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

Archive for August, 2017

Like a hole in the head

Now that I have the package of 13 X 19 inch Canon semi-gloss SG-201 photo paper and have made a few prints that size, I’ve come to a decision. I don’t need another camera, any more than I need a hole in my head. I’ll tell you why in a second, but first there’ll be a disclaimer section and a bit more about the Pixma Pro 100 printer.

I’m not sure why, but the prints that I’ve made so far are sharper than those that I’ve had made by a photo lab. It could be because I was using the cheaper photo labs, but my thought is that it’s because I’m printing directly from my RAW files through Lightroom. So, I can’t guarantee that very one using this same printer would see the same results that I see, unless they are also printing from Lightroom. That applies to the paper as well, that’s the only grade of paper that I’ve tested so far, so the results on other papers may not be the same.

However, the results that I see in the few prints that I’ve made are so good, that they’ve caused me to rethink many things, including going to a full frame camera.

At the suggestion of Marianne, one of the commenters to my last post, I printed out the image of the great blue heron from that post.

Great blue heron

As the print came out of the printer, the first thing that I noticed was that I could tell that the heron’s eye was moist from how well the printer reproduced the image. Then, I looked at the incredible details in the feathers of the heron. I had to go back to the image on my computer and zoom in to see if the level of detail that I saw in the print was there in the image as seen on the computer. Of course it was, but I hadn’t zoomed in far enough before to notice it. I knew that the image was sharp, but I hadn’t realized just how sharp it was.

That was shot with the Canon 400 mm f/5.6 L series lens on the 7D Mk II, and all I can say is that I don’t see how any other camera/lens combination could produce more detail in a print than what I see in the print that I made. Possibly the same lens on the Canon 5DS R, Canon’s 50 MP full frame camera, could be better, but it can’t be by very much if it is. And, only if some one looked at the print much more closely than any average person would view such a print.

That was shot in good light, which helps to bring out the level of detail that I see, but it was shot at ISO 640 because of the higher shutter speed that I used for that image. So, I went back and printed out the mute swan from the last post at 13 X 19, which was shot at ISO 100 with the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X tele-converter, and I can see almost the same level of detail in that print.

Mute swan portrait

I don’t need a full frame camera to improve the details in my landscape images, I need better wide-angle lenses on the 7D. I shoot 95% of the landscapes that I shoot at ISO 100 anyway, because I use a tripod. So noise is never a problem when I shoot landscapes, and getting away from noise was another major factor in my desire for a full frame camera, other than resolution.

I know that there will be times when I’ve shot photos in low light at higher ISO settings, and I’ll be wishing that there wasn’t as much noise as I get that way, but after some thought, I can live with what I get with the 7D. I can remove all or most of the noise in Lightroom if I want to make a print of an image shot at a higher ISO. And to be honest with myself, few of the images that I shoot at higher ISO settings are worth printing anyway, because of other factors.

I have just a bit of technical talk left, and it concerns the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X tele-converter. You may remember that I said in my last post that I had gotten brave, and adjusted the focusing of that lens and extender combination by using controls built into the 7D Mk II. I’d say that I nailed the adjustment.

Unidentified dragonfly

Where ever I put the focus point, that’s what’s now in focus.

Monarch butterfly

And, I no longer think that the 300 mm lens that I have is any sharper than the 100-400 mm lens.

Monarch butterfly

In fact, I can see that the 100-400 mm lens is even sharper than the 300 mm lens! And, I can see that I don’t need to upgrade my camera to get better details and resolution in my images. I’m going beyond what we can see with the naked eye, and getting details that we can only see with a magnifying glass in real life.

Monarch butterfly

Sorry, that brings up another point about upgrading my camera, I’ve gotten so spoiled by the 7D Mk II and all of its bells and whistles that it would be hard for me to do with less. That’s even though I didn’t think that I’d be using all those bells and whistles when I purchased that camera. I never thought that I would need to fine tune the auto-focusing of a lens, but it’s made a huge difference in shots like these.

Unidentified dragonfly

I purchased the 7D Mk II for its fast auto-focusing system, and because it’s built like a tank, with full weather sealing. Little did I know at the time that some of the features that I thought that I’d never use would become as important to me as they have become.

Unidentified dragonfly

I won’t run through the list of features that I have ended up using, I’ll just say once again that the 7D has spoiled me, and going to a camera with fewer features, like the 6D Mk II, doesn’t appeal to me at all.

Unidentified dragonfly

 

Unidentified grasshopper

Those were shot at the Muskegon County wastewater facility on Saturday, August 19. It was a slow day for birding because I had arrived so late in the day, but I did shoot a couple of throw away type photos of a couple of eastern kingbirds that I saw, just to make sure that adjusting the focusing of the 100-400 mm lens hadn’t changed how well it does at longer ranges.

Eastern kingbird

 

Eastern kingbird

It’s too soon to tell about that though.

I could continue to babble away about the technical aspects of the decisions that I’ve made, but as I learn more about photography overall, the technical side is only part of the equation. I’ve seen a lot of technically good photos that when I look at them, but I wonder why some one shot that image in the first place. Those images don’t move me at all. On the other hand, I’ve loved some of the technically poor images that I’ve seen, because of the subject, the action that was captured, or the image connected with me because of the emotional factors that the image evoked in me.

While not rare in Michigan, it isn’t everyday that I see an osprey, and what this one was doing at the wastewater facility is beyond me. Maybe it was a young bird looking for a place to call its home territory, but the wastewater facility isn’t it, as there are few fish there other than the small fish in the drainage ditches there. I would have been less surprised if I had seen the osprey at the man-made lakes, but I don’t think that the fish in those lakes would support an osprey for very long either.

Osprey

That was shot from almost 75 yards away using the 100-400 mm lens, 2 X tele-converter, and live view focusing along with the image being cropped considerably. It was nice of the osprey to stick around as long as it did for me to get that shot. While the image quality may not be that great, it’s nice to have 800 mm of reach at times when I can’t get as close to a subject as I would prefer.

I’m beginning to see signs that fall is approaching more often all the time, whether it’s in the form of leaves on trees changing color already…

First signs of fall

…or in the way that birds are starting to form larger flocks for the upcoming migration.

Sandhill cranes

I eventually got a couple of close-ups of one of the cranes.

Sandhill crane

But by that time, it was the middle of the day, and heat waves once again ruined what would have been very good images if I had been able to shoot them earlier in the day.

Sandhill crane

I also shot a series of photos of a short-billed dowitcher…

Short-billed dowitcher

…as it dried its wings after a bath.

Short-billed dowitcher drying its wings

 

Short-billed dowitcher drying its wings

 

Short-billed dowitcher drying its wings

It even went airborne, hovering in place as it flapped.

Short-billed dowitcher drying its wings

While these photos are far from what I would have liked to have shot, they do show the patterns of the dowitcher’s feathers under its wings.

It’s funny, a few years ago I didn’t know any of the shorebirds other than killdeer and spotted sandpipers. As I’ve been working on the My Photo Life List project, I have learned to identify many of the shorebirds, and even gotten good images of most of the species. Now, I want great images of all of the species that I’ve already shot photos of, and posted to the My Photo Life List project. And, that includes action photos, showing the behaviors of the different species. I suppose that over time I will get the images that I want, it’s unrealistic of me to think that I’m going to get a perfect shot of a species of bird the first time that I see it.

I settled for a lot of poor images when I first began that project because I didn’t know that many of the species that I was seeing are actually quite common. That came from being new to birding. But, my skills as a photographer were also lacking, three years ago, I’d have never been able to get the images of the dowitcher drying its wings because I was shooting towards the sun as I shot them. So, I suppose that you could say that because I shot so many poor images in the past that I’ve finally learned how to get usable photos under poor conditions.

I have one more series of photos along those lines, a least sandpiper taking a bath.

Least sandpiper bathing

 

Least sandpiper bathing

 

Least sandpiper bathing

 

Least sandpiper bathing

 

Least sandpiper drying its wings

Hopefully, one of these days I’ll be closer, with the light coming from the right direction, to shoot better photos of the action.

When it comes to saving images to put into the blog posts I do, I always wonder if I should use the current images that I’ve shot, or wait until I shoot better ones. That’s becoming harder, not easier, because the overall quality of my images has improved so much over the life of my blog. On the other hand, I’m also seeing that what I shoot today will be surpassed by what I shoot next month, or next year. In just the past month, I’ve gotten my best ever images of several species of birds, including the bald eagle from the last post.

