I said in my last post that I stood on the boardwalk at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve for several hours waiting to get photos of the least bittern which I needed for the My Photo Life List that I’m working on. It didn’t used to be in my nature to stand in one spot like that, I’m the type of person that prefers to keep moving. There had been better lighting during one of my earlier visits to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and I had seen the least bittern, but it flew past me as I was talking to some one that I see regularly there. So, he and I were chatting, and I didn’t notice the bittern approaching until it was too late for me to get a photo. I did however see where the bittern dove into the vegetation, and that gave me a few clues as to its behavior. I also walked up and down the boardwalk several times, shooting other subjects that I saw as I walked, but I wasn’t able to get the bittern.
Over the past year or so, instead of walking or driving around the places that I go, I tend to sit in one spot longer all the time. For one thing, there are spots within the places that I go where I find that I’m much more likely to get the photographs that I’d like to be able to get in those spots than moving from spot to spot and wasting time covering “unproductive” areas between. However, when I’m staying in one spot, I always have the feeling that I’m missing things that I’d otherwise see and be able to photograph.
I have the feeling that I may be missing things because the truth is, I do miss things when I’m not moving. I know this because I see things happening in the distance out of camera range that I wish that I had been able to photograph, but there’s no way that I can be everywhere all the time.
The day when I stood in place waiting for the bittern was a very cloudy day, with fog and even a few sprinkles of rain at times. It wasn’t a good day for photography at all, except that the poor weather kept most people away from the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, leaving it all to me alone. I thought that it would give me a good chance of catching the bittern, or any other critters that shy away from people. I have a photo to illustrate the weather that morning.
That’s the B. C. Cobb power plant near Muskegon, a coal-fired plant that was decommissioned earlier this year, and is slated for demolition in the near future. You can also see the end of the boardwalk that runs through the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and how it ends in an elevated viewing platform. The Muskegon River runs between the nature preserve and the power plant.
So, I was standing there waiting for the bittern when I spotted a bald eagle flying past…
…and even though it was out of range of a good photo, I shot a few photos of the eagle as it spiraled down.
What I can’t show you is the eagle diving down to the river and snatching a fish from the river. I could see the event happen through an opening in the cattails, but there’s no way that I could have gotten a focus lock on the eagle as it caught its lunch, darn!
Had I been out on the end of the boardwalk, I would have had a front-row seat of an event that I’d absolutely love to photograph. But then, I wouldn’t have gotten the poor photos of the bittern that I was able to shoot a few minutes later.
I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve stood out there at the end of the boardwalk, hoping for something to happen such as the eagle fishing, but I usually see only gulls flying past, occasionally a tern perhaps, or an eagle at a higher altitude on its way to another location.
As it was, I amused myself by shooting other poor images of things that I saw while waiting for the bittern.
Isn’t it amazing how the position of the heron’s wings makes the entire bird have a different look about it?
That’s as far out in the open as any of the family of wood ducks would come. If you look very closely at that photo, there are three wood ducks in the frame.
Because there were no other people there at the nature preserve, and because I was standing still most of the time, I was able to watch the wildlife there in action going about their business in a way that isn’t possible when the wildlife is on alert due to the presence of humans.
I knew that would be the case, it’s the reason that I purchased the portable hide earlier this year, although I still haven’t tested it out yet, I should do that soon. I can never decide where the best spot to just sit would be though, even though I’m learning the best spots within the places that I go.
Here’s another example.
That was shot along the road that runs back to one of my favorite spots to sit, the man-made lakes at the south end of the Muskegon County wastewater facility. The lakes are behind the trees in the far right of the frame, and there’s a line of cottonwood trees that always hold birds along the road up to the lakes. In addition, there’s a creek that crosses the fields that you can see in the image above, right at the far end of the line of cottonwood trees.
While I’m waiting for birds, or letting them settle down after some one else has driven down the road, I can shoot macros of the wildflowers you can see in the photo above, and insects that are attracted to the flowers.
After I had a good image of the bee, I was hoping that it would move to a different flower so as not to distract from the flower itself. But, the bee stayed put.
Along the line of cottonwood trees, I can shoot the birds that perch there.
And, back at the man-made lakes, I can shoot the birds that I find there.
Keen observers may notice that the egret is perched on the same tree as the juvenile green heron from my last post.
It’s about a quarter of a mile from where I shot the landscape photo of the wildflowers to where I sit at the man-made lake. So, when I think about sitting someplace along the road, I can never decide where the exact spot to sit for the best images would be. The spot from where I shot the egret above is where I set-up my tripod with the gimbal head on it a few weeks ago to shoot the swans in the man-made lake.
That would be a good spot to sit in my hide, but there’s a fence that blocks access to the lake to deal with, along with vegetation that grows between the lake and the fence that I have to shoot through openings in the vegetation to get the shots there that I do. That requires that I move around some, depending on where the subject happens to be. I’ve thought about going over the fence to get closer to the lake, it’s obvious that many other people have done that. However, because it’s a man-made lake dug out using a crane, the banks of the lake are too steep to set-up my tripod any closer to the lake than what the fence is.
The line of cottonwood trees almost always provide an opportunity for a photo or two, but it’s seldom the same tree, so I’d have a hard time choosing one or two trees to watch. If I were forced to sit someplace along the line of trees, it would be near the creek that flows at the end of the line of trees.
The raccoon’s mother and sibling had already moved back into the vegetation and out of sight by the time I got the camera ready.
And, if I set the hide up near the wildflowers, I’d probably end up with just a few more photos of the dickcissel that likes that spot.
Going back to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, I’d look like a fool setting up my tripod and portable hide on the boardwalk as dozens of people per day walked or rode their bikes past me as I sat in the hide. With my luck, one of the cyclists would plow into me and damage my camera and/or lens if I did try setting up there.
On the dry land portion of the preserve, the vegetation is so thick in most places that one can only see a few feet in any direction while sitting in one spot. It’s much easier to walk slowly along the trails there and look through openings in the vegetation to see and photograph the birds there.
The only clearing of any size there at the preserve is around the picnic pavilion, and I have sat at the picnic tables there to shoot some of the photos that I’ve taken there.
However, a strange phenomenon occurs whenever I try to get serious about photographing the birds from the picnic pavilion, no one uses the pavilion until I get set-up for some good photos. Of all the times that I’ve been to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, I can only remember seeing two people at the pavilion when I arrived there, no matter what time of day it was. Those two people are Brian Johnson, whom I’ve mentioned in my blog before. He does his bird banding using the pavilion as his base of operations when banding birds. The other person is a woman who I bump into regularly, she’s a fellow nature photographer who will fill the bird feeders there at the preserve, then shoot photos of the birds as they come to the feeders. So, most of the time I have the pavilion to myself.
But it never seems to fail, if I bring all the gear I’d need to shoot some very good photos of the birds around the pavilion, then people decide that it’s time for a picnic, or to just sit and talk. If I take just one long lens and no tele-converter with me, then I can sit at the pavilion for hours and no one shows up there, other than to walk past on the trail there. I get a few good photos that way, but not as good as I could get if I were fully prepared with all the equipment required.
You may think that I’m being paranoid, and maybe I am, but I don’t think so. I’ll tell one story of what happened there at the pavilion. I arrived early in the morning, and taken both of my long lenses on both cameras, a wide-angle lens, and both tele-converters back to the pavilion. I had just gotten sat down, when four elderly people decided to have their morning coffee at the pavilion, so after a few minutes of listening to them chattering away, I moved on. They got up and followed me after just a minute or two. As slowly as I was walking, they stayed behind me, chattering away the entire time. So, I took a dead-end trail, and waited until they finally passed by. I then returned to the pavilion and began to get set-up again, and the four elderly people returned and sat down again, still chattering away. I gave up, and returned to my car, putting most of the gear away, as those four followed me, chattering the entire way. I half expected them to follow me back into the preserve, but they didn’t.
