You sure have made the best of it.

    November 17, 2016 at 8:30 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! I’ve been working extremely hard to get better close-ups, I’m glad that you liked them. Yes, birds are beautifully constructed, that’s something else I’ve been working hard to show.

      If only the geese had been slightly farther apart vertically, the image would have been excellent, but it’s still very good the way it is.

      The nice things about living in an apartment, no leaves to rake, no lawn to mow, more time to play outside than work. 😉

      November 17, 2016 at 1:39 pm

  11. It’s difficult to know how your pictures could get any more spectacular, Jerry, but every time I see a new post I think Wow! This is the best yet!

    November 17, 2016 at 9:50 am

    • Thank you very much Sue! There’s lots of room for improvement in my photos, getting better angles and backgrounds would make them even better. But, that’s not likely to happen until next spring.

      November 17, 2016 at 1:40 pm

  12. I’m sure I write this every time and say that your photos are amazing and wonderful but the photos in the post are superb, fantastic…I’ve run out of superlatives! Hard to choose favourite photos when I like them all but the herring gull photos, the sunrise scenes and the kingfisher are double Wows! Thank you for opening my eyes!

    November 17, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    • Thank you very much Marianne! Unfortunately, I’ll be hard pressed to match any of the photos in this post for the next few months as winter sets in. But come next spring, I hope to do even better than these though.

      November 17, 2016 at 1:46 pm

  13. Magnificent photos, Jerry, that make me happy to read your posts again after this long hiatus. That quote from Laura Tate Sutton is so true!

    November 17, 2016 at 7:19 pm

    • Thank you very much Hien! I hope that your trip was a safe and pleasurable one, and that you shot many photos of the things that you saw.

      November 18, 2016 at 12:15 am

  14. Beautiful photos, Jerry, and my favorite cardinals were among them. I miss them out here in the West! You always have such a wide variety of subjects it is hard to pick a favorite, especially among the birds and animals. The autumn scenes were lovely.

    I like the yawning gull. That is a lot of detail in there. 🙂

    November 20, 2016 at 3:18 pm

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! With the arrival of winter, I’m sure that you’ll be seeing more cardinals, as they are one of the few species that spend winters here.

      About the gull, now I wonder if other bird’s mouths are the same as the gulls.

      November 20, 2016 at 4:12 pm