Bald eagle

But, I’m also sure that it’s only a matter of time before I’ve gotten an even better image of a bald eagle.

So, I’m thinking of posting less often than I have in the past, another advantage of that is that it will give me more free time to get outside to shoot more. As I’ve said in the past, time is the real factor limiting my photography. That’s especially true this weekend, I took Monday off from work to have the service done on my Subaru, and to photograph the near total eclipse of the sun as seen here in Michigan.

Near total eclipse of the sun, August 21, 2017

As far as photos, the eclipse was a bit of a bust, since I didn’t travel a few hundred miles south and fight the crowds to see what’s called the totality and the diamond ring effect that I’m sure that every one has seen by now. But watching it live as it happened was awesome, well worth a day away from work. But, that means that I’m working this Saturday to make up for it, which limits my time even more than usual.

Also, posting less often removes some of the pressure that I feel to shoot only what I can photograph well, meaning mostly birds. If I’m going to spend the money to upgrade my wide-angle lenses, then I should learn how to use them effectively, or it will be money down the drain. That means going out and shooting landscapes mostly, even if I shoot them at the wrong time of day, or I shoot other subjects that may not be worthy of posting here in my blog right now. This is all part of my plans for the future, once I retire in just a few short years. I’d rather not wait until I get to one of America’s fabulous National Parks to learn how to shoot good landscape images. So, I had better get started now around home to learn how to shoot other than birds.

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

Advertisements

This is what it’s all about

I’ve started two draft posts about the fact that because of the level of detail and color reproduction that I’m seeing in the prints that I’ve been making with the new printer, that I have decided that I don’t need a better camera than the 7D Mk II that I’m using now. Those drafts are full of technical reasons why, but before I get started down that road again, this is why I’ve been working so hard to improve my photography. You can click on any of these photos to see a larger version of them.

Bald eagle

And, that’s not even the good shot, but it’s the one that will fit in the header of my blog the best, here are the good shots.

Bald eagle

Look at those eyes!

Bald eagle

Those show the details that I’m getting in my images these days, I think that this next one is all about the colors.

Great blue heron

Look at the beautiful shades of blue-grey tinged in brown in places that show on the heron’s wing.

This next one puts everything all together in one dramatic statement of what’s possible in photography these days.

Cedar waxwing

You can see how smooth and svelte the waxwing looks, but you can also make out the textures of its feathers, and for the first time, I captured the subtle barring that they have on their wings. Such beautiful birds deserve to be photographed well.

For me, it’s always been about showing others the beauty that I see in nature, and it’s finally showing up in my images.

Great blue heron in flight

You can see that many of the heron’s feathers are edged in another color, and how the feathers overlap to create the patterns you can see in these images.

Great blue heron in flight

It isn’t just birds, it is other subjects also.

Bumblebee?

I shot all of these on Sunday, and I’ve already put the insect photos that I shot on Saturday in another post, but here’s one from Saturday that I’ll also put in this post.

Monarch butterfly

I never knew that a monarch’s eyes had a hint of blue, or that a bumblebee’s eyes had stripes. I’m learning that the things seen in nature are even more beautiful than I had thought that they were.

I have a knack for catching birds striking a humorous pose…

Eastern Phoebe

…and now, I can make them appear even more life-like in my images.

Eastern Phoebe

I can also show every one when I find a red-tailed hawk that decided to go blonde.

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

I don’t know if that hawk is leucitic, or if it’s a juvenile that hasn’t grown the brown feathers on its head the way most red-tailed hawks do. Either way, it looks a bit odd with a white head, as if it was trying to impersonate an eagle.

To prove that I still shoot bad photos, and that I’m not just doing this post to brag, here’s an odd sight, a turkey in flight.

Juvenile turkey in flight

I saw the turkey on the right edge of the road that I was driving on, and assumed that it would turn around and dive into the tall grass to hide as turkeys usually do 99.9% of the time. It didn’t though, as you can see, it flew across the road ahead of me so that I could shoot its butt with the camera pointed towards the sun.

While I do shoot a bad image from time to time, I am getting my ducks all in a row.

This year’s young are almost as big as their mother.

Here are the rest of the images that I saved from today.

Turkey vulture in flight

 

Turkey vulture in flight

 

Dickcissel with a grasshopper

 

Bald eagle shot at 800 mm and live view focusing

I had the wrong camera and lens with me when this juvenile bald eagle flew past me, so I had to make do with what I had. They were shot just seconds after the bumblebee from earlier in this post.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Here’s something that you don’t see everyday, three great blue herons in a small area together. They’re normally solitary birds that will drive others of their species away, or be driven away by a more dominant one.

Great blue herons hanging out

As I’ve been driving for work each day the past week, I saw a large flock of great egrets in a small pond next to the expressway. I saw 12 egrets there on Friday, I went to that pond both Saturday and Sunday, and only this egret remained. I decided for a wider shot to show the habitat they prefer. I would have loved to have gotten the flock of egrets together though.

Great egret

I’ve already decided that I should do more of the wider photos to show the habitat that the birds prefer, but as you can see, I need more practice on them.

The next post will contain more of the insects that I shot Saturday, as well as other subjects, and my long discussion about how I decided that I don’t need to purchase a better camera. By the way, the adjustment that I made to the focusing of the 100-400 mm lens with the tele-converter attached seems to have worked. I had no trouble getting near macro photos of the insects as you will see.

It may have sounded like I was bragging (maybe just a little) but mostly, I’m excited that I’m able to show the subjects that I shoot as near to the way that they look in real life to me as I photograph them. And in the case of insects, I’m getting more in my images than I can see in real life. My goal has always been to show others the beautiful things that I see in nature, and I’m finally getting to the point where I can.

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


Always checking, always learning

It’s Sunday morning as I sit here drinking my coffee and admiring the new Canon Pixma Pro 100 printer that I’ve purchased. It’s huge, and it weighs a ton, but getting it set-up was glitch free, and it produces better 8 X 10 inch prints than what I get from either of the local retail chains that do photo printing. I didn’t time it, but I’ll bet that it took me close to two hours to get the printer unboxed, remove all the packing inside of it, install the print head and ink cartridges, and make the test prints. The only real glitch that I ran into was finding the correct dialog box in the Canon software to make the most important adjustments such as paper size and print quality, but I did find it eventually. I have installed the Lightroom plug-in so that I can print directly from within Lightroom which was part of the reason I wasn’t able to find the dialog box for the printer driver as quickly as I think that I should have been able to.

The free package of 50 sheets of 13 X 19 inch photo paper that was part of the deal that I got on the printer was delayed, so I purchased a 50 sheet pack of the 8 X 10 paper in the same grade of paper locally yesterday. One thing that’s important for getting the best quality prints is to set the correct paper profile in whatever software you use to make the prints. I purchased the same grade of paper as the large sheets will be when they arrive simply to make things easier for me as I learn the printer better. That way, I won’t be changing the printer profiles other than setting the correct size, and I’m very happy with the Canon SG-201 semi-gloss paper so far. Once I’ve master the printer, then I may experiment with other papers.

Oh, one other thing, the USB cable that comes with the printer is ridiculously short, which I read complaints about in the reviews for the printer. So when I ordered the printer, I also ordered an inexpensive USB extension cord with the printer so that I could have the printer more than a foot from my computer. While the printer can print wirelessly, it has to be set-up while a USB cable is attached between the computer and printer. Since I have open USB ports, I’ll leave the cable connected for quicker printing. If any one is thinking of purchasing the same printer, I would recommend also getting a USB 3 extension cable with a male type A plug on one end, and a female type A plug on the other. It’s working out very well so far. As I said, print quality is excellent, better than I thought it would be.

I think that one of the reasons for the print quality that I see is that since I can print directly from Lightroom, I can print directly from my RAW files, and since I use a Mac computer, I am sending the print job to the printer in the full 16 bit color space of Lightroom. (Actually, the 14 bit color space of my camera, which is still better than a JPEG) When I have prints made by a photo lab, I have to reduce the RAW files to JPEG, and they use just 8 bit color space, along with the compression that converting from RAW to JPEG entails. There isn’t a huge difference, but the prints that I’ve made at home are sharper with more vibrant colors than those made by a photo lab.