I’ve complained about the way that people behave in the past, but I’ve gotten tired of complaining about it. I still have people walk right in front of me as I’m trying to get a photo, and people who shout “What are you taking pictures of?” as I’m trying to shoot photos. So, I try to avoid people as much as I can when I’m out with my camera.
I had hoped to go searching for a really good place to get set-up in the portable hide, with all the gear that I’d need for good photos, but because of my health issues this spring, a lack of time, and wanting to avoid insect repellent for the summer, those plans have been put on hold for the time being.
I’ve heard that there used to be an elderly gentleman who would bring some sort of portable hide with him to the wastewater facility, and that he was able to shoot some fabulous photos that way. About this time last year, I spent a good portion of one day sitting on a large rock watching and photographing lesser yellowlegs in action and perched.
Those are things that I keep in mind this year as I’m photographing the things that I see. There may well come a time when setting up the hide that I have at the wastewater facility is the way to get some even better images than the two yellowlegs fighting that I’ve just shared. I could get much better photos than that one this year since I have better lenses and I’ve learned how to take advantage of the power of the 7D Mk II.
I have been keeping my eyes and ears open, hoping to learn of a good place that I could go to set-up the hide, and the tripod with the gimbal head on it. I may not have used the portable hide yet, but from my limited use of the gimbal head, I know that using it more often would result in better images. However, I don’t want to turn this into another post of photography equipment and techniques.
I do have some spots in mind where I could make full use of the equipment that I have, under the right conditions. Once we get a hard frost, and the insect population falls off, then I’ll begin my search for a place where I can just sit and wait in earnest. Actually, I think that I’ll have to find several places, depending on the season of the year, time of day, and weather conditions. Probably the biggest item of the list of things that I need to find is a lack of people.
If I’m going to attempt to just sit in one spot, I don’t want other people walking or driving by at just the wrong time to spoil the opportunity. And, if I find a good quiet spot, I may well begin to shoot more videos of the things that I see. That’s when the gimbal head will be an essential thing to use, as it will allow me to produce videos that aren’t ruined by my inability to hold the camera absolutely steady as required for good video.
I’ve learned another trick to get better images when using the 2 X tele-converter on the slow lenses that I have, use live view focusing whenever I can.
I won’t go into the reasons for that, but I know that if I were to use the tripod mounted gimbal head whenever I’m using the 2 X extender, and switch to live view focusing, then the quality of the images that I shoot will be better. But, only for still subjects, as live view focusing is slower than molasses in January when using the 2 X extender.
Well, I went back to the technical side of photography, I’m sorry, I can’t help it. When I’m thinking about places where I could set-up the portable hide and tripod with the gimbal head, then the photo equipment that I have, and how to get the best out of it, weighs heavily on the decisions that I make. It would be worthless to go to a place where every thing that I saw was out of range all of the time. And, knowing me, I know that I wouldn’t be able to sit still for very long if I weren’t getting at least an occasional image now and then.
There are limits as to how long I can play the waiting game.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
Since before mankind began keeping records, we have been fascinated by birds in flight. I’m no different, I’m fascinated by the flight of birds as well, and this post will be mostly photos of birds in flight.
First, I’ll begin by saying that I have no idea why the number of some species of birds fluctuate the way that they do. Great blue herons are common here in Michigan, but over the last two previous years, I didn’t see many of them, and even had a hard time finding them. That isn’t the case this summer, they’re everywhere! I see mostly juveniles…
…so the adults that remained from the past few years must have had a very successful breeding season this spring. That was one of the three head shots of three different herons that I shot in less than ten minutes time a couple of weeks ago. It’s rare for me to get that close to one, let alone three of them so quickly. It helped that they were chasing each other around which I supposed was part of their way of establishing the pecking order among themselves. I have no idea if they were from the same nest or not though.
But, this post is about birds in flight, so I’m going to begin with this series that I shot at the local park where I walk when I have the chance.
It’s much easier to shoot larger birds in flight, like this sandhill crane.
I have no idea why the crane took off as far away from me as it did, normally they allow humans to get reasonably close to them. The result was the typical butt shots of a bird flying away from me, and not very good ones at that.
Just a few minutes later, I was driving over a bridge across one of the drainage creeks when I saw a great blue heron flying along the creek. I was able to get set for the heron, and I fired these off as it turned away from me.
The heron continued on, and so did I, but I didn’t shoot any more photos of it because it was flying away from me, and out of range of a good photo. It was going to perch in one of the aeration cells at the Muskegon wastewater facility that is under going major repairs. However, there was already an adult in that cell, and it didn’t take to the juvenile joining it in the same cell, even though each cell is several acres in size. The adult chased the juvenile off, and then I lucked out, it came flying straight towards me. I was able to get a good focus lock on it, and as it got as close to me as it came, I fired off this burst.
If only there had been a better background than the aeration cell in those photos! Those aren’t cropped at all, I was able to keep the heron in the frame as it made its turn away from me. Every time that I get to shoot a series like that, I get a little better at it.
When it comes to small birds, you’d think that it would be easier to shoot a flock of them in flight…
…but then, they’re so close together that it’s hard to pick out just one.
I think that those are all juvenile tree swallows, as I saw a few adults in the flock at the time I shot those. However, I’m not positive about that, because of an event that you’ll see later in this post.
By the way, those were shot a couple of weeks ago. On the same day as I shot the great blue herons in flight, I stopped for a while at the man-made lake south of the wastewater facility proper. I was hoping to catch green herons in flight, but this was the best that I came up with.
There are a pair of adults and their young…
…hanging out at the man-made lake most of the time, but they’re good at staying out of camera range the majority of the time.
There was also a flock of barn swallows hunting insects over the lake, and occasionally dipping down to drink from the lake as they flew. I couldn’t resist the challenge.
It suddenly slammed on the air-brakes…
…and I think that it caught a flying insect…
…but you can’t see the insect in these images.
The swallow then went on its way.
I tried to get a shot of them drinking from the lake as they flew…
…but I missed it every time.
I did get a good reflection shot or two…
…before the swallows would gain altitude again.
The best part of those is that you can see how they use their tails for both drag to slow down, and for turning as sharply as they do.
Now then, back to flocks of swallows. I noticed a flock of tree swallows in a dead tree, they were coming and going as they paused to rest and digest the insects that they had caught. It seemed like a good place to hang out and try for a better image of a swallow in flight, so I did. However, the first swallow I shot wasn’t a tree swallow, it was a barn swallow…
…and as it approached the tree swallows…
…they exchanged a few words before the barn swallow perched in the same tree.
It was then that I noticed that there were a few other barn swallows mixed in with the flock of predominantly tree swallows. They were all chattering away, I wonder if the tree swallows and barn swallows understand each other’s chattering? I also wonder if in the chattering within one species if they are telling each other where the best insects are to be found, or if it’s part of social bonding, or part of establishing the pecking order within the flock? Occasionally, an adult would chase one of the juveniles off from the perch the juvenile had been on, but it happened behind tree branches whenever I attempted to photograph that behavior.
Since most of the photos have been of birds in flight, I suppose that it’s fitting that the latest species that I can cross off from the list for the My Photo Life List project is a least bittern in flight.
They’re not great, but at least you can identify the species, which is all that matters. I got these by standing in one spot on the boardwalk at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve for several hours. The bittern made the mistake of flying about the same path each time it came and went from where I believe that it has its nest.
