I remember my failures
After publishing my last regular post on Sunday, I went out for a walk in the snowstorm, without a camera. I remember that I’ve done that in the past when it was snowing heavily, but it seemed so weird this time.
I will say this, I stayed much warmer, and the cold and snow didn’t bother me as much, because I was moving faster, and I concentrated on keeping myself warm and dry, not my camera and lens. Winter isn’t so bad after all. 😉
It may be that by the time I get around to publishing this post, my newest bit of camera gear will have arrived. I absolutely love the images that I’ve been shooting with the 100-400 mm lens that I purchased a few months ago, it’s been a great reminder that the lens used on a camera is more important than the camera itself in may ways. But before I ramble on about lenses, first I have to pat myself on the back a little.
One thing that I’m proud of is that I don’t go overboard when editing my images, even the HDR images that I create. I generally add a little clarity and vibrance to the images, very little when compared to what the experts recommend. I very seldom touch the color saturation, although I’ve found that the 7D Mk II needs a little help in that department when I’m shooting almost directly into the sun, which I shouldn’t be doing anyway.
I crop the photos when needed, and fix the lack of dynamic range that digital cameras have. That is, I usually bring down the highlights and raise the shadows a little. If I shot the photo at a high ISO setting, then I’ll reduce the noise, and that’s it.
As I’ve said a few times, I joined the North American Nature Photographers Association on Facebook so that I can compare my images to those that other people shoot. While the majority of the images that I see there are quite well done, there are some that are so heavily edited that they look nothing like what one would ever see in nature. It’s difficult to pick out what I think are the worst “sins” that some photographers make, but pushing the color saturation well past the point of what I think is correct is one of them. Then there are the HDR images that are way overdone in the first place, then the photographer compounds the mistake by pushing the color saturation even further. Another one of the things that I see which I don’t care for is vignetting the image to the point where the edges of the photo are very dark, and the corners are almost black.
I should take a few of my images, edit them in ways that I think are wrong, and show every one what I’m talking about, but every one’s taste varies. Me, I go for the most realistic look that I can get in an image. I think that I’m doing very well in that regard.
I do hate to brag, but I’ve come a long way over the past couple of years in both getting the photo as good as it can be in the camera, and in editing the images afterward. Some of that is due to equipment, good glass is everything is one thing that I’ve learned.
Oh, by the way, that reminds me, a while back I did a post on something that I heard a lot from people when I showed them my photos. They’d say “You must have a really good camera” and that would tick me off a little. As my images have improved, I don’t hear that any longer, instead, I hear “You’re really good”.
Okay then, I’ve been putting a lot of thought, as always, into how I can improve on the images that I get now. Most of that involves improving the things that I do already, but there’s one thing I could accomplish with more camera gear to improve my images, and that is to have a second long set-up ready to go at all times. It’s great when a bird stays in one place and let’s me shoot away…
…but many times, I approach a bird hoping to get a good portrait shot, but the bird takes flight…
…before I can. So there I am with the camera and lens set incorrectly for an action shot because I was hoping to shoot a portrait first. It’s even worse when I’m using a tele-converter behind the lens to get a longer focal length, as the extender slows or disables the auto-focus system.
I do tend to remember my failures. I remember this spring, hoping to get a good portrait of a male bufflehead duck, so I put the 2 X extender behind the 300 mm lens. Just as I was getting ready to shoot a portrait, the male buffleheads went into their courting display to impress the female nearby. I did manage a few fair photos of their display, but I could have done much better if I had been prepared for it. I could recount dozens of other examples of when I guessed incorrectly as to what the wildlife I was preparing to photograph was about to do as I got ready to photograph them.
It takes me several seconds to change camera and lens settings, dealing with tele-converters only lengthens that to well over a minute, and the action is over before I can make the required changes. And, unless I want to work as many hours per day as I can for the rest of my life, it looks like I’m stuck using tele-converters to get close-ups of my subjects. If I had two long set-ups ready to go, one for portraits, one for action, I could swap cameras quicker than I can change all the settings required.
So with that in mind, I once again researched the possible long lenses, and I’ve settled on the Canon 400 mm f/5.6 lens. I’ve put that lens on my want list, then taken it off again numerous times. I’d love a lens with a wider maximum aperture, but to go to a 400mm f/4 lens would cost well over $5,000 more, and I’m not going to spend that much for one more stop of light. I could go with a Sigma 500 mm f/4 lens, but that’s also $4,000 more than the Canon 400 mm, and it doesn’t function with the Canon tele-converters that I have. They may be cheap, but it would put the total cost close to $5,000, and I’d rather not carry two more tele-converters with me all the time.
I also explored spotting scopes and the adaptors that can be used to mount a camera to them, and once again, the total cost of one of those set-ups would be about $5,000, funny how that works.
As for the camera body for the second long set-up, I’ll go with another 7D Mk II, as it’s the best option that Canon makes for wildlife photographers. The 5D Mk IV offers better low-light performance and dynamic range, but with lower resolution, which in a way, equates to sharpness. The 5DS R has slightly higher resolution than my 7D, but with worse low-light performance. And, both of the 5D models are over $2,000 more than the 7D costs.
The 7D Mk II does everything that I want a camera to do, other than high-resolution landscapes, and I’ve been producing some great photos with it this past summer.
I went to the Muskegon County wastewater facility on Monday, just as the most recent snowstorm was ending. I’ll show you a few snowy scenes later, but the first photos that I shot play into what I was talking about as far as having a second long set-up for birds. As I turned off from the main road and into the entrance of the wastewater facility, I was met by this eagle.
I only had the time to get the camera turned on, I didn’t have time to change any settings or to add the 1.4 X tele-converter, which I should have done for a better image. So, I ended up with yet another so-so photo of an eagle.