It’s also very handy to see the results almost instantly, and make corrections if needed. So far, every print I’ve made has been good, although I did accidentally crop off part of a butterfly’s wing in one of the first prints that I tried making. That was just part of the learning curve as far as I’m concerned. I’ve made the same mistake when I’ve sent photos to a lab for printing, but then the only remedy was to pay to have another print made. If I had been paying attention to the details as I was setting up to make the print, I wouldn’t have made that mistake. But, I find that the photo labs make that mistake because the entire process is automated these days, and the software doesn’t always make the correct decisions when fitting an image to the size paper that I’ve chosen. That applies to brightness and contrast as well, the cheaper photo labs that I’ve been using have an automated process that often “corrects” what it sees as it reads the images, and just as the light meter in a camera can be fooled by a bright white or very dark subject, the automated process of the photo labs can be also fooled.

I don’t plan on producing that many prints, but I think that I’ll do one or two of the images that I shoot each week to check my progress as a photographer, and to keep the ink in the printer from drying up. The smaller sheets of photo paper will work for that, and I’ll keep the large sheets for the few exceptional images that I shoot. Or, when some one requests a print for purchase, which happens from time to time, and is happening more often these days.

Unless you’re planning on producing a good number of prints, I wouldn’t recommend to any one that they purchase a photo printer. The ink cartridges and paper are quite expensive, I won’t be saving much, if any, over having the prints made at a photo lab. And, you do have to use the printer often enough to keep the ink from drying up in the print head and nozzles, or have the expense of replacing the print head. But, having full creative control of the printing process and getting higher quality prints than produced by the cheaper photo labs are worth it to me. Also, one of the photo labs that I used in the past is dropping gloss paper as an option for printing. I tried a few prints on their matte paper, but if you’re going for sharp prints of birds and wildlife, then you do not want to print on matte paper!

Matte paper may be a better choice for dreamy landscapes and other subjects where sharpness isn’t a concern, but the wildlife prints I had done on matte paper were the pits. That’s because ink soaks into matte paper more than glossy paper, so the ink bleeds across the color graduations in the print, leaving less definition between colors, which leaves the print looking soft. So, because the one lab is dropping gloss paper, I had to find another source for printing, which is another reason that I took the plunge and purchased the photo printer. The semi-gloss paper I’ve been using so far works very well. I may get adventurous some day and try out other papers, but that will be when I’ve mastered the printer better.

Anyway, I’d better get to a photo or two here.

Fungi mini-scape

 

Early morning fountain

Those were shot on Saturday morning, before I picked up the printer and ran the other errands that needed to be taken care of before I set the printer up. Here’s a few more of the images from my walk.

Juvenile male downy woodpecker

 

American goldfinch

 

Pigeons in flight

 

Pigeon in flight

I’m not sure how this came to be.

What the?

My first thought was that some one had put the rope in the tree, but the hole that the rope is in is 20 feet off the ground. Also, the tree is surrounded by a thick tangle of brush that would be hard to walk through to get to the tree, and there were no signs of that happening. While I still think that some one did this, there’s the chance that a red squirrel found the rope and dragged it into the hollow tree. Once the squirrel had the rope in the hollow tree, it could have chewed up the rope to make a comfy nest for itself, rather than carrying dead leaves into the hollow tree. I’ll have to keep an eye on it, as you can see in the photo, something had been chewing on the hole in the tree to enlarge the opening, recently enough so that the exposed wood hadn’t had a chance to take on the weather appearance of the smaller holes that you can see. I doubt if a person would have chewed on the wood to create the same effect.

Juvenile rose-breasted grosbeak

 

Unidentified flowering object

On Sunday, I went to the Muskegon County wastewater facility yet again. Once again, I looked for a good place to set-up the portable hide that I’ve never used yet, but I didn’t find the right circumstances to give it a try. Even though I didn’t test the portable hide, I did learn more about what will be the right circumstances to use it.

I did a quick drive through in the area of the wastewater plant itself, and didn’t see much to photograph. So, I went to the man-made lakes which while on the wastewater facility’s property, are almost a full mile from the plant itself. I parked there by the lake and as I was looking around, I spotted a belted kingfisher in a tree very close to me, but partially hidden by the branches of the tree. I waited and waited, but the kingfisher never moved, that is, until I opened the door of my car, then it was off in an instant. I had the camera that I use for bird portraits in my hand, but with the kingfisher taking off, I tried to switch cameras to get a shot of it in flight. Fail!

As it was, I had to settle for this poor image taken later on.

Female belted kingfisher

I did get this image of a solitary sandpiper in flight later on though.

Solitary sandpiper in flight

There were plenty of birds in the area, but they stayed out of camera range most of the time. Whenever one came close enough to me, I’d shoot it.

Female mallard in flight

You can just make out something in this swallow’s bill, I caught it just as it caught an insect.

Juvenile barn swallow catching a meal

But trust me, even with the camera and lens that I’m using now, getting a good image of a swallow in flight is tough.

Juvenile barn swallow in flight

It was a slow day as far as photographing birds in some ways, in other ways, there were plenty of birds to photograph, but mostly the most common species that I see. So, I spent the rest of the day doing some more testing of the two lenses that I use most often. I’ll try not to go into detail, as you won’t be able to see the differences between the two lenses in the way that I present the images here in my blog.

These first three were all shot with the 100-400 mm zoom lens and 1.4 X tele-converter because of the distance between myself and the birds.

Mute swan portrait

 

Sandhill cranes

Turkey vultures are social birds, sometimes too social. When I first saw these three, all of them were trying to spread their wings to warm themselves up, but by the time I worked my way into position to photograph them, this is what I got.

Turkey vultures

The two on the crossbar were nudging each other to make room to spread their wings, you’d have thought that they would have spread out farther apart than that.

Anyway, here’s a couple of images shot with the 400 mm prime lens.

Great blue heron

I wasn’t going to post any more butt shots of birds flying away from me, but that last one is too sharp not to post, You can see the heron’s eye, and also the color pattern on its neck very well.

Great blue heron in flight

The 400 mm prime lens is definitely a bit sharper than the 100-400 mm zoom, as it should be, as I’ve explained before. In a way, that’s hard to believe though, the 400 mm prime lens has been in production over 20 years, while the 100-400 mm zoom is one of Canon’s newest lenses.

And, using the tele-converter behind the zoom lens doesn’t make the images a fair test of the two lenses, that happened later, at the headquarters of the wastewater facility.

I went to the headquarters building to catch the hummingbirds that come to the feeders that they have set out for the hummers there.

Ruby-throated hummingbird approaching a feeder

Because I was hoping to catch a hummer in flight, I was using the 400 mm prime lens. However, I had many more opportunities to shoot other species of birds.

Juvenile American goldfinch

 

Chipping sparrow

Getting close to the birds wasn’t the problem, getting far enough away from them for the 400 mm prime lens to focus on them was. At one point, a pair of least flycatchers landed in the tree that I was standing next to, with one of them landing less than 6 feet away from me, in clear view. As I began to back away slowly and raise the camera at the same time, the flycatcher closest to me took off, and the other one, which was far enough away, flew off with the first.

I don’t think that it mattered which lens that I had with me, I wouldn’t have gotten the shot, which would have been close to perfect if I had gotten it. The flycatcher was too close for me to be able to get the camera to my eye without spooking the bird.

I had plenty of frustrations photographing this guy as well.

Male ruby-throated hummingbird

He would perch where he could flaunt his bright red throat at me, until I tried to move into position to photograph him, then he would move into the shadows where my images don’t do his beauty justice.

Male ruby-throated hummingbird

Because I was missing so many shots of birds because they were too close for the 400 mm prime lens, I switched to the 100-400 mm zoom lens, which focuses to around three feet.

Unidentified fly

I’ve used the 100-400 mm zoom lens for close-ups like that enough to know that I should adjust the focusing point at close distance. It focuses slightly behind where the focus point says that it’s focused on. However, I’m afraid of ruining how well that it focuses at distances that are more typical of the bird portraits that I use the lens for most of the time. I make do by focusing on something a bit closer than the point that I want to be in focus. It works well enough, but I should get brave and adjust the focus of that lens. Who knows, maybe the adjustment will show improvements at longer distances also.