Smaller but chunkier than their cousins the green herons, they fly surprisingly fast for a member of the heron family. This one at least stayed just above the vegetation most of the time, making it even harder to spot and photograph.
I’m going to finish this post with three images of a bird not flying. It’s a juvenile grasshopper sparrow limbering up its wings…
…it had made a rough landing on the dead stump it was perched on…
…and I believe that it was doing some stationary practice before its next attempt at flight.
Well, that wraps up this post, sorry for so many photos of the swallows, but I love the challenge of trying to photograph birds as quick as they are.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
My main reason for wanting to improve the quality of the photos that I shoot is to show the beauty of nature in the best light possible (pun intended). However, there are other reasons as well, and there are even times when I’ll shoot bad photos on purpose, knowing that they’ll never be seen by any one but myself.
Since I began with the image of the greater yellowlegs, I’ll get right to the point here, my photos prove invaluable in helping me identify the birds that I see. I wasn’t able to get as close as I would have liked, but here’s a stilt sandpiper.
The first time that I attempted to identify shorebirds, it was in the fall when they were all in their eclipse plumage, and I hard a very difficult time making the correct identifications. I even made a few mistakes back then. I chose the photo of the stilt sandpiper above, even though it’s at a bad angle to me, for a reason. It shows that the bird in question has the brown barring on its entire underside, all the way to its tail.
Another mistake that I made in the beginning was trying to isolate each bird in the frame. Sometimes, it’s helpful to compare two birds when they are seen together.
Then, other differences between the two birds becomes more apparent. The stilt sandpiper does show more barring on its underside, but that could be the difference between two individuals of the same species as seen in that image, or perhaps the difference between a male and a female. However, the differences in the two bird’s beaks becomes very apparent. The stilt sandpiper has a longer beak in relation to its head, and it is also stouter with a blunter end than the lesser yellowleg’s beak. Those are some of the things that you can see better when looking at a photo than you can when surveying a mixed flock of 20 to 40 shorebirds all moving around as they look for food.
I should say that the differences between those two birds is now obvious to me, I doubt if they are for most people reading this though. I don’t think that the differences seemed as pronounced when I attempted to ID shorebirds the first few times. Like most things, identifying similar birds takes practice.
Shorebirds, warblers, and gulls are notoriously difficult to identify, as so many species look very much alike. I should also add flycatchers to that list, as in some cases, the only difference between two species is the call that they make, and no photo can capture that. That also applies to the differences between eastern and western meadowlarks, the most reliable way to differentiate those two species is by their songs, although there are some visual differences also.
As you know, I started a project that I called My Photo Life List a few years ago, it’s my attempt to photograph every species of bird regularly seen in the State of Michigan. I’ve made better progress than I expected to when I began the project, and it has taught me a great deal about birds along the way.
One thing that I’ve learned when it comes to identifying birds is that every detail in a bird’s plumage helps one make a positive identification. The more of those details that you can capture in a photo or a series of photos, makes it that much easier to make the identification while viewing the photos and checking them against a field guide while sitting at a computer, rather than as a bird flits through the brush. There is the possibility that if I wasn’t trying to shoot photos, I may remember more of the details of a bird than I do now. But, I find it easier to shoot photos and go by them, rather than trying to remember the details as I saw the bird moving around. I do have a pretty good memory for overall color patterns though, so when I see a bird in the viewfinder that doesn’t match the patterns of a species of bird that I see frequently, I do know that it’s time to shoot as many photos of that bird, at as many angles as I can get.
So, last weekend I was at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and I saw a warbler size bird in the brush.
I wasn’t sure which species it was, but I was sure that it was one that I didn’t see very often, if I had ever seen it before. Because of that, and I’ve learned that in some cases you need to see most of a bird to make a proper ID, I began tracking the bird through the brush. This image will never win an award, but I saw the two white patches under the bird’s tail, and the voice in my head said shoot, they may help me ID the bird.
Normally, I wouldn’t post that photo, but it helps explain how I use my photos to identify the birds that I see. As it turned out, the white patches on the bird’s tail weren’t important to make the ID, but the black spots on the shorter feathers at the base of the tail were.
One of the many things that I’m learning as I try to identify birds is that every section of a bird’s plumage has a name. In this case, the feathers with the black spots under the warbler’s tail are known as the undertail coverts.
There are two species of warblers with close to the same color pattern, black and white warblers, and blackpoll warblers. Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of a blackpoll warbler to show you the difference, but they are both black and white overall.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the two photos that I’ve already shown you were enough to make a positive ID as to the species, and neither shows the bird very well. I continued shooting and came up with this one.
That’s my best photo of the warbler, and although I didn’t know it at the time, it gave me enough clues to make the correct identification as to its species. Still, I was missing the top of the bird’s head, which often provides clues as to the bird’s species. I kept shooting, and got this one just as she turned to fly away.
Because she was turning her head, it’s a bit blurry, but you can see that the top of her head is streaked black and white, and not solid black.
If it had been a blackpoll warbler, the top of the bird’s head would have been solid black, and the undertail coverts would have been all white, with no black spots. There are other slight differences between the two species, but I had gotten photos that showed the major differences between them. I have shot photos of black and white warblers in the past, but they’ve always been males of the species. The males have a slightly different appearance, they have a black mask on their face that the females lack. I could go back to the archives to show you, but I have too many recent photos to share, so you’ll have to take my word of it. 😉
The diversity of birds found in nature is one of the things that I love about nature. That brings me to my main point, the thing that motivates me the most concerning nature is that there’s so much to learn. There’s no way that any one person could ever hope to learn it all. I should do a better job of identifying the flowers that I see…
…and the insects…
…but it’s tough enough trying to do just birds.
Some times I luck out, and some one else will ID a flower or insect that they see in one of my posts, and I can go back into Lightroom and add the species in the keywords within Lightroom. Or, I’ll see the same flower or insect in some one else’s blog, and I can make an identification of something that I’ve seen that way.
I find it easier to remember things if I can add keywords in Lightroom, although I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s putting a name with a photo that helps. Also, since many flowers only bloom for a short time, I can go back to the same time in previous years to see if I was able to identify a flower then. The same is true of insects to some degree, many of them have very short life spans as adults, so they are only seen for a short time in their adult form.
I do need to get better at identifying flowers and insects, but I’ve been so busy the past few years working on improving my abilities as a photographer and bird identification, that I haven’t had the time to put into other types of subjects. I hope to change that, along with getting better photos of the things that I see in nature.
I haven’t posted many photos of mute swans lately, as they are quite common here and I used to go overboard with the number of photos of them that I did post.
But the cygnets are too cute not to post a few images of them.
It’s unusual to be able to get that close to a cygnet without one of its parents attacking you, but I guess that the parents had gotten used to people nearby for some reason.
I wanted a photo showing one of the cygnets flexing its tiny little down covered wings, but I wasn’t able to get that shot.
I had gone to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve in search of a least bittern that had been seen there, because that’s a species that I need photos of for the My Photo Life List project. I did hear it calling, and saw it in flight once, but I was too slow with the camera to get any photos as it flew past me. I was able to shoot a few images of a marsh wren though.
They’re hard to see, but not hear, as they’re always singing, or so it seems when you’re around them. They exude attitude in the jaunty way that they hold their tails straight up and give you the stink eye when they know that you’ve spotted them.
Several people commented that they liked the indigo bunting from a recent post. I shot a series of images of it as it shook itself…
…took a look around…
…and began singing again.
To me, there’s no better time of the year than when the birds are singing…
…and there are flowers blooming all around…
…as I watch the birds.
Why I never thought of this before, I don’t know. I love getting head shots of larger birds, such as this great blue heron.
