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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The flicker seemed to be very interested in what the catbird was doing, and it kept a close eye on the catbird.
A very close eye.
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.
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…
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…
…by early afternoon on most days, the birds are ready for a nap.
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.
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…
…and when it did start to move away, it even paused for a look back at me.
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…
..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.
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…
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.
I went as low as 1/250 at 400 mm for these…
…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.
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…
…I have it set-up to track a subject even if other things appear in the frame as I’m following my intended subject.
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…
…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.
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.
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!