Okay, I’ve gotten brave, I read the manual on how to adjust the focus of the zoom lens through the 7D Mk II. Being a zoom lens, I can adjust the focus for both the wide end of the zoom range, and the telephoto end of the zoom range. Since the issue seems to be at the telephoto end, I bumped the adjustment two “notches” closer for the time being. I made some test shots inside at the extreme close focusing range of the lens, and they look much better as far as the focus point focusing where I intend it to focus. I’ll have to test it on subjects farther away yet, but so far, so good.

That’s one of the many features of the 7D Mk II has that I’m learning to love more every day. I can adjust the focusing for up to 40 different lenses and/or 40 combinations of lenses with or without a tele-converter, and the camera remembers those changes and adjusts itself when it sees that particular lens or tele-converter and lens are mounted on the camera. It goes by the serial number of the lens, which the camera reads electronically. I know, I’m getting way too technical here, but this is a way for me to keep track of the adjustments that I make. If the adjustment doesn’t work, it’s simple enough for me to change it back.

I’ve since gone outside and shot a few test shots at varying distances, from extremely close to as far away as the moon. I think that the adjustment that I made worked well, but I’ll have to test it out more when I have more time. All the images were in focus, at the point where the focus point was when I shot the image. I didn’t have to fudge slightly for the images I shot for the test the way that I did when I shot the fly above.

Anyway, I continued standing next to the trees, shooting the various birds as they came into view.

Tufted titmouse

 

Tufted titmouse

I also caught up with the male hummer again, although he kept his back to me this time.

Male ruby-throated hummingbird

I also tested the prime lens on this day lily.

Day lily

Now I’m a bit sorry that I didn’t take more time to think about that image before I shot it, since it was a test of sorts. It could have been much better than that, but it tells me what I needed to know as far as using that lens for subjects other than birds.

I thought about trying out the portable hide there where I shot these last photos, but I could never decide the exact spot that would give me a clear view of the birds as they came and went. I may not have moved very far while I was there at the headquarters building, but I moved around enough to get a clear view of the birds for most of the photos. So, I’m not sure how well the portable hide would work for small birds as they move around. If I had been using it, I may have gotten the least flycatcher that landed so close to me, but I would have never gotten the images of the hummingbird from that spot. It may be a matter of luck when setting up the portable hide to get photos of small birds, and I hate relying on luck. I guess that I’d rather have the frustrations of stalking birds in the brush only to have them fly away when I get a clear view of them, rather than sit and hope that a bird lands in the right spot. But, that may be changing.

The species of birds that I photographed there at the headquarters building were some of the smallest species of birds commonly seen in Michigan, with the hummingbirds being the smallest species here. They are also species that prefer thicker vegetation to stay hidden most of the time. The portable hide may be more useful when I shoot medium size songbirds, and I know that it will work when photographing the large birds.

I have one last photo, shot with a 60D and the 100 mm macro lens.

Bull thistle

At least I think that it’s a bull thistle, I could be wrong.

Important news about the printer

I have an update on the new Pixma Pro 100 printer, for those who asked about it. I’ve been printing everything through Lightroom and I’ve been getting excellent results. I was soft proofing every print in the development module, and I was finding that I had to brighten every image between 1/3 and 2/3 stop of exposure. No big deal, I’d let Lightroom make a proof copy of the image, make the necessary adjustments, and print that copy of the image to get the excellent results I was seeing. One good thing about making the copy is that if you want to print the same image again, the adjustments made for printing have been saved in the copy. But then, I got lazy.

There’s a check box at the bottom of the left panel in the print module called “Print Adjustment” which is supposed to allow you to adjust the exposure and contrast of every print that you make. The purpose is supposed to be an easy way to compensate for the fact that your computer monitor doesn’t match the printer output exactly. Even though the experts in the videos that I watched about printing from Lightroom said never to check that box or use that adjustment, I gave it a try.  The result was a disaster of a print, so wet with ink that it was practically dripping off from the paper, even though I made a very slight adjustment to the exposure slider that goes with the check box. So, even though I’m no expert, I will also tell you to never check that box or use the adjustments that checking it turns on. I’ll go back to soft proofing every image, and adjusting the exposure that way, when such an adjustment is required. Besides, then I have the copy to print from if I need to print the same image again.

I would have liked to have printed a 13 X 19 inch print by the time I published this, but that size paper won’t arrive in time. I see no reason to think that the results will be other than the same as I’ve seen with 8 X 10 prints, excellent. I find it hard to believe that a desktop photo printer can do better than commercial grade printers that the labs use, but that’s what I’m seeing in the prints that I’ve made so far. But as I’ve said, that could be due to how the prints are outputted to the printer in RAW through Lightroom, rather than from a JPEG as I have to do if I send an image to be printed by the lab.

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


Not quite back to normal

Most people reading this have probably seen the post that I did on the historical buildings in Ionia, Michigan which I shot on Sunday of last week. Saturday wasn’t a normal go out and chase the birds day either, for as I was pulling into the parking lot of the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, I saw Ric P., the president of the Muskegon County Nature Club. I don’t recall if I’ve mentioned him here before or not, but I do bump into him from time to time as we are out birding the same place at the same time.

Ric and I chatted for a while in the parking lot as he wrote down the birds we saw in the notebook he carries for that purpose and I looked for birds and other photo opportunities. Then, he went his way, which he bases on doing an accurate count, and I went my way, which I base on having the best light to photograph what I see.

Purple loosestrife covered in dew

By the way, the loosestrife was bent over from the weight of the dew, which is why it appears in the landscape orientation, unlike the next flowers.

Pickerel weed

I have a love/hate relationship with the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. There are plenty of birds and other subjects to photograph there, but the vegetation is so dense in most places that getting a good photo is difficult, if I can even see the birds that are flitting around in the vegetation, or that I can hear calling. Once in a while I get lucky, a bird will perch out in the open for me.

Starling

But most of the time, I’m working in the dense vegetation trying to get a clear view of a bird.

Juvenile yellow warbler

There are times when that’s a plus, because in such dense vegetation, I’m able to get very close to birds at times…

Juvenile northern flicker hiding

…even though they are trying to hide from me. But, if I remain still and wait, the lure of food often overrides their fear…

Juvenile northern flicker

…and I can catch them in the act of eating.

Juvenile northern flicker selecting a berry to eat

The sad part of this series of images is that I wasn’t able to catch the flicker taste testing the berries with its tongue…

Juvenile northern flicker taste testing the berry

…although I could see that in the viewfinder.

I did capture the act of swallowing the berry though.

Juvenile northern flicker swallowing a berry

I also caught the flicker tasting a berry…

Juvenile northern flicker tasting a berry

…then spitting it out, as it must not have tasted good.

Juvenile northern flicker spitting out a bad berry

Too bad that last image is a bit blurry, I don’t know if the auto-focus shifted, or if the flicker moved too quickly for the shutter speed I was shooting at.

That isn’t the first bird that I’ve photographed as it was eating, but it is the first flicker, and the photos show that they do eat berries in addition to ants, which are their main source of food.

I also saw this Baltimore oriole, either a juvenile or a male in the process of molting, and I loved the rich colors it was showing.

Baltimore oriole

I would have liked to have gotten closer as it preened, but standing water between the oriole and myself prevented that.

A short time later, I came upon a brood of juvenile barn swallows.

Juvenile barn swallows

I waited for a while to see if the parents returned to feed their young, but I believe that these were old enough to fend for themselves. So, I began to inch closer…

Juvenile barn swallow stretching its wings

…and closer.

Juvenile barn swallow

The sun was in the wrong location for a good image, but I couldn’t resist.

Juvenile barn swallow looking far a meal

If the swallow had looked down, it would have seen a school of large bluegills under the boardwalk…

Bluegill

…not that a swallow would have been interested in a fish.

The cardinal flowers have begun to bloom…

Cardinal flowers

…but I couldn’t get any closer because of the lake being as high as it is. I did wait in that spot for a while, hoping that a hummingbird would show up to feed from the cardinal flowers, but that didn’t happen. Cardinal flowers are a favorite of hummingbirds, so I should have waited longer.