Occasionally, I luck out and get an image of a smaller bird where it fills the frame…
…but I seldom think to crop such an image down to give me a head shot of a small songbird.
I suppose that it’s because I’m so pleased to fill the frame with a smaller bird in the first place that doing a head shot of them doesn’t occur to me.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
I was somewhat back to story telling to go with my photos, but then I made the mistake of watching a few more of the how-to videos online. I shouldn’t watch any more of those videos, not because I know how to do everything well, but because every time I watch one of them, my mind gets stuck on the photography aspect of my life. I then forget about why I’m shooting the photos in the first place.
In watching all of the how-to videos that I’ve watched over the last several years, I’ve come to the conclusion that how professional photographers go about getting the fantastic wildlife images that they get has less to do with camera gear and settings, and more to do with how they go about getting to the point of shooting those images in the first place.
Right from the first of those videos that I’ve watched, I’ve thought that if I were in the same situation that I could get images just as good as the pros do. Back then, that wasn’t true, and I’m not sure that it is now, but I’m getting closer all the time.
Let me explain. One subject that comes up in many of the videos that I’ve watched are brown bears fishing for salmon in Alaska. There’s a lodge in one of the National Parks where one can rent a cabin, and be within walking distance of one of the rivers where the bears come to fish. You can get up in the morning, walk down to the river, and spend the day shooting the bears. Bears are large subjects, relatively easy to photograph. You know where the bears are going to be and what they’ll be doing, in the river looking for salmon. You can position yourself so that you have good light on the bears as they fish. For the photography, all you have to do is press the shutter release at the right time.
Well, it isn’t quite that easy, but close to it, they still have to compose the shot and get the correct exposure, but when you’re shooting one subject in the same light for the most part, that is relatively easy. I’ve never photographed brown bears fishing for salmon in Alaska, but it from what I’ve seen in the videos, it is easy in my opinion.
On the other end of the size spectrum, there are the hummingbirds. From the videos that I’ve watched, the way to get good shots of the hummers in flight is to mix up a batch of sugar-water as you would for a hummingbird feeder, and use an eye-dropper to put a few drops in the same flower all the time. The hummers soon figure out that the one flower has a never-ending source of food, so they return to it again and again. Then, the photographer can pre-focus on the flower, and wait for the hummer to return. They can even set-up a few strobes on stands to both light the hummers and to assist in freezing the motion of the hummer’s wings. Silly me, I try to follow them in flight and catch them as they feed on one flower after another.
Then, there are tactics such as baiting, or going to a private nature “preserve” where semi-tame animals are brought out by handlers to perform for the photographers. The professional photographers also know the areas where large numbers of their intended subjects gather naturally, but one has to be able to travel to those areas at the right time of the year to take advantage of it. An example of that would be the huge flocks of snow geese, sandhill cranes, and other species of birds that gather around the few sources of food and water that they need in the arid southwest part of the United States, to either winter over, or on their way south to better places to spend the winter. We do get flocks of the same species here in Michigan, but Michigan has an abundance of good places for the birds to hang out in, so the flocks are much smaller here because they’re spread out more.
When you look past the actual photography aspect that I’ve seen in the videos that I’ve watched, in most of them, when you get right down to the nitty-gritty, it’s more about controlling the subjects and less about camera controls. And, I suppose that you can say that it takes money to make money. Guided wildlife tours, renting cabins close to an abundance of willing subjects, time at a private nature preserve, all those things cost big bucks, more than I’ll ever be able to afford.
I’m not complaining, just pointing out the fact that the wildlife photographers who shoot stunning images time and time again have many more advantages than just great photo equipment and the ability to use it.
The professionals have to give themselves every advantage that they can get, they are in a highly competitive market where it’s hard to earn a living.
That brings us back to the videos that I’ve watched. Most of the photographers who give the presentations are sponsored by a camera company or a company that runs the photo tours, or both. The videos are in some respects, very long commercials for the companies that sponsor the presenter. By the end of the videos, you’ll think that you need every one of the expensive lenses that the sponsoring company produces, and that the only way to get truly great wildlife images is to go on one of the tours. Very often, the person doing the presentation heads up those tours, or holds workshops on their own, and that’s how the presenters make their money, or they at least get to go to fabulous places for wildlife photography at no charge as the headliner for the tours. But, most of us don’t have the financial resources to do those things.
Looking back, my two best images of a perched bald eagle were both shot using the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) on the 60D camera body, a set-up that I’d never use for a bald eagle photo now that I have better gear.
I was able to get close to the eagle and in a position where I had good light for a change.
My best eagle in flight image was shot with the 7D Mk II, with the lowly 70-200 mm f/4 non-IS lens, which is the cheapest L series lens in Canon’s line-up at the current time.
The funny thing about that image is that I was doing a test at the time to see if it was the IS that was causing my images of birds in flight to come out as poorly as they were at the time, and it was. That led me to purchase another of the lower cost lenses in Canon’s L series line-up, the 400 mm f/5.6 non-IS lens. I’ve also found that turning the IS off on the lenses that I have that have IS is also effective, but then there’s the time factor of searching for the right button to slide on the lens to turn the IS off, and in most instances, I don’t have the time to do that.
That’s because of the way that I go about getting the images that I do, there’s a day-night difference in the way I get my photos as compared to how the pros get theirs. I seldom have the chance to get set-up to shoot just one species of bird or animal, I generally shooting targets of opportunity that I see while walking, or driving as I do at the Muskegon County wastewater facility. I do get my best images there at the wastewater facility when I have the time to exit my vehicle and prepare to get the shot though.
I’ve always tried to keep the fact in mind that you don’t need the very best gear to shoot great images, although as I said in a recent post, good gear does make it easier to get good images, up to a point.
I am attempting to shoot as the professionals do more often, as far as limiting myself at the time as to what subject I shoot, and the way that I do things overall. For example, when I’m at the wastewater facility, I’ll often park in an area where I know that certain species tend to hang out. Then, I’ll sit and wait to see if they do show themselves, but I have limited patience for doing that. That’s the way that I’ve gotten some of the recent photos of green herons that I’ve posted, I know where I’m most likely to see them, so I sit and wait for them. Sometimes, I’ll grab my macro set-up to shoot flowers and insects to help pass the time, but then, I may spook the birds that I’d like to photograph.
One thing that the pros universally teach is that you have to use manual mode for wildlife photography. While I do use manual more often these days, in tough situations, it still doesn’t work for me most of the time. That goes back to how I shoot the images that I do, I seldom have the time to dial in the correct adjustments in the manual mode to get the shot before my subject disappears from view. I shoot in the aperture mode most of the time, and allow the camera to set the shutter speed and ISO for stationary subjects. I’ll also make use of the exposure compensation dial on the back of the camera to correct the exposure when shooting a very light, or very dark subject, or for shooting with the sun behind me versus shooting towards the sun.
There are times when I think that the differences between what the pros teach and the way that I do things is mostly a matter of semantics. The pros tell you to shoot a few photos to get your camera dialed in using the manual mode to begin with. Then they will say that they know if one thing happens, they should move the dial two clicks to the right, or if another thing happens, that it’s three clicks to the left. They never specify what setting they’re changing, I assume it to be shutter speed, but that may depend on the situation. I’ve never quite understood what the difference was between their clicks in one direction or another was compared to my changing the exposure compensation dial a few clicks one way or the other was until recently.
One presenter in a video was adamant about not trusting the exposure meter in the camera, and if you did, you’d have to be changing the exposure compensation all the time. He was another that said that he knew how many clicks to spin the dial of his camera and in which direction when certain things happened. Then it hit me, to his thinking, he was adjusting the exposure, not using exposure compensation. I accomplish the same goal by using exposure compensation, which adjusts the exposure for me. To him, it’s not so much the end result, but how you go about getting there. To me, I don’t care how I arrive at the correct exposure, as long as I get there. When the light changes, something in the exposure triad of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO has to change to account for the change in light. Not even a professional photographer can change that fact.