Anyway, here are three landscape photos that I shot, these are all HDR images to overcome the lack of dynamic range of my camera.
Most of the roads, if you want to call them that, at the wastewater facility hadn’t been plowed, and the foot of fresh snow was testing the all wheel drive capability of my Subaru. So, I wasn’t able to get in the correct position to shoot some of the snow scenes that may have been better.
I found a large flock of American tree sparrows…
…but that’s the only photo that I’ll share right now.
I also found several large flocks of snow buntings, at first, I tried to shoot a good close-up…
…but that wasn’t working because they seldom sit still. Instead, I tried for a few flock shots.
These little birds are in perpetual motion as they look for seeds, you can see that three of the four in the foreground are running to where one had found seeds.
You can also see that they grab the vegetation sticking out of the snow to pull it up which may expose more seeds for them to eat. They’re fun birds to watch, but difficult to photograph, because on a whim, the entire flock will take flight, and move on to the next spot to feed.
I also saw a small flock of tundra swans in the distance.
As quickly as the open water is freezing over, I’ll wager that they were that they’re getting ready to head farther south.
There were two eagles sitting out on the edge of the ice, but too far away for a good photo. When a third eagle flew over to harass one of the first two…
…I couldn’t resist shooting a short burst off the action.
My only other photo of the day is this one of a rough-legged hawk in flight, looking the wrong way.
I’m getting a bad feeling about this coming winter, even worse than I had before. In some ways, it makes little sense to purchase any more camera gear when the weather is going to be too bad to get out and use that gear very often. On the other hand, the 400 mm lens is on sale, plus I have a rewards card from B&H Photo that has to be used before it expires, which will reduce the cost, plus any time that I get to use it will help me get used to it for when better weather does arrive.
More about the weather, up until yesterday, the 16th, we had 55 minutes of sunshine for the entire month of December, which averaged out to a little more than 4 minutes per day. But the majority of that came on the one Monday when I went out and shot a few of the photos from my last post. There’s already enough snow on the ground that the only places that I’ll be able to get to are those where the roads have been plowed. The forecast for the next ten days is the same, cold and snow, with the only difference between days is how cold, and how much snow will fall.
And since I wrote that last segment, it’s been more of the same. We were under a winter weather advisory for most of the past weekend as yet another Arctic front passed through the area bringing more snow, more cold, and more clouds. The good news is that the cold air may retreat later this week, and we may see temperatures slightly above freezing for a few days this next week. Although the temperature may get above freezing, we’ll still have a white Christmas here as the temperature won’t be warm enough to melt the snow already on the ground, and we’ll have more fall this week anyway.
Wednesday marks the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year as far as sunlight, from then on, the amount of sunlight each day will begin increasing again. At least that’s something to look forward to.
I’m also looking forward to the new 400 mm lens being delivered today, I’d be home staying out of the cold even if I didn’t have to wait for the lens to be delivered. With the wind chill around zero (-17 C) and a foot of fresh snow on the ground, I’ve been doing research into places to go when the weather does warm up. I’ve found quite a few, however most of them are farther north than I can go for a weekend, unless I want to spend most of my time off driving to and from the places I’ve found. But, I have found a few much closer to home where I’m likely to find species of birds that I need to add to the My Photo Life List project.
Well, the new 400 mm lens arrived very late in the afternoon, after I had gone to bed in fact. Fortunately, I heard the buzzer when the delivery driver arrived, and I was able to leap out of bed and let him in before he gave up. My first impressions are that the lens is relatively small and light compared to the 100-400 mm lens, it’s even lighter than the 300 mm lens because it doesn’t have Image Stabilization. In fact, it’s so light that I wonder how well I’ll be able to track large birds in flight with it, only time will tell.
One of the reasons that I didn’t purchase this lens earlier is because of its long minimum focusing distance, around 12 feet. That’s not close enough for small birds in thick vegetation, but it will be fine for my trips to the Muskegon wastewater facility or the channel to Lake Michigan, where the birds are typically larger, and I shoot them at longer distances. I’ve shot one photo with it so far, a photo of my computer screen. The long minimum focusing distance was apparent even then, at first I thought that the auto-focusing wasn’t working because I was too close to the computer. I took a step back, and shot this at 1/60 second and ISO 12800 handheld.
Not bad for no IS, I can’t wait to try it out in good light.
I did get to tryout out in good light today, but I couldn’t find anything to photograph. All the water in the ponds and creek is frozen, so no mallards or geese, and with a sustained wind of nearly 30 MPH, with higher gusts, I knew that most birds would be hunkered down to stay warm. So, I found an icicle to photograph.
It’s only the first full day of winter, and I’m already suffering from cabin fever. Since the weather hasn’t been very good, I’ve been working more to fill the void. I’ve also been planning, for this next year and beyond. I’ve submitted my vacation request at work, for the third week of May again this year. That’s a long way off, and I’ll have to see what the weather will be like as that week approaches, but I plan to go up north for a week of camping and birding as I have the past several years.
Because I slowed down and took better care of myself last year, it was one of the best vacations that I’ve ever had. I plan to do the same thing this year, in the same area if the weather allows. I’ve even found a few more places in the Alpena, Michigan area that should be good for both birding and scenery photos.
Next year, I’ll be eligible for two weeks of vacation if I can gut it out where I work, then I’ll take one week off in the spring, and save the second week, probably for early fall for another trip to the upper peninsula as I did a few years ago. I could prattle on and on about my plans, and all that they mean, but it’s time to finish this post up with some photos from last fall.
Here’s a few more photos.
It looks as if the weather is going to improve this weekend, I hope to get outside at least on Sunday.
I almost forgot, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone!
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!