Eventually, I got to the part of the boardwalk where I’ve been seeing the least bittern most often, and Ric was there, counting birds as usual. It wasn’t long before an osprey made an appearance, although too far away for a good image.

Osprey in flight

The two of us stood out there on the boardwalk chatting for a very long time. Mostly, it was I that spotted the birds by eye, Ric is able to identify more birds by their call than I am. Which way he was able to identify the birds didn’t matter, he tried to keep as accurate of a count of each species as he could.

We were treated by a number of the different species in the heron family as we talked. I noticed something then, how fast and how high members of the heron family fly is relative to their size. Large member of the heron family, like this great egret, fly slow and high.

Great egret in flight

Because of the lighting…

Great egret in flight

…you can see how little skeleton and muscle that they have in their wings.

Great egret in flight

That makes their flight even more amazing to me.

Great egret in flight

The green herons being smaller, fly faster and lower than their larger cousins do.

Green heron in flight

And, the least bitterns, the smallest member of the heron family…

Least bittern in flight

…fly the fastest and lowest of members of the heron family.

The least bitterns fly just above the vegetation, and they can really move when compared to their larger cousins, even green herons. That makes sense, being as small as they are, it’s much more likely that a raptor would try to make a meal of them. By flying low and fast, they can dive into the vegetation to escape airborne predators if needed.

I think that an eagle, a large hawk, or even a peregrine falcon would be capable of killing even the larger members of the heron family, but they’d have a fight on their hands to be sure. Even as large as they are, the agility in flight of the larger herons is something to see, and something that I hope to capture better one of these days. For a bird as small as the least bittern, which is about the size of a chicken, an attack by a raptor is a more likely proposition. That’s probably why they have evolved better suited for faster flight, and why they have learned to stay low and close to the safety of the vegetation that they live around.

It makes it difficult to photograph them though, I had several chances to shoot the bittern, but it was out of range by the time I got the camera on it most of the time.

Anyway, Ric and I spent a considerable amount of time on the boardwalk discussing birds, birding, and bird photography. We were joined by Ken, the person that I mentioned in a recent post as a regular visitor to the preserve, and I found the conversation to be quite a change from my usual solo outings. The conversation was very pleasant, but that was probably because neither Ric or Ken are the super-serious birders who set-up a spotting scope on a tripod and scan every inch of what’s in view in search of birds, and then discuss every nuance of a bird’s plumage. So while my photos in this post are mostly birds, the day wasn’t a typical day for me.

Have two more photos from the time that I spent at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, they’re both of the same chickadee.

Black-capped chickadee

Having a few good photos of chickadees, I was able to play around with the camera settings a bit more than I typically do.

All of the photos from the morning were shot with the 100-400 mm lens, which I carry at the preserve due to its versatility. The flowers and the chickadee were all closer to me than the minimum focusing distance of the 400 mm prime lens. Because it doesn’t focus at less than 11 feet, I assumed that the 400 mm prime lens wouldn’t be good for insects or other small subjects, but I may have to change my thinking a little.

Unidentified butterfly

I shot the butterfly while attempting to stalk hummingbirds at the wastewater facility. Since I failed at getting any of the hummers, I shot that butterfly as a way of keeping myself occupied.

There were at least three hummers chasing each other around, but I never got close to any of them where I had a clear view of any of them. They fly so fast that it’s hard to keep track of them as they’re flying, they’re just a blur as they whiz around. What surprised me was that the species of butterfly in the photo above can fly nearly as fast as the hummers do. I’d see a tiny blur go past me, and it wasn’t until the blur stopped that I could tell if it was a hummer, or one of those butterflies. Since I had the 400 mm lens with me hoping to catch a hummingbird in flight, it was all that I had to shoot the butterfly with. I had to do some serious cropping to the butterfly photo, but the results amazed me. I knew that lens was sharp, but I’m still learning how sharp it can be. To produce that image of a butterfly less than two inches across its wings while it’s 12 feet away from me is proof of how sharp it is.

And, I didn’t know that there were any species of butterflies capable of flying as fast as the species pictured above is. For me to mistake them for hummingbirds a few times should tell you how fast the butterflies are. I knew from when I’ve tried to keep up with other butterflies to get a photo that butterflies can cover a lot of ground in a hurry, but I don’t recall any of them flying fast enough to be mistaken for a hummingbird, other than the hummingbird moths. Nature continues to throw me more surprises all the time.

In other news, I have ordered a photo printer so that I can print my images at home. It’s a Canon Pixma Pro 100 that can print up to 13 X 19 inch prints. Canon is practically giving the printers away, knowing that they will make their money on ink cartridges and paper over time. I’ll be picking it up later today after I go for a walk around home. I should be able to tell you more about it in my next post.

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


A change of pace

As I wrote recently, I’ve been feeling the need to photograph something other than birds lately. So on Sunday, I drove to Ionia, Michigan to photograph a few of the historic buildings in that city. Ionia was the capital of Michigan for a short period of time in the 1800’s not very long after Michigan was admitted to the Union. It was at one time larger than it is now as far as population, but when a few of the large employers closed down after World War II, many people moved elsewhere to find jobs.

Ionia, Michigan is east of where I live, about the same distance from me as Muskegon is to the west of me.

Every day when I drive for work, I see the old railroad station which has been restored, as I pull into my first stop of the day.

The railroad station in Ionia, Michigan

It’s a privately owned building these days, so I didn’t go inside. In the background, you can see the steeple of an older church, and the dome on the county courthouse. Seeing those things every day piqued my interest, so I did a little research online, and learned of a few other places to check out. I had stopped on my way to Ionia to shoot this old farmhouse, which I imagine was a cut above the rest back when it was built.

Old farmhouse outside of Ionia Michigan

It’s in pretty bad shape now though.

I shot the railroad station from the other side, but I had to shoot across parking lot, so I’m not posting it, even though the background is better. Instead, I moved on to the Ionia County Courthouse.

Ionia County Courthouse historic marker

I’d say that the people of the county got a lot for their $42,380!

Ionia County Courthouse

Here’s a closer look at the entrance.

Ionia County Courthouse entrance

I also zoomed in on one of the carved faces to show the detail.

Ionia County Courthouse

So far, all of the photos were shot with my 60D body and the 15-85 mm lens as a test of sorts as I wrote about before. The images are all HDR images as well, and I used the perspective correction in Lightroom to make the buildings look as they should. However, I shot the courthouse dome from a distance using a 7D and the 100-400 mm lens, and these are straight out of the camera more or less.

The Ionia County Courthouse dome

A closer look.

The Ionia County Courthouse dome

My next stop was what is known as the Blanchard house.

The Blanchard House marker in Ionia, Michigan

Here’s the best view of the front of the house as I could get with the trees in the front yard.

The Blanchard House

Here’s a closer look at the entrance.

The Blanchard House entrance

I walked around the house, admiring the colors of the sandstone, as well as the patterns in it, used on the outside of the house, and shooting a view of the side of the house…

The Blanchard House

…and the rear.

The Blanchard House

I liked the fact that the landscaping looked like it probably did when the Blanchards lived there.

Again, all the exterior shots of the Blanchard House were shot with a tripod mounted 60D camera and the 15-85 mm lens, and are HDR images to compensate for the camera’s lack of dynamic range.

I did pull out the 7D and 100-400 mm lens for a couple of close-ups of the details of the exterior.

The cornice of the Blanchard House

 

Details in the carved sandstone

 

Since the house wasn’t open to tours yet, I checked several other old buildings out, but they were in poor repair, so I didn’t bother photographing them. The Blanchard House was open when I returned, and I ended up spending far more time inside than I imagined that I would.

The hand-carved walnut door of the Blanchard house

The Ionia County Historical Society has done a wonderful job of restoring the interior of the house!

The Blanchard House

A few pieces of furniture are pieces that the Blanchards owned, but most of the furniture that you’ll see has been donated to the historical society, which is why the pieces don’t all match.

Inside the Blanchard House

 

Inside the Blanchard House

 

Inside the Blanchard House

 

Inside the Blanchard House

I felt like a bull in a china shop, literally. 😉

Inside the Blanchard House

Even when using my speedlite (flash unit), I was having trouble getting good photos inside the house. One problem was the lack of light, the other was that they have too much stuff inside the house. The people of Ionia have been very generous in donating items to the historical society that owns the Blanchard house, and they have run out of room to display everything. So, I wasn’t able to get far enough away from some of the things that I would have liked to have photographed.