It helped that I had recently set-up my tripod and gimbal head to shoot the swans that I wrote about in an earlier post. While my main goal was to test the gimbal head, I also switched the camera to manual mode to practice what the pros teach. It was the day after a cold front had blown through, and the sky was filled with puffy white cumulus clouds, along with remnants of some of the storm clouds from the front that had passed. The light was changing constantly, going from bright, unfiltered sunlight, to deep shade as one of the large black storm clouds blocked the sun. In between, one of the puffy cumulus clouds in front of the sun often created nice diffuse light as well.
When the light was constant, I had no trouble getting well exposed images in the manual mode, I shot a few test shots, got the settings right, and it worked great. But then, in the middle of one of the times when one swan was chasing another, a cloud moved in front of the sun, and there was a dramatic fall-off in the light. The images that I shot then were under-exposed of course. I admit, I saw it in the viewfinder, but I was lost as to how to correct for it. My shutter speed, aperture, and ISO were all set manually as recommended by the pros, and I forgot which dial changed which setting at the time. Maybe all of that is automatic for the professionals, but I found it much easier to go back to the aperture mode that I usually use, and trust the meter in the 7D to correct when the light changed when I was shooting portraits of the swans. I’d switch to the shutter priority when one of the swans assumed the aggressive posture alerting me that a chase was about to take place. Then, the 7D adjusted the aperture accordingly.
However, I could see what you wouldn’t want to allow the camera to adjust the aperture if you wanted to limit the depth of field, or to extend it. So, I did shoot in manual mode for a while, but with the ISO set to automatic, so my shutter speed and aperture stayed constant, with the camera changing the ISO when the light changed as the light meter read the scene. I do understand that for creative control of your images, you need to have the aperture and shutter speed set to produce the look that you desire in your images. There are times that you want a wide aperture to isolate your subject as much as possible as I said in my last post.
There are also times when stopping down the lens to get more of the background in focus is the correct choice, as when you want to show the environment that the subject inhabits.
Actually, I think that I have a firm grasp on how to shoot in the manual mode and why you would want to, especially for birds in flight. The saved settings that I programmed into the 7D body that I use for flying birds are based on the manual mode, and it works very well. The manual mode also works very well when a subject sits still long enough to use it. I can see why the pros use it in the situations that they typically shoot in, larger subjects where they have some control over the light to begin with. However, that’s not the way that I shoot most of my images.
That’s especially true of most of my small bird images. Even at the wastewater facility, I’ll walk through or around the woodlots there to find the species of birds that live in wooded areas.
During those times when I’m walking, whether at the wastewater facility, around home, or anywhere else, I never know which direction that I’ll be shooting in next. I could be shooting a flower…
…or an insect…
…almost at my feet. A moment later, I could be shooting a bird flying almost directly overhead.
I don’t know why it was doing it, but that sandpiper dove like a peregrine falcon from a higher altitude than they typically fly at. The sandpiper wasn’t coming at me, it dove into the weeds in the grassy cell there and disappeared from view. I don’t know if it thought that something was endangering one of its chicks or what, but I’ve never seen that behavior from a shorebird before. As it was, I got it just as it began to pull out of the dive that it was in when I first saw it coming. I was lucky at the time, thick clouds were obscuring the sun, because I was shooting almost directly at where the sun was behind the clouds. There’s no way that I could have gotten that shot on a sunny day.
Okay, so what’s the purpose of all my babbling so far for, it’s this. If you have the chance to photograph subjects as the professionals do, in situations where your shooting just one subject for the most part, and you have some control over the light, then doing everything exactly like the pros is probably the best way to do things. But, if you’re like me, the average Joe wandering around outdoors looking for things to photograph, then doing it like the professionals may not work for you at all.
I shoot fast and loose, as I usually don’t have very much time to do anything but get the subject in focus, and press the shutter release before it moves.
It’s too many photos of the nuthatch, but this series of images illustrate just how I get the images that I do. I shot the nuthatch in four different spots in the branches where it was foraging for food, and each time it moved, I had to move to get a clear view of it.
You can also see how much the light changed each time the nuthatch moved.
Even when it perched for a few seconds as it debated where to look for food next, it wasn’t motionless.
Any one that’s attempted to photograph small birds knows exactly what I’m talking about. It isn’t easy to get close to them where you also have a clear view of them, and good light as well. There are many more images that I shot in that series, I picked out the best of the lot to post here. Maybe I haven’t mastered shooting in manual yet, but I can’t imagine trying to do so as a small bird like the nuthatch flits about. Maybe that’s why I seldom see small birds like that in the presentations that the professionals give?
I do rely on the light meter in the camera, but maybe I’m spoiled. I think that I raved about the excellent metering system that the 7D Mk II has as much or more than its other features, like its auto-focusing capabilities or that it can shoot at 10 frames per second, when I first began using it. I also relied on the metering system of the 60D, but I’ll admit, I did have to make more and larger adjustments with that body than I do with the 7D. It didn’t take me very long to learn the metering system of the 60D and how to adjust for it though.
I’m not saying that there aren’t advantages to using the manual mode when you can…
…I saw the heron coming, and had the time to switch the camera to the saved bird in flight settings based on the manual mode for these. The heron had been flying almost directly at me, I got a good focus lock on it, and fired off a few short bursts as it approached. Just as the heron got close to me, either the heron saw me, or a boat going up the river right behind me, and the heron veered off.
That’s when shooting in manual works well, although it took me a while to get the right settings saved in the camera for just such an event.
There were a number of green herons flying around the area, so I was keeping an eye out for an opportunity to catch one of them in flight. But to pass the time, I was shooting other things, like the series of the nuthatch, and these subjects also as I typically do.
There’s another reason that I’d prefer to retain my ability to shoot fast without having to make any adjustments, identifying the birds that I shoot through the aid of my photos. But, that’s another post, since this one is too wordy already.
I’ll sum this one up by saying that there are two things that you really have to do to get great images, one is spend time outside, the other is to master the photo gear that you have. When you have the time to make full use of the manual mode, then do so, it’s probably the best way to get exactly the shot that you’re after. But if you’re like me, and it takes you too long to get all the settings correct in manual, then you can shoot in either aperture or shutter priority and get almost the same results.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
There are times now when things get a little slow while I’m out shooting photos, since I now restrain myself from shooting small birds that are really beyond the of range of my lenses, and I doubt if I will ever purchase a longer lens than I have now. That doesn’t matter, as I know that on any given day, I’m bound to get a very good image of something.
That’s one of the reasons that I continue to visit the Muskegon County wastewater facility on weekends, and to do my almost daily walks around home during the week.
One thing that I love about going to the wastewater facility is that I can load all my photo gear in my car, and that I’m usually close enough to it to put any of the gear that I have to use when circumstances warrant it. The bad thing is that other than my long lens set-ups and my macro lens, I seldom need any of the rest of it. There are times, like when I had the tripod and gimbal head set-up to photograph the swans from a recent post, I’ll play around with my wide-angle lenses, the 70-200 mm lens, or some of the other accessories that I have. The landscapes that I shoot aren’t worth posting, I know that when I shoot them, but it keeps me in practice. The 70-200 mm lens does an excellent job on gulls in flight, but it isn’t as if I need to post yet another gull in flight image unless it were to be exceptional in some way. But, I stay in practice that way, and it reminds me that the 70-200 mm lens is one of my best, and that I should use it more often.