I wanted to get photos of the fireplaces, but my view was blocked by furniture in most cases.

Fireplace mantel and items on display

I did find one fireplace that I could get a photo of, but for some reason they had placed a framed collage in the fireplace, so the lights and my flash are reflected back towards me in the photo.

Fireplace in the Blanchard House

Like the idiot that I am, I forgot to read the information about this urn, but I loved the way that it reflected light.

Unidentified urn object

I was also mesmerized by the original light fixtures in the house…

One of the unique light fixtures in the Blanchard House

…but I didn’t photograph them very well.

Another of the unique light fixtures in the Blanchard House

I’m not used to shooting inside, or using a flash, and I struggled a good deal with the dynamic range issues that photographing lights that were on presented. But, that was true everywhere inside the house.

The master bedroom of the Blanchard House

I have the flash exposure set to -2 stops so that the flash doesn’t over-power the existing light, and throw harsh shadows on everything. Most of these images were shot with shutter speeds slower than 1/60 second, in fact, I was overjoyed if I saw that the shutter speed would be 1/60 second before pressing the shutter release. Even then, I had to bump the ISO up to 1000 to get these images. They told me that I could use my tripod if I wanted, but there wasn’t really room to set it up anywhere. And, it would have taken me forever to get these photos if I had used the tripod. As it was, I got by relying on the Image Stabilization of the lens, the wide angles I was shooting at, and the strobe effect of the flash unit.

I have a few more photos of the main living quarters of the house.

Baby grand piano

 

Unusual chair

That also shows the walnut shutters on all of the windows in the house.

 

Another very ornate chair

The only place that the Ionia County Historical society has to store or display any items that they have is the Blanchard House, unfortunately. I say unfortunately, because they have the basement of the Blanchard House packed to the brim with items that have been donated or purchased.

If things were a bit cramped for space in the living quarters, then you can imagine what the basement was like. It was difficult to get far enough away from anything to get a photo of it.

Watch repair tools

 

The largest cash register I’ve seen

 

A blurry photo of the switchboard used at the Ionia State Prison

Even though I have only three photos from the basement, I spent a considerable amount of time there with one of the members of the Ionia County Historical Society getting the grand tour, and talking about the history of Ionia, Michigan, and the United States in general. We also discussed their efforts to keep the Blanchard House as close to how it was originally and how well they have been doing that overall.

Another topic of discussion was the craftsmanship of the people who built the house, the furniture, and many of the items in the basement, the watch repair person’s desk and tools being a great example of that. While we think that we’re more advanced than our ancestors, and as far as technology that may be true, we have lost as much knowledge as we have gained in some ways.

Now then, this post is almost done, and I’ve neglected to say anything about John Blanchard, who had the house built.

John Blanchard was an attorney originally from New York who came to Ionia, Michigan with a brief stop in Detroit, Michigan on the way. Once in Ionia, he branched out and became a business man as well. If you’d like a little more information, here’s a link to the Ionia County Historical Society’s website.

To sum it up, being a history buff, I thoroughly enjoyed the hours I spent there at the Blanchard House.

Now then, on to some boring talk about photography. I said that this trip was a test of sorts, to determine which lenses I’ll need when I purchase a full frame sensor camera. Since my 15-85 mm lens on a crop sensor body is the equivalent of a 24-105 mm lens on a full frame body, I’m happy to report that all the photos that photos in this post were shot with the 15-85 mm lens except as noted. There were a few times that I was tempted to go wider than 15 mm, but I was able to get the shots that I wanted for the most part. I was worried that to get the entire buildings that I shot in the frame, I would have to go wider, but I didn’t.

By the way, Lightroom does a magnificent job of correcting the perspective distortion that you can get when photographing buildings or even the interior of rooms when shot with a very wide-angle lens. This isn’t the best way of illustrating that, but I think that you’ll get the idea. Here’s a photo that I shot handheld just to see if I could get the entire Ionia County Courthouse in the frame.

The Ionia County Courthouse, no perspective correction

And, here’s the shot from above when I used the tripod, leveled the camera, and used Lightroom to correct the perspective. To make it easier for Lightroom to perform the correction, I stood as close to the center of the building as I could, and tried to keep the plane of the camera’s sensor parallel with the front of the building.

Ionia County Courthouse

You can see that the building doesn’t appear to fall away from you in the second image. Short of using a platform or a drone to get higher off the ground, the perspective correction in Lightroom is the best way to deal with the distortion. You can also see how much creating a HDR image helped to even out the exposure and bring the true colors of the building to life. I don’t use HDR to kill all the shadows, but I have Photomatix set to produce an image close to what I can see with my eyes when I shoot the photos. One thing to remember if using the perspective correction in Lightroom is to leave room on the sides of the building for the correction to be done without losing some of the building due to the cropping that takes place when you use that correction.

I applied the perspective correction in Lightroom after I had created the HDR image of the building. I did that because Photomatix, the software that I use to create HDR images sometimes crops a small amount from the images used to create the HDR as it aligns the images. I have no control over that cropping if it occurs, so I waited to apply the correction in Lightroom so that all three images I used to create the HDR image would be as close to the same as possible. I was afraid that the perspective correction in Lightroom may be slightly different for each of the three images I used to create the HDR image, resulting in alignment problems when I went to create the HDR image.

You can also see why I shot the dome of the courthouse from a distance using the 100-400 mm lens. If I had tried shooting it from where I was standing when I shot the entire building, I would have had the camera pointed nearly vertical, and much of the detail of the dome would have been hidden.

Overall, I’m very happy with the way that my images of the exterior of the buildings turned out. The same is true of the interior images as well, given the difficulties I faced when shooting them, they turned out better than expected. I could have used a wider lens inside though to leave more room for the perspective correction in Lightroom that I did to the full room shots. As it was, a few of them ended up cropped more than I would have liked, but they still convey the elegance of the Blanchard House quite well. The way that I used both the flash and ambient light from both the light coming through the windows and from the light fixtures was a wise choice. There’s no harsh shadows as there would have been if I had shot with the flash unit set to full power, and I was able to get the shots without using a tripod as I would have had to if I hadn’t used the flash.

One thing that I need to work on is learning the depth of field that I get while using a very wide-angle lens. I shot most of the interior photos at f/7.1 so that everything would be in focus. I may have been able to go wider with the aperture to let more light through the lens, but I’m not sure about that. If I had been able to use a wider aperture and keep everything in focus, then the images would have been even better. I was too busy trying to decide how best to shoot what I did to play around taking many test photos of each subject. None of my images are very creative, but they do show what I wanted them to show, and that’s the best that I can hope for right now. After all, interior photography isn’t my forte.

Another thing that I need to learn is how to do panorama images well. I don’t think that buildings would lend themselves to panoramas, but they work well for landscapes from what I’ve seen. Lightroom will do panoramas, and I’ve done a couple of them with good results for a rookie that doesn’t know what he’s doing. I shot a couple of landscape photos around Ionia, however none of them are good enough to appear here. I shot them with the 15-85 mm lens just to see how wide that lens is, so that I can use that information to help me choose the right lenses for a full frame camera.

From the images that I shot this day, I think that I’ll be able to get by with just two cameras and lenses at least 95% of the time. If I have the 100-400 mm lens on the 7D Mk II, I’m set for almost anything that I see in nature that requires a long lens. With a 24-105 mm lens on a full frame body, then I’m set for landscapes and other times when I need a wide-angle lens. That means a lot less weight than what I often carry with me now, which will be a good thing on longer hikes. If I learn to do panoramas well, then that will lessen my need for an even wider lens, at least for the time being.

It was a great day, not only did I see a good deal of history, but I learned a lot as well. Who could ask for more? I can, as while I did learn a lot, there are still more things that I need to learn about photographing some subjects. I’m not about to quit photographing nature, or change the direction of my blog. However, I would like to go back to mixing a post such as this one now and then from now on. Because of that, I would like to learn how to photograph the things that I see even better.

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

 


The waiting game, Part II

It’s Saturday evening, after a day spent at the Muskegon County wastewater facility looking for a good opportunity to test out the portable hide that I purchased several months ago, but still haven’t used. I must have been at the wrong place at the wrong time for most of the day, that happens a lot when I get a late start. I never did set the portable hide up.

There were quite a few shorebirds when I arrived, and that would have been the best chance to test the hide all day. I did break out the tripod with the gimbal head later in the day, after I had shot this and other images of Bonaparte’s gulls earlier handheld.

Adult Bonaparte’s gull

The reason that I got the tripod out when I did was to test it for shooting video.

You can see that the Bonaparte’s gulls act nothing like their cousins the ring-billed and herring gulls from that video. They swim around picking insects and other small food sources from the water as you can see.

I’m happy to report that the gimbal head does work well for video, I had no trouble keeping the gull in the frame as it would lunge forward for prey, or turn sharply for the same reason.  Even though I was “filming” a moving bird, I was able to keep the camera steady on the tripod and head. I need more practice, but seeing the results in this one test will prompt me to use the set-up more often in the future.

The hardest hurdle for me to climb when it comes to sitting in one spot to either shoot videos or stills will be my lack of patience. It’s now Monday morning, and I truly tried to find a place to set-up the portable hide this past weekend, but never did. The weather may be playing a part right now as well.

I’ve always said that first thing in the morning was the best time to photograph birds, that’s when they are the most active, and the bonus is that you have good light.

Northern flicker

That was shot Sunday morning at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, shortly after I had arrived. However, let me back-up just a little. The first bird that I shot was this grey catbird.

Grey catbird carrying a berry to its young

I don’t know how they do it with their mouth full, but the catbird was squawking at me the entire time that I followed it around within the tree as it moved around.

Grey catbird carrying a berry to its young

I had only moved a few steps away from the catbird when the flicker landed in the same tree, slightly above the catbird, which was still squawking away.

Northern flicker

The flicker seemed to be very interested in what the catbird was doing, and it kept a close eye on the catbird.

Northern flicker

A very close eye.

Northern flicker

I don’t know if the flicker was trying to learn why the catbird was sounding the alarm, or if the flicker was interested in the berry that the catbird had. Flickers eat mostly ants, although they will eat berries at times, but they’re not aggressive birds that are known for stealing food from other birds.

I should have set-up the portable blind near that spot for I saw other species of birds in the same area. However, I wanted better images of the least bittern, so I made my way out to the boardwalk. I should mention that in a very rare event, I stopped at the picnic pavilion and didn’t see a single bird there. I can’t recall another time that there weren’t at least a few birds around there.

Anyway, I made it out to the boardwalk and early on, I shot better images of the least bittern as it flew past me.

Least bittern in flight

 

Least bittern in flight

But, I didn’t get the view that I really wanted. I tried sticking around, and I was able to shoot two more series of the bittern as it flew to or from its nest, but it stayed out of range of any good images.

I tried to keep myself amused by shooting a few of the other things that I saw…

Female yellow warbler

 

Purple loosestrife

 

Jewelweed

 

Jewelweed

 

Marsh wren

 

Marsh wren

 

Joe Pye weed about to bloom

But, I couldn’t make myself stick around in one spot that day. It may have been because I was seeing and photographing the same things as the week before, or it may have been because of what had happened the previous day. It was probably a combination of both.

I should explain what I had witnessed on Saturday that made it difficult to sit in one spot. As I said earlier, early morning is the best time to see birds. I’ve often joked that come early afternoon, all the birds are taking a siesta, and therefore it’s hard to find them. I may say that jokingly, but it’s the truth…

Lesser yellowlegs napping

…by early afternoon on most days, the birds are ready for a nap.

Lesser yellowlegs napping

Usually though, birds don’t nap out in the open like that, they prefer someplace more hidden. Secondly, on both Saturday and Sunday, the birds that didn’t have young to feed began their naps much earlier in the day, late morning rather than early afternoon. By noon on both days, it was tough to find a bird.

It wouldn’t have matter much anyway, as by noon on both days, the sun was heating the air enough to create major heat waves, meaning that any longer range shots I attempted would have been ruined like this one.

Red fox at noon

What the fox was doing out at that time of day, I have no idea. It must have known about the atmospheric conditions though, because it stood there and let me shoot away…

Red fox at noon

…and when it did start to move away, it even paused for a look back at me.

Red fox at noon

There it was out in the open for the first time of all the times I’ve seen one, and the heat waves coming up from the road ruined any chance of a sharp photo. A few hours earlier before the sun began beating down, and I would have had some great images to brag about.

That’s going to lead me to some boring talk about photographic equipment. It’s days like that which lessen my desire for an even longer lens than the ones that I already own. The results would have been just as bad or worse if I had been using one of the extremely long lenses that I can’t afford any way. I didn’t even bother trying the 2 X tele-converter, I could see the heat waves through the viewfinder and knew that going longer wouldn’t help.

The two long lenses that I’m using now, the 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6 and the 400 mm f/5.6 work well enough when I can use them in tandem, as I do at the wastewater facility. The 100-400 mm lens focuses down close for the flowers that you saw above, and for shots like this…

Unidentified dragonfly

..although the 300 mm f/4 lens was better for extreme close-ups.

I can “make do” with the zoom lens for birds in flight with the correct camera and lens settings.

Great blue heron in flight

 

Great blue heron in flight

I also shot the least bittern with the zoom lens.

However, I believe that the 400 mm prime lens is a tad sharper whether the subject is flying…

Juvenile tree swallow in flight

…or stationary.

Great blue heron

The 400 mm prime has a huge advantage over the 100-400 mm zoom lens for birds in flight, weight, the prime lens weighs about half of what the zoom lens does. I can’t maneuver the zoom lens around to keep up with small birds at all, and it’s more difficult when using it on larger birds as well. But, because the minimum focus distance of the 400 mm prime lens is 11 feet, I can’t get shots of flowers or insects with it the way that I can with the 100-400 mm zoom lens.

My indoor testing of the two lenses confirmed that on a tripod, or when there’s enough light to keep the shutter speed high enough, the 400 mm prime lens is sharper than the zoom lens. Part of that is the lack of Image Stabilization, fewer bits of glass between the subject and the camera’s sensor will almost always result in sharper images. And, because a zoom lens contain more bits of glass than a prime lens, zoom lenses seldom match the sharpness of a prime lens of equal quality in the first place.

But, I need the IS for shots like these, taken in deep shade at slower shutter speeds.

Cottontail rabbit

I went as low as 1/250 at 400 mm for these…

Cottontail rabbit

…and the IS is the reason that they’re as sharp as they are. You can even see the rabbits cute eyelashes in this one.

Cottontail rabbit

Sorry, I’m thinking through a few things right now pertaining to where I want to go with my photography in the future, so you’ll have to bear with me as I do.

The 7D Mk II is absolutely great when shooting action shots in good light…

Great blue heron in flight

…I have it set-up to track a subject even if other things appear in the frame as I’m following my intended subject.

Great blue heron landing in a marsh

There are two more photos from that series where the heron was even further down in the cattails, yet the 7D stayed locked onto the heron. But, you can barely see the heron, so I won’t include those. There are times when I wish that I didn’t have the 7D set to lock onto a subject as well as it does, when the camera locks onto the wrong part of a scene, it can be difficult for me to get it to let go and focus on what I want it to lock onto. However, being able to track a bird through vegetation or other obstructions, and fire off bursts when the bird comes clear of those obstructions is usually a very handy thing.

The last two photos are of the same heron, the first shot in full sunlight as the heron set its wings to make its landing. the second shot is after the heron had entered deep shade, and you can see how much that the image quality went down in the lower light. That’s the reason that I’m pining away for a full frame camera body.

Of course there’s no way that I could have switched camera bodies in that situation, there wasn’t enough time. However, the photos of the rabbit would have been even better if I had shot them with a full frame camera. But, I’ve said all of that before.

One problem that I have to solve is how do I carry even the bare minimum of camera gear that I’d like to have with me. I’d have much rather had the 400 mm prime lens with me for shooting photos of the least bittern in flight, but its minimum focusing distance precludes me from using it on small birds, flowers, or insects. The 100-400 mm lens is a much better choice as an all around lens, but I still feel the need to have the 400 mm prime lens with me for its sharpness and ability to catch birds in flight. Carrying both of them adds up to around ten pounds, which I can manage easily enough, but carrying two long lens set-ups is awkward at best.