Even though I know that no one is ever going to see most of the photos that I shoot, I still love doing it, and I learn something every time that I go out shooting them. Even around home now, even though I shoot fewer photos all the time, I’m still learning. The things that I learn may not be directly related to photography, it may be something about the behavior of birds and other critters that may eventually lead to better images in the future. I’ve said it before, but becoming good at nature photography demands that you immerse yourself in nature, and that’s what I love about it.
Now, I have the time to do that while I’m out shooting photos, because I don’t have to spend as much time thinking about the photography aspect, that’s becoming ingrained in me. I know what to do when automatically most of the time. I now have equipment that’s good enough to allow me to do that as well. When I started my blog, I was using a Canon Powershot camera for most of the photos that I posted, even though I had a Nikon camera and lens at the time. I spent two years fighting that Nikon and the very low quality lens that I had purchased with it. The camera itself was full of bugs, nothing worked quite like it was supposed to. If I’d have known then what I know now, I would have returned it and demanded my money back, but I thought that it was me. The lens that I purchased to use on it acquired the reputation of being one of the worst that Nikon had ever produced.
When the Nikon died, I made the switch to Canon, with the 60D body. It took me a year to get past all the bad habits that I had acquired while using the Nikon, but then, my images began to improve. I was using the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) back then, and while the quality of the glass in it can’t match what I have now, it did have one thing going for it, the best auto-focusing that I’ve used to this day as far as small birds in the brush. The Beast can still hunt down birds trying to hide better than any of my other lenses, but at the price of reduced image quality, especially in lower light. Also, the weight of the Beast was something that was a drawback to using it, that’s how it became known as the Beast in the first place. Even the much better Canon 100-400 mm lens weighs considerably less, and it’s no light-weight by any means.
But, the 100-400 mm lens I have now hadn’t been built at the time, so I tried to make do with the 300 mm lens and 1.4 X tele-converter. While the results were better than I could get with the Beast most of the time, it was still far from the ideal set-up to use for birds. The auto-focus was too slow and imprecise. I’d often go back to the Beast when chasing warblers or other small birds of the deep woods. However, the 300 mm lens has produced some of my best close-ups, and there are times when I wish that I had it with me when shooting near macro photos.
I’d better pause for another photo or two here.
Next up was the 7D Mk II, a truly remarkable camera in my opinion, it was the answer to almost everything that I wanted in a camera. I had never used a camera as sophisticated as it is before, and it’s taken me a while to learn most of what the camera can do. I say most of what it can do, because I’m sure that I still haven’t gotten the best that it can do yet. Still, as I’ve said before, being a crop sensor camera, it struggles more in low-light in the form of sensor noise. That’s also true when I raise the shadow detail in an image, like when I’ve shot photos of birds in flight when the birds are above me. The underside of the birds’ wings are often black, or at least very dark, as the images come out of the camera, I have to raise the shadows in Lightroom to make the image appear as I saw it when I shot it. That introduces more sensor noise in the image. I can live with that amount of noise, but there are times when there’s too much noise in the image overall when I’ve shot the image in lower light.
Since I shoot nature photos, many of my best opportunities are around sunrise and sunset, when the light is low, as that’s when critters are most active. That’s the only reason that I’m even considering a full frame camera. Well, that and the fact that the 7D is a 1.6 X crop factor body, meaning I’d have to purchase a very expensive lens to get a wide enough field of view for many landscape images if I were to use the 7D for those. For example, the EF S 15-85 mm lens that I have is a 24-136 mm equivalent on the 7D, and there are times when 24 mm isn’t wide enough for landscapes. I suppose that I could make more use of the panorama capabilities in Lightroom to overcome that, but that’s another story for another time.
One more thing, being a 1.6 X crop sensor means that the image from the sensor has to be expanded that same amount to reach the size of the image produced by a full frame sensor. That causes a reduction in the final image quality as a result. Since a full frame sensor produces a larger image to begin with, it doesn’t have to be blown-up as much to be viewed as we view them. Think back to the days of negatives and slides, you’d have to use a magnifying glass to see what was in an image as it came out of the camera. That’s how small the image produced by a full frame camera is, the 7D produces an even smaller image to begin with.
I think that we forget about the good old days of film, getting the quality of large prints that I can get with the 7D would be like attempting to print that same size from images shot with one of the old Kodak Instamatic cameras. It wouldn’t be possible, the small size of the recorded image wouldn’t produce an acceptable print as large as I can make now.
It’s an absolute joy for me to be out shooting photos with the equipment that I have now, and that’s only going to get better. For one thing, as I said before, my images have a more three-dimensional look to them. Part of that is learning to use the light and shadow on a subject better, but a big part is better lenses.
When I first began using the 100-400 mm lens, I wrote that I thought that it produced more depth of field at the same aperture as my other lenses. So, I’ve been shooting at wider apertures with both that lens and the 400 mm prime lens. I’ve changed my thinking, it isn’t that those lenses produce a wider depth of field, it’s that both of them are tack sharp even with the aperture wide open.
By opening up the aperture and getting less depth of field, my subjects stand out from the background better, which helps to produce the 3D effect that I’m getting now. To get my subjects as sharp with my other lenses, I’d have to stop down more to overcome the inherent softness of the lens at maximum aperture. That brought more of the background into focus to some degree at least, which meant that the subjects in my images tended to fade into the background. I always wondered how the professionals got away with shooting at the apertures that they said that they did, now I know, it’s because they use quality lenses. To get a good sharp image with the Beast, I’d have to shoot at f/8 to f/11 if there was enough light. I now have no qualms about shooting at f/5.6 with either of my newer lenses, unless I’m very close to my subject, as in less than 10 feet. Then, I do need to stop down a little to get the entire bird in sharp focus.
Being the stubborn, pig-headed fool that I am, I have to know the why of something that I’m told to do before I’ll do it. In fact, even though I had been told why, I had to see it for myself before I believed it. Of course that couldn’t happen until I had lenses good enough to see it for myself. But, that applies to many of the things that professionals say to do, I have to see it for myself before I take their word on it.
I had intended to go into the differences between how the professional photographers do things when compared to how those of us who are hobbyists do things, and why the camera settings that the pros use aren’t always the best for the hobbyists. But, I’ve already babbled on too long as it is. Maybe I should lay a little more of the foundation for what will be in that post.
I’ll start with the exposure meter in the cameras, they are programmed very well these days, but they can still be fooled. Say that you’re shooting a white bird or flower that almost fills the frame. The meter in the camera doesn’t “see” color so much, it thinks that the white that it does see is too bright, and if you allow the camera to set everything, the result will be an under-exposed image most of the time. The camera is attempting to render the white of your subject as 18% grey, as that’s what the system is programmed to do. You have to over-ride the system to allow more light in if you want the white of your subject to be white in the image that you shoot.
Just the opposite is true if you’re shooting a very dark or black subject, the camera is going to try to render the black as 18% grey. The result will be an over-exposed image, even though from my experience, no camera raises the exposure to the point where black becomes 18% grey, I don’t think that they can. But, they do try, and you’ll need to adjust for that.
I’ve done a dumb thing. I went to the local camera store and tested the 6D Mk I against my 7D Mk II in order to see how much of an improvement in low-light situations I’d see, and whether going to a full frame camera was going to be worth it. Was I ever surprised, I thought that there may be some difference, but you’ll see just how much of a difference there is. All of the following images were shot with my 100-400 mm lens and the ISO set to 12800 for both cameras. The lens was wide open, f/5.6 and the shutter speed at 1/200 with both cameras. I applied the exact Lightroom adjustments to the images from each camera. I added 25% each to the clarity and vibrance, turned the lens profile correction on, and removed any chromatic aberrations. The only thing that varied was if I cropped an image, and that’s noted in the caption for the image.
It’s hard to see the noise as noise in the photo above, but you can see that even the colors are off compared to the 6D. The reason that the subject looks closer in the image from the 7D is due to the crop factor of the sensor, the 400 mm lens is effectively a 640 mm lens on the 7D. Okay, so I’ll crop one of the images from the 6D to get as close.
WOW! again! There’s very little noise in the image from the 6D, and the image quality is much better overall.
The 6D won’t auto-focus with the 1.4 X tele-converter behind the 100-400 mm lens, but the 7D will.
So, I took another of the images from the 6D shot at 400 mm and cropped it to match as closely as I could.
I’m looking at the printing on the package that I shot, and it’s about as sharp in both images, even though the image from the 6D was cropped close to 100%. I later went back to the images shot with the 7D and corrected the color cast by using the white balance adjustment. I also tried to reduce the noise in those images as well, but I was never able to get rid of the noise to the point where the images from the 7D were as free from noise as the images from the 6D were straight out of the camera. Reducing the noise also reduced the sharpness of the images shot with the 7D as well. I was also able to remove most of what little noise was present in the images shot with the 6D.
I’m convinced, I could make good use of a full frame camera for what I photograph now, and what I’d like to photograph in the future. If the original 6D can outperform my 7D by that much in lower light, the new version should be even better. But, I’ll probably do the same test again when the new version hits the stores to be sure. I also want to verify other features that the new 6D is said to have also.
The good thing is that I don’t have to rush into anything, for most of my images, the 7D is still the better camera. That way, I can wait until Canon begins to offer rebates on the new 6D Mk II, so that it won’t cost me as much. That also gives Canon time to work out any of the bugs in the camera. I’ve learned that some of the first copies of both the 7D Mk II and the 24-105 mm lens that I’d like to purchase had issues that required that customers return the item to Canon to be repaired. I believe that Canon has replaced some of the first 24-105 mm lenses that they shipped, and issued a recall for auto-focusing issues. I don’t need another buggy camera, or a buggy lens that doesn’t perform well, so I’ll wait.
A few other random thoughts about the 6D. One, it weighs next to nothing compared to the 7D Mk II that I use. As I told a reader recently, shooting with the 7D Mk II is like driving a tank that handles like a sports car. The lower weight of the 6D tells me that its construction isn’t as robust as the 7D, but I don’t abuse my equipment the way some photographers do.
One of the reasons that my 7D weighs so much is that I have a battery grip with two batteries in it. Picking up the 6D, I found that even though it’s a full frame camera, the body is smaller than the 7D, even without the battery grip. With my big hands, it took me a few seconds to figure out how to hold the smaller body well enough to shoot at the slow shutter speeds in the test. The way that I’ve come to rely on getting a firm hold on the 7D with the battery grip reinforced how much the battery grip aids me in holding the camera still while shooting, even when used in the landscape orientation. I will definitely be adding a battery grip to the 6D Mk II or any other full frame camera that I purchase in the future, I feel that it does make that much of a difference in how steady I can hold the camera, especially with the long lenses that I use.
I could go on, but I think that I’ll add one more photo, then stick a fork in this post.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
To those who wait! Or, another old cliché that fits here is that patience is a virtue.
I’ve been hankering a full frame sensor camera body for some time now, and I had Canon’s 5D Mk IV on my wish-list for that reason. However, Canon has just announced a major upgrade to their 6D model of full frame cameras. I’ll have to wait for the reviews, but I think that it will be the full frame camera that I end up purchasing. It will do everything that I want a full frame camera to do, albeit at a much lower cost than the 5D Mk IV, since it doesn’t have all the sophisticated features as the 5D, or even the 7D Mk II that I’m using now have.
For example, the new 6D has 45 focus points, up from just 11 in the original. My 7D has 65 focus points, the 5D has 61. I know from using the 60D that I’ve had for years now, that 11 isn’t enough at times to get the composition in the camera the way that I’d like. But, I think that I can live with 45 focus points. The new 6D has a less sophisticated metering system, a 7,500 pixel metering sensor versus a 150,000 pixel system in the 7D or 5D, but I have to remember what type of images that I’ll be using the full frame body for.
The full frame camera will be used for landscapes, macros, and low-light critter portraits, along with video at times. For those things, I generally have time to shoot test shots and adjust the exposure anyway. The more sophisticated system in the 7D is great for those times when I’m shooting quickly, and don’t have time to review the resulting images before my subject disappears from me. The 7D has spoiled me, but I still use the older 60D often enough so that I remember how to shoot test shots and adjust the exposure. Most of the macro images from the last post were shot with the older 60D.
The new 6D will do in camera time-lapse photography, as well as having a built-in long exposure timer for shooting things like star trails or the Milky Way, which I just mentioned in a recent post, are things that I’d like to shoot in the future. It also has better weather sealing than the original as well, although I don’t think that the construction of the 6D matches either the 7D that I’m using now, or the 5D. It’s probably plastic and aluminum rather than magnesium as the 7D and 5D are.
One of the other features that I really like is the vari-angle LCD display on the rear of the camera. I know that some people don’t like the vari-angle display, but I have it on my 60D and I love it. When I’m not using the display, it folds into the camera body where it’s protected from damage, an important feature in its own right. But, when I set the camera on the ground for a shot of something such as an insect, I don’t have to lay down to see into the viewfinder, I can use the live view display instead. There have also been times while I’ve been shooting landscapes that I’ve had the camera low to some very wet ground that I’d rather not lay in to get the photo that I wanted. It was much better to use the vari-angle display and live view during those times. The vari-angle display would have also come in handy when I was shooting the swans as seen in my last post. With the sun falling directly on the screen, I had a hard time seeing the swans in the display. With the vari-angle display, I could have rotated the display so that it was shaded and I could have seen my intended subjects on the screen much better.
The original 6D had less noise at the same ISO as my 7D does, and from what I’ve read so far, the low-light performance of the new 6D is even better. That’s true of most of the full frame sensor cameras on the market today, that’s why I’d like to step up to one. The new 6D should also have better dynamic range as well.
Best of all, I can purchase the new 6D with a battery grip, extra batteries, and the 24-105 mm lens that I’d like for the full frame body for about the same price as the 5D Mk IV body alone. I have to remember that I intend to use the 6D as a replacement for the 60D camera that I have and still use, not a full frame replacement for my 7D Mk II. Actually, Canon doesn’t make a full frame replacement for the 7D Mk II, not even their top of the line 1DX has everything that the 7D has as far as I’m concerned, and the 1DX is well out of my price range anyway.
By the way, it’s time for a few other photography related thoughts. To begin with, not every one needs the same gear that I do, it always depends on what a person is shooting, and how they are shooting it.
Another thing, for each and every expert that says that their way is the right way, there’s an equally qualified expert that does things differently than the first expert, but still says that their way is the only way.
Take back-button focusing for example, many experts swear that it’s the only way to get good sharp images, but there are other experts that swear that back-button focusing is the wrong way to do it, because it ties up your thumb on the focusing button, and you can’t make exposure adjustments at the same time as you’re focusing.
But, I’ll have more to say about how the professionals do things in a later post, right now, it’s time for a photo or two.
It isn’t the prettiest bird that there is, but I love that image, it’s another mark of how much my photos have improved over the years. The sandpiper looks three-dimensional, not flat as the subjects used to look in my images. That images goes with the ones from my last post of the milkweed flowers and the insect macros that I shot. It’s so much fun for me to be outside with all my gear, and having it work so well for me now that I’ve learned how to use it.
Maybe my gear just works well on ugly birds. 😉
Actually, I don’t think that vultures are ugly, just different from other birds. They are social birds, that often pause to talk things over.