I should also add that when I have both lenses available to me at the same time, I have the 1.4 X tele-converter behind the zoom lens to increase its focal length to 560 mm for more reach. That brings my subjects closer, but they almost have to be stationary. With the extender behind the lens, it slows down the auto-focus, and I can only use the center focusing point. That makes it almost impossible to shoot flying birds or any moving subject with the extender behind the lens.

When I get to the point when I am just sitting somewhere, I can carry one long set-up and pack the other one in a backpack, and get the second one out when I reach my destination. But, I’m not to that point yet, so I have to make do with the way that I’m doing things now I suppose. At the wastewater facility, I keep both of the long set-ups on the seat next to me, and grab the one that’s best for the subject at hand. But, I’m getting bored with visiting the same places shooting the same subjects all the time…

Least sandpipers in flight

…even if I try to find new ways to photograph them.

Part of the problem is that I’ve been slacking off as to the other subjects that I shoot. It’s almost all birds, all the time. It’s been a long time since I’ve posted any landscapes for that matter. In the past, I used to mix things up more, a few landscapes, some historic buildings or other things that I saw, and so on. For the past year or two at least, it’s been nothing but birds for the most part.

I do love birds, and I love watching them, even the same species for quite a bit of the time.

Marsh wren on the prowl

 

Marsh wren on the prowl

 

Marsh wren on the prowl

However, I’ll bet that more than a few readers of my blog are tired of seeing the same few species all the time. It’s funny, I could lose myself for hours shooting photos of the marsh wrens as they go about their lives’, but I can’t stand in one spot for the same amount of time waiting to shoot photos of another subject. I also love it when I can update the posts in the My Photo Life List posts that I’ve already published with better images than when I first published the post. I usually get those better shots by hanging around in one place, observing the bird to learn more about it as much as photographing it.

Still, I’m feeling the desire to photograph subjects other than birds all of the time, with a few other subjects on the side. If I was to shoot just birds, I wish that I could do so when they were involved in behavior that lent itself better to story telling than what I’ve seen the past few weeks. It’s pretty bad when my best story is of a flicker watching a catbird intently.

Part of the restless feeling that I have is because I thought that this would be the year when I was finished purchasing any more photo gear for a while, and that I’d be able to travel around Michigan more than I have for the past few years. But, my health issues this spring and the large medical bill that I have to pay off mean that I’m stuck going to places close to home that don’t cost me very much. The good news is that I’ve already paid off one-quarter of the hospital bill that I ran up, the bad news is that it has been at the expense of going anywhere other than Muskegon on the weekends.

And, the question of whether I should wait until I have the best camera equipment suitable for what I’d like to photograph, or try to make do with what I have, always pops into my head. As I’ve explained and shown above, the gear that I’ve spent my money on so far is great, about the best that there is, for birds in particular, and wildlife in general.

Mourning dove in flight

 

Mourning dove in flight

I have a great macro lens, and I do reasonably well with it on either the 60D body, or one of the 7D bodies. But, I could do better with a full frame camera. That applies in spades to landscapes, a full frame camera would be so much better for them, along with better wide-angle lens(es) than I currently own. The point is, that I’ve sunk my money into gear best suited for birds, and that I therefore feel compelled to shoot birds because of that.

It doesn’t help that because of my current work schedule, I find it hard to be in a good spot for a landscape image around sunrise, which is my favorite time of day to shoot landscapes. I do like to get out as early as I can to catch the birds, but that makes for a very long day if I were to try for landscapes around sunset. I’ve also developed some OCD tendencies. I feel the need to download, sort, edit, rate, and add keywords to all of my images on the day that I shoot them. Part of that is wanting to get it done while my memory is still fresh, especially as far as identifying some of the birds that I shoot. I found that if I waited a day or two to add keywords, then I’d forget the exact time and place, along with the bird’s behavior, when I did go to add the keywords, which include the species of bird that the image is of. That was even worse if I shot more photos later, and then tried to get caught up with keeping my Lightroom catalog current. Trying to go through all the photos that I shoot in a weekend isn’t an easy task, and it’s made worse by a lack of time trying to do it in the few hours that I have after work each day.

I may have to give up photographing birds for a day or possibly for an entire weekend, and go out and shoot other subjects. There are some beautiful old churches in Grand Rapids that I could photograph, although they are in locations that make photographing them difficult. One sits right next to the expressway, which is elevated at that point. The best spot to photograph the church would be the expressway, but it wouldn’t be wise to stop and set-up my tripod and camera there. 🙂

Some of the rolling farmlands in the area would make good landscape photos, although they wouldn’t be the natural features that I’m more interested in photographing.

As you may be able to tell, I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately. My first love will always be nature photography, but there’s no reason that I have to limit myself as much as I have the last couple of years. Not only do I think about this while driving across the state every day for work, but also while I’m sitting and playing the waiting game for birds as well. I think about some of the buildings that I’d like to photograph, the scenes that catch my eye as I’m driving for work, and other possible photo subjects that come to mind. It’s hard to stay focused on waiting for a certain bird to appear when my mind is on other subjects that I’d just as soon be shooting.

This growing feeling that I have is also fueled by the photos that I see from other bloggers, and especially from the how-to videos that I watch on improving my Lightroom skills. While there may be an occasional wildlife image in these Lightroom how-to videos, the majority of the subjects that the presenter works on are of different subject matter. They shoot landscapes, still life images, urban landscapes, and many other things that I’d also like to shoot.

A side note here, if you watch the Lightroom how-to videos, you can also see what cameras and lenses that the professionals use as that information is often displayed in Lightroom. However, that information is only useful if you are shooting the same types of photos as the person making the Lightroom presentation.

Babbling on like this has helped me decide a couple of things. One, I am going to go on a day trip or two to shoot subjects other than birds. When I do that will be somewhat dependent on the weather, and if any rare birds are being reported near me or Muskegon. The camera gear that I have now may not be the absolute best for the subjects that I intend to shoot, but I can get by with it considering the nature of the images that I’ll be shooting.

Doing so will also help me decide once and for all which lenses that I’d like to have for a full frame camera body. I know that I’d like the Canon 24-105 mm lens for its versatility, that’s a given. But, I wonder if I’ll need a wider lens than that, and if so, how much wider? The 15-85 mm lens that I have on the crop sensor bodies that I have is equivalent to the 24-105 mm lens on a full frame sensor body. So, if I go out and shoot with the 15-85 mm lens on my crop sensor body, it will tell me if I need a wider lens on a full frame camera or not. If I do, I also have a 10-18 mm lens for my crop sensor body, and that’s about the same as a 16-35 mm lens on a full frame sensor camera. So, if I use that lens, it will tell me if I need to go even wider or not.

When it comes to wide-angle lenses, it isn’t only the amount of a scene that you can fit into the frame that matters. It’s also how much they distort the perspectives of size and distance. The wider the lens, the more it makes things up close look larger than things in the background, even if the things in the background are larger than what’s in the foreground. Wide-angle lenses also distort the distance between objects in the frame, making the objects appear farther apart than they really are. If you use that distortion of distance correctly, it adds depth to an image.

I’ve never used my wide-angle lenses enough to become skilled in their use, and I’ve said that before. I was improving my landscape photography quite a bit when I was shooting more landscapes, you know what they say, practice makes perfect. I’m afraid that as few landscapes as I’ve shot lately, it will be like starting over from scratch. So, I’d better get out there and shoot some before I’ve lost what little skill that I had.

I have purchased a filter that will allow me to shoot the solar eclipse later this month, and I put in a request to have the day off from work. We’ll see how that works.

I’ve also decided to purchase a photo printer soon, not that I plan on producing that many prints. But, by having my own printer, I can check my progress as a photographer more often than I can by waiting to send a batch of images to an outside lab to receive a volume discount. Most of the prints that I have had made were tests of the capabilities of the equipment that I have, more so than my best images overall. For example, I printed some images that I shot at night, even though they weren’t very interesting, just to see how much noise that appeared in the printed images. That’s the reason that I shot them in the first place, to test the long exposure noise reduction in my camera. If I branch out more as I hope to, then I should be able to shoot more interesting subjects, such as the Milky Way, and star trails.

Sorry for babbling on for so long once again. Hopefully, I’ll have images other than just birds for my next post, and a lot less talk of photo gear.

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