And, having a great long zoom lens lets me show that. I think that these are two adults and their young one for the year.
While I was shooting the macro photos seen in my last post, I also spotted a spicebush swallowtail butterfly, but it was on the other side of the fence, and I couldn’t get close to it to use the 100 mm macro lens, so I used the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X extender for these.
Not bad, but you can see that there was far too much dynamic range in the scene for my 7D to capture well, even with the aid of Lightroom. The milkweed flowers are blown out when the black of the butterfly is correct. But, that’s what I get for shooting in direct sunlight in the middle of the day. A diffuser and some one to hold it would have come in handy, or I could wait until I see the same butterfly on a day when the light is more diffuse naturally, from clouds.
That’s another example of when having two cameras, actually three in this case, came in handy. I had the long set-up sitting on a large rock near me as I was shooting macros with the other camera, so all I had to do was set the macro set-up down on the rock and grab the long set-up in a lot less time than it would have taken me to switch one camera over. Chances are, the butterfly would have flown away if I had to take the time to change lenses and camera settings. Even if the images aren’t the best in the world, I did manage to capture the butterfly, then go back to shooting macros having hardly missed a beat.
Good gear doesn’t guarantee great images, but it does make getting great images easier on a consistent basis. That goes for the gimbal head that I showed in my last post as well, I have the feeling that I’ll be looking for chances to put it to use, rather than avoiding the hassle of getting it set up. While nature photography can be frustrating at times, very frustrating in fact, having good reliable gear, that works as it’s suppose to, eases the frustration, and makes the process fun, even when I do miss shots.
Good weather helps too, and it was very nice last weekend, other than the strong winds on Sunday.
It turns out that I should have waited to begin this post, for I have already put an image of an upland sandpiper in it that will run in the slide show at the top of the page. I thought that it was a good one, and it is, but these two shot this weekend are even better.
For that matter, I should have waited to begin the My Photo Life List project that I’m working until I had good photos of every species. As my equipment, photography skills, and my skills at getting closer to birds have all improved, I’m getting better images of the species that I have already done all the time. In the beginning, I didn’t expect to get images good enough to be used in a field guide for birds, but given how much time I spend shooting birds, I think that I’ll end up with images good enough for a field guide for most species.
I actually zoomed in too far on the upland sandpiper for those to be useful in a field guide, but I have good images of them already. So, I can play around getting head and shoulder photos of them. Not so with this species.
I’ve been trying to get close to bobolinks for years, and they never let me approach them. I snuck up slowly on this guy, shooting lots of photos whenever there wasn’t a lot of vegetation between us. When I finally had a clear view of him, he knew that I was there, but hung around anyway, and he even began singing, and what a pretty song it was.
Luckily, I can go back and add these to the post on this species that I’ve already done. It’s the same with pie-billed grebes…
…and least sandpipers also.
While these are far from my best of a bald eagle, I had better put them in this post for the 4th of July, since that’s about when this post will go public.
The eagle landed on the wall of one of the cells where the gulls and ducks like to congregate, and the gulls weren’t happy about that.
But, I was on the wrong side of the cell, almost 300 yards (275 meters) away from the action, so the images aren’t very good. At least the image doesn’t show a white blob over a brown blob the way my images used to look. I sat there for quite a while watching, but the eagle seemed content to stay, as the gulls gave up trying to chase it away. I drove around to the other side of the cells there, but by then, the eagle was gone.
I had another disappointment earlier in the day, I was close to a green heron with good light for a change…
…but that branch was in the way, and I couldn’t find a line of sight where I had a clear view of the heron. I ended up cheating, and removing the branch in Lightroom.
That looks okay here in my blog, but if you were to see it as I see it blown up on my computer, or if I were to print it, then you’d see how poor I am at editing things out in Lightroom. Still, I’m quite proud of those because of the way they show the true colors and patterns of the heron, it helps that I had great diffuse light at the time. enough light for a low ISO setting, but no harsh shadows to deal with either.
You know, it’s funny, I went back in my archives to find the photo of the female dickcissel that the American Bird Conservancy asked to use, and seeing the photos that I shot back then, it was almost hard to look at those photos, as poor as they were. I chalked most of the improvement up to a better camera body and better lenses, but that doesn’t explain why the macros that I shoot now using the 60D body and 100 mm macro lens are so much better now.
I could see gear being the reason for the improvement if I wasn’t using the exact same gear for macros most of the time now as I did back then. I shot over a dozen photos of the moth mullein hoping that one would be good, they were all good. In the old days, I’d be lucky if I did get the one good one.
I did use the new 100-400 mm lens for this one though.
It may sound as if I’m bragging, and maybe I am to some degree, but for the most part, I’m basking in the joy of doing something that I love to do and doing it well. The only thing that I love more than being out in nature and seeing the beauty there, is photographing what I see, well to share with others, and for my own memories as time marches on. It may have been painful to see the poor quality of some of my older photos when I looked through my archives for the image that I mentioned earlier, but the images still brought back the memories of where and when those images were shot.
In some ways, nature photography is like the game of golf. It can be so frustrating at times that one wonders why they took on such a challenge, but when things go well, there’s an incredible feeling of satisfaction that one gets. It’s also like golf in that no matter how skilled one becomes, there’s always room for improvement.
I’m still often frustrated, on Sunday I came upon a great blue heron very close to me. I assumed that it would fly off as soon as it saw me, so I grabbed the bird in flight set-up. I got a focus lock on the heron, but it hesitated, watching me as much as I was watching it. I saw how the eye of the heron looked through the viewfinder, and knew that I had excellent light for a head shot if I switched to the bird portrait set-up. In the split-second it took me to set the one camera down and grab the other, the heron did take off. Lesson learned, if I ever get light like that again, I’ll shoot a few frames even if it’s with the wrong set-up for what I’m hoping for as the final image.
But most often, it’s the behavior of my intended subject that leads to the frustration, like this juvenile raccoon.
In the few seconds that I had to shoot it before it disappeared, it never let me see both of its eyes at one time. I suppose that I could say that the image shows how wary even young raccoons are, but I’d have much rather shown you a good image with nothing in front of its face, even if its body was still mostly hidden.
As good as my gear is, there are still times when it is the source of my frustrations. There are times when the 7D will focus lock on the wrong part of what’s in the frame, and as good as it is in tracking something that it locks onto, it’s difficult to get it to “let go” of what it wants to track, and switch to what I really wanted it to track. And, there are still times when it simply refuses to lock onto anything in the frame, but those times are few and far between, and usually in very difficult circumstances. But, as you can see in the photo of the raccoon, I can get it to look past the vegetation in the foreground and focus on my intended subject most of the time. That’s a good thing, because when I’m shooting smaller birds, there’s almost always some vegetation in the foreground.
The warbler and the grosbeak are great examples of when waiting, or my new-found patience, paid off in a better than average image. In both instances, the birds perched to preen and take a break from looking for food, and I kept the camera on them, snapping what I used to think was way too many pictures of them. But, I was able to sort through all the pictures that I shot, choose the best ones out of the lot, and delete the ones that weren’t up to snuff. The ones I deleted were ones where the bird had its head turned slightly the wrong way, or was blurry because the bird moved while the shutter was open. I could shoot at a higher shutter speed to freeze the bird’s movements, but that would require a higher ISO setting and a resulting lack of resolution because of it. I find it better to shoot more images at the best possible settings for a portrait, and delete the poor images later.
One last thing before I end this one, I’m noticing that I’m getting much better color rendition in my images lately, mostly due to the better lenses that I’ve purchased. You can’t go wrong with quality glass, no matter what camera is behind